Argos is an undoubted pioneer of digital and multichannel retail. From click and collect to online merchandising, the retailer has been ahead of its time.

That’s why it’s so exciting to catch up with a senior digital product manager at the brand, Lilly Keating, to see what her days entail…

Econsultancy: Please describe your job: What do you do?

Lilly Keating: I am a senior digital product manager looking after bespoke category experiences. This means that I am responsible for the vision and delivery of digital experiences for different product categories, for example developing different digital journeys for categories as diverse as homeware and technology products.

At the moment I am working on introducing new customer generated content components and more inspirational content throughout the journey for ‘homewares & furniture’. 

As part of my role I work closely with numerous teams in both Digital and the wider business to lead the creation and delivery of new and exciting features that enhance the customer shopping journey. 

Digital product managers are often described as the connector between customers, business and technology and I would say this reflects my role pretty accurately. 

A recent successful project was the delivery of a new responsive shopping experience for selling Tu clothing on Argos for the first time, especially challenging as we have never sold fashion before. We needed to build a number of new features to help customers on the product page to ‘find their fit’ based on how it had fit previous customers and ‘get the look’ by suggesting outfits using machine learning algorithms and previous customer purchases.

E: Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to? 

LK: I sit in the Digital Product Development team, which is a part of the wider Digital department, reporting into a principal lead product manager.

E: What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

LK: Product managers need a broad mix of skills and competencies, in our team we typically focus on six core areas:

  • Vision, the ability to imagine a better world for our customers and think innovatively about how to solve challenges they face.
  • Data driven, using analytics and insight to help inform what’s important to customers and in what priority order.
  • Team leadership, I get to collaborate with many different teams and groups from engineering to customer insight and analytics, so it’s important to get everyone moving in the same direction.
  • Pragmatism, not everything is possible all at once so we focus on what’s important and iterate over time to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible.
  • Communication, I’m often communicating an exec update one minute and then discussing a devops task the next, so it’s important to pick the right level of communication and flex my style to get the most out of conversations.
  • Technical, you do need to be tech-savy. You’re not expected to be a tech expert, but you do need to be able to hold conversations with engineering and business stakeholders with confidence about the implications of your projects. You also should have a keen interest in technology trends and implications these will have on the future of retail.
lilly keating

E: Tell us about a typical working day… 

LK: My days are really varied so I wouldn’t say that there is a typical working day, it all depends on where we are in the product lifecycle and current priorities. Generally I’m in the office before 9am to catch up on emails and admin while it’s still quiet. We then have a team stand-up at 10 to catch up on what team has been working on the previous day and the focus for the day ahead.

Beyond that, the day will be a mix of meetings to update stakeholders, workshops and ideation sessions to develop and explore new ideas and opportunities. I will check in to monitor delivery dependencies and spend time with the team to refine the product backlog and agree priorities. I also need to fit in time to do solo work around the longer term vision and strategy, analysis and reporting, and work on ad hoc documents and presentations. 

E: What do you love about your job? What sucks? 

LK: I love the fact that my work impacts shoppers on such a big scale. The new features and developments that I drive will be used and interacting with by millions of customers and I’m able to see firsthand how this affects shopping habits.

We’re also given real ownership of our areas in the team. We don’t just deliver pre-defined changes of requirements, we own and define the vision and the strategy behind it. Change can be delivered at pace, so you not only see the outcomes of your projects but also the value that they and you add to the team. 

A recent successful project was the delivery of a brand new, responsive homepage and customer services system which was built from scratch, including a complete platform refactor and redesign. 

My role can be frustrating at time as I have ambitious plans which I have to temper as we can’t do everything at once. Thus I prioritise the backlogs based on which features will add the most value for customers. 

E: What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success? 

LK: One of my key goals at the moment is improving the customer journey for homeware and furniture buying missions so that we can continue to compete in a challenging and ever-changing market. 

Objectives include improved customer engagement and conversion which are measured by KPIs such as conversion, average order size and CSAT. 

E: What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?

LK: Customer insight and analytics tools to understand customer needs and get their feedback, like self-serve portals to run reports and our in-house user testing lab.

Jira and Confluence for managing and tracking up-coming and in-progress work.

E: How did you land in this role, and where might you go from here?

LK: I started at Argos in the Digital Innovation team, having previously worked in the digital department of a big bank. I knew that I wanted to move into the faster-paced retail industry and I was impressed by the new Digital and Engineering function Argos that was building at the time, for a big organization it had the culture and approach of a start-up which I liked. 

After a year or so, the Digital Product team as it is today was put together and it seemed like the right team for me to move to as it was where a lot of the real change was happening and I knew I could make a real impact. Since then I’ve moved around different product areas and was recently promoted to my current role. 

There’s a lot more I want to learn from and bring to my current role, especially as it’s an entirely new area so there are a lot of opportunities and challenges still to come! Beyond that I’d be interested in developing my people management, mentoring, and coaching skills as those are areas I’m really passionate about.

E: Do you have advice for anybody who wants to work in your field?

LK: Insight into product management and development methodologies is always helpful, but I would say it’s all about passion for creating new things and improving experiences through constant testing and learning, and working collaboratively with lots of different types of people to achieve that.

To hear from more big brands, see the speaker lineup at the Festival of Marketing 2018. Econsultancy also runs training in ecommerce, and subscribers can download our Ecommerce Best Practice Guide.