Mr & Mrs Smith’s personalisation drive

I’m pretty familiar with recommendations and personalisation in media; companies like Spotify and Netflix specialise in providing their users with relevant content based on their -implicit and explicit- preferences. The other day, I found out about luxury online hotel booking site Mr & Mrs Smith starting to provide more personalised content to its customers. I looked into what this means for a business like Mr & Mrs Smith and for its (target) customers:

  1. Why? – Mr & Mrs Smith wants to provide its customers personalised communications and experiences, tailored to the interests and preferences of the individual customer. The hotel booking site wants to create a single of view of its customers, across its multiple channels. Mr & Mrs Smith’s main channels are its website, its app, email and its call-centre. A more customised approach will help Mr & Mrs Smith in targeting its communications and in optimising the opportunities to sell hotel bookings to its customers.
  2. What? – I’m not a Mr & Mrs Smith customer myself, but I can think of a few scenarios where personalisation could be pretty useful to both the customer and to Mr & Mrs Smith as a business (see Fig. 1 below). I’d love to find out how Mr & Mr Smith currently go about aggregating all information for its individual customers into unique profiles.
  3. How? – Mr & Mrs Smith will use a solution by a company called Sailthru which will help the company to better understand customer interactions at multiple digital touch-points. Tamara Heber-Percy, co-founder and CTO of Mr & Mrs Smith, explains that “we appreciate that personalisation is about people, so we’re confident that our partnership with Sailthru will assist us in truly understanding our customers’ interests and ultimately in creating intelligent, tailored messages especially for each of them”.

Main learning point: Personalisation by Mr & Mrs Smith makes total sense. Targeting customers with personalised messages and offers is very logical from both a business and a customer experience perspective. This approach – and the subsequent customer insights that it will return – will no doubt give Mr & Mrs Smith the customer understanding required to tailor its marketing efforts and to predict future customer preferences.

Fig. 1 – Potential scenarios with regard to personalisation for Mr & Mrs Smith customers

  • A single customer profile and targeted campaigns- As a customer I don’t wanted to be spammed by Mr & Mrs Smith with big blast type mailing lists. I only want to receive communications about offers for hotels that could be of interest to me. I expect Mr & Mrs Smith to be smart about my previous bookings. For example, if I’ve previously booked child-friendly hotels through Mr & Mrs Smith, I don’t expect to be sent lost of info on Honeymoon Hotspots.
  • Personalised recommendations – If I opt-in to receive push notifications from Mr & Mrs Smith on my mobile, I expect these messages to be relevant and tailored to my interests. For example, Mr & Mrs Smith make it more attractive for me to engage with these messages by offering a window during which a discount for a specific hotel is available. I can imagine that Mr & Mrs will be particularly interested in the feedback loop related to its personalised recommendations. For example, if I don’t open the Mr & Mrs Smith email with “Discounts on all our Maldives hotels” what will Mr & Mrs Smith infer from this implicit behaviour?
  • Targeted messaging and editorial – I can imagine that Mr & Mrs Smith differentiate in the way they approach customers who maybe book 1 hotel per year compared to its “Goldmsith” members, who pay £400 per year for specific benefits. The type, frequency and copy of communications will vary per customer segment.
  • Personalised service – When I phone up Mr & Mrs Smith’s call centre with a question, I expect the person at the other end of the line to have all my information at hand. The person helping me with my query knows about my previous bookings through Mr & Mrs Smith, my preferences and the current booking that I’m calling about.

Related links for further learning:


Mr & Mrs Smith



Product management at Amazon – What is it like?

Since reading the well known answer on Quora about Amazon’s approach to product development and product management by Ian McAllister I’ve been intrigued about Amazon and its product management function. In his Quora answer, McAllister – General Manager for AmazonSmile explains about Amazon’s approach called “working backwards”.
I guess most non-Amazon product people are familiar with the internal press releases that Amazon product people write to announce the finished product, even though in reality this product has yet to be built (see Fig. 1 below). Apart from following Amazon and its product releases, I’ve always wanted to find more about Amazon and its approach to product.
Later this week, I’ll be speaking to a senior Amazon figure to find out first hand about Amazon’s product culture and what it’s like to be a product person at Amazon. In preparation for this conversation, I’ll look at three aspects related to Amazon’s product function: (1) product culture (2) product methodologies and (3) structure and approach.

1. Product culture

  1. Leadership Principles –  It was interesting to read Amazon’s Leadership Principles, which are meant to guide every Amazon employee (see Fig. 2 below). The principles that resonated with me the most were “ownership”, “bias for action” and “vocally self critical”. In addition, from my experience of Amazon product managers, a lot of them seem to possess a great deal of intellectual curiosity and a strong desire to get every detail of the product (experience) 100% right.
  2. Founding principles – Each year, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos writes a letter to his shareholders. In his first letter in 1997, Bezos outlined some of the fundamental principles which underpin Amazon’s decision making. These principals reflect a clear focus on long-term and analytical thinking as well as on the customer and their needs (see Fig. 3 below).
  3. Judgment based decisions – In the 2005 edition of Jeff Bezos’ annual shareholder letter, he writes about the importance of judgment (in combination with maths and data analysis) in making decisions: “As you would expect, however, not all of our important decisions can be made in this enviable, math-based way. Sometimes we have little or no historical data to guide us and proactive experimentation is impossible, impractical, or tantamount to a decision to proceed. Though data, analysis, and math play a role, the prime ingredient in these decisions is judgment”. I would file this view under the data informed approach to product decision making of which I’m a big fan.

