I’ll admit it. I’m a geek. At the moment I’m spending most of my time working out the mathematical science of retail. It’s every bit as complicated as it sounds. The current system we use for buying and selling products and services is about 200 years old (most of the retail principles we rely on were dreamed up between 1860 and 1950). And that’s crazy, when you think how far we’ve come in terms of technology and innovation.
Of course, my musings aren’t entirely academic. My company, eCommera, makes its money from collecting, crunching and applying retail data. There are three strands to the business:
- The grunt: straightforward ecommerce solutions for clients like TM Lewin, House of Fraser and Space NK.
- The brains: data intelligence to help brands sell more efficiently – if this was James Bond, this would be Q’s department.
- And the heart: actually running e-commerce stores for our clients. We don’t white label, we create bespoke packages using client data, systems and domains. Had a look at the accessories website for the 2012 Olympics yet? That’s run by us.
Now that you know my obsession, you can probably get what my week looks like. There’s a wall of my office painted with idea paint, which means I can write on it. I do a lot of sitting, staring at that wall and thinking. I like to work alone, mostly. I do a lot of research, put together theories, and then thrash them out with people over the phone. One of our advisers is Professor Andreas Weigend, the former chief scientist at Amazon. We’ve been throwing around a lot of ideas about data mining recently. This is the stuff that interests me. My partner is the CEO, so he’s the guy who runs the business day-to-day.
I also do a lot of tub-thumping. Especially about privacy issues and cookies. One wonderful example of what’s going on now is that the civil servants have demanded that companies get prior permission from consumers to look at web analytics data. This would be impossible to enforce and, even if it was implemented, it would be like retailing blind. Imagine spending money on Google and not being able to track what people do? You’re going back to the dark ages of advertising. But the regulators say ‘We’re just interpreting the law’. It all reminds me of the poll tax debate years ago: governments come up with stupid laws and, with the best of intentions, do bad things. So, I like to agitate.
I also like to go and present my research to other businesses and retail analysts. Last week I was in Copenhagen, speaking to IC Companys, a Nordic firm with a portfolio of fashion brands, and talking about using e-commerce to completely rethink their global distribution strategy. The day went well, but I depressed myself by staying at the airport Hilton, getting rained on the whole time, and flying straight in and out without seeing the city. Next time, I’m going to stay at the Hotel DAngleterre and take myself for an expensive dinner.
That said, I’m horribly out of practice with amusing myself outside of work these days: hobbies and such. All extra curricular activities time to myself has been eclipsed by the joy of small children. When I’m not cogitating, I’m playing trains with my three-year-old son. To be honest, he’s probably the one thing that distracts me from work. After all, it’s hard to work out the future of retail while getting into the character of Thomas the Tank Engine…
Michael Ross is the ex-CEO of Figleaves.com, e-commerce consultant and co-founder of eCommera.