Written by Scott Thompson
Global shopping marketplace Fruugo has had its share of ups and downs. But, as CMO Glen Richardson tells Scott Thompson, there are reasons to be cheerful
ST: How long have you been in your current role and what have been the highlights thus far? It wasn’t so long ago that Fruugo was painted by the media as an ambitious but troubled startup that had burned through millions of dollars in funding. That must have weighed on your mind when you were thinking about getting onboard
GR: I’ve been with the company for almost two years. It’s been a huge challenge and an exciting journey to be on. It’s quite scary, to effectively be charged with growing a company and to be in charge of revenue when it has a history of remaining quite flat and publicly being shown to be something of a failure. I was nervous about taking on the challenge; if I wasn’t successful it would have been on my head. So I had to be confident that I could add value and help the company change gears. Fortunately the guys here had already started on that journey. I was confident on the progress that had already been quietly made, that it was going in the right direction to do great things. For me the highlights have been logical things; big businesses often struggle to do the simple things, so we went back to basics with customer service, from an email-based customer service system to a fully ticketed system using a platform called Zendesk. And now we have incredibly happy customers. One thing a marketplace has going for it is being able to deliver a consistent and first rate service, whoever the person is. And that’s what we’re now providing.
ST: What are the biggest challenges currently facing your business?
GR: There are lots of challenges but probably the biggest one is that in October we relaunched Fruugo’s user experience. We didn’t replatform but we changed how the site looked. Because of that the new site has delivered 200 per cent growth. We were expectant of that happening but we weren’t quite ready; we didn’t think it would grow quite so rapidly. A major challenge has been managing that growth; as a result of it, we’ve attracted new investment from some very high profile leaders in this industry (unfortunately I haven’t got clearance right now to reveal names). The desire for Fruugo is to be the world’s biggest marketplace. That may sound like fantasy land stuff but we’re making steps toward achieving it and all the signs are that we’re heading in that direction. It will be a long, hard journey but an exciting one. Fruugo is the only place where you can add multiple products into one basket from multiple retailers across multiple countries and multiple currencies but with one consistent experience. Amazon doesn’t do that. We really do have a unique platform.
ST: What are the biggest opportunities for your business?
GR: We’re exploring new markets and I have three particular ones in mind right now. That’s the biggest opportunity. There are many countries out there desperate to buy from other countries, especially China. The world has become a much smaller place over recent years, the explosion of social media and mobile technology means that people expect everything at their fingertips and to be able to buy a product from anywhere in the world. But actually in practice that’s very difficult. You find a great brand in Germany, but when you go on their website everything is in German. I don’t speak the language and I don’t really want to pay in Euros. It’s all about enabling people to buy products from all around the world and tap into unexplored markets, a global rather than a localised experience.
ST: You mentioned China. That must figure heavily in your plans
GR: There are no definite plans right now, but without doubt it’s a country we will launch in to. It’s a very busy market, there are probably more marketplaces there than anywhere else in the world. But I do believe we have a very unique proposition and it’s about communicating that.
ST: In terms of technology roll-outs etc, what have you got planned for the next 12 months?
GR: We have got a massive technology roadmap. We’re currently redesigning our B2B site and hopefully it will be relaunched in the next couple of months. We’re also redesigning what we call the merchant centre, where retailers log in and see all their orders. That’s all being changed from a front end point of view, the back end is pretty much remaining the same. We want to make it extremely simple for any retailer on any platform to sell on Fruugo. We’re also creating plugins for different e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, and we’re adding channel partners and data feed managers. PlentyMarkets is about to go live; they’re an e-commerce platform in Germany. We’ve been integrating with them for the past 12 months.
ST: Is the future of retail mobile, online, physical stores or a mixture of all three?
GR: I think e-commerce will ultimately be the High Street’s saviour. I remember when lots of people were freaking out that so many High Street brands were going out of business. Look at how Apple has disrupted the music business, Google has almost wiped out telephone directories, even your business has been disrupted by the likes of TechCrunch and the rise of blogs; consumers are expecting the news for free. The High Street will suffer if it doesn’t go digital, the businesses who don’t see the distinction between e-commerce and retail. They’re the same thing. Fruugo is 100 per cent online, but since I’ve been here we’ve tried out a couple of popup experiences; one for example at the E-Commerce Expo in London, showcasing retailers and products from around the world. The problem lies in demonstrating where the sale came from, incentivising shop assistants to understand that it’s all the same, shoppers need to understand that they can buy from a multitude of devices.
ST: That’s some way off becoming a reality though, isn’t it? We’ve all visited stores where the silo mentality still exists, where in-store staff view an online sale as nothing to do with them
GR: It will have to happen quickly. I find it hilarious when people say, we need to show shoppers the future of retail. No, they’re showing us right now, they’re in stores taking pictures and tweeting, in the changing rooms trying on outfits and putting them on Facebook asking their friends which ones they should buy. There is a whole generation that is going to completely change the shopping experience and the retailers who catch up with it will be the winners. There is a great quote doing the rounds at the moment. In 2015 Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles, Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content, Alibaba, the most valuable retailer has no inventory and Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate...Wow! That certainly grabbed my attention. There are many pureplays who are exploring the physical space: Made.com for instance with their showrooms. Fab.com have been opening stores where it’s all about personalisation. The future of the High Street is companies that are purely e-commerce focused. When a 16/18 year old walks into a shop, they don’t see a shop, they see a 3D representation of the website. People in general expect more from their stores and if you don’t deliver it leaves a bad taste in the mouth; it’s as if you don’t care.
ST: What omnichannel trends do you see emerging in 2015?
GR: I think we’ll see more and more retailers thinking about making it easier for customers to collect their online orders, whether it be on the way to or from work, lockers, newsagents. I once referred to delivery as the ugly sister of e-commerce; you have this brilliant digital experience buying online, but then there’s the ugly bit at the end, an actual, physical parcel has to get to you. I’d quite like a drone to deliver to me. I really hope that Amazon nail it, even though there are massive questions around safety and security. In terms of Fruugo, I can’t wait to make some big announcements about what we’re doing. We’ve grown 200 per cent, we’ve obtained new investment and we’ve brought more industry experts to the table. The next eight months or so will be really exciting.