From his early career at Walmart and Amazon, to Head of Online at John Lewis, James Leeson has been at the fore front of digital disruption. Now running his own successful digital consultancy he arms clients with the tools to maximise customer experience.
James shared his perspective on what the future holds for the ever changing digital landscape and some insights from his last 20 years within the world of Online.
So James, tell us about your career to date…
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have both Bricks and Mortar and Online experience. The early part of my career was offline with Asda/Walmart – great times and a great culture. This included a two and half year placement in the U.S. at the Wal-Mart HQ which had a significant influence on my customer thinking and how to build long term plans with the world’s biggest suppliers. I joined Amazon in 2008 for another incredible 4-5 years of my career. I was a very early adopter as a customer to Amazon and sensed something very focused was beginning to happen.
Recently I was very proud to have played an important role in the omni channel development at John Lewis – a business that has transformed itself. I set up my own online strategy consultancy 18 months ago and have had a wide variety of clients in very different market segments.
How has your role(s) evolved alongside the current digital landscape in the last 5 years?
Different business’ have different challenges. My variety of roles and experiences have really helped. The customer fundamentally has become more tech savy (often has more information in their pocket than the store they are in) and expects a seamless experience. A fashion customer wants a late cut off for next day click n collect with an easy returns policy. A furniture customer will make several visits online and offline before converting. These behaviours require different thinking as to how you target your online marketing efforts.
What do you do to make sure you are ahead of competition?
I’ve always tried to look around the corner, with data, to try and figure out what’s next. The speed and ‘consumerisation’ of technology have left some companies struggling to keep up. It’s critical not to be in denial with the consumer changing habits (e.g. mobile first, social media advertising, consistent experience on & offline). The successful business models are usually centered around a consumer trend. Amazon have moved from books to retail categories to logistics eco systems to cloud computing as they continue to work on the outputs for 2022 and beyond.
What do you predict for the future of retail/e-commerce within the next 12 months?
I think ‘digital disruption’ will continue if not accelerate meaning a continued shift in customers behavior. The result will be profitability moving from one model to another (not just in retail). When Facebook or Amazon rolls out new experiences every month or quarter, the benchmark is set. Customers expect the same level of interaction with the companies that they interact with. Bricks and Mortar stores will continue to develop their approach to showcase and operate the brand as an omni conversion tool. I suspect there may be some ‘horizontal’ industry movements, i.e. unexpected business’s joining together with the ambition of connecting better with the consumer. Finally, understanding the customer in greater detail than ever will be critical. A shift from being a shopper to a human being will allow businesses to understand what inputs are required to drive the right outputs.
What three tips would you give to someone in their digital career?
Follow the customer. Obsess over customer detail.
Understand digital marketing (and the trends) more than you need to.
Let the data do the talking.
Thanks for your insight James!