The rise of mobile and e-commerce along with shifts in consumer behavior has forever changed how business is conducted. The consumer is at the center of the business model, shopping and buying products whenever and wherever he or she wants.
These 10 e-commerce and digital innovators and pioneers are bringing to market new technologies to improve sales, drive traffic online (and in stores) and make payment transactions easier, as well as deploying tactics and strategies to better engage the consumer — which often means establishing an authentic and credible social media presence. Here are the 10 most wanted.
There’s an app for that.
As the fitness craze flourishes, the demand for more specified tools to track, map and motivate is only increasing. Mike Lee, chief digital officer at Under Armour, continues to push boundaries when it comes to digital integration in apps and technology.
Resolute in servicing athletes and workout enthusiasts to reach their goals, Lee has aided in distinguishing Under Armour as a main player in the highly saturated fitness market. A cofounder of acclaimed nutrition and activity logging app MyFitnessPal, Lee possesses a covetable background for Under Armour as the brand ramps up its digital programming.
Heading Under Armour’s connected fitness department, Lee oversees the athletic brand’s digital integration and stable of online services such as UA Record, an app that acts as a landing site for other fitness tracking tools and devices; MapMyFitness, which tracks and suggests different routes while storing all the information for the athlete’s later referral, and Endomondo, which invokes motivation for the user to achieve running goals by following personalized training programs.
For Lee, this is familiar territory. While trying to lose weight in preparation for his beach wedding in 2000, Lee revisited a hobby from childhood: coding. After attempting to navigate time-consuming and tedious calorie-tracking books, Lee took to his computer in order to develop what would be the first stages of MyFitnessPal. The first iteration of the service was solely as a web site. The real success occurred after the mobile app was released. With the arrival of the Apple iPhone app in 2009, the fitness tracker became one of the most popular weight-loss apps, challenging services such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig.
Though approached by a multitude of interested buyers over a lengthy period of time, Lee declined the hefty offers. Lee finally sold MyFitnessPal to Under Armour in March 2015 for $475 million. With the acquisition, Lee joined the Baltimore-based company as senior vice president of North American digital. In this role, Lee supervised digital product strategy for Under Armour’s Connect Fitness division.
Before the development of MyFitnessPal, Lee cofounded NextC, a venture-funded start-up that focuses on the development of online communities. Lee has been active in the technology for more than 20 years, holding leadership positions in top start-up companies such as Palm, Handspring, Beyond.com and Regis McKenna.
Kate Spade New York
It’s all about the story.
In 2014, Mary Beech, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Kate Spade New York, spoke to a captivated audience at a WWD event and told them that the fashion brand learned early on that telling a story digitally was key to consumer engagement.
But it also requires transcending data and stats about a brand’s customer. It requires making a promise. “A brand’s voice begins with your brand promise; it begins with your customer, and not a ‘stats’ customer, but your real customer,” she said at the event, adding that the company “thinks about [our customer] not as a demographic but as an ageless mind-set.”
That approach seems to have paid off. On Instagram, for example, Kate Spade New York has more than 1.8 million follows. On Pinterest, the brand surpasses 353,000 followers. And on Facebook, there are more than 2.8 million loyal fans and customers who like its page. Just last week, Ike Boruchow, senior analyst at Wells Fargo Securities, upgraded shares of the company to “outperform,” based on the brand’s market position and sales outlook — especially as the holiday shopping season heats up.
“While other branded companies are seeing negative comps, pulling back on wholesale exposure, reaching maturity in certain markets, or restructuring, [Kate Spade] continues to have opportunities for growth,” the analyst said.
Beech joined the company in 2013, and her focus, according to the company, is to “lead all marketing, creative, advertising and visual merchandising for the Kate Spade New York brand. She also provides strategic support to the Jack Spade label’s marketing and creative team. In addition, she is accountable for running the global licensing, new business development, communications, public relations and corporate responsibility function for both brands.”
Early in her career, Beech worked at Ann Taylor, and later, at Ralph Lauren, she helped launch the Polo Jeans Co. and its Lauren by Ralph Lauren line. Prior to that, Beech was at Disney/Pixar in Los Angeles, where she “lead marketing in the consumer products division, specifically filmed entertainment and the Disney Princess and girls franchise business.” She also served as senior vice president of global licensing and franchise marketing for Disney and Pixar Animation Properties.
Bridget Dolan leads the team at the Sephora Innovation Lab, where new technologies and digital experiences are tested and championed before being rolled out to Sephora’s customers. Under her guidance, Sephora Visual Artist, augmented reality, and the company’s Digital Makeover Guide succeeded in asserting Sephora as a purveyor in online integration strategies for beauty brands.
