Anton von Rueden, chief operating officer at TechStyle Fashion Group, launched his career in 1999 at a technology start-up that evolved into eBay Germany. He initially served as a manager in the marketing department before taking on greater responsibilities that included growing eBay’s European customer service center. Later, as managing director, von Rueden grew the site’s business teams in Austria and Switzerland.
In 2006, he left eBay to lead the global operations at Spreadshirt, and then in 2008 left to run the operations of law firm Waldorf Frommer. In 2012, von Rueden moved on to become a cofounder and chief executive officer of Carfrogger. Two years later he joined TechStyle as general manager of global member services before taking on his current role.
Here, von Rueden discusses the “datafication of fashion” and how data is used to improve the experience of shoppers as well as the business culture of TechStyle.
WWD: Fashion apparel retailing generates a lot of data, but do you think brands and retailers are using it in the right ways? Why or why not?
Anton von Rueden: Collecting data is relatively easy, understanding it and creating actionable strategies that make an impact on your business is where it gets difficult. Many retailers are grappling with what data to focus on and understanding that data in context. We don’t necessarily have the ability to make better and faster decisions if we have more data.
WWD: When talking about the “datafication of fashion,” would you agree that this requires a change in the culture of a nondigital native brand or retailer? Why or why not?
A.V.R.: In an e-commerce, data-driven world, a change in culture is essential. For decades, fashion companies have been ruled by instinct and creativity within macro trends. It’s traditionally been a lot more art than science. Though there is still a tremendous amount of art in what we do, it is now science that differentiates the winners from the losers. Every company, fashion or not, needs to live in a culture of testing, optimization and speed-to-market. If you can’t use the data and adjust campaigns, improve product lines and advance the customer experience, you will not only be wasting countless dollars, but you may be put out of business by the brands that do.
WWD: How does TechStyle use data to improve the overall experience for subscribers, and how do you see this approach evolving over time?
A.V.R.: It all starts with making advertising less annoying which means making it relevant and contextual. Each month we start with thousands of digital ads and test them in hundreds of situations, ultimately delivering the most compelling and best-performing advertising to each individual.
Once someone visits any one of our brand sites, they are asked about their preferences in the form of a style quiz. This allows us to personalize the shopping experience. It’s not unlike a personal shopper greeting you at the front of a Neiman Marcus, asking how they can assist you today. Neiman Marcus has tens of thousands of products, so expecting an associate to take a guess at what they might like or need seems ridiculous, which is why personal service is offered at such department stores. As consumers tell us their style, size, color preferences and location, we start to show them relevant fashion, which is a more personalized experience.
Over time, as they make purchases, review products, share products and even avoid products, our algorithms get smarter and smarter about what we show them on the site though dynamic digital merchandising. This informs what we share with them via e-mail and even how we customize our print catalogues. The goal is always moving from segmentation, to personalization, and ultimately, to individualism, where consumers are treated more like individuals than cohorts.
WWD: How would you describe the business culture of TechStyle? Is it more like Amazon than Google? Or a blend with a bit of Uber and Netflix mixed in?
A.V.R.: Our culture has been referred to as Silicon Valley meets Fashion Avenue, and I think that’s right. We look at all the macro trends and create unique products based on those indicators, but we drive everything with data, testing and optimization as Silicon Valley does. If I have to pick one, I would say we are more like Amazon because we sell a physical product and are driven by customer obsession.
We believe we can only make our customers happy if our employees are happy. We find that our people are happiest when they feel in control of their role, feel connected to their teams and believe that they are working on a big idea — something that is bigger than themselves. Every successful tech company has that higher purpose of aspiring to disrupt an industry in need of change or introduce a game-changing solution or experience. Ours is to become the world’s most innovative and admired fashion company. It’s lofty, but it has to be. We want our employees to feel like they are part of the future, rather than the past.
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