Movers & Shakers Q&A with Simon Leesley, MD at Stitch Fix UK

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Simon Leesley, MD, Stitch Fix UK

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

Stitch Fix is able to offer personalisation at scale, which given recent moves in consumer behaviour, habits and expectations due to the pandemic, is more important than ever. The seismic consumer shift from offline to online shopping presents an important moment for retailers to rethink traditional models and redefine the shopping experience in a truly customer-centric way.

For Stitch Fix this opportunity is enormous. We have always been an online business, so the shift in behaviour hasn’t adjusted our operations as such, but the online space is becoming a more competitive place to be, which keeps innovation fresh and personalisation at the forefront of everything we do. Our personalisation model is perfectly placed to meet and grow with the needs of customers in this new era of shopping.

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

As the opportunity for business development and growth is so vast at the moment it can definitely be hard to juggle prioritisation of all the different investments that we are keen to make. A current example of this is balancing the trade-off between continued investments in the core business and that of innovating our customer experience and expanding into new geographies. Luckily, with our UK business still in the early stages of its journey, we are in the privileged position of being able to move fast when it comes to testing and learning. Whether that be new marketing techniques or product innovations. This allows us to gather valuable learnings and intel that assists both the UK and US businesses.

I think it’s also helpful to step back and recognise how far we’ve come since our UK launch in May 2019; we’ve built a strong base of customers, and launched many product innovations, such as Fix Preview and Live Styling in order to delight our customers. All in such a short space of time. As a team, it’s important to acknowledge that before pushing forward. 

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

I’m so proud of the UK team and the two years we’ve had in the market. We’ve grown a fantastic customer base, increased our social following – from an initial batch of family and friends, and have been able to bring innovation to our personalisation model at great speed.

Like any growing business, we’ve taken lots of learnings along the way, and we now better understand the direct impact of our early investments on our ability to scale in the future and I’m sure there are things we’ll wish we did differently. That said, it’s all part of establishing a new business and the enormous learning curve that comes with it!

Whilst the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, I think it’s really important to take on-board these learnings and focus on the future to ensure continued success.

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

I think the future of the high street is definitely personalisation, both on and offline. Prior to the pandemic, many brick and mortar stores were developing their spaces to offer customers more immersive and experiential propositions. As the world starts opening up again I think we’ll see that this will propel forward even faster. I also think these spaces will move away from attempting to drive instant conversion and will instead aim to offer customers a taste of the brand. What it looks like, smells like, and feels like to be immersed in their high street favourites, in an ultra-curated and personalised way.

We know e-commerce penetration is still on the rise and experts at Womble Bond Dickinson predict in their Retail Economics report that more than 50% of retail sales will be made online by 2028. Clearly customers have become accustomed to the convenience of shopping online, given the many advancements brands have made to their offerings. As a result, consumers will be looking to high street stores and these physical spaces as a means to connect with the brands they love, as well as to indulge in the in-person interactions that everyone has been deprived of over the last year.

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

We’ve had a very busy year with product innovation and there is definitely more to come, as we expand and broaden our offering to become the destination for personal shopping. Most recently we launched Fix Preview in the UK, which allows customers to digitally review ten items chosen by their stylist before receiving their Fix.

We also launched Live Styling to a limited number of UK customers, offering them the chance to book a 30-minute, one-to-one Zoom session with their stylist, during which they can discuss their wants and needs and interact in real-time. We will continue to scale up Live Styling over the coming year, making it available to a wider UK audience. We have already seen high client satisfaction and improvements across average order value and success rates, relative to customers engaging through our traditional Fix experience, so we are excited to expand our personalisation offering in the UK.

Over the next 12 months, our team of 240 engineers will develop and improve these product innovations to ensure we are offering the best customer experience. The beauty of having a data-driven business is that we can be agile and scale at speed, which creates vast growth opportunities. There is a lot more to come from us.

6. What other retailers/brands do you admire?

Apple commands admiration due to its distinctive and sleek designs as well as the effortlessly smooth user experience. They are always leading the march for innovation and developing new ways to engage customers. Peloton is another business I admire. They have gained a massive customer base throughout the pandemic and offer such incredible customer service and a strong community aspect, but with the personal touch of exercising virtually, one-on-one with your trainer. The ability for users to connect and follow each other’s activity has promoted and encouraged community during a time in which people have been isolated at home. I have no doubt Peloton will retain its popularity and customers once the gyms reopen as similarly to our model, people have become accustomed to a new way of doing things, whether it be exercise or shopping.

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

Bloom & Wild are doing a fantastic job in the floristry space, creating sensitive and emotionally aware marketing campaigns that remain culturally relevant. CEO, Aron Gelbard, raised a fantastic sum in growth capital, which allowed him to take the business international and continue the expansion throughout Europe. This investor confidence is always impressive to see and a sign of a strong business model.

I also love what Fenton & Co are doing in the custom and ethical jewellery space. The female-led business launched in 2018, so is a similar age to our UK business and has already raised £1.7m in global funding, which is outstanding. The brand touches on very topical values for the post-pandemic consumer, such as ethical sourcing, social accountability, and personalisation. I see a very bright future for Laura Lambert and her innovative jewellery business!

This is one in an ongoing series of profiles with individuals that are featured in the annual Movers & Shakers report. Here’s the link to the 2020 edition.