“The idea is to create a place for our team to come together to inspire the company culture, the DNA of being true innovators,” said Dolan, vice president of innovation for the company, at the 2016 Beauty Digital Forum.
Dolan elevates the consumer experience by addressing each facet of online research and purchasing as a significant, independent opportunity to align with the customer.
“At Sephora, we think of shopping as a journey. A client may see a beauty trend on Instagram, research products through reading reviews at her desk, watch a tutorial on YouTube, virtually try on the product using mobile, and finally buy it on her mobile phone,” said Dolan. “Retailers need to look at each client touch-point and optimize its purpose in the journey to help the client discover, narrow, and ultimately choose the right products for her — which is not the same as content.”
Under Dolan’s supervision, Sephora unveiled in-store technologies to facilitate product testing, such as Sephora’s Color IQ, a tool that suggests foundations to best match shoppers’ complexions, and Sephora Virtual Artist, which allows customers to virtually try on 3,500 lip shades — and share via social media accordingly.
As mobile phones surpass other devices for e-commerce research and buying, Dolan approaches the platform with deep understanding of shopper expectations. Heightened experiences remain key as efficient and secure shopping methods are enforced. “If she wants to order quickly, mobile must be lightning fast and easy to transact, but still offer the context needed to boost her confidence in her purchase. We approach mobile as a way to infuse the best of online organizational tools and information to amplify the fun, tactile and playful store environment.”
Prior to this appointment, Dolan directed Sephora’s marketing and social initiatives such as BeautyTalk, The Glossy, SephoraTV and the Beauty Board. Dolan also expanded Sephora’s social media presence and customer engagement, distilling in-depth knowledge of the Sephora consumer.
Before joining Sephora, Dolan held positions in digital management at Eve.com and ad agency Left Field. Dolan formerly worked within retail marketing at Walgreens.
MasterCard is thinking outside the phone.
Last year, when MasterCard rolled out its MasterCard Digital Enablement Express service, there were many double-takes in the market as fashion apparel retailers and brands contemplated the implications of smoother, more seamless — and secure — payment transactions. Express is designed to speed up the process of payment tokenization and digitization.
Sherri Haymond, executive vice president of digital partnerships at MasterCard who earned her J.D. at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, led the effort and it includes partners such as Samsung Pay and Android Pay. The platform allows consumers to conduct transactions safely across a variety of devices and apps (touch, tap or click). It’s another innovative step on the journey toward more advanced payment transactions.
As WWD noted last October after the launch, MasterCard payments will be “possible with, for example, a cocktail ring (as in the case of Ringly), a key fob (GM) or the sleeve of a jacket (designer Adam Selman).”
A sleeve? A cocktail ring? Yes, and this is likely just the beginning. “As devices become more connected, we really believe that every device can be a commerce device,” Haymond said at the time. “Today it’s a reality that people can pay with their phones, but we’ve always had a vision that it would go beyond mobile. In a visual way, this makes it very real for brands and consumers to understand that commerce is everywhere.”
At MasterCard, Haymond and her team are charged with executing MasterCard’s digital strategy globally with its U.S. digital merchants and technology partners. Prior to this position, Haymond served as senior vice president of digital channel engagement, “where she managed MasterCard’s relationships with key digital partners including device manufacturers, digital wallet operators and telcos, developed MasterCard’s Commerce for Every Device program, and implemented MasterCard’s framework for Digital Activity, including the Express Program,” the company said.
She joined MasterCard in 2010 as served as global core products counsel and later led the legal team that supported the company’s emerging payments and MasterCard Labs, where she played a key role in launching MasterPass, the MasterCard Digital Enablement Service, and Simplify Commerce, as well as developing industry Tokenization Standards.
For Marie Gulin-Merle, the consumer is everything. Gulin-Merle has logged 15 years at L’Oréal, rising through the ranks at various brands under the beauty conglomerate’s umbrella and landing in her current role as chief marketing officer. Gulin-Merle began her tenure at L’Oréal Paris in 2001 after winning a marketing contest. It was then that she first began emphasizing the importance of interactive strategies in an effort to connect with consumers. As technology has evolved, so has Gulin-Merle’s vision for L’Oréal’s presence in the social arena.
Despite new digital venues and fluctuating social trends ripe for consideration, Gulin-Merle has not lost sight of her primary priority: the consumer. “Today I spend a lot of time watching how-to videos and tutorials,” she said at WWD’s Digital Beauty Forum. “I try to hack the hacks of the consumer.”
