Q&A With Mark Friedman, President of E-Commerce, Steve Madden
I had a great time talking with Mark Friedman, president of e-commerce at Steve Madden. I was particularly interested in hearing his perspective on how retail is satisfying consumer needs while keeping up with the ever-changing world of digital.
Avenue Code: Mark, we’ve seen that lots of retail companies these days have their own apps. How can companies differentiate themselves with a mobile-first strategy?
Mark Friedman: With the wave of increased mobile usage, there’s an important distinction to be made between mobile web and mobile apps. While a lot of companies are using apps for their loyalty program, you have to ensure there’s a solid reason behind developing one. For instance, in many cases, mobile web may be just as good if not better. For Steve Madden, 60 percent of our traffic is coming in through smartphones, where consumers are browsing and killing time during the gaps in their days. Mobile orders are continuing to grow as a percentage of the total digital business.
AC: How do you combine mobile, digital and web together into a differentiated experience for the customer?
MF: Multichannel or omnichannel are the keywords — essentially, you want to allow the customer to buy what they want, when they want it. Therefore, we want to make sure that when the customer walks into the store, what they see is similar to what they’ve seen online or in an advertisement. We want one look of cohesiveness. We don’t offer buy online and pick up in-store options at the moment, but we’re planning on it because we want our customers to be able to browse our products from the comfort of their own home and either pick the product up from the store or have it shipped to their home. It’s really all about trying to make the services you provide easily accessible to the customer.
AC: From your perspective, what's the key to success in today's retail environment?
MF: I think it really starts with the product. One of the reasons the Steve Madden brand has remained compelling and powerful all these years is because the product has always been consistent with customer expectations. It's neither a high-end nor a value brand, but we’re on trend as leaders in fashion who influence what people wear and show them how to wear it. Winning products are determined by market testing, after which we push them out to our supply chain as quickly as possible. That’s our competitive advantage. Customers also now have higher expectations of technology that retailers need to be able to accommodate. To sum it up, product, customer service, supply chain and innovative technology are all key factors to success.
AC: What sort of role do you think technology plays in all this? There’s a lot of emphasis on mobile technology, alongside in-store point-of-sale changes. At the Apple store, for instance, you can check out without waiting in line. Has that changed the expectations of your strategy and what's required of your role?
MF: I think that technology definitely plays a big role, and that the Apple store certainly has changed expectations. There’s a fine line between being bleeding edge, where you’re first to deploy new technology, and leading edge — the second wave of folks to adapt new technologies once they’ve been tested. Personally, I like being leading edge at Steve Madden. I don’t want to be the first, but I also don’t want to be the last. I’d rather be in the middle where I can deploy the technology after the bugs have been worked out. It’s nice to be a leader, but you also have to have the organizational structure and technology to have that level of innovation, and not all companies are willing to do that.
AC: What has been a highlight or shining moment for you in the last few years? Was there a moment for you personally, or for Steve Madden, where you knew you were on the right track?
MF: I don’t think you ever completely get to that point. One of the things I like about going to work every day is that even in this advanced age, I’m learning something new every day. I think at Steve Madden, we have great product, great branding, great history and a great legacy. We do things well here, but of course, we can always do better. Therefore, I’m never going to claim that we’ve arrived because every day is a new challenge. Frankly, even if you think you’ve arrived, companies like Google will come around and change the game again. You have to always be vigilant.
AC: If you were to interview someone for your role, what kind of skills would you look for? How do you stay successful in your position?
MF: You need to be willing to collaborate, you need to be inquisitive, and you need to be humble. You also need to be able to be creative as well as extremely analytical. I ask a lot of questions. If you ask any of our vendors, they’ll probably tell you that I ask too many. But with digital still being as new as it is, retailers as a group are struggling to grow, which can sometimes encourage us to act without thorough vetting when a company promises to deliver outstanding results.
AC: Great point. Can you leave us with a closing thought?
MF: I think the wrap-up is that we're in an interesting time where retail continues to struggle and digital continues to grow. I’m not sure where the line will be drawn so that retail can stop struggling. I think we’ve got a lot of space in retail stores that needs to be re-imagined and re-engineered, because the days of just going into a store that’s got a bunch of product arbitrarily strewn around are waning. I think that digitally, we’ll continue to do things that make it easier for the customer to shop. It’s still all about the product and being innovative. Maybe the last thing is that the devil is still in the details, so those that don’t spend enough time in the details are the ones that won’t be successful.
AC: Really interesting thoughts, Mark. It was great hearing a realistic perspective on the struggles and triumphs of a modern day e-commerce leader. It seems that retail is currently in a constant whirlwind of keeping up with consumer demands and staying innovative as new technology consistently comes into play. We’re looking forward to watching Steve Madden continue on its path of success.
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.
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