At the Criteo Commerce Marketing Forum in London, talks were focused on disruptions in the retail space. Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, a serial entrepreneur behind three trailblazing companies, spoke at the event about the ways she’s shaken up the status quo of commerce.
In 2007, Wilson co-founded Gilt, a flash sale site that changed the sales aspect of online retailing.
In 2014, she became CEO of GLAMSQUAD, a mobile beauty business that brings its services directly to the homes and offices of busy consumers across the country. Then came Fitz, a part home organizer, part home stylist concept designed to help clients organize, edit, catalogue, and build their wardrobes. Wilson recently joined Allergan as the SVP of Consumer Strategy and Innovation, where she’ll be connecting with consumers in ways never seen before in the pharma industry.
Wilson is the co-author of the bestselling book “By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop”, documenting the company’s meteoric growth.
With each business, she’s spotted under-served opportunities, and built systems and teams to turn firms into disruptors. We had a chance to chat with her just before she went onstage at the Criteo Commerce Marketing Forum.
Q: What inspired you to start Gilt?
AWW: In 2007, the retail landscape was very different from today. The basic idea of Gilt was to bring the excitement of a New York City sample sale online, and bring it to hundreds, thousands, then tens of thousands, and ultimately tens of millions of people. Not only across the US, which is where we started, but ultimately across the world.
And what we did was provide amazing brands, beautiful inventory, and products at about 60-70% off the retail price in a really exciting format.
Q: How did Gilt change online retail?
AWW: The world was a very different place back in 2007. We got started before the recession started to kick in so we were already getting traction and momentum. My job was always to source the best brands and inventory globally.
Initially the fashion industry was a little skeptical. They weren’t that comfortable selling online even at full price, so the idea of online-at-a-discount was scary for a lot of brands and retailers. But very quickly the community in the fashion industry, and even beauty, started to take our business seriously.
It was a time when there was a lot of excess inventory, given what was happening in the recession. Consumers were cutting back their spend, especially at the high end and at full price, and we started getting flooded with inventory that brands and retailers needed to take off their books. So it was a little bit of a perfect storm — a good idea taking off — and the macroeconomic environment, in a way, was supportive of our business model.
Q: What big changes have you noticed in shopper behavior in the last few years?
AWW: First and foremost, we have to talk about mobile shopping and shopping on the iPhone. That has probably been the greatest disruptor in shopping. Behavior has changed completely.
Consumers shop when they want to, from the convenience of their phone. It’s a 24/7 proposition every day of the year. The internet doesn’t turn off, it doesn’t close the way brick-and-mortar does. That has been probably the greatest revolution for disruptive shopping behavior.
I would say that consumers have also gotten impatient as a result. When they want to buy something they really expect excellent customer service and immediacy in terms of delivery and even free shipping. That’s been a big topic for so many retailers, probably thanks largely to Amazon.
Q: Why do you think so many startups, especially direct-to-consumer brands like Rent the Runway, Birchbox, Away, and Casper, are gaining such traction?
AWW: The brands you just mentioned really understand the millennial consumer base, and they’ve also invested time to start to appeal to Gen Z. They understand that millennials are interested in experiences, they’re not necessarily as interested in the accumulation of stuff and luxury stuff as Gen X or Baby Boomers had been.
Millennials have other things that they value, whether it be authenticity or relating to a brand. They are really a generation that is so focused on content creation. It’s the generation of selfies, and that really does affect behavior.
If you think about being a fashion brand and you’re appealing to consumers who are constantly taking pictures of themselves and sharing them online, they probably don’t want to wear the same thing over and over again. They’re probably excited by something like Rent the Runway, where you can easily and more affordably change up your wardrobe.
Or maybe they’re attracted to fast fashion, or maybe they’re interested in brands that have a sustainability aspect to them.
Q: Are there things that legacy brands can learn from startups to apply to their own marketing strategies?
AWW: Absolutely. I’m an entrepreneur, and I recently started working for a big company. What I’m trying to do in that case is really bring entrepreneurial start-up thinking into a big organization. It’s challenging because you have to change people’s mindset. But I think that executives in big companies want to embrace change. They want to try new things. They want to think like innovative, creative companies and be those types of leaders.
Now is an excellent time for medium-size to large-size, even public companies, to figure out structures for creating innovation within their organizations that makes sense, that will be effective, and navigate internal cultures and even politics.
Thanks, Alexandra. For more on the Criteo Commerce Marketing Forum in London, check out this post and follow us on social media. Be sure to keep an eye out for our next forum, happening May 10th in NYC. Stay tuned for the details!