Movers & Shakers Q&A with Sean McKee

Brought to you by and K3 Retail

Sean McKee, head of e-commerce and customer services at Schuh

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

We have a number of terrific growth opportunities for the business – the key questions really are which order, how much, timing and to work out where sales volume and customer satisfaction are most likely to be optimised.

We still need to fully understand how customers are reacting to their experience on different (or a combination of) devices and have been focused on delivered good experiences for a majority of users.

We have a clear sense of where we are headed on mobile, tablet and desktop and expect current levels of growth to continue.

 I’m particularly excited by tablet which is driving interesting conversion rates and basket sizes and where I think the rich, immersive experience offers enormous retail sales potential.

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

It would of course be impossible to ignore the general economic environment and the context for retailers who have found life extremely tough in 2012. Customers are worried about their jobs, paying their increasing bills and watching all the pennies.

Even in terms of our younger core demographic, we have to be aware of unprecedented levels of student debt and difficult employment prospects for young people. In practice, all of this means that relevance and differentiation are more important than they have ever been. For us, that’s about connecting in a meaningful way with the people who shop our brands and delivering levels of great customer service they will remember.

3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

I would have avoiding developing an IOS app with a third-party in late 2010 and moved much more quickly to a mobile-optimised website for our smartphone customers.

4. What is the future of the physical store?

I think the future of the store is assured, but what constitutes sufficient geographic coverage will challenge the larger retailers – it’s obvious that coverage is unlikely to involve 500 stores for most retail businesses.

The biggest challenge for us will be to develop store fits that match much more closely the needs of a connected customer – always on, thoroughly researched in advance of arrival in the bricks and mortar, expecting immediate fulfilment, inherently social.

It’s should be a place where theatre, fulfilment and technology complement each other. There are some terrific examples out there but no one has cracked it yet.

5. What will the high street look like in a decade?

I would very much like to think it will not involve more empty units, charity shops and takeaways. I do think that mobile is the glue that will increase relevance of the high street but we need government intervention now in a practical way. If we leave it all to the “market” there will be a continuing race to the bottom for many, there will be fewer retailers to choose from and a number of massive players who sell everything. That is hardly retail theatre.

6. Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future?

Yes, without a doubt. In terms of e-commerce sales – by 2015 for us – and a constituent part of every store sale in the next few years. We will have redefined “mobile” long before that happens.

7. What other retail business do you admire?

I admire any retail business who have an evidently competent operation, are driven by a desire to get it right for the customer and who connect in a way with customers which is bespoke to that business. I guess that rules in larger businesses like M&S and Tesco but I’m impressed by players like Ted Baker and Jack Wills. I tend to be influenced by great service so my last great retail service experience was actually at Vision Express.

8. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?

I would have completed a PhD in French literature and ended up a French lecturer in a University somewhere. Deep down I’m still attracted to that as a concept. Sadly my linguistic and critical faculties are shot to pieces.

9. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?

Probably 5 or 6, though I’m uncomfortable even committing to that. This is an odd question anyway – it is for others to judge, and in retail you really are remembered more for your last mistake than the things that go well!

10. Who would you place in the Top 20 Multi-channel/e-commerce Movers & Shakers?

I could not hope to top your excellent efforts in compiling the list, but I would be interested to hear from customers and who they would see as the retailers most likely to influence their thinking. From where I am sitting now, they are likely to be working at John Lewis, Amazon, Tesco – these people are the educators.