2. Product methodologies

  1. Working backwards – As I mentioned above, Amazon is well known for its approach to “working backwards”. As Amazon’s CTO Werner Vogels explained in 2006, the main rationale for this approach is “to drive simplicity through a continuous, explicit customer focus” (see Fig. 4 below). Not only does this approach entail writing a press release but also a Frequently Asked Questions document, a well defined customer experience and a user manual. All four deliverables are in my view testament to Amazon’s customer centric focus. In a 2009 Newsweek interview, Jeff Bezos explained that it all starts with the customer: “We start with the customer and we work backward. We learn whatever skills we need to service the customer. We build whatever technology we need to service the customer.”
  2. Continuous learning – Amazon say that they release code every 11.6 seconds. That’s a great figure, especially considering some of the lengthy release cycles out there, even for Internet only companies. This approach of releasing early and often, facilitates what I’d call “continuous learning”. Amazon seems not afraid to launch and iterate product initiatives such as “Amazon Locker” (see Fig. 5 below) and Amazon Storyteller, and are quite ruthless in ditching a product or service if it’s doesn’t generate the desired results.
  3. Product documentation and roadmaps – As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of having to write endless product documentation, I was delighted to find out that the use PowerPoint has been banned at Amazon, with Jeff Bezos arguing that with PowerPoint “you get very little information, you get bullet points.  This is easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience”. Instead, Amazon meetings are structured around a 2 to 6 page narrative memo (see Fig. 6 below). Also, part of the meeting is spent going through the narrative memo together, before discussing it. One of my questions for my contact is how this approach applies to the way in which in Amazon creates opportunity assessments or product roadmaps.
  4. Goal setting – I understand that Amazon follow a similar approach to Google when it comes to setting goals.  Google introduced “OKRs” (i.e. Objectives Key Results) a few years ago and I’ve found OKRs a great way to make business objectives very tangible and specific (see Fig. 7 and 8).

3. Structure and approach

  1. “Two pizza” teams – I really like how Amazon works with so-called “two pizza” teams. The reason why these teams are called “two pizza” teams is because teams should never have more people than you can feed with two pizzas. As a result, most teams consist of 6-10 people. As Amazon CTO Werner Vogels explained, “if you have more than ten people in your team, you’ll need to have meetings”. It’s not so much about the team size, but much more about the team’s “fitness function”. A fitness function is a single key business metric that the senior executive team at Amazon (the “S-team”) agrees on with the team lead. It’s the equivalent of the P&L for a division: a single metric to provide the team with focus and accountability. I like that this provides team with autonomy and accountability, having the remit to ‘just get on with things’.
  2. Continuous deployment – Given that Amazon release code every 11 seconds, I’d be keen to find out more about release management at at Amazon. I can imagine that they work in iterations and release code throughout. I like how Etsy go about releasing up to 35 times a day. Naturally, Etsy is a lot smaller by comparison with Amazon, but I can imagine that Amazon use a similar approach whereby they use “config” flags (also known as a feature flags) which enables companies to switch features on or off at a moment’s notice. Through its feature API, Etsy is able to do A/B testing, completely enable or disable a feature or variants of a given feature. Also, I can imagine Amazon having a super sophisticated and easy to access monitoring tool through which everyone in the company can keep abreast with any releases or system failures. It was reassuring to read that Amazon don’t have Product Development Managers, but instead allow their Product Managers to decide on what gets shipped and why.
  3. Idea generation and evaluation – How do product ideas get generated at Amazon? Do Amazon product people use methodologies such as design thinking and empathy mapping to identify and prioritise customer needs? If so, why and how? I understand from the aforementioned Ian McAllister that product ideas can come from lots of different perspectives in and outside of Amazon and I get the sense that being able to articulate a product idea and its underlying rationale is a critical requirement for a product person Amazon. It was interesting to read McAllister’s 16 tips for writing upwards in this respect (see Fig. 9 below).

Main learning point: It was interesting to learn more about Amazon’s approach to product management. I’m now looking forward to finding out more from someone who actually lives and breathes Amazon’s product and customer centric approach. These are some of the questions that I’ll ask:

  • How involved are Amazon’s product people in its continuous deployments? Do they get to release themselves?
  • With Amazon’s continuous deployment mindset, do Amazon product managers apply assumptions and measurable hypotheses to each (major) release?
  • How do product ideas get generated at Amazon? What is the role of the product manager in generating, assessing and deciding on product ideas?
  • When “working backwards”, how much of the artefacts of this phase are actually used by (target) Amazon customers? How much user input is gathered at this stage (by the product person) and why?
  • How often, where and when do Amazon’s product managers interact with actual customers and why?
  • How do Amazon product managers interact with “Customer Experience Bar Raisers” who are Amazon employees especially trained to represent the (target) customer?
  • How much autonomy do Amazon product managers have to make product decisions and be held accountable for them?


Fig. 1 – Ian McAllister’s answer to the question “What is Amazon’s approach to product development and product management? – Taken from:

For new initiatives a product manager typically starts by writing an internal press release announcing the finished product. The target audience for the press release is the new/updated product’s customers, which can be retail customers or internal users of a tool or technology. Internal press releases are centered around the customer problem, how current solutions (internal or external) fail, and how the new product will blow away existing solutions.

If the benefits listed don’t sound very interesting or exciting to customers, then perhaps they’re not (and shouldn’t be built). Instead, the product manager should keep iterating on the press release until they’ve come up with benefits that actually sound like benefits. Iterating on a press release is a lot less expensive than iterating on the product itself (and quicker!).

Here’s an example outline for the press release:

  • Heading – Name the product in a way the reader (i.e. your target customers) will understand.
  • Sub-Heading – Describe who the market for the product is and what benefit they get. One sentence only underneath the title.
  • Summary – Give a summary of the product and the benefit. Assume the reader will not read anything else so make this paragraph good.
  • Problem – Describe the problem your product solves.
  • Solution – Describe how your product elegantly solves the problem.
  • Quote from You – A quote from a spokesperson in your company.
  • How to Get Started – Describe how easy it is to get started.
  • Customer Quote – Provide a quote from a hypothetical customer that describes how they experienced the benefit.
  • Closing and Call to Action – Wrap it up and give pointers where the reader should go next.

