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Andrew Robb, co-founder and chief operating officer, Farfetch
1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?
International. We are already a global business – shipping from 18 countries to over 140 countries and 88% of our orders go international but our view is we have only started on this journey. There is so much global demand for British and European retailers who deliver unique propositions and the technology and infrastructure now exists to make global retail a reality.
2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?
Getting the balance right between innovation and supporting our rapidly growing core business. We have so many ideas on how to give more to our customers and also need to ensure that we scale our business to support our rapid growth. Maintaining focus is always key for young, fast growing businesses. But it is a great problem to have.
3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?
I would have hired twice as many technology people twice as fast. We have a great technical team at Farfetch but too many ideas to work on and an increasingly complex and scaled system. Some say “the geeks are taking over”, I don’t subscribe to this but as a wannabe-geek and a big believer in the power of great, technology-driven products, they certainly help a lot.
4. What is the future of the physical store?
Bright, different and multi-channel. We are passionate lovers of great retailers and think the future is all about multi-channel, connecting beautiful offline locations with the service potential of online. But they will change significantly; many will be too slow to change, many will get it wrong, while the few will survive and prosper.
5. What will the high street look like in a decade?
The key question for me is: what happens when the landlords reduce their rents? This is inevitable because with 20%+ of retail moving online in a give-or-take-GDP growth market, something has to give in the cost base of the offline channel. Inevitably it will be rents. When this happens, will retailers flood to it as they are able to operate lower cost, lower sales, higher touch experiences that connect well with online? Or will service businesses (dentists, restaurants etcetera) have the better, simpler economics? I think the former as I believe the demand from consumers will always be there for great physical retail experiences and the industry will figure out the multi-channel economics.
6. Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future?
Yes, they are not far from being that now if you include tablets. Some say you should split mobile and tablet but I don’t agree. The next generation of phones, dubbed ‘phablets’, provide a tablet experience in a format just small enough to be a phone. Go to South Korea, everyone has one. Within 12 months, so will you and so will your customers.
7. What other retail business do you admire?
The multi-channel innovation at Aurora Fashions (Oasis, Warehouse) has been incredible to watch and inspiring to see a UK retailer as a global leader. I also love the maniacal focus on the customer and cult-like culture at Zappos, even if the economics don’t always look so great. If you ever go to Las Vegas, go see them – they’ll give you a tour for $400 and you too can sit in their throne room.
8. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?
Not sure I am a retailer but I take it as a great compliment. Growing up I went through numerous career ideas: fighter pilot, archaeologist, superstar DJ, and captain of Scotland. But clearly I am not suited to any of those so I think I would have been building something great just in a different industry.
I’m a perfectionist at heart but have learnt to aim for perfect rather than expect it. So scoring does not really come naturally as there is always more to do. Besides, who is keeping score anyway?