Today, e-commerce platforms have attained a greater significance among customers as it allows them to shop for products and services online, at any time. As a result of this phenomenal online shopping trend, the e-commerce companies are increasing in numbers considerably, offering varying services to attract more customers to its website. Evidently, this is also raising a sense of competition among e-retail companies, which is driving them to leverage the latest technologies in order to establish a competitive advantage in the ever-changing e-commerce landscape.
To stay ahead of their competitors in the longer run, companies should focus majorly on providing excellent customer experience and finding the right balance between a company’s business growth and monetary profit. As the co-founder and CTO of thredUP, I have spent a lot of time contemplating the right technology strategy to achieve this vision. Moreover, at thredUP, being a fashion resale website for consumers to buy and sell high-quality secondhand apparel, we have the added challenge of breaking down the stigma of shopping secondhand and I believe our technology helps in this mission.
Key Trends in the E-commerce Phase
It is no surprise that we continue to witness mobile apps and mobile shopping constantly picking up more steam in the e-commerce business. At thredUP, we are investing commensurately in enriching our mobile shopping platform to enhance our customers’ shopping experience no matter where they are. Concurrently, we are pursuing opportunities to leverage the benefits of every mainstream feature of a smartphone including the camera, location, mobile payments and other features to provide our customers a more powerful and convenient experience.
Moreover, in a marketplace like ours, prices are continuously changing and our mobile apps play a game-changing role to keep us connected with our customers at all times, updating and informing them regarding freshly listed products, price drops and discount offers. This characteristic of the device enables a real-time connection with customers on the go. Above all, it also plays a vital role in delivering a tailored and streamlined experience to our customers, which is our biggest focus at thredUP.
Another significant trend that is consistently fueling e-commerce is big data. With the enormous amount of data generated as customers shop, it is critical we are thoughtful about balancing their privacy with enabling a more personalized experience. We have a duty to protect and treat their data with respect and it is a top focus of our team to make sure we are doing right by them.
"To stay ahead of their competitors in the longer run, companies should focus majorly on providing excellent customer experience and finding the right balance between a company’s business growth and monetary profit"
Finding the Right Partners or Solution Providers
The decision to “build or buy” software solutions is constantly part of our team conversation. We decide on a partner based on the leverage that it provides and the tradeoff between its offering and the flexibility an in-house solution brings. We are looking for partners that work hard and are able to flex their systems to offer customized solutions to help us achieve our vision. Also, the total cost of ownership is a key factor that we look at. We have found a lot of success collaborating with our partners. For example, one of our partners, Vue.ai, serve us in AI styling and recommendations and help us achieve our goal by customizing its AI-powered automation platform for us.
Current Projects of thredUP
We are currently invested in upping our apparel cycles (intake and sales) to the tune of 100 million items by the end of 2019. The volume of items is increasing rapidly in our inventory as customers constantly send us their bags of second-hand clothes. Therefore, we are initiating a lot of projects to process and sell these clothes online. We also have our in-house distribution center technology—which we consider as our backbone—that works to provide excellent customer experience at a very low cost. We are continuing to develop more systems that can help enhance the customer experience and allow us to profitably offer lower prices along the way.
Today, we are collaborating with supply partners like Reformation and Cuyana, who offer a shopping credit to their customers when they clean out with thredUP. This initiative has garnered great success, and the projects are rolled to expand into a broader platform by collaborating with more brands. We are also proud to have launched our biggest campaign to date called “Choose Used,” which involved partnering with Olivia Wilde and her company Conscious Commerce. Together, we redesigned 4,000 used garments in an effort to combat textile waste and help breakdown the stigma of secondhand. #ChooseUsed was shared across all of our major channels and platforms including web, mobile, iOS, Android, Facebook, and Instagram. We are excited to launch more campaigns like this in the future to further our mission and inspire more consumers to think secondhand first.
Leadership Approach at thredUP
With a dual background of engineering and business management, I lead and manage my team through the knowledge that I acquired from these diverse fields. One of my personal traits that I believe in is “trust first” and provide people with the opportunity to own their domains. Moreover, it is important to maintain appropriate autonomy so that people feel they have the ability to shape and create an impact with their contribution. At thredUP, my work entails shaping strategy, developing and sharing context, and generating insights that help lead us as we develop the technology that drives our business. Ultimately I aim to lead and support our team as they own and drive the execution.
Augmenting Customer Experience
At the executive level discussion, we primarily focus on improving the customer experience. Almost everything that we do at thredUP, such as building internal tools in the distribution center, website and mobile app development, personalization and discussing the optimal pricing and the tradeoff to be made in it, we are driving to enhance the customer experience. Secondly, in an augmented marketplace like ours, it is a delicate balance between the company’s growth and profitability. When we push harder for rapid growth, it can come at the cost of the gross profit and vice-versa. We concentrate on every aspect that drives this balance, such as the flow of fresh items, attractive pricing, fair payouts to suppliers, all backed by our deep data warehouse. We strive to quickly and efficiently address any glitches in these aspects. Ultimately, we focus on building a technology strategy that helps accelerate the company’s growth while ensuring we achieve sustainable unit economics.
A Piece of Advice to Aspiring CTOs
Never underestimate the power of building a deeper understanding of your business’s mechanics and economics. Understanding the points of leverage in a company is critical as you aim to shape your technical and business’s strategy. Without a deep understanding of the true business dynamics, a CTO can fall short. Decision making with regard to technology can easily go astray without solid comprehension of the business. However, aligning technology decisions with the deeper business context serves as a multiplier in driving a successful product strategy.