Founded in 2014, ABOUT YOU has taken the online fashion world by storm for its personalised fashion solutions. Just back from success at the Horizont awards where he picked up the top marketing prize, we caught up with ABOUT YOU co-founder and co-CEO Tarek Müller on the importance of a personalised approach, moves towards direct customer communication and how to build a modern ecommerce brand.
Horizont just awarded you "Man of the Year 2018" in Marketing. Congratulations! What distinguishes ABOUT YOU from the competition (e.g. Zalando)?
Thank you very much! ABOUT YOU sees itself as a fashion and technology company. With our fashion online shop we have made it our goal to inspire, advise and invite our customers to browse online. By adapting to the individual style of the customer personalisation creases an individual shop for the customer that only shows relevant products, trends and outfit suggestions. Our focus is on the customer and therefore the many different personalities that find their expression through fashion and can be supported by ABOUT YOU. Zalando, on the other hand, focuses on a completely different buyer segment than we do. Most people treat shops like Zalando, Amazon and Co. more like digital warehouses. When I know what I want, I find it there. But these online shops are not set up to inspire, particularly not on the smartphone. We are better positioned in this area.
You programmed your first online shop at the age of 13 and two years later you founded your first company. What tips would you give to young (and not so young) founders who are in the process of building their first e-commerce brands?
The landscape has changed a lot since I started. "At that time" it was all about generating traffic via Google and then converting it. Today there are other ways to build an e-commerce brand. For example via Instagram. I have seen many brands and shops that have grown through clever social media marketing. But you don’t even necessarily need your own online shop any more. You can also register as a marketplace partner, for example with Amazon or with us, and then use the marketing services within the platform. At Amazon is called Amazon Marketing Services, with us it is ABOUT YOU Media Solutions. You can now raise your own brand through a large e-commerce platform. There are certainly many other ways that I haven’t mentioned.
In your opinion what are the biggest trends this year in marketing and ecommerce?
ABOUT YOU is known for its pioneering spirit which is why for a long time we have been breaking new ground in marketing. The aim here is to move away from classic advertising and existing marketing channels and to focus increasingly on direct channels of customer communication. Major events with entertainment factor and fashion reference such as the ABOUT YOU Awards or the new ABOUT YOU PANGEA Festival are important building blocks of our strategy. We focus on authentic content as well as real experiences which are trigger real emotions with the customer. This not only creates added value for visitors and viewers, but allows us to enter into a dialogue with our target group, to understand the customer and create better marketing products in the future. Classic marketing and online marketing of course still play a major role. We are constantly trying to improve, to automate and work as much as possible on the basis of data.
Personalization is the key to ABOUT YOU’s success. Do you think this only applies to fashion or other areas too? What will the personalization of the future look like?
Personalization plays an important role in fashion, because in our industry the customer’s personal taste is the decisive purchase criterion. The better ABOUT YOU understands me as a customer, the less interesting other providers are. This is also the case with other industries like furniture and interior design - but in other segments the price-performance ratio is decisive. With regard our customer relationships we have noticed an interesting effect: normally, in online retail, the customer is 100 percent active from the retailer’s point of view at the time of the first contact. In the first 30 days they still have a relatively high follow-up activity. After that the activity of the customer fades. Many leave the retailer. At ABOUT YOU our customers’ activity is constantly increasing. This is very rare in online retail. Personalization therefore makes perfect business sense. However, if I were to look at the current status of personalization on a scale of 0 to 100 percent, I think we are only at five percent. So there is still a lot to do! It would be amazing, for example, for people to be measure themselves in front of the webcam, AI would then create a 3D model and customers could immediately see garments virtually on themselves. That would be cool personalization.
ABOUT YOU is active in seven international markets (Note: in your laudation you mention 10 countries). What were your most important lessons from internationalization?
That’s right, ABOUT YOU is currently in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and the Czech Republic online. This year we will officially add three more markets where we are currently in silent mode. Adapting our content for a new market and adjusting it to country-specific conditions and expectations makes every market entry an exciting step for us. In retrospect, however, I would say that we could have internationalized more quickly, since the ABOUT YOU model really takes hold. In the Czech Republic, for example, we started four months ago and after a few days we were already the clear market leader. In just four weeks our brand awareness is well over 50 percent. It took us three years in Germany to do this.
If you could do it all over again, is there anything you would do differently?
Knowing what I know today of course we could have avoided many mistakes. On the other hand I wouldn't have the knowledge if we hadn't made the mistakes. So I don't regret it. In the situation and on the basis of the information that was available in each case, we felt that the decisions we made were the right ones. Sometimes you find out later that you have incomplete or had false information - or simply the wrong intuition. This is all part of it. In sum I am satisfied with how it has all gone so far and would do it all again in the same way.