Ok, so no get-rich-quick revelation here I'm afraid (despite what the title suggests) but instead some very interesting takeaways from a talk which I went along to on Wednesday night, hosted by The Industry at the very sleek and shiny Conde Nast Fashion College. In the latest in a series of fashion industry insider events, Lauretta Roberts of WGSN interviewed Nick Robertson, CEO of ASOS. In case you weren't aware, not only is ASOS sweet ambrosia to fashion loving, cash strapped twenty-somethings like myself but it is also astonishing the financial markets with its ever-soaring profits, up 23% last year. Clearly the two go hand-in-hand. In a fascinating but all too short interview, Robertson spoke about how he has taken ASOS from its "As Seen On Screen" beginnings to one of the world's biggest fashion retailers, on target to hit the £1 billion sales in the not-too-distant future.
Here are 7 things to know about the rise and rise of ASOS...
|Nick Robertson and Lauretta Roberts in conversation for The Industry (image courtesy of Sam Atkinson for The Industry)|
The first rounds of investment in ASOS didn't come from anonymous city investors but from Roberston's brother. "My brother had put in half and I couldn’t stand the thought of sitting around the table at Christmas having lost it all" he said as he explained exactly how the company survived the burst of the dot com bubble in its early days. Budding business starters might also be interested to know Nick's assertion that when you have less investment, your venture is less likely to fail. Nothing to lose.
Robertson describes ASOS's home page ambition "to look something like Daily Mail meets Style.com meets Grazia". While all kind of retailers are now looking to editorialise their offering, this principle was one of the founding ideas of the refined ASOS model as it moved from a website which sold a vast selection of stock to a more honed vision of an affordable online destination for the young fashion market.
I loved Nick's phrase "super-serve". "We are the only retailer which super-serves twenty somethings" he claimed. ASOS spends £110 million each year on supplementing global shipping. It's one of the numerous services which the delivery model could easily charge for accordingly. Instead there's always a free delivery and free returns option. What's more, they're easy to use. ASOS Premier gives you unlimited next day delivery for just £9.95 each year which if you're ordering every couple of weeks, must leave ASOS out of pocket. It's the new service with a smile.
4. DON'T LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER
"For years, we were just waiting for Harvey Nichols and Selfridges to appear". Just because those stores were great at bricks and mortar retail ended up not meaning the same for online. This gave ASOS years to build up their reputation and reach. Lauretta told us how Robertson once claimed that "he wanted to be the CEO of the Selfridges of the internet" as the CEO of Selfridges sat in the room. While this did not go down well, it does prove that an unknown brand can make a big impact, especially when their would-be competitors are absent.
I lost count of the number of times that Robertson cited luck as the reason for his success. It's good to feel lucky, but it was more telling when he said, "I think it helped that we ended up doing lots of things sort of right".
6. YOU CAN NEVER MOVE QUICK ENOUGH, OR SLOW ENOUGH
"There's a lot we're not doing yet which I wish we were" claimed Robertson as he revealed that he had by chance invested in a drone company ahead of Amazon's recent announcement that they plan to begin using drones to deliver orders. But other new technology like virtual mirrors and online sizing tools has, as yet, failed to impress the ASOS team sufficiently to implement. The biggest focus for sizing is currently on providing accurate measurements for each size- the good old fashioned way.
7. CRUNCH THE DATA
Not something which Nick really touched on but it's interesting to note yesterday's Guardian story about a 37% rise in revenues at ASOS thanks to data analysis by EDITD. The information provided by the startup which we wrote about on FEAL a while ago has helped ASOS buyers to make the right decisions ahead of their competitors.
P.S Robertson revealed that out of the 150 web developers which he employs, only 2 are girls. So any talented lady web developers out there, go knocking on the ASOS door.