It is this dedication to L’Oréal’s customer that has sparked initiatives such as L’Oréal’s Women in Digital, which has supported more than 1,500 female-led start-ups. In turn, L’Oréal remains at the pinnacle of emerging trends and must-know shifts.
Knowledge — or rather, data — is power. Gulin-Merle shared during the forum that she regularly refers to data for of-the-moment updates about the wants and needs of the L’Oréal consumer. With these insights, L’Oréal has expanded its content platform to reach 15 countries with apps such as its Makeup Genius tool, which was the first virtual makeup-testing app. Customization is a necessity to the powerful Millennial and Generation Z troop. Gulin-Merle tapped into this sensibility with personalized foundations and skin-care monitoring.
Armed with the latest data, Gulin-Merle aims to support every stop of L’Oréal’s shopper. From ingredient research to viewing a makeup tutorial, she aspires to support each part of the product selection process. That is contingent on the delivery of beauty products that speak to consumers’ needs. “If a product is unique with unique content, you are going to win the hearts of consumers,” she said. “And a beauty consumer wants to know if a product works and how it works.”
Gulin-Merle began at L’Oréal as an international project manager for Vichy in 2001. Since then, she has held posts at L’Oréal Paris, Biotherm and Diesel Fragrances in variety of digital roles that have lifted the brands as a key player in the beauty industry.
Digital integration was once perhaps viewed as too mass-market for luxury adaptation. Senior vice president of digital commerce at Burberry Dan Heaf had other ideas. An early comer to the marketing vehicle, the British brand has long maximized the opportunity to spark conversation and engagement with its global consumer base.
Heaf is helping to broaden Burberry’s presence to reach touch points for the ever-diversifying digital landscape. Burberry is among the industry leaders in its constant, consistent messaging across all digital platforms, and in exploring new technology to connect with the consumer.
Heralding from BBC Worldwide as its chief digital officer, Heaf carries an arsenal of best practices. He brokered partnerships with Netflix, Hulu and YouTube resulting in an influx of revenue sales.
In both roles at Burberry and BBC, Heaf has approached progression with a friendly sense of disruption seemingly borrowed from his time acting as an investor at start-ups such as MyBuilder.com and the U.K.’s Channel 4 4ip that funded technology endeavors. Heaf has also held positions as director of digital ventures at BBC Worldwide and interactive editor at Radio1 and 1xtra. He’s also served on the board of the historical Shakespeare’s Globe theater since July 2015.
King & Partners
For fashion apparel brands to succeed in the digital space, they might want to stop treating e-commerce as a separate entity. Tony King, chief executive officer and founder of King & Partners, advises that online and in-store should be a fully integrated experience for consumers as well as operationally.
King knows this is a challenge for many companies, but since the consumer is fully in charge of the shopping journey, creating that seamless experience is critical. And King knows what he’s talking about. He’s considered an early pioneer of luxury e-commerce, as he was responsible for launching gucci.com in 2000. He’s worked with brands that include Carolina Herrera, Kenneth Cole and Elie Tahari as well as Mulberry and Mario Testino, among many others. And he and his team have helped these brands develop digital flagship sites that feature a fully integrated e-commerce platform.
From the consumer’s perspective, the sites are clean and sophisticated. But under the hood, the e-commerce providers King works with give these sites a lot of horsepower. King told WWD that the real work is helping brands and retailers reimagine themselves.
“Brands come to us primarily looking for help with online, but quite often they need to makes changes that affect them fundamentally as a company — changes that go beyond digital in order to do digital right,” he said. “These can be anything from a shift in mentality at the c-suite level, down to bringing in a new set of systems with which the [chief technology officer] might be slightly uncomfortable. We believe that brands need to stop thinking about e-commerce and offline as separate silos, and instead just think about ‘commerce.'”
Aside from Gucci, King was creative director for the first digital flagship sites for Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, YSL and Bottega Veneta. King & Partners, meanwhile, describes itself as a digital agency “focused on true collaboration with a curated group of exceptional fashion, luxury and lifestyle brands.”
The company has a staff of 30, and also cites WGSN, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Fendi, Balenciaga, Faena, Edition Hotels and Houlihan Lawrence, among its clients. King is also a founder of Sellect Commerce, which is a full-featured e-commerce platform and content management system.
Josh Wexler & Andrea Tobin
As retailers expand their online marketplaces, a brand’s product description, image and price point can vary between merchants and platforms. And that’s a big headache for brands selling products on multiple sites. There are also various elements, such as shipping documents and packing slips, that also vary from one firm to the next. What if all of that could be transformed into a single platform? That’s what Josh Wexler and Andrea Tobin have done with RevCascade.
