es­sen­tials of style

Ul­ric Jerome, the gre­gar­i­ous chief ex­ec­u­tive of Match­es­Fash­ion.com, on how he trans­formed the for­mer bricks-and-mor­tar com­pany into an online pow­er­house.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

The Match­es­Fash­ion.com story.

Pop quiz: what do you need to suc­cess­fully spear­head the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion of a com­pany? (a) clar­ity of vi­sion; (b) acute busi­ness acu­men; or (c) mag­netic charm and charisma?

Luck­ily for Match­es­Fash­ion.com, its chief ex­ec­u­tive Ul­ric Jerome pos­sesses all three. In spades. He’s a bona fide triple threat.

We’re in an in­dus­trial show­room in Soho, Man­hat­tan—the space is flanked by mod­els on the left, all dressed in the lat­est au­tumn/win­ter 2018 fash­ions and ar­ranged into five vi­gnettes to re­flect the five floors of the new Match­es­Fash­ion. com re­tail con­cept, 5 Car­los Place, to be un­veiled in Lon­don this sum­mer; and on the right, a suc­ces­sion of ta­bles filled with choco­late, cheeses and char­cu­terie.

Jerome is work­ing the room like a pro. He is flit­ting between busi­ness part­ners and CEOs to dig­i­tal in­flu­encers and PYTs (pretty young things), giv­ing out HAKs (hugs and kisses) and switch­ing con­ver­sa­tion, with­out a beat, from SEM and CRM to the lat­est trends and hype brands that are to­tally TDF (to die for). It’s a beau­ti­ful thing to watch. And amid all this, he still man­ages to throw me a wink as I walk past—jug­gling a flute of cham­pers and biting into a cracker loaded with what I thought was cheese (turns out, it was but­ter; ex­plains why it was so easy to spread). I al­most choke (be­cause, but­ter). He laughs. I laugh. Cham­pers has spilled onto the con­crete floor. (Yes, I’m that per­son at the party.)

Ear­lier that day, just up the road in the very fa-shun bou­tique ho­tel that is Sixty SoHo on Thomp­son, I sat down with Jerome over lunch to dis­cuss all things Match­es­Fash­ion.com. What were the chal­lenges in go­ing dig­i­tal? How is he po­si­tion­ing the com­pany for future growth? Is ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence part of the equa­tion? It was a rare chance to speak to one of the key driv­ers of the dig­i­tal fash­ion rev­o­lu­tion. And, as you will see, he is quite the tour de force. (Thank­fully, on this oc­ca­sion, no but­ter or bub­bly was wasted.)

E S Q: Matches started as a bricks-and­mor­tar re­tail store. With you on­board, ev­ery­one now knows it as an e-com­merce site. How did you trans­form an off­line store into an online plat­form? What chal­lenges did you face? UL R I C J E ROME: What was re­ally im­por­tant was our ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ship with the lux­ury brands through our re­tail stores. We had an op­por­tu­nity to make an im­pact in an in­dus­try that had re­ally low pen­e­tra­tion online. Back then, in 2012, only two per­cent of the to­tal per­sonal lux­ury goods mar­ket was trans­acted online. In com­par­i­son, main­stream fash­ion was 20 per­cent, travel was 60 per­cent online, and con­sumer elec­tron­ics was 20 to 50 per­cent, de­pend­ing on the cat­e­gory. The lux­ury mar­ket was re­ally be­hind the rest of the pack be­cause the lux­ury brands had not em­braced the op­por­tu­nity to go dig­i­tal.

So for us, it was an op­por­tu­nity to first, lever­age the part­ner­ships we had with lux­ury brands; sec­ond, work rig­or­ously to change the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy for the busi­ness; and third, bring the right e-com­merce ex­per­tise into the busi­ness.

E S Q: Looking back now, what helped the tran­si­tion from off­line to online? ULRI C J E ROME: The one thing that re­ally helped us with the tran­si­tion was the change of name. The name up to the be­gin­ning of 2013 was ‘Matches’. For me, it was im­por­tant to change the name to ‘Match­es­Fash­ion.com’ be­cause by plac­ing a ‘.com’ in our name, it in­stantly made ev­ery­one in our or­gan­i­sa­tion un­der­stand that we are now op­er­at­ing on a global level.