If the press release is more than a page and a half, it is probably too long. Keep it simple. 3-4 sentences for most paragraphs. Cut out the fat. Don’t make it into a spec. You can accompany the press release with a FAQ that answers all of the other business or execution questions so the press release can stay focused on what the customer gets. My rule of thumb is that if the press release is hard to write, then the product is probably going to suck. Keep working at it until the outline for each paragraph flows.

Fig. 2 – Amazon’s Leadership Principles – Taken from:

Whether you are an individual contributor or the manager of a large team, you are an Amazon leader. These are our leadership principles and every Amazonian is guided by these principles.

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.”

Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.” As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts.

Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others.

Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Think Big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers. Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

Vocally Self Critical
Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. Leaders come forward with problems or information, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Earn Trust of Others
Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility.

Dive Deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit frequently. No task is beneath them.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver Results
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

Fig. 3 – Some of Amazon’s fundamental management and decision making principles, as outlined in Jeff Bezos’ shareholder letter in 1997 – Taken from:

Because of our emphasis on the long term, we may make decisions and weigh tradeoffs differently than some companies. Accordingly, we want to share with you our fundamental management and decision-making approach so that you, our shareholders, may confirm that it is consistent with your investment philosophy:

  • We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers.
  • We will continue to make investment decisions in light of long term market leadership considerations rather than short term profitability considerations or short term Wall Street reactions.
  • We will continue to measure our programs and the effectiveness of our investments analytically, to jettison those that do not provide acceptable returns, and to step up our investments in those that work best. We will continue to learn from both our successes and failures.
  • We will work hard to spend wisely and to maintain our lean culture. We understand the importance of continually reinforcing a cost-conscious culture, particularly in a business incurring net losses.

Fig. 4 – Four typical steps in Amazon’s approach of “working backwards” – Taken from:

The Working Backwards product definition process is all about is fleshing out the concept and achieving clarity of thought about what we will ultimately go off and build. It typically has four steps:

  1. Start by writing the Press Release. Nail it. The press release describes in a simple way what the product does and why it exists – what are the features and benefits. It needs to be very clear and to the point. Writing a press release up front clarifies how the world will see the product – not just how we think about it internally.
  2. Write a Frequently Asked Questions document. Here’s where we add meat to the skeleton provided by the press release. It includes questions that came up when we wrote the press release. You would include questions that other folks asked when you shared the press release and you include questions that define what the product is good for. You put yourself in the shoes of someone using the product and consider all the questions you would have.
  3. Define the customer experience. Describe in precise detail the customer experience for the different things a customer might do with the product. For products with a user interface, we would build mock ups of each screen that the customer uses. For web services, we write use cases, including code snippets, which describe ways you can imagine people using the product. The goal here is to tell stories of how a customer is solving their problems using the product.
  4. Write the User Manual. The user manual is what a customer will use to really find out about what the product is and how they will use it. The user manual typically has three sections, concepts, how-to, and reference, which between them tell the customer everything they need to know to use the product. For products with more than one kind of user, we write more than one user manual.

Fig. 5 – Amazon Locker – Taken from:


Fig. 6 – Main components of Amazon’s 2 or 6 page meeting narratives – Taken from:

  1. The context or question
  2. Approaches to answer the question – by whom, by which method, and their conclusions
  3. How is your attempt at answering the question different or the same from previous approaches
  4. Now what? – that is, what’s in it for the customer, the company, and how does the answer to the question enable innovation on behalf of the customer?

Fig. 7 – An example of Google’s OKRs, by John Doerr – Taken from:





Fig. 8 – Key elements of Google’s OKRs by Rick Klau – Taken from:

  • Objectives are ambitious, and should feel somewhat uncomfortable
  • Key Results are measurable; they should be easy to grade with a number (at Google we use a 0 – 1.0 scale to grade each key result at the end of a quarter)
  • OKRs are public; everyone in the company should be able to see what everyone else is working on (and how they did in the past)
  • The “sweet spot” for an OKR grade is .6 – .7; if someone consistently gets 1.0, their OKRs aren’t ambitious enough. Low grades shouldn’t be punished; see them as data to help refine the next quarter’s OKRs.

Fig. 9 – Ian McAllister’s tips for “writing upwards” – Taken from:

1. Identify Your Audience
A good doc has a specific audience in mind. The same doc will never be ideal for audiences up, across, down or out. Once you’ve identified the audience, many of the choices you’ll make while writing the doc (e.g. altitude) will be much easier to make. In this post I focus on docs written to be circulated upwards.

2. Identify the Document’s Goal
Documents should have a goal in mind. The goal could be to communicate an operational plan for the year, provide a status update, seek approval for a specific course of action, or explain the root cause and steps to prevent reoccurrence of a problem. Once you know your audience (but not before), and the goal the document is intended to achieve, you’re ready to move on. If you’re unclear on either then punt on the doc or clarify the audience and doc’s goal with whoever asked you to write it.

3. Find Some Good Examples
Hunt around for other similar documents and pore through them. You may find some on your company’s Intranet and you can ask around among peers for good examples they’ve written or come across. I guarantee you, if you read 10 docs you’ll come away with a sense for which were effective and what you can learn (i.e. copy) from them. This is not cheating. Be aware that if you’re writing for a particular exec or group that the format they favor might be different than the format favored by others. Find this out ahead of time if you can.

4. One Doc, One Author
Co-authoring a doc is painful, and the Frankendocs that result are usually painful to read as well. Collaborate on the outline, perhaps, but either write it yourself or have your prospective co-author write it. Don’t tag-team.

