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Up Close: In Conversation with EShopWorld CEO Tommy Kelly

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, Tommy Kelly, CEO of cross-border e-commerce platform EShopWorld, discusses what fashion can learn from the digital innovations happening in food and the benefit of having globally diversified online channels.

Tommy Kelly EShopWorld
Tommy Kelly, CEO of EShopWorld Photo: Peter Houlihan

Name: Tommy Kelly

Title: CEO

Company: EShopWorld

Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?

The food industry has embraced the digital revolution with open arms and some really great innovation has sprung forth. The likes of Deliveroo and Uber Eats have used new technologies to improve the customer experience and match service level to demands. If you want to order a hot meal, you can have it at your door in 20 minutes. Of course, on the grocery side, companies have adopted different fulfillment and delivery strategies, but it’s hard not to be impressed by what Ocado have done with the level of automation and efficiency they have brought to the supply chain. There is learning in all of this for lots of verticals, including apparel.

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

I’m probably similar to most other people, in that what are important to me are transparency and dependability, and predictability. I have expectations around what I want from the brands and channels I like, and if those brands deliver on their promise, then I’m happy! I like to shop online, so that comes with certain expectations: Make it easy for me to purchase, don’t surprise me with unexpected charges or fees, ensure that something arrives when it’s supposed to arrive, and make it easy for me to return a purchase if it’s not right.

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

If a brand delivers on its promise, then that’s it. If I like the product or service, feel like it’s good value, and the brand shows that it cares about my experience, I’ll come back for more.

What’s your typical uniform?

The shift to remote working this year has had an interesting impact on dress choice. We all still need to dress appropriately for the audiences we are engaging with, so if it’s an external audience I tend to stick to business casual attire. On days that are taken up by internal meetings, I keep it quite casual—similarly for the weekends.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

I can’t say I would pick one out over another. I like quality clothing that is comfortable, which is one of the reasons I started EShopWorld. It was sometimes difficult to access some of the brands I liked when living in the U.S., so I felt if that was the case for me, others were likely having the same frustrations.

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

2020 has been a bit of a rollercoaster in that it started off strongly, suffered uncertainty in March, but since then has been very positive for us. We recognized an opportunity for the business when we saw the online shopping trends emerge during the early lockdowns, and decided to accelerate investment in some key projects, and expand the organization to support those investments. That decision has worked out very well for us, in that we have been able to help our clients pivot into and prioritize digital channels and non-domestic markets to meet the trading challenges of Covid. We anticipate those trends will continue, which is positive for our clients and our business as we look to the “new normal.”

How would you describe your corporate culture?

We’ve worked hard on the culture part of the business. It really is an important part of who we are, and we’ve shaped our corporate values around five key concepts, which are: Entrepreneurship, Empowerment, Excellence, Enjoyment, Ethics.

Since we launched in 2010, we’ve grown to almost 500 people, yet we are still entrepreneurial at heart. I think this is an important contributor to how we get things done. In fact, our internal motto is exactly that: “Consider it done.”

As the organization has grown and evolved, we’ve worked to keep it as flat as possible, with everyone’s door—including my own—open to anyone in the company. This helps to keep a collaborative environment where we support each other and communicate openly. We like to celebrate successes, albeit that has been more challenging in a remote environment. That said, our HR team has worked tirelessly to keep engagement high, with regular online events and meetups.

What can companies learn from COVID-19?

The biggest lesson any company in any industry can learn is that it is more important than ever to be agile and adaptable. This is a competency that needs to be built into every organization, from its technologies to its infrastructure, people and processes. Adaptability, in the truest sense of Darwin’s theory, is the key to survival.

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

If I may, I think there are two. We conducted some research in the months after COVID, and it became quite obvious to us that brands whose online channels were geographically diversified bounced back much faster than those whose weren’t, in terms of their share price. We live in a global economy, with fast evolving market conditions. Those that had prepared to be in a position to push volume through their digital channels, to diverse geographies, were in a far better position to weather the storm, and even grow. This is not a matter of whether a brand should consider this strategy—it should be an existential priority.

Secondly, sustainability needs to be at the forefront of all brands’ thinking. Consumer sentiment is shifting, and more and more young people are making purchasing decisions based on a set of values that are important to them. Information flows quickly, so brands really need to be out in front of this issue if they want to win the hearts and minds of the younger generations.

What keeps you up at night?

Change has always been the only constant in business. But now, the pace of change is accelerating year after year. Our business is in e-commerce and it is amazing how fast this industry moves. So, the things that keep me thinking are usually related to anticipating change, how to meet demands of both clients and shoppers. We’ve all been through many recessions and macro events over the years, but none of us have really ever experienced the world we see around us now before.

What makes you most optimistic?

I am quite inspired by the retail industry’s reaction to COVID, and the resiliency that has been shown by lots of brands and retailers. Innovation has gathered pace during this period, as companies examine their business models and seek out new ways of connecting with customers and meeting their needs. I’m optimistic about the future, as I think that these kinds of challenges typically bring out the best in people as they adapt and create a new generation of retail.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction/service:

Our business spans the entire e-commerce value chain, so we continually innovate to bring new features to market that drive value and positive outcomes for our clients.

One area we have recently invested heavily in is the consulting and advisory element of our business, which we call Shopx. Due to our scale and blend of clients, our understanding of the shopper journey in each market offers unique insights into how to build successful online D2C channels. We’ve listened to the industry’s requests for help in this area, and we believe this blend of knowledge and data is an important differentiator for us.