A Chat With Kristen Stewart, Head of E-Commerce and Digital Marketing, Cushnie et Ochs
Kristen Stewart is the head of e-commerce and digital marketing at Cushnie et Ochs, a luxury womenswear retailer that has come of age in the digital era. We were captivated by Stewart's talk at Luxury Interactive in October, and thrilled when she agreed to let us interview her to learn more.
Avenue Code: What about e-commerce and retail attracted you in the first place?
Kristen Stewart: I’ve always loved fashion, so I love that I work in an industry where I get to play with pretty clothes. As for e-commerce, I’ve been a bit of a computer geek my whole life. My family was one of the first in our neighborhood to have internet back in the day, so I enjoy the ability to integrate my love for fashion and technology. I love that e-commerce creates a way for people all around the world to have access to the same things.
AC: How did you get your start in e-commerce?
KS: About 15 years ago, a friend and I were assistant buyers at Rampage. We planned to open our own business, and we wanted a store but didn’t have the capital to open a brick-and-mortar location. E-commerce was new at the time, so we started our own little brand where we were buying small portions of oversold products and then selling them online. My friend was the buyer and I took over the digital part. Although this little project was never enough for us to quit our day jobs, it helped me realize that I loved the whole digital side of the business.
AC: Tell us about Cushnie et Ochs. How would you describe the brand?
KS: We’re a luxury womenswear brand designed by Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs. The energy of the two designers creates a lot of great qualities in our brand such as conceal and reveal. Our clothing is often fitted and we use a lot of cutouts, but they’re strategically placed to be flattering and elegant. We like to accentuate parts of the woman’s body that people aren’t used to seeing. Who said sophisticated can’t be sexy? In Cushnie et Ochs, you can’t help but exude a sexiness that’s subtle but undeniable.
AC: As a company that came of age during the digital era, how have you at Cushnie et Ochs been able to stay abreast of consumer demands? What challenges do you face?
KS: We pay attention to our analytics. When we built the site, everything was tagged and we kept track of every movement customers were making. What has been working for the last six months may suddenly stop working, which is why it’s important to remain agile and pay attention to the analytics. You have to stay ahead of the customer and think from their perspective — what attracts someone to an $1,800 dress vs. something they can buy at Target?
AC: And what about mobile? E-commerce seems to be more and more mobile-centric. What's the mobile experience like at Cushnie et Ochs?
KS: The majority of our traffic comes from mobile. As we move forward, I’m taking a mobile-first approach, which is why we’re building our mobile experience to become as app-like as possible.
AC: How do you combine mobile, digital and web together to create a differentiated experience for the customer?
KS: Right now, you can’t go wrong by taking a mobile-first approach. Our methodology is to focus completely on a mobile experience, and we’re building the desktop experience to be a responsive version of that mobile experience. When it comes to mobile UX, simplicity of design is most important, but you should always be sure to keep up with technology trends. For example, we find that it’s become more natural for people to scroll up and down in a mobile experience, when traditionally all mobile experiences used to swipe left to right. Now swiping is on its way out. It’s little details like that that we have to pay attention to because they make the experience more enjoyable for the customer.
AC: Where do you see the future of the retail industry headed?
KS: I know there has been talk about brick-and-mortar being dead, but I don’t think that’s true. The retail industry will always need diversity of experience. E-commerce sales will definitely continue to grow in the foreseeable future — one day, of course, the idea of e-commerce and m-commerce may evolve into something that we can’t even imagine right now — but as long as we keep our eyes on the horizon, we’ll be ready for that change.
AC: You mentioned at Luxury Interactive that in order to be exclusive today, brands need to be inclusive. Can you elaborate more on that?
KS: A lot of luxury brands have old-fashioned ideas of who the luxury customer is. With the advent of the internet and the e-commerce era, luxury has become more widely accessible. Many luxury brands have been slow to realize that they need to appeal to the masses. Anyone within those “masses” has the potential to be a luxury customer. Mid-price brands are starting to give more luxurious experiences to lure the luxury customer. As a result, today’s luxury consumer may be shopping at Zara as well as luxury brands, and even wearing the pieces together. Exposure and impressions are different from inclusivity. Brands need to build marketing plans that are inclusive of the modern consumer.
AC: It’s easy to see how Cushnie et Ochs pegs that wider appeal. More generally, is there something you would pinpoint as a highlight or shining moment for you in the last few years? Was there a moment for you personally, or for Cushnie et Ochs, where you knew you were on the right track?
KS: We won the Best Website Design Award from the Graphic Designer Association of America for two years in a row when I was at Scoop NYC. I’m hoping to win that again this year at Cushnie et Ochs. Our sales at Cushnie et Ochs have grown substantially from when we started this e-commerce business from scratch. Our traffic is 50 percent more than I expected, and we’re getting a lot more attention for the brand. Honestly, my whole experience with Cushnie et Ochs has been one big high point!
AC: Great! Can you leave us with any closing thoughts?
KS: My advice would be learn to harness your analytical and creative mind because you really need both in fair balance. Every decision you make in e-commerce is 50 percent technical, 50 percent creative. Oh, and always stay ahead of the curve!
Ashley Wang is a marketing coordinator at Avenue Code, an enterprise IT consulting firm. She’s interested in the world of retail and how it constantly adapts to keep up with consumer needs.