E S Q: Was it hard to con­vince the team to back the name change? UL R I C J E R OME: What we did, very early on when I came into the busi­ness, was to bring the whole team to­gether for half a day and share the vi­sion of the busi­ness. We an­nounced the name change and took ev­ery­one through the op­por­tu­nity of go­ing online. I think we were good com­mu­ni­cat­ing the goal and bring­ing ev­ery­one to­gether. I think if you hadn’t brought ev­ery­one onto the same page, we would have faced a lot of re­sis­tance. Also then, we weren’t such a big com­pany, so it was eas­ier. Less peo­ple to man­age and less peo­ple to con­vince. So I did not find that part a chal­lenge at all.

E S Q: What did you find chal­leng­ing? UL R I C J E ROME: What I did find chal­leng­ing, but in a good way, was that we had to im­ple­ment all the new sys­tems: im­ple­ment a new e-com­merce plat­form; im­ple­ment a new ware­house man­age­ment sys­tem; im­ple­ment a new mer­chan­dis­ing tool, which we call ERP; and in­te­grate a CRM func­tion­al­ity within the en­tire core ar­chi­tec­ture of the busi­ness. In 2013, we hired new staff with the ex­per­tise to bring us online and then we started work­ing on trans­form­ing the com­pany into an online busi­ness from Jan­uary 2014. It took 14 to

15 months and we went live in April 2015. We changed ev­ery­thing. What we did not change was what we are known for: the way we cu­rate our prod­ucts and the way we cu­rate our con­tent.

E S Q: How would you de­scribe the spirit of Match­es­Fash­ion.com? What is its com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage? UL R I C J E ROME: We are the most per­sonal lux­ury shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence in the world today. The rea­son why it’s per­sonal is be­cause we are the re­verse of a depart­ment store. We are the re­verse of the mar­ket place. We cu­rate heav­ily. Our motto and DNA sits be­hind our level of cu­ra­tion. We are known by our cus­tomers, press and brands to be a very au­then­tic busi­ness that cares a lot about our shop­pers and cares a lot about hav­ing a very strong fash­ion point of view.

Today, you don’t nec­es­sar­ily have this point of view on our scale. You have main­stream busi­nesses with a few thou­sand brands and hun­dreds of thou­sands of SKUs, but we have al­ways kept at 400 to 500 brands be­cause we be­lieve it makes it eas­ier for the cus­tomer to un­der­stand the logic of mer­chan­dis­ing. Oth­er­wise, it gets messy and the cus­tomer loses the in­ti­macy. The mis­sion state­ment of the busi­ness is lit­er­ally to be the largest per­sonal lux­ury shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence in the world.

E S Q: Looking back at the vi­sion that you shared with the com­pany in 2012, how close are you now to achiev­ing that goal? Or have you al­ready achieved it? UL R I C J E ROME: From what we talked about at that time, we have now de­liv­ered what we set out to do. I’m re­ally proud of the team be­cause they com­pleted a tech­no­log­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of the busi­ness, which is re­ally dif­fi­cult. Many com­pa­nies have failed. Mov­ing for­ward, our fo­cus is to ex­cel in the con­tin­ued ex­e­cu­tion of this vi­sion.

E S Q: What are the new goal posts now? What’s the next step? UL­RIC JEROME: The next goal is to build our scale, which is ex­tremely im­por­tant. So this sum­mer, we are mov­ing our global ware­house to a new lo­ca­tion that is four times larger, still based in the UK; we have just moved into a new creative lux­ury stu­dio, that is 24,000 square feet of mo­du­lar space; and we open­ing up 5 Car­los Place in Lon­don this sum­mer too—a re­tail con­cept that is go­ing to be a multi-dis­ci­plinary em­bod­i­ment of what Match­es­Fash­ion. com stands for. Also, we have just opened a new of­fice in Hong Kong, that is four times big­ger than the old of­fice, and we are 18 months ahead of sched­ule. But it’s not just in­fra­struc­ture, it’s also about get­ting the cul­ture right. Over the last 18 months, we have hired close to 200 more peo­ple to join the busi­ness.