Wexler told WWD in June when the platform launched that “all of this friction is holding the market back from tremendous revenue opportunities.” He added the company “is removing this friction through one hook-up that allows any brand to easily and rapidly list, sell, and manage its products on any online retail site, without spending countless hours inputting data. Products, merchandising, inventory, and transactions are all centrally managed, and brands and vendors can easily transform marketplaces into a large revenue channel.”
Wexler, who describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur,” was also behind several global companies that include the Rubicon Project, which he steered from launch to IPO. Wexler was also cofounder and ceo of SWMX (SoftWave Media Exchange), which is a media exchange that uses technology to automate the radio, cable, and television advertising industry. Wexler also cofounded Hypnotic Hats Ltd., a global apparel and accessories brand sold at Fred Segal, Bloomingdale’s and Footlocker, among others.
Tobin is citied as the inspiration for “the vision for a platform to deliver a better way for connecting brands and retailer marketplaces,” the company said. She is the designer and founder of handbag company Marla Cielo (formed in 2010). She previously helped build multiple digital advertising companies, including Metacafe.
Anastasia Beverly Hills
When it comes to social media, authenticity can play a vital role in the success of a brand, according to Claudia Soare, president of Anastasia Beverly Hills. Soare, speaking to a audience at a WWD beauty event this year, said she isn’t judging anyone who buys fans, “statistically if you have one million followers, but you get 3,000 likes per picture, it’s really obvious. You never want to do that. It looks bad. You can buy followers, but your likes won’t go up and your comments won’t go up and people know that. They will watch that, and it almost looks worse.”
In a case of less-is-more, Soare said brands can have more success and impact with fewer followers. She told attendees that having influencers with a few million followers doesn’t always equate to product sell-through. Soare stressed that influencers with a fan base of 10,000 or 100,000 are likely to sell more product for a brand than someone who has 10 times the amount of followers — if that fan base in deeply engaged.
Soare should know. As an early adopter of social media, Soare learned how critical a role authenticity can play in a brand’s strategy — especially when it comes to online engagement. Her approach — which she describes as a “non-strategy” — has helped the company evolve into a highly influential brand. Aside from having a keen understanding of social media and the way it can engage consumers, Soare is involved in the company’s daily operations and its product development as well as marketing efforts.
Soare is the daughter of ABH Founder Anastasia Soare, and has hands-on experience through the years, working in every layer of the organization from receptionist to salesperson to product tester.
What makes Soare stand out as an innovator besides her ability to draw in millions of dedicated social media followers, is her skill at working directly with followers and beauty influencers to help inform product development. “My task is to align [my mother’s vision as an artist and entrepreneur] with the dynamic voice of our customer,” Soare said.
To be a leader at an e-commerce behemoth like Amazon.com requires a pioneering spirit and innovative strategies for online business models. Enter Muge Dogan, general manager of Amazon Beauty. Overseeing commercial and luxury beauty, personal care and men’s grooming businesses, Dogan has implemented incubators for emerging beauty companies and helped stage dialogues among consumer, brand and retailer.
In earlier days, other beauty retailers were hesitant to join the e-commerce space, questioning whether there was a place for cosmetics and similar product online, Dogan charged forward. She was quick to detect the potential for selling online niche and luxury beauty brands. This led to an influx of traffic and visibility for emerging lines. Launching Amazon’s Luxury Beauty Store in October 2013, Dogan instilled an attitude among shoppers of quick product discovery and education.
Young brands have rocketed to success with this approach. “The velocity of sales [of these niche brands] reached the velocity of mainstream brands on Amazon Beauty. They became bestsellers,” Dogan said at the WWD Beauty Digital Forum in February.
The executive has exhibited an understanding of Amazon’s beauty and grooming customer, examining behavior to initiate proactive programs and develop services that facilitate efficient and enjoyable shopping experiences. For example, after learning of the customer’s tendency to replenish skincare five times a year, she implemented the site’s auto-replenishment option. This has been a huge growth driver for the sector, according to Dogan.
Satisfying customers’ needs is not good enough. “We are constantly innovating on behalf of our customers to provide the immersive experience they’re looking for through our product experience pages and video content,” she said.
Technology isn’t the only component that’s evolving. Consumers are changing the way they research and purchase products online. “The rate of adoption for new and unique beauty products is faster than ever, due to accessible digital content,” Dogan said. “Empowered and more adventurous, customers are becoming their own experts.”
An Amazon veteran, Dogan was appointed to her current post after successfully managing the baby and baby registry departments. Joining the company in 2007, Dogan has supervised additional categories such as consumer electronics.