Ian Smith, Director of Ecommerce & Marketing at Urban Outfitters on Trends and Standing Out

Salt’s Principal Consultant, Jade Watson, specialises in Ecommerce recruitment and runs an Ecommerce interview series where she speaks with leaders to hear their insights into the industry. For the latest instalment, she interviewed Ian Smith, Director of Ecommerce and Marketing at Urban Outfitters, who discussed getting into Ecommerce, his career journey, and trends in the industry. Check out the interview below.

Thanks for joining me Ian. Can you tell us little bit about yourself and how you got into Ecommerce…

I’ve been working in ecommerce for over 15 years now, and probably longer than I care to admit! I’ve worked in senior leadership roles across Ecommerce and Marketing for the last 10 years across a range of retailers, including pure-play, multi-channel and subscription businesses with large global footprints.

I got into Ecommerce a little by chance.  I was working for the civil service 20 years ago and was sat next to a colleague who used to build digital learning courses as part of his role.  I was intrigued and interested and got into building websites myself via his patient tutelage, and very quickly landed a job doing what he did and ended up managing sites within the civil service, via that and an interest in fashion, managed to get myself down to London and into a web assistant role, uploading products, maintaining the website and sending out emails to the database…within 3 years I was heading up the team, and as they say the rest is history!  I seemed to take to it very quickly at a time when there wasn’t a lot of deep rooted knowledge of how to sell on this internet thing.

How has the last year been for you and your team?

Professionally, it’s been really interesting.  I quite often say to the team that this is a moment in history that you will talk about for the rest of your lives, and in a strange way, I think it is something that is really going to stand me and my team in great stead for the rest of our careers.  To have been able to trade a business through the pandemic is not something everyone is going to be able to say they’ve done in their career.  I think we’ve all learnt a lot about ourselves.  There has definitely been a fair few emotions over the last few months (and that’s just from me)!

We’ve had to adapt very quickly, and react to an ever changing landscape in our world where our retail business was open, closed, maybe opening, closed again and our only channel was direct to consumer.

What has changed in your approach to Ecommerce?

I honestly don’t think anything has changed in my approach to ecommerce as a result of the pandemic.  The most I’ve learnt is being a leader in remote conditions. I have had experience of this in the past but never during a pandemic.  Trying to be as understanding as possible to appreciate that every individual is going through their own unique challenges in how they are dealing with their emotions, their family lives, childcare etc and be as flexible and supportive as possible to give them them the freedom to take care of their responsibilities in all aspects of their lives. 

In your opinion, what do you think are the key Ecommerce trends for 2021?

From my point of view it is going to be about how to continue the momentum that we’ve built up as a digital business.  2020 was almost about trying to survive, working day to day, hour to hour to try and make the best out of the situation but as we start to come out of that mentality we are looking to the next 3 years and ensuring that we have the correct strategy and investments in place to continue to grow and provide a great brand experience for our customers whether that be online or in store. The world has changed, it’s how we learn from that and embrace the change, to be able to deliver what our customers today and of the future want from us.

What is your advice for anyone looking to start a career in Ecommerce?

I’d just recommend trying to soak up as much advice and knowledge as possible. Be inquisitive, ask questions, try to get involved in as much as possible, it will all stand you in good stead. Having good overall business knowledge of how Ecommerce and marketing come together will always be in demand, and it allows you to get a great holistic view.

Check out Jade’s interview with Libby Cross, Head of Ecommerce from Hobbs London

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