E S Q: Re­ally? You are grow­ing very fast. UL R I C J E R OME: Yes. We are con­tin­u­ing to build the foun­da­tion for scale.

ESQ: How many peo­ple work for Match­es­Fash­ion.com now glob­ally? UL R I C J E ROME: So, if you in­clude the peo­ple in the dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tres, it’s 900 peo­ple in to­tal. We have 500 staff in our head­quar­ters and 100 peo­ple in our phys­i­cal re­tail op­er­a­tions in Lon­don. When I started six years ago, we had 150 staff in to­tal.

E S Q: Which coun­try or re­gion presents the great­est growth po­ten­tial for Match­es­Fash­ion.com? UL R I C J E R OME: Don’t think I’m jok­ing when I say this, but ev­ery coun­try is a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity. The num­ber one coun­try for us now is the United States.

E S Q: Ahead of the UK? UL R I C J E ROME: Yeah. Look, in 2012, we were do­ing most of our busi­ness in the UK, and mostly in phys­i­cal stores. Now we do 80 to 83 per­cent of our busi­ness out­side of the UK, and 95 per­cent is done out­side of the stores. That’s the real trans­for­ma­tion. And our op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth are al­most in ev­ery coun­try in the world, be­cause even though the US is our num­ber one coun­try, it’s still very small in com­par­i­son to what we can do.

E S Q: How big is the online lux­ury goods mar­ket now? UL­RIC JEROME: The to­tal per­sonal lux­ury goods mar­ket is a €260 bil­lion mar­ket, and online only con­sti­tutes nine per­cent of that today. In 2012, it was only two per­cent. And I be­lieve that by 2025, online will con­sti­tute 25 per­cent of this lux­ury goods mar­ket. So, the op­por­tu­nity is ev­ery­where.

ESQ: What about Asia? Is it still a big con­sumer of lux­ury goods o nline? UL R I C J E ROME: Asia is very strate­gic for us, hence the rea­son for an of­fice in Hong Kong to bet­ter serve our cus­tomers. We have also a Korean web­site that we launched in Septem­ber 2017.

E S Q: Why Korea as op­posed to Ja­pan or China, for ex­am­ple? UL R I C J E ROME: One thing at a time [ laughs]. But we did start with Korea be­cause we were re­ally pushed by our South Korean cus­tomers to have a fully lo­calised site.

E S Q: I think it’s a great strate­gic move as Korea has a lot of soft power and in­flu­ence over the rest of Asia. UL R I C J E R OME: You’re to­tally right and that’s another rea­son why we launched the site. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily a big coun­try, but be­cause of Korean dra­mas and K-pop, it has a big im­pact on the re­gion. We un­veiled the site on the back of an ex­clu­sive event we did with Vete­ments in Oc­to­ber 2016, where we cre­ated amaz­ing ex­po­sure and recog­ni­tion for our brand. And as a re­sult of the Vete­ments col­lab­o­ra­tion and new Korean site, I be­lieve our name is now more recog­nised in Asia. It’s just the start. Aus­tralia, which we in­clude un­der Asia, is a big mar­ket for us. Hong Kong is big for us, and we trade in English, not Chi­nese.

E S Q: Why do you think the US has been so suc­cess­ful for you? UL R I C J E ROME: I think there is a gap in the mar­ket. Cus­tomer be­hav­iour has

“We cu­rate heav­ily. Our motto and DNA sits be­hind our level of cu­ra­tion. We are known by our cus­tomers, press and brands to be a very au­then­tic busi­ness that cares a lot about our shop­pers and cares a lot about hav­ing a very strong fash­ion point of view.”

shifted very fast due to so­cial net­works and cus­tomers are very de­mand­ing; they want things very quickly. The propo­si­tion in the US depart­ment stores is not nec­es­sar­ily in line with what cus­tomers want any­more—in terms of new­ness of prod­ucts avail­able, cu­rated con­tent to in­form pur­chase de­ci­sions and the de­sire for ex­pe­ri­en­tial re­tail. Cus­tomers want to be in­spired every­day. Re­tail­ers in the US are still very tra­di­tional and have failed to ad­dress these needs.

