Rory O’Connor is the founder and CEO of Scurri, a provider of software that connects and optimises the ecommerce ordering, shipping, and delivery process. Econsultancy caught up with him to find out his view on the long-term trends affecting retail, how retailers have been adapting to the pandemic, and what advice he would give to young junior professionals just entering the industry.

How has your day-to-day work been impacted in the short term by the pandemic? What trends have you noticed in your sector?

We are very fortunate to be part of a booming sector that shows no sign of slowing down. Our growth and the growth of the sector has been massively accelerated by Covid-19 due to the obvious increase in consumer preference for online shopping. People who have never shopped online before adopted new behaviors during this time and we are confident they will probably keep these up even after this pandemic is over.

In real-growth terms, between March and July, we saw a 55% increase in delivery volumes and have been receiving a lot of inbound queries from retailers of all sizes. Usually, our clients operate in the £10 – £100 million revenue zone. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have been getting a lot of requests from somewhat smaller retailers too as they try to digitise their offering and compete in a much more challenging environment.

What changes have you seen retailers making to adapt to consumer behavioural shifts during the pandemic?

I think some were expecting that the e-commerce boom of the past months would not last once stores reopened. However, despite stores being reopened quite a while, the level of ecommerce sales globally is actually being sustained. The CDO of Ikea very recently affirmed that this was also the case with their brand, which is particularly interesting, especially when you consider the experiential aspect of physical shopping in Ikea. Also, I think anyone reading about Primark’s lockdown losses (£800 million!) will at least give stronger consideration to the benefits of operating online.

With the permanent closure of many retail outlets, online is a safer, rent-free haven and therefore a surer bet, particularly for more agile smaller outlets.

Retailers have had to make gargantuan changes overnight in order to remain relevant. The task of digitising your retail strategy for many was a major task. I think the brands that got it right, that provided the best online experiences and demonstrated the best brand values during the lockdown reaped and will continue to reap the benefits in the months ahead.

What does the longer term look like in your sector?

In the long term, especially until a vaccine is found, every aspect of retail will need to be shaped around current but also future pandemic scenarios. Even post-vaccine, I believe that at that stage many will have adopted permanent online shopping behaviors and make the switch to online indefinitely. While these gradual behavior changes weren’t unexpected, the timeline has been ramped up by years. Of course, that’s not to say physical shopping will not exist, but with so many large retailers closing, I can imagine there may be less large chains and more smaller retailers taking their place.

Sustainability and ethics will be an even greater consideration. There will be an expectation for authenticity. Consumers will reward those brands that “do the right thing” during this challenging time. That means telling the truth, valuing people over profits and using resources for the greater good.

The growth opportunities are there and right now it is still about capturing them and bedding down good practice to survive the months ahead – whatever they will bring.

Is there any particular skill or piece of technology that you think all ecommerce professionals should be learning about right now?

If you’re in ecommerce and you don’t know what Amazon is doing, you really need to know. Whether you’re on the platform or not, you need to know the way Amazon is working. If you’re in ecommerce, like it or loathe, they have really transformed the business.

So, if you don’t understand how it works, and you stick your head in the sand about Amazon, you’re really in a hell of a difficult position. I would say that that is the one thing that everybody in ecommerce needs to know about. There’s plenty of other stuff, but if you don’t know how Amazon works, you’re living in the dark ages of ecommerce.

What do you love about the job that you do?

What I love about my role is that it’s not a job. I haven’t worked in a job for 10 years. I love getting up in the morning. That sounds cheesy or something that people have to say. But in reality, I never have a problem with getting up for work or working as long as I need to. And, in that way it’s hard to burn out; I’ve never had any problem with that. I think that’s the thing – if you can get a role that you love doing and that excites you, it’s never really a job.

What’s less good about it? What sucks?

There’s a lot of challenges. Being a CEO can be lonely, because you’re trying to be positive all the time. There’s a lot of challenges. You do make a lot of mistakes. In some ways, you’re really trying to balance recognizing that you’re making mistakes and you’re human – but people also want someone that they can follow. They don’t want to see someone that’s directionless. So, you do have to put your best foot forward, and kind of wear the ‘game face’ every day. I don’t want to say that that sucks, but it’s challenging.

You’ve got to get up every morning and go, “Okay, what happened yesterday happened.
Trying to be positive.” I know there are sometimes a lot of challenges, things that don’t work out, mistakes that aren’t made, sales that weren’t met, all the things that didn’t go to plan. But you have to brush yourself off every morning, and do that.

What would be your advice for new junior professionals in your industry?

The best thing you can do is try to create your own website and sell off it. The cost of doing that is extremely low these days. If you get yourself a Shopify for instance – I don’t know if they’re still doing a free version, but a lot of ecommerce platforms offer a free version. You can plug in a credit card solution for free, and you pay for a percentage of all your takings. Try and list some products, and actually try and sell some stuff online. If you want to get into ecommerce, that is the best way to learn.

Scurri did just this in the early days. We helped a local business go online, because even though we were working on the backend, we needed to know how the front end worked; how merchants worked. For a junior person, there is nothing like experience, real experience. If you can’t find an ecommerce company to work in, start one up yourself. And just see how it works, how difficult it is. You’ll find out how hard it is to acquire customers.

It’s marketing: getting your customers to the site is the hardest. It’s the same if you’re on the high streets or in any business. It’s all about whether there is a market, whether you can put a proposition to that market that convinces them, and whether you can persuade customers to actually part with their money. If you can have any success in that – or even if you can show that you failed in it and know why – then that shows you understand what you’re doing.

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