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Up Close: In Conversation with Bold Commerce COO Odus Wittenburg

Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Odus Wittenburg, chief operating officer of e-commerce solution firm Bold Commerce, discusses the importance of customizing the checkout experience, how headless commerce can help to create more flexibility by decoupling online stores’ front and back ends, and how retailers can optimize omnichannel services.

Odus Wittenburg Bold Commerce
Odus Wittenburg, chief operating officer of Bold Commerce. Courtesy

Name: Odus “Boogie” Wittenburg

Title: Chief operating officer (COO)

Company: Bold Commerce

Which other industry has the best handle on the retail experience? What can apparel learn?

It’s tough to single out an industry or verticals that are doing it well across the board. What we are seeing is a number of retailers across verticals and business models committed to a customer-centric approach with a clear vision of what a seamless customer experience across all channels looks like. These are often the retailers that have, and will continue, to invest in the technologies to evolve experiences that meet the changing needs of their customers.

We have seen this firsthand through our client Harry Rosen, an omnichannel luxury men’s apparel retailer. Harry Rosen has effectively reimagined its one-to-one clothing advisor relationship from an in-store only experience to an experience now offered across all digital channels. They’re marrying website experiences and text conversations to deliver personalized shopping experiences that are curated for every customer.

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Looking beyond apparel, of course there is Amazon, and also consumer electronics (like Best Buy), furniture (Restoration Hardware), sporting goods/outdoor (REI) and eyewear (Warby Parker). All these retailers constantly innovate and push boundaries based on what their customers want or need. This includes relevant personalized content, flexible buying and pickup or delivery options, subscriptions and customized checkout flows.

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

I make quick decisions and shop predominantly online. I certainly invest a lot of time into online research before making a mid-sized to large purchase. And for brands that I shop regularly, I expect a personalized user experience right through to checkout—storing my address, preferred store, shipping preferences and payment information—to make it as easy as possible to shop with them.

I also like to shop local when possible. A good example of great local retailer is a women’s apparel and home accessories store called Vintage Soul in Dripping Springs, Texas. The owner connects with customers daily through videos and other posts on social media, and people are hooked with a cult-like following.

As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

My relationship with the brand and how much they know me and can anticipate my needs. I don’t want to be spammed with content or offers that aren’t relevant. The brands that stand out to me and win my loyalty are those that make it easiest to shop with them based on where I’m shopping. For example, streamlined checkout on mobile with my preferences stored so I can quickly make a purchase. Free and fast shipping or delivery and easy returns are also really important to me. The best retailers meet that expectation.

What’s your typical work (or weekend) uniform?

They are pretty much one and the same. Jeans and a polo shirt and maybe a hoodie. I won’t lie; sometimes I am wearing warmups [sweats] on Zoom calls, but isn’t everyone? We need to be comfortable!

Which fashion era is your favorite?

I am an ’80s child, so I’ll have to go with that. Flock of Seagulls, parachute pants, all that. Of course, I don’t dress like this, but I love it.

Who’s your style icon?

Well, based on the ’80s comment, it was Ferris Bueller [Matthew Broderick] or John Stamos in my teenage years. Today I’ll say George Clooney—he makes it look pretty effortless.

What’s the best decision your company has made in the past year?

We’ve listened to the market and doubled down on what we call the “headless checkout experience opportunity.” If you think about it, every transaction, whether a physical or digital good, has to flow through a checkout experience. This is where customer relationships are reinforced or destroyed. The consistent online and offline experience I mentioned earlier is where your customers see that delta.

There’s such a proliferation of ways to buy—you can buy from your mobile phone and Mac of course, but also from kiosks, the screen on your Tesla, your Peloton, and more—and managing all of this is really hard. Brands need the technologies that can serve up a checkout experience wherever their customers want to shop. That’s what brands are looking to Bold Commerce to do.

We’re doing it in a way that doesn’t require brands to rip out their entire commerce platform when they are trying to move quickly, minimize business risk and keep costs down. They can start to modernize by taking the first step with the checkout and then maintain the option value to take their checkout with them as they continue to evolve their tech stack

How would you describe your corporate culture?

Our company culture is built around two major concepts. The first is making our customers more successful by enabling them to sell more and build deeper relationships with their customers. The second is innovation; we are a product-driven software company and we’re pushing the boundaries of e-commerce every day. Our customers experience this innovation in our products.

What can companies learn from Covid-19?

Retailers need customizable checkout solutions that allow them to pivot fast with low risk to speed development cycles and introduce customizations like BOPIS [buy online pick up in store]. As an example, one of our clients, Staples Canada, deployed their curbside pickup service across 305 locations in just 72 hours after store lockdowns went into effect.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

Apparel brands—and other retail brands—need to recognize that improving customer experience is key to business growth. Enabling technologies like headless commerce are what will give them the flexibility, customization capabilities and performance across all channels.

Many apparel brands are stuck with limitations of their all-in-one e-commerce platforms that were built for siloed transacting on a website only, or now at a place where change is too costly, too slow and too complex. These challenges are exacerbated for omnichannel retailers—where technology and data silos persist—for disconnected online and offline experiences.

Retailers that are not focusing on improving their transaction experience are going to get left behind.

What makes you most optimistic?

As challenging as this past year has been in so many ways, it has also sparked innovation.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:

We are layering in the capability of “checkout flows” to allow brands to customize the checkout experience based on what works best for different customer segments or devices. A retailer might want one checkout for desktop and a different one-click checkout from a project page for mobile. They may want to add customized shipping options for VIP shoppers, or A/B test different checkout flows to measure and optimize for the best conversion rate. Checkout has been locked down historically, with a lack of flexibility, and these capabilities allow brands to test, iterate and adapt to improve the customer experience, while delivering ROI to the business.