E S Q: You talk about a per­son­alised e-tail ex­pe­ri­ence. What tech­nolo­gies are you in­vest­ing in to drive this? UL R I C J E R OME: The foun­da­tion of our busi­ness, let’s make no mis­take about it, is how good we are at cu­rat­ing the right prod­uct se­lec­tion, the right brand mix and the right con­tent. And then, on top of that, we bring in tech­nol­ogy to talk to our cus­tomers in a per­son­able way.

E S Q: What is an ex­am­ple of this? UL R I C J E R OME: For the emails that our cus­tomers re­ceive, we built an al­go­rithm that looks at their brows­ing be­hav­iour, brands in their wish list, their or­der his­tory, and the time they gen­er­ally open their emails, and with all of that, pop­u­late and de­liver an email with the prod­ucts and con­tent that is tar­geted to their spe­cific needs.

E S Q: So are you say­ing that emails to each cus­tomer will be dif­fer­ent and per­son­alised? UL R I C J E ROME: Yes. We send out five prod­uct-cen­tric emails a week be­cause we in­tro­duce 1,000 to 1,300 new prod­ucts to Match­es­Fash­ion.com each week. So you will re­ceive daily prod­uct emails with new rec­om­men­da­tions be­cause our cus­tomers want this new­ness; they are su­per in­ter­ested about new drops. That’s the beauty about be­ing a multi-brand plat­form—you don’t have to wait for a new sea­son to push out prod­ucts; we do it every­day in a very cus­tomised way. And then on Wed­nes­day, we send our ‘Style Re­port’ email, which is ba­si­cally our online mag­a­zine for both men and women.

E S Q: What per­cent­age of our cus­tomers are men? UL­RIC J E R O ME : So 80 per­cent of our busi­ness is on women, 20 per­cent from men, but the men’s busi­ness is grow­ing very fast. At ma­tu­rity, I think men should con­sti­tute 30 per­cent of our busi­ness. And in terms of cater­ing to both gen­ders, I think the same prin­ci­ples ap­ply: it’s all about mak­ing the ef­fort to in­spire our cus­tomers; go­ing af­ter the un­ex­pected, which is the Match­es­Fash­ion.com DNA; and sup­port­ing lo­cal de­sign­ers.

E S Q: I’m sure the big brands like Gucci and Ba­len­ci­aga are do­ing well on your site, but are there brands that are per­form­ing well that are, maybe, a lit­tle un­ex­pected? UL­RIC JEROME: Raey, our own brand, is do­ing well—it’s in the top 10 brands across all coun­tries—and no­body knows it’s our brand, which is great. But gen­er­ally, we are all about find­ing new brands, tak­ing a chance on them be­cause we be­lieve in the prod­uct, and giv­ing them a plat­form to per­form. Now new brands are able to com­pete with big brands in­stantly, which was not the case six y ears ago.

E S Q: Looking for­ward, any plans to in­cor­po­rate more AI into your plat­form? UL R I C J E ROME: Yes, we are about to un­veil a ‘first-time cus­tomer sur­vey’— which used to be 30 ques­tions—that now only has one ques­tion. The sur­vey sim­ply asks the cus­tomer to rate their ex­pe­ri­ence from one to five, and there is a box for them to leave com­ments. We have ma­chine learn­ing tech­nol­ogy that looks at the com­ments and then or­gan­ises that in­for­ma­tion by topic. It’s a great ex­am­ple of when tech­nol­ogy is beau­ti­ful and serves the user ex­pe­ri­ence of the cus­tomer.

But, any ma­chine learn­ing or new tech­nol­ogy that we in­tro­duce will al­ways be seam­less and rel­e­vant for the cus­tomer. We will never bring in tech­nol­ogy for the sake of hav­ing new tech­nol­ogy. The cus­tomer comes first.

Match­es­Fash­ion.com’s open-plan of­fice at The Shard in Lon­don in­cludes its own photo stu­dio.

Match­es­Fash­ion.com de­liv­ers to over 170 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Sin­ga­pore.

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