5. Add an Executive Summary
Boil the entire doc down into a few bullets or a paragraph. Spill it. Your temptation will be to save the good stuff for the end of the doc to build suspense or get your excuses in ahead of time. Resist! If you are emailing your doc to a group of people many won’t read the whole thing. The exec summary communicates the highlights, which is all some of the audience needs to know. For those that will read the whole doc the executive summary lays out the structure of the doc and answers key questions that might otherwise have clouded comprehension.

6. Take Time on the Outline
Just like it is quicker to fix a software bug during unit testing than in production, it is much more efficient to iterate of the outline of a document than to rework a fully written doc. I often ask my newer product managers to review the outline of a doc with me and incorporate any structural feedback I have before going on to write the full doc. Sometimes I even provide them a rough outline of what I’m looking to get from a doc to help get them started. Simple bullets are ideal. I don’t want sentences or mini-paragraphs.

The outline should tell a story from top to bottom, and it shouldn’t be flat. An outline with 16 sections at the same level isn’t an outline, it’s a list. If you find yourself with more than 5-6 sub-sections underneath any one heading consider grouping them. This gives the reader a framework to attach the information to, and helps them understand what to make of it. You’ll know you’re getting really good at outlines when you can go from the outline to the full doc by replacing each bullet in the outline with a couple sentences.

7. Add Themes for Structure
Themes are a great way to provide structure for a doc. If you’re laying out an operational plan for the year you might want to communicate 2-3 themes for the year, why different themes will be focus areas in different parts of the year, and how resources are going to be allocated between the themes. Themes take a doc from the 100,000 foot view to the 10,000 view. If you skip them, then you risk losing your audience between the high-level content and the tactical content; they don’t know how they got there.

8. Anticipate Key Questions in the Main Content
As you write the individual sections, take the reader from the 10,000 foot view to the 1,000 foot view. Start with the minimum amount of content necessary to achieve your goal. Use plain words and declarative (not flowery) language.

Related links for further learning:


Order Dynamics and omni-channel commerce

There are plenty of ‘big data’ analytics companies out there, particularly in the eCommerce space, but I was intrigued to find out more about a company called Order Dynamics.

Order Dynamics’ strap line is pretty self-explanatory: “powering the new reality of retail: helping retailers activate commerce from first interaction to fulfilment”. The company offers a number of data solutions which aim to help retailers with their omni-channel approaches. This means that Order Dynamics covers the full customer journey, irrespective of the customer channel of choice (e.g. online and offline).

Before I looked at Order Dynamics’ omni-channel data intelligence products, I first delved into what “omni-channel retailing” actually entails:

  1. Multiple dimensions – There are at least 3 different dimensions to omni-channel retailing: (1) “Brick2Click” – integration by physical store and online store, for example customer support (2) “Device2Web” is all about the customer reaching the online store through multiple devices (e.g. mobile, tablet, PC) and (3) “eAve2Web” – Think of online market places or “eAves” whereby customers are directly served through a central database which contains e.g. customer ID and order ID. Customers are likely to use a variety of these channels before a reaching a purchase decision (see Fig. 1 below).
  2. Key drivers – As becomes apparent from looking at diagram in Fig. 1 below, omni-channel retail is very much driven by the consumer and the channels she decides to engage with. Cost savings are another important driver, with retailers trying to optimise for efficiency in the way they manage the different channels. I guess the trick to aim for a healthy degree of synchronisation between the different channels, to avoid ending up with separate warehouses or systems for each individual channel. I can imagine that this is at the heart of what Order Dynamics do; helping retailers to manage their multiple channels as effectively and efficiently as possible, using real-time data to be on top of the performance of each channel.
  3. Challenges to consider – I came across a brief document from 2008 titled What is multi-channel retail: benefits, challenges and impacts by Rizwan Taybali which helped me in getting a better idea of some of the challenges involved in omni-channel retailing (see Fig. 2 below). I can imagine that treating the customer journey as a one single experience, even though it can involve multiple channels, is probably a key challenge for most retailers.

These are some of the things I learned about Order Dynamics’ bespoke omni-channel product offering:

  1. In-store pickup – Order Dynamics provides tools to help retailers manage complex in-store fulfilment scenarios,  for example to ensure retailers keep the right amount of in-store inventory to fulfil online orders. This facilitates “rapid fulfilment”, whereby online customers can pick up their orders immediately at their most convenient location.
  2. Ship-from-Store – This is all about helping clients to make their operations more efficient and provide faster delivery. Order Dynamics’ solutions can help in converting brick and mortar retail stores into localised distribution centres for online order fulfilment.  Once customers purchase online, their order passes through the intelligent order routing system that a retailer has created based on individual store-level requirements and inventory reserves, routing automatically to the optimal store for fulfilment.
  3. Single customer profile – I can imagine that having a single customer profile is a critical requirement for any omni-channel retailer. Order Dynamics’ data solution enable retailers to have a unified, real-time view of their customers across their different channels. Retailers can aggregate customer order information, preferences and shipping behaviour into a single repository to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty and business decision making (see Fig. 3 below).
  4. Save-the-sale – “Save the sale” refers to helping customer service agents mitigate the impact of order cancellations or out of stock issues.
  5. Buy anywhere, return anywhere – Order Dynamics’ data solutions help retailers to manage things like cross-channel returns and inventory allocations by supporting reverse logistics (i.e. all operation related to the reuse of materials and products) and handling of returned inventory. Products returned in-store can either be shipped back to the fulfilment warehouse or automatically flagged to be utilised for the next online order.
  6. Multi-channel customer care – Customer experience is key here. It’s about providing a high level of customer service which is consistent across all retail channels. For example, retailers can improve the customer experience when contacting a call centre by providing customer service agents with fast access to a single, accurate view of the customer, including orders, history and preferences.

Main learning point: I’m hoping to learn more about both omni-channel retailing and Order Dynamics’ data driven solutions in this respect. It would also be interesting to find out more about which retailers have truly cracked omni-channel retailing. This definitely is a vert interesting and rich area for me to explore further!

