“Disrupt or be disrupted”: Business Insights from ASOS

Mobile, social and analytics— 3 tips from the ASOS chairman

Regardless of whether you're a fashionista or not, you've probably heard of ASOS.com*. The online fashion and beauty retailer generates over £1 billion a year with mobile, social, cloud and analytics at the heart of its strategy.

Chairman Brian McBride plays a key role on the management team and, having previously worked as CEO of Amazon UK*, he knows a thing or two about disruption. Speaking at Microsoft's* annual FutureDecoded event in London, McBride shared his thoughts on digital disruption and how to thrive in the face of it.

To navigate your way through digital disruption it's important to understand what causes it: "For me, Moore's Law and the Theory of Evolution help to explain why digital, tech, social and mobile are where they are today and why some companies will struggle to keep up," he told attendees during the two day conference at ExCel London*.

Moore's Law has ushered in the era of mobile computing by facilitating the miniaturisation of technology, McBride said. While Darwin's Theory of Evolution that only the most adaptable survive has also applied to the business world: "Look at the number of names that were once great in their sphere and couldn't keep up, change fast enough or see the future coming. Companies like International Computers Limited (ICL)*, Compaq* and more recently BlackBerry*," he said.

So what are the three key tips to help you avoid being a casualty of the digital era?

"People coming to ASOS over mobile and the app visit more often, view more often and they buy more often”

Social media is the new king

The power of social media is huge, effecting everything from the US Presidential election to retailers. McBride gave an example of how ASOS leveraged the power of social to boost sales when the Duchess of Cambridge purchased a £26 ASOS maternity dress from the online store. "We knew [the Duchess] bought it but we weren't allowed to use the information until it was in the public domain."

After wearing the dress to a charity event, photographs of the Duchess appeared in the national press and ASOS moved quickly to tag these on its social media channels. The dress sold out in minutes and resulted in one of the best ever weeks for the company, an impressive feat considering that many customers were unaware ASOS even had a maternity section prior to this.

While it's difficult for all retailers to receive such a valuable celebrity endorsement organically, they can still use the power of social media. Snapchat* reaches 41 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds in the US. This is more than the top 15 television networks combined, which reach just 6 per cent of users in the same age bracket. The key is to discover which platforms your target audience is using and create compelling content to engage with them.

Analytics brings an end to the 'Mad Men' era

Traditionally, bricks-and-mortar retailers only knew the credit card number of their customers and used mass marketing techniques to boost sales. Digital has allowed businesses to be more targeted in their approach. Websites provide retailers with detailed insights into what customers buy, the products they like or don't like, dwell times, how many items they purchased and more. It's imperative to use and analyse this data as it provides a treasure trove of information.

The era of 'Mad Men' big budget 'spray and pray' campaigns and techniques is coming to an end, suggests McBride. Businesses have to embrace the tools engage their target audience more precisely and evolve to more of a 'Math Men' approach.

ASOS has made huge strides in the way it uses analytics over the last three years: "Some of our customer data sets had a billion rows in them and the queries that we ran could have taken 3 days on the system and it was very expensive. Nowadays, our data sets are kept in Azure on the cloud and we spin up a query in a matter of seconds."

With over 80,000 products available on ASOS, the cloud also helps to ensure its customers are not overwhelmed with data. McBride explained that you don't want to offer 2,000 random recommendations when a customer searches for something, you want to provide relevant results based on browsing history and purchasing history: "We perform 5 billion calculations in a day and in the time it takes to blink an eye we can provide 20 recommendations. By embracing mobile, social and analytics tools your business has the power to become a disruptor too and thrive in the digital storm.”

*Trademarks are the property of their owners

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