Movers & Shakers Q&A – Zia Zareem-Slade, customer experience director, Fortnum & Mason

Brought to you by Retail Insider and K3 Retail

Zia Zareem-Slade, customer experience director, Fortnum & Mason

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

There are many: we have everything in place to grow our digital business in tandem with our store business; we have the chance to create a greater link between in-store and online customer experiences; and we have the opportunity to take the brand to new people and be more relevant to more people, more often. But ultimately, the opportunity for Fortnum’s is the same one that has always existed – people want interesting products and experiences with provenance, craft and care poured into them. That’s what we’ve done for over 300 years and what we’ll continue to do. The challenge is to keep doing more, and better.

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

The key challenge for our business is ensuring we drive growth, innovation and extraordinary experiences without alienating customers or veering away from the core values of the brand – remaining true to the essence of what makes Fortnum’s special. It’s a delicate balancing act but the results would suggest we’re managing it. Of course, the current political climate makes things interesting from an economic perspective but we remain focused on amazing products and extraordinary experiences.

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

A good question. Leading change in our kind of business is an art. It’s a fine balance between evolution and revolution. I occasionally fear that we should have been more revolutionary at times and moved with greater pace.

4. What is the future of the physical store and the high street?

I think there will be an ever-closer alignment between the two – more (and more meaningful) integration between the online customer experience and the in-store experience. People still come to Fortnum’s for that sensory retail experience, but our online business continues to grow very quickly. There are real opportunities in delivering a little more of the special in-store experience online, and in delivering the simplicity and convenience of online shopping, in-store.

People want experiences – whether thats having a delicious lunch in The Gallery Restaurant, enjoying fresh blinis and hand-carved salmon from our fresh food hall, or getting the best wet shave from our Master Barber. There’s still so much we can offer customers in-store, and plenty more wonderful things to come from Fortnum’s.

5. What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?

From an online perspective, we run a programme of continuous improvement and have a platform that allows us to release new features or code changes every day – so we don’t have those big bang moments.

We’re focused on improving the shopping experience around core product categories such as Tea, Hampers and Wine. People shop each product in a different way and we’re increasingly finding that the typical ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is limiting. From navigation, product display, and content integration, we’re working to ensure that each delivers the very best customer experience.

We have exciting plans for mobile and on improving the experience for our international customers.  Enhancing the in-store experience for Hampers through the use of digital is high on the agenda too. Used appropriately, we think it has the potential to transform how people shop hampers in-store.

From a stock management, space-planning, and customer insight perspective, as a business we are focused on deploying appropriate technology to two ends – improving our own processes, and ensuring we better meet the needs of our customers.

6. With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control your growing digital landscape?

In the grand scheme of things, the digital world is still so young; new challenges arise all the time so we invest in understanding our digital spaces and our audiences too. We’re fortunate to have such a strong brand identity – and because we have a clear (and clearly-communicated) sense of who we are, there’s excellent consistency of content, engagement and tone across our digital landscape.

For me, it is about being relentless in our product and service focus and, therefore, not having to ‘control’ our audience, but to really build relationships with them. We want to understand our digital audiences as opposed to containing them too much, because digital wildfire doesn’t just work negatively – if we deliver extraordinary digital experiences, then positive word of mouth spreads.

7. What other retail business do you admire?

Far too many to mention here, but John Lewis’ full-force adoption of a multi-channel focus has been hugely impressive. Amazon is easy to admire for constantly ensuring we all up our game. Selfridges, too – the store is gorgeous and their creative confidence is fantastic. What other department store would have the confidence to have launched Project Ocean? Lastly there is Collette in Paris for its quality edit and for staying so true to its vision.

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

I wanted to be a barrister or an actor. But I’m glad things worked out the way they have. I honestly have the best job in the world.

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

Tough question – 7.5 – there’s always room for improvement!

10. Who would you place in the Top 25 Multi-channel/e-commerce Movers & Shakers?

Siobhan Fitzpatrick of Maplin and Zoe Colegrave at Fortnum’s.

This is one in an ongoing series of Q&A’s with individuals that are featured in the annual ‘Retail Insider Movers & Shakers in Retail Top 100’ report.