Fig. 1 – A nice depiction of the new omni-channel retail decision making factors – Taken from:


 Fig. 2 – Key challenges related to omni-channel retailing – Taken from:

  • Evaluating cost of investment in development of effective, secure and scalable environments and systems integration against probable short term impact on bottom line.
  • Pricing across different channels – Store channels have higher cost structures than web channels for example, and price competition is higher on the web but consumers can be put off by different pricing for the same product.
  • Channel synchronisation i.e. ensuring brand, customer experience and customer information consistency across channels while avoiding the ‘3E’ trap i.e. trying to provide ‘everything to everyone everywhere’.
  • Problems in merging and standardising customer data i.e. unifying different systems which may have very different data models.
  • Difficulties in reducing or abolishing organisational boundaries to cope with new channels.

Fig. 3 – High level overview of Order Dynamics’ “Single Customer Profile” offering – Taken from:

  • Optimize cross-channel operations to respond to changing customer behaviors and preferences
  • Get real-time, accurate customer information and order history from all channels, employees and touch points
  • Improve your ability to make intelligent merchandising decisions, product selections, and customer retention strategies
  • Identify your most valuable customers and determine where to focus promotions
  • Increase ROI on digital marketing campaigns with higher conversions and more effective cross sell/upsell strategies

Related links for further learning:









Julia Shalet explains about user research at the Mobile Academy

Last night, I attended another great class at the Mobile Academy. Julia Shalet, Course Director at the Mobile Academy, talked about how one can do user research (and do it well).

Julia started by stressing the importance of choosing the right research method to suit the corroboration of one’s assumptions. She talked about the difference between quantitative and qualitative research methods. This was followed by live sample group discussion which Julia ran.

I’ve seen Julia run these live sessions before, and she’s great at bringing things to life by actually running sample focus groups or short one to one interviews in front of an audience. Based on this live demonstration, people asked questions like “why did you give the rewards first” or mentioned that they liked how Julia started the focus group with an icebreaker. Julia then talked about good practice for running these kinds of group sessions (see Fig. 1 below).

Julia then ran a live usability test with one attendee. Again, it was great to see Julia do a one to one usability session there and then. It was interesting to hear Julia talk about asking user expectations about a specific task before asking them to do the actual task (see Fig. 2 below). She also talked about aiming to have at least 5 users in the same target segment when doing an usability test.

The next topic that Julia covered was the “Net Promoter Score” (‘NPS’). Julia started off by asking attendees to give an anonymous score of how likely they would be to recommend the Mobile Academy course to a friend. She then explained about advocacy and explained the difference between advocacy and being satisfied; satisfied customers are less likely to spread the word about a product or service. Julia outlined how to calculate an NPS score (see Fig. 3 below). An NPS score can be good way to set context (benchmark) and provide businesses with a tangible customer-based measure to strive for.

Julia finished the class by talking about “Tips for Creating Successful Surveys” (see Fig. 4 below). She gave the class a bunch of practical pointers on how to best do surveys. People then asked her questions like “Do you give people a reward?” or “Would you share survey results with respondents?”.

Main learning point: Really liked the practical nature of Julia’s session on user research. It’s make user research sound very complicated and onerous, but Julia succeeded in providing the Mobile Academy class with a lot of practical suggestions and tools to apply.

Fig. 1 – Good practice for group discussions:

  • Create the right environment
  • Don’t mix up target groups in the same session
  • Rewards up front, neutrality and set out what will happen
  • Use introductions to break down barriers
  • Get them talking by engaging all members of the group
  • Active listening: repeat and summarise
  • Never answer a question – bat it other respondents
  • Record, listen back and review for bias

Fig. 2 – Usability: Good Practice

  • Intro: rewards up front, neutrality, set out what will happen & scenario
  • Natural habitat is best
  • Don’t do anything until I ask you to
  • If you find some something difficult it needs improving, it’s not you
  • Watch them and record it
  • What are you testing? List user flows? Function?
  • Structure the questions accordingly
  • If the user has difficulties, record a fail, then prompt
  • Works well in pairs
  • Invite developers to table

Fig. 3 – Calculating NPS – Taken from:


 Fig. 4 – Tips for Creating Successful Surveys

  • Design it back to the front
  • Less is definitely more
  • Avoid leading questions
  • Avoid making assumptions
  • No jargon / plain English
  • No double barreled questions
  • Think carefully about anonymity
  • Always test out with friends first

Site review: Thread

Thread looks like the perfect site for fashionable men or those who perhaps want to become a bit more fashionable. It was founded by serial entrepreneur Kieran O’Neill who explained to GQ at the end of last year what Thread is all about: “what’s special is that you have access to the exact same stylists that celebrities or wealthy individuals have access to.”

Kieran then went on to explain that Thread wants users to build a long term relationship with their stylists. I decided to have a go for myself and see what I can to do improve my style:

