Movers and Shakers Q & A: Paul Hornby, director of e-commerce, Matalan

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Paul Hornby, director of e-commerce, Matalan

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

We have a real opportunity to become the most trusted omni-channel retailer of family value. Nobody has – yet – truly nailed the omni-channel customer experience in my opinion, and this is especially true in the value sector. Considering how well the value sector is performing there is a real opportunity for us at Matalan to create a true point of differentiation, by executing this seamless omni-channel journey with excellence.

2.What is the biggest challenge to your business?

Making the most of this rapidly growing omni-channel opportunity! Making the value space work profitably online and trying to create a true omni-channel experience are common issues for value retailers, especially for those that are trying to tackle both at the same time.

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

Hindsight’s a great thing, and with the pace of change in retail and tech innovation, it’s sometimes tough to remember why we didn’t think to operate in certain ways which would’ve made life much easier. I’d say that a lot of retailers that are as established as Matalan probably wish they’d been earlier to improve the flow of feedback between stores and digital teams; keeping our digital and physical customer footprints aligned is critical if we’re going to achieve our goals.

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

I do not see a world in which the physical store doesn’t exist anytime soon and at Matalan we are still seeing positive YOY growth in store sales. That said, I do expect customers to have the same expectations shopping online (e.g. easier to find products and a frictionless purchase experience) as shopping in-store. This will force retailers with a bricks and mortar presence to pay more attention to the things that don’t work for their customers in-store, and come up with efficient ways of solving them.

Similarly, there are plenty of examples of primarily online retailers opening up bricks and mortar stores – and finding ways to incorporate the benefits that this more tangible channel can bring to an overall customer proposition.

It’s frequently said that customer experience is the next battlefield for differentiation and getting this omni-channel journey right will be key to winning or losing that battle.

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

We have lots of plans both in-store and online, so ‘watch this space’, but I’d rather talk about initiatives once they have been delivered! Having said that, to give you a flavour of what we’re particularly excited about; we are in the process of rolling-out RFID in-stores (essentially, ‘smart’ product labels which will allow us to present an accurate omni-channel view of stock to our customers), and the creation of a new transactional app, which we see as being the home of the omni-channel customer.

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

Like any consumer facing business following best-practice, we pay careful attention to the content and security of our online footprint and assets, and would be proactive if to prevent ‘wildfires’ involving us from spreading.

7.What other retail business do you admire?

Alibaba. The way in which they have evolved their business and pushed the boundaries when it comes to creating a truly omni-channel experience for their customer is inspiring. I find myself looking East for inspiration far more than I used to, as some of the developments happening in those markets are truly staggering and exciting.

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

A music producer, although my lack of musical talent and the fact I cannot play a single instrument has always been a blocker to me realising this dream!

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

I’m pleased with what I’ve achieved because I’m proud of how I’ve applied myself, but I’d rather leave the scoring to other people.

10.Who would you place in the Top 25 Movers & Shakers in Retail?

The Movers and Shakers Report is always a great read – obviously there are those really well recognised industry names who you’d expect to see but I generally also enjoy coming across some of the less well known names, doing really pioneering things behind the scenes.

It may be no surprise that I’d be keen to see more of my Matalan colleagues included in future reports, especially as we grow our omni-channel credentials. At a senior management level, there’s clearly Jason Hargreaves and Greg Pateras, who are spearheading the business’s omni-channel progression. Looking ahead, I’m also excited by the prospect of a new generation of talented movers and shakers, especially as we launch our e-commerce placement initiative and move ahead with our three year digital strategy.

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.