  1. How did this site come to my attention? – A friend of my mine, who I know to be very fashionable, mentioned Thread to me.
  2. My quick summary of the site (before using it) – A style guide for men who want to find out about fashion & apparel online which (1) fits their personal style and (2) takes away the need to search in multiple places online.
  3. How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – Thread’s homepage states in bold letters: “Dress well without trying”. It then explains – in less bold letters – that one of Thread’s stylists can help you find clothes you’ll love, “all online and completely free”.
  4. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (1)? – First, I got asked the standard stuff like my gender, age and date of birth. Things got more interesting when I was asked to select a style that I was aiming for (see Fig. 1 below). Knowing that I could select as many styles as I wanted, I selected 5 different styles which I felt came closest to the look that I’m aiming for. The only downside was that when I wanted to go back and add a few more styles, I realised that there wasn’t a “back” button.
  5. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (2)? – I then had to give an indication of how much I usually spend on each item. Perhaps it’s just me, but I felt a tad confused by the term “usually”, especially since I sometimes a spend quite a lot of money on clothing (relatively speaking) and other times next to nothing. For example, I’m an addict for sneakers so my collection contains Nike Air Force 1s that weren’t that cheap as well as Converse All Stars which were very cheap in comparison. It might have been better to have been able to use budget ranges rather than a set price point when answering this question.
  6. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (3)? – The next step, selecting the brands that I wear, felt easy and intuitive (see Fig. 3 below). I picked a few brands and added a brand that wasn’t on the list. I was then asked to upload some photos of myself (see Fig. 4 below). Perhaps I had missed it when I first arrived on the site, but for me this was the first point where I started to understand where all the previous steps were taking me; enabling a dedicated stylist to provide me with recommendations tailored to my style and brand preferences. It wasn’t clear, however, from the explanatory text what would happen if I didn’t upload a picture of myself. Would the stylist recommendations be less good? Would the whole process come to a halt? It might be an idea to have an explanatory text which appears when a user hovers over the “Skip” button. The actual photo upload process from Facebook was very straightforward.
  7. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (4)? – Even though I had pressed “Done” after uploading my photos, I was nevertheless presented with another step: “What do you usually wear to work? Select by clicking on the pictures, and hit “Next Step” when done” (see Fig. 5 below). Perhaps others may well consider my next suggestion superfluous, but how about adding that one can select as many styles as they like? Not only would this be consistent with the copy used for previous steps but it would also work well with the scenario whereby men dress smart 4 days per week, apart from on ‘Casual Fridays’.
  8. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (5)? – Next, I was asked about the trouser fit that I prefer. To be honest, by this point I was starting to get a little bit restless. Nonetheless, I clicked on the trouser styles that I tend to wear most often (see Fig. 6 below). I then expected to be asked about the type of shirt fit I preferred. Instead, I was asked about the types of shoes that I prefer. I selected sandals/flip-flops and sneakers/trainers (see Fig. 7 below), followed by specific colours that I preferred (see Fig. 8 below).
  9. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (6)?  I felt I was getting close to the end when I was asked whether I was “open to trying more daring fashion styles?”. What!? Perhaps I was just getting a bit tired at this stage, but I was like: “are you telling me that my current fashion style isn’t daring enough!?” and “what does daring mean?” (I know guys for whom wearing a slim fit shirt takes them way out of their comfort zones but I also know guys who wear pink clothes like it’s nobody’s business – their interpretations of “daring” are likely to vary). I then realised that I was being a bit facetious, since a good stylist would be able to interpret what “daring” constitutes for each individual user, based on their input as part of the previous steps. Outcome: I dropped my initial thoughts, as they didn’t make sense!
  10. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (7)?  After I’d indicated which styles and products I’d never wear (see Fig. 10 below), I was then asked some check box questions which aimed to give Thread and its stylists a bit more context about me. Answering questions on the amount of style help I felt I needed and my reason for using Thread actually felt quite helpful (see Fig. 11 below). What I found most helpful when it came to selecting my sizes (see Fig. 12 below) was the ability to leave a comment on any specific requirements. For example, I left a comment in the text field to say that when I buy shirts, I sometimes buy them in size “small” and other times in size “medium”, depending on the make of the shirt (I assumed that the stylist would be able to work out that I’ve got funny shoulders from the pics that I uploaded earlier).
  11. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (8)?  I found the brief description of “How Thread works” (see Fig. 13 below) very helpful. Part of me was wondering whether some of the info in this description could have been peppered throughout the different onboarding steps. Doing so could in my opinion have helped to provide the user with a clear picture of the end goal. By this stage I was ready to get some good fashion advice and it was great that I could indicate to my stylist what I was looking for in my first outfit (see Fig. 14 below). Et voila, I was then presented with my personal stylist, Sophie Gaten (see Fig. 15 below).
  12. How easy to use was the site? – The signup process mostly felt easy and intuitive. As noted above, I felt that there were few points within the signup process where additional explanatory text could have been beneficial. Also, I believe it would be good if the site would provide with more opportunities to mention specific clothing requirements or issues. For example, I liked a recent F&F fashion campaign by social media agency We Are Social which allowed users to pose more specific styling enquiries or requirements.
  13. How did I feel while exploring the site? – Not sure if one can truly refer to the onboarding process as “exploring”, I guess that will come once I’ve received some specific recommendations from Sophie, my personal stylist. Having gone through all the steps of the signup process, I have some suggestions for potential improvements that Thread could consider in order to keep users fully engaged throughout the process (see Fig. 16 below).
  14. How does this app compare to similar sites? – As intuitive as I found Thread, I really struggled with a similar app in CoolGuy; I clicked on the icons for “My Closet” and “Outfits” but struggled to grasp what was expected of me or what the app was about. My first impression of Trunk Club, which promises similar things to Thread, was that this site wasn’t geared to people like me. Purely based on the imagery used, I got the sense that people wearing baggy Carhartt trousers and colourful sneakers, might not be well served by Trunk Club’s personal stylists. It would be good to see what the user experience on similar apps for women (e.g. My Shape Stylist and Blynk) is like.
  15. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Overall, I was very happy with the signup process, even though it did feel lengthy at times. The proof is in the pudding, so I’m looking forward to Thread’s actual recommendations!

Fig. 1 – Signing up for Thread: Screenshot of “What kind of style are you aiming for? Select as many as you like”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 21.19.13


Fig. 2 – Signing up for Thread: Screenshot of “How much do you usually spend? Select the amount you usually spend on each item”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 21.28.25


Fig. 3 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “What brands do you wear – Select as many as you like”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 21.39.34


Fig. 4 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Upload photos of you”


Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 21.44.56



Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 21.48.35


Fig. 5 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “What do you usually wear to work?”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 21.57.06

Fig. 6 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Which trouser fits do you prefer?”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.04.56


Fig. 7 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Are there any of these shoe types you prefer?”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.09.33

Fig. 8 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Which colours can your stylist include in their recommendations?”


Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.14.01


Fig. 9 – Signing up for Thread: “How open are you to trying more daring fashion styles?”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.16.39


Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.23.58


Fig. 10 – Signing up for Thread: “Are there any of these styles you’d never consider wearing?”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.26.33



Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.29.01


Fig. 11 – Signing up for Thread – Screenshot of “Tell us a couple things about yourself”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.30.50

Fig. 12 – Signing up for thread – Screenshot of “Select your sizes”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.36.06


Fig. 13 – Signing up for Thread  – Screenshot of “How Thread Works”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.37.23

Fig. 14 – Signing up for Thread – Screenshot of “Tell your stylist what you’re looking for your in your first outfits”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.38.50


Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.39.37


Fig. 15 – Signing up for Thread – Screenshot of my personal stylist

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.40.29


Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 22.41.31

Fig. 16 – Suggested improvements in relation to Thread’s signup

  • Ability for users to save their signup information and be able to come back to it later – There were quite a few steps to go through, which made me think that it would be good for users to feel comfortable abandoning the process halfway through, knowing that they can always come back to and edit their info.
  • Style summary at the end – I like having my style profile captured as part of my account info on Thread. However, it would be great if users could be presented with their profiles at the end of the signup process, prior to ‘submitting’ one’s profile. This way users will have the opportunity to edit any info before sending it over to Thread and their dedicated stylist.
  • Progress bar – Given the number of steps involved in the signup process, I’d suggest introducing a progress bar which gives users a sense of where they are in the process. During the signup process I felt at times  that I wasn’t sure when this process was ever going to end. It would be good if I could see a visual representation of the remaining steps and understand the consequences of skipping a step.

Related links for further learning:


How TransferWise is changing the way in which we transfer money

TransferWise is one of those companies where you can just sniff groundbreaking success. TransferWise is a London-based peer-to-peer money transfer service which was started in January 2011. Earlier this week, the company was in the news because of rumoured discussions with well known Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, which could result in a valuation of nearly $1bn.

Transferwise is looking to disrupt the current status quo in banking land whereby premium (hidden) fees are charged when transferring money abroad. TransferWise was created to solve a problem that its Estonian co-founders Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann had experienced personally.

As Estonians working between their native country and the UK, they felt the “pain of international money transfer” due to bank charges on the amounts they needed to convert from euros to pounds and vice versa. With TransferWise, Taavet and Kristo are looking to remove the often felt frustration around transferring money abroad by significantly reducing the fees that one has to pay when transferring money. Banks charge up to 5% in (hidden) fees whereas TransferWise users pay 0.5%.

I’ve only just started using TransferWise myself, so I’ve start to look into how TransferWise works more closely:

  1. Peer-to-peer – When looking at the steps involved in transferring money through TransferWise (see Fig. 1 below), the component that helps in keeping Transferwise’s rates low is the fact that one’s outgoing money transfer is matched with people sending money in the opposite direction. This is different to how traditional banks tend to route payments abroad. Instead of transferring the sender’s money directly to the recipient, it is redirected to the recipient of an equivalent transfer going in the opposite direction. Likewise, the recipient of the transfer receives a payment not from the sender initiating the transfer, but from the sender of the equivalent transfer. This process avoids costly currency conversion and transfers crossing borders (see Fig. 2 below).
  2. Word of mouth – Given that Transferwise is peer-to-peer, growing its user base is critical to its success. TransferWise has a friend referral programme which incentivises users to invite their friends to TransferWise (see Fig. 3 below). I’m curious to find out more about how effective this programme has been in spreading the word and growing TransferWise’s user community. Currently, referrers are rewarded with cash incentives; it will be interesting to see whether TransferWise will – in the true spirit of gamification – motivate with the use of data instead of or as well as money. Businesses like Dropbox, Fab and Evernote have all created very successful referral programmes, using a number of gamification mechanics. I can imagine TransferWise have a solid group of customer advocates, who’ve derived tangible value from using its services. I wonder if these user champions are utilized by TransferWise in some sort of capacity, whether they have a formal customer advocate programme, engaging these users into campaigns or product improvements.
  3. What do users say? – Just to get a sense of how successful TransferWise is in delivering on its mission and its differentiators, I had a quick look at some of the user reviews on TransferWise’s page on Trustpilot. A quick scan of some of the comments on there shows a lot of happy customers. If there is a negative point, it’s the lack of speed with which the money transfers are completed. Some users feel that TransferWise is slower at transferring money than some of the other money transfer services but they seem to offset this against the money they save in transfer fees.

Main learning point: TransferWise is one of those businesses that is truly exciting. Firstly, their whole mission is about shaking up an industry by introducing a new way of doing things. Secondly, they are delivering tangible value (i.e. less money spent on money transfer fees) to their customers. I’ll definitely continue to use their services and I’ll keep a close eye on how they grow their user base over the coming years.

Fig. 1 – How does TransferWise work? Explained in 4 key steps – Taken from:

  1. Get started – Enter how much you’re transferring and where to. You can send to your own account abroad or another person or business.
  2. Upload money – Pay TransferWise in your local currency. Use your debit card, just like shopping online, or make a normal bank transfer.
  3. Conversion – TransferWise converts your money at the mid-market rate and matches you with people sending in the other direction.
  4. Money sent – The converted money is sent to the target bank account. Everyone gets notified by email, so you always know where the money is.

Fig. 2 – Comparing the usual concept of money transfer vs the peer-to-peer concept of money transfer – Taken from: and created by Shaviraghu – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Peer to peerFig. 3 – Screenshots of Transferwise’s online referral functionality

Invite friends 1

Invite friends 2

Fig. 4 – Some excerpts from user reviews on TransferWise’s TrustPilot page – Taken from:

  1. “Transferwise was very easy and emailed me every step of the way to tell me where my money was. As I’d never used a service like this, I called customer service several times and they were very helpful and assuring. It’s not as fast as a wire transfer between banks, but if you don’t need the money straight away, it’s worth it. The conversion rates are way better than what your bank will offer you, and you can avoid any international currency fees banks add on top of that. Would recommend to friends in the future.” “Kelly” on 13 November ’14
  2. “If you used a main UK bank the minimum charge is around £25 and can take a while to complete, the exchange rate is usually fairly poor too. No such problems with Transferwise, small charge of £4.98 to send £1,000 and got €1,270.92 (1,277.3 less fee). We should all be using TransferWise.”  “John Clive Williams” on 13 November ’14
  3. “I hate hidden fees. Transferwise is even faster than they claim. And they did everything they promised. Perfect.” “Mark” on 13 November ’14
  4. “I was trying to send money using my debit card and I received a misleading e-mail stating that I should contact my bank and transfer the money to Transferwise’s bank account. I didn’t want to do that so I tried again with my debit card and it worked. But the transfer was made twice… Lucky it was a small amount.” “Catherine” on 12 November ’14
  5. “over the moon with TransferWise, the ease of transferring my money, the rates offered and the fantastic minimum charge is the best around. Saved a lot of money with this service. Thank you” “Gerard” on 12 November ’14
  6. “Not quite as fast as the competing “more commercial” services, but the best rates we have ever achieved by some way.” “Simon” on 13 November ’14

EDITD and applying big data analytics to the fashion industry

Since I went to a talk about visual search of fashion products, I’ve been keen to find out more about how the fashion industry uses big data analytics to make product decisions. I then came across EDITD, which is a real-time fashion analytics company based in London. Given my passion for both fashion and data, I thought I’d have a closer look into what EDITD do:

  1. EDITD’s mission – EDITD’s overall mission is to “help the world’s apparel retailers, brands, and suppliers deliver the right products at the right price and the right time”. Given the fast pace nature of the fashion industry decisions about product planning and the right amount of stock are absolutely critical. Julia Fowler, co-founder of EDITD, gives a good example when she explains that “today, an EDITD user can simply run a query on cardigans, for example, and receive results in under a second. More than 50 million SKU (Stock Keeping Units, MA) are tracked by the system.” I came across another good example in EDITD’s UK lingerie market retail calendar which aggregated data on new arrivals, discounts and sellouts can help merchandisers planning timing and location of their stock (see Fig. 1 below). It also helps navigate promotional activity and discounting.
  2. EDITD’s product – It was interesting to see what kind of features are included in EDITD’s product offering (see Fig. 2). I read in article in Fortune that EDITD’s dataset includes 53 billion data points on the fashion industry dating back more than 4 years. The Fortune article also mentioned that EDITD’s data covers more than 1,000 retailers across the globe. The way in which EDITD aggregates all this data through its different features (see Fig. 2) is where the main value of using EDITD’s services comes into play.
  3. Tangible benefits – Earlier this year, fashion retailer Asos said that using EDITD led to a 37% revenue increase in the last quarter of 2013. This was due to the data insights provided by EDITD which helped structure Asos’ pricing competitively. Geoff Watts, EDITD’s CEO, told The Guardian that the main value for Asos from using EDITD came from using their insights to make informed buying decisions grounded in data. “Retail on a basic level is all about buying the right things, so getting that right and making sure you’re selling the right product at the right price is really what dictates your success,” Watts said. Maria Hollins, Asos’ retail director, echoed this and stressed the importance of Asos making the right decisions faster than their competitors.“At ASOS, being first for fashion means being always competitive and having just the right assortment,” she said. “We’re using Editd every day to help us make critical buying and trading decisions”. If anything, EDITD saves retailers and brands from having to do so-called “comp shopping”, having to spend time going to competitor sites and stores to buy their products and compare prices. Instead, through EDITD, people can see at a glance what the competitive price points are (see Fig. 4 below).

Main learning point: I can see why brands and retailers are keen to use EDIT’s data tools and insights on a daily basis. The data on fashion and apparel has been aggregated and presented in such way that it accommodates fast decision making. I was particularly impressed with what I’ve seen of EDITD’s front-end dashboard and the way in which its purpose built product tracker provides real-time market visibility.

Fig. 1 – EDITD’s UK lingerie market retail calendar – Taken from:


 Fig. 2 – EDITD’s main product features – Taken from:

  • Market Analytics – EDITD offers a product tracker built specifically for the fashion and apparel industry. The tool provides real-time market visibility, analysis of new stock and discount activity, entry and exit prices and number of options in stock which enables retailers to benchmark their performance against each brand or retailer, providing insights into market positioning.
  • Retail Reporting – EDITD offers daily and week reports on what’s selling the fastest and the latest trends in new arrivals.
  • Visual Merchandising – EDITD has an archive of newsletters, blogs and webpages with real-time updates for brands and retailers across the whole market, worldwide. The idea is that every communication with customers is captured, to help users find discount cycles, product trends and themes, and understand their retail cadence.
  • Trend Dashboard – EDITD’s real-time tracking monitors trend progress, and historic data shows performance and trajectory. This data is all captured in EDITD’s Trend Dashboard (see Fig. 3 below).
  • Runway & Street – If you want to get a better sense of emerging trends straight from runway shows or the ‘streets’, EDITD provides visual reports on new fashion and apparel trends to look out for.
  • Social Monitor – EDITD has a Social Monitor which combines the knowledge of over 800,000 thought-leaders, key influencers and fashion experts providing an instant source of inspiration and insight into the hottest trends and opinions.

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of EDITD’s Trend Dashboard – Taken from:

EDITD trend-dashboard-1

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of EDITD’s front-end providing competitive insights – Taken from:


Related links for further learning: