Having led digital transformation at 2 major retail chains before a recent stint with IT juggernaut (and Fobi partner) NTT Data; Jolie Summers brings her formidable talents to Fobi in her new role as its VP of Product - the latest addition to Fobi's leadership team.
This week, we talk to Jolie about her extensive experience in building and managing large-scale digital commerce platforms for complex retail organizations from the ground up and get to the bottom of a question we hear way too often in tech: just what does a product manager do?
Find out on this week's episode of Fobi Insider.
The following is a transcript of the conversation between Fobi Marketing Director Devon Seidel and Vice President of Product Jolie Summers.
Fobi Marketing Director Devon Seidel: Welcome back to the Fobi Experience podcast. Our guest today is Jolie Summers, Fobi's Vice President of Product. First of all, welcome to the team. This is the first time you've been on the podcast and also you're very new to the team. So these past few episodes have been focused on introducing our listeners to new key members. So we had Richard on last week. So it's great to have you a part of this podcast to really get you known to our investors and our listener base. So welcome to the podcast.
Fobi VP of Product Jolie Summers: Thank you so much. Definitely happy to be here.
Devon: So, for our listeners, Jolie is a digital leader, agile coach and program director with over 10 years of experience in a variety of spaces, including e-commerce, mobile, VR, health devices and delivering significant business results for global enterprise companies, including Lululemon, Aritzia and NTT Data. So I want to talk about those because those are some pretty exciting past experiences that you've had there and work accomplishments. And hopefully that'll lead us into a little bit more of how you'll be using those skills and what you're doing here at Fobi and how you're kind of developing our product team. So I think a great one to start with and something that we talk about a lot is e-commerce and you've had a lot of experience working with some major global brands.
So first of all, let's talk about Aritzia. where it's known really here in Vancouver, because it started here in Vancouver. I think it's starting to become a little bit more well-known of a name, but for our listeners, it's a major women's fashion retailer brand based out of Vancouver here and kind of to give you a sense of the scale; last year in 2020, the company did 425.9 million in just e-commerce sales alone, which was 49.7% of its overall revenue. So that's a big piece and big chunk of their business. And you had a great hand in helping establish where their e-commerce is now today. So I'm going to let you touch on a little bit of that e-commerce.
Jolie: Yeah, definitely was really great to be a part of Aritzia. It was one of my first forays into digital and online experiences. The size of the e-com business has definitely grown, but it really hit the ground running when we launched the store online. And we had such a strong brand following that people were salivating when the online store hit. So we're really lucky to have had a really solid brand foundation in the retail space that really propelled the e-com store and had essentially a lot of demand that was already there for users to be able to shop online and in store in that fashion.
Devon: So was the initial product for your e-commerce site? Was it really just focused on sales right away and selling the same kind of product that was in store, or were there a few other features around that product that they really wanted to specialize in?
Jolie: It was quite cool. It was new. So the way we approached it was that we were essentially opening a net new business line when it came to from a corporate perspective. So it really was pushing the products that we had, getting everything that we had online, as fast as possible to be able to maximize the amount of time it was available online, to be able to then maximize sales on the flip side of that as well.
Over time, and as always, when new business lines come in or new products from a commerce perspective or new clothing comes in, there's a lot of experimentation that happens with that. And learning along the way in terms of looking at what makes sense to sell online, what does not make sense to sell online and how are we selling certain aspects online.
With women's clothing, there's really a breadth of understanding what is easy for people to buy, leggings, being one, and what is difficult for people to buy online without having that in-store experience. Denim being on the far end of that as well. So there's a lot of experimentation in the early days with the goal of understanding how best to be running this business and to be essentially propelling the brand further in a digital sense, but then also to be maximizing the sales there as well.
Devon: And I want to touch on something you said there, because I think it's really interesting when we think of online shopping there is that you can only see it, you can't touch it, you can't put it on or try it on. And that's a really big piece in retail. So I want to go back to actually a piece of when you were working at Aritzia. So back in 2013, you were running the retail campaigns for Winter, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and your focus was really integrating that e-commerce and retail campaign together. So what were the tools that you were using? Because you knew this was an online platform, but how are you making it still attainable to people that maybe needed to try something on or wanted to interact that way?
Jolie: So that's a really good question. And so back in 2013, Omni-channel technologies weren't quite there, or what was there wasn't very broad in terms of adoption or accessibility for a retailer to be able to pick up there was no plug and play as much back then. So there's a lot of brute force and manual work that went into creating these seamless experiences when it comes to customers interacting digitally and getting people into the stores as well. And also the challenge of how do we bring digital into the stores to be able to have that interaction and to operationalize the fact that there's essentially a store that all the sales associates can now be carrying around on a tablet and to be not constrained by the inventory that is physically there as well.
So how to bring the fit and the tactical aspects online was really done through a lot of experimentation. Our product imagery really quickly iterated and changed very fast from season to season to be able to give more of that tactile aspects of it, more of the movement, more of the way something hangs on a body or the way we are presenting clothing and our photography and how everything is styled together. So there's really quick evolution of that early on to try to bring that tactile feeling and aspects to how we are presenting the clothing on the website itself. From there, the omni-channel of those pieces really happened when we realized that the e-com it's like we're a content producing machine, how to, can we then leverage those assets and in the beautiful photography that's being photographed and leveraging that in store.
So that again, a customer is getting that seamless experience of seeing something that is very familiar to them, both in store and online. And that was as complicated as trying to figure out what is the best product assortments using the different information and data, to as simple as reusing imagery that was being shot from an e-com perspective and getting those into the store as well. It also happens the other way, Aritzia is well-known for its window displays and trying to translate how we get that tactical window display and that art direction look and feel onto the website and onto the e-com platform and how we're guiding users through that experience as well.
Devon: That's great. And I'm assuming back in that time too, that's when a lot of online analytics were coming out. So being able to not just base your judgment on, "Was that successful and how do we repeat that and keep repeating it?", but also looking at the analytics. I know that you are also had a big hand in developing the reports and analytics that you were looking at for online sales, specifically around customer behavior to improve the efficiency of your next campaign or your next activation. So do you mind touching a little bit on that, the structure of the analytics that you really wanted to develop and why that was so important with a retail business?
Jolie: Yeah, it's so important because the market really can bypass you very, very quickly, especially in women's retail. You miss two weeks and you've missed a season, essentially. People have spent their money elsewhere, whether it be for back to school, whether it be for a resort season, whether it be for Fall, for coats in the Winter, it's a pretty set cadence of when people shop. And if you miss that window, your next quarter is thrown on in that way. So the information that we were getting, that is available inherently from digital platforms like e-com were really valuable. At that time, there's the typical shopping metrics that everybody knows now, when it comes to web and e-com based experiences, we have traffic, we have bounce rates. We have time on site, you have conversion.
What is of particular interest though and something that we really started looking at that we didn't think we would have looked at was total customer value. The reason for that, why that became so important was there was a fear that e-commerce was essentially a means to cannibalize the business, and to be cannibalizing sales from stores. And that was really, really great fear. So, whereas from a store perspective, they may have seen their numbers dropping at the beginning, what happened was our total customer value was actually increasing because we had the online store and because we had more digital ways to be reaching our customer, people were coming to the site, seeing the things that they wanted, buying what they felt comfortable buying, but then also getting a sense of what our product assortment was.
So if you were in the market for denim, you made a trip into a store and converting in that fashion as well. So that was hugely important for us to understand how we're actually growing the business, not shrinking the business and that it was an endeavor that is indeed worthwhile. And we weren't just doing it because everybody else is doing it, but there's very practical business sense as well.
Devon: So coming from being able to build that at Aritzia and now seeing what Fobi is doing with its insight platform, what is something that you've learned from that and are excited to develop into Fobi's insight platform?
Jolie: I am so excited to be able to put that hat back on and turn that side of my brain back on to be able to push that product forward. We have great reports. We have a talented team. The information that we're able to gather is really easy to get an unprecedented... for certain retailers here and this, the connectivity that we're able to achieve across the board with retailers disparate systems.
I think the key pieces that I'm most excited about as well is the ability for somebody to be able to come in, look at the different segments that they have, create different segments that they have, for us to be using our powers of AI, to be recommending segments that they may not even be looking at and to really drive forward, how making it easy for these retailers to be actioning decisions and from our platform and making it easy for them. Not everybody likes math, not everybody is an expert in data science, not everybody understand, or it's difficult to know what you should be looking at. And so what our platform does is giving an easy way for people to see recommendations for how they can be actioning and making decisions in their day-to-day store.
Devon: And I think you touched on something really important there, the disparate data. And we look at these major companies that have the ability to invest a lot in their infrastructure and they can build it from the ground up and have the money to be able to have these insights then better their business, but not every business has that. Either they have legacy systems or they just don't have the capital to expand on this infrastructure, or they've acquired different companies over time that not everything talks to each other. So it's great that you come from a sense of being able to build those analytics and know what the best analytics should look like, but now it's kind of a step back, "How do we provide that to everyone else?" And not just those major companies as well.
Jolie: Exactly. Legacy systems and disparate systems isn't a unique story. Things grow organically. And so does data and data sets. And what is so exciting about Fobi is our ability to use IOT devices to capture that information that otherwise wouldn't be captured and connecting that to more modern systems. Oftentimes, when companies come in, or when companies make acquisitions, there's at times very modern systems and very legacy systems that are still working on mainframes. And we have to tap into that information somehow. And what is so exciting here is that we have a way where we're able to connect those sources of information and data and making it more representative of what's going on holistically in a business, and being able to make recommendations to make business owners and retailers, their jobs just that much easier.
Devon: When you were working at Lululemon, you were involved in the redesign of their global website. When you look at the major retailers like Lululemon, their online customer experience, must've been very important to their redesign just as in launching all these other e-commerce stores as well. When you and your team were considering and launching this, I want to use this question a little bit more as less of what it looks like for the customer side, but more of what you developed and how you implemented the product and what your implementation structure was for actually getting that product finished. So what was the timing and requirements required for that redesign project and how did you go about that?
Jolie: Yeah, that was a really big project. It was in fact, more probably accurately described as a program because Lululemon at the time was global and there was a lot of different systems that play. There was a lot of different zones at play. So that was really spanned over about two years or so to really get that program done and dusted and out the door. Lululemon for a period of time... I don't know if anybody ever remembers like that old site where it had red and the product imagery was just was small. And it was quite static for a period of time, which is really impressive that they found a way to not have to really invest too much in that at the same period of time when their company was growing so much. But really at the end of the day, the redesign really happened on with the design first, there's a lot of other key objectives that we're trying to be achieved.
It was let's make it seamless, make it beautiful, make it aspirational. We were competing against the likes of the Nikes and the Under Armours. Where Nike has that great global brand power behind them that had been established for years. Under Armour having the power of lots of different influencers and models that they were tapping into was how do we make this beautiful? Operationally behind the scenes there's so much learning that happens in a program like this that spends years, that it was really looking at the global strategy.
How do we roll this out across North America, across EU, across the UK, across New Zealand at the same time as trying to break our way into the Asian market? So lots of consultation with key stakeholders, from all areas of the business, from product being like clothing products, not digital product, to our UI UX leads, to our channel leads when it comes to the actual act of selling and merchandising online. Operations in the warehouse to make sure that we're not impacting them, our customer service counterparts, who are the face behind the face. They're the face behind the website, essentially of who has to be called and...
Multiplying this across north America, EU, UK and New Zealand and Asia, and sometimes on slightly different systems as well. It was a lot of collaboration, a lot of operating strategically. So making sure that everybody is aligned from a strategic standpoint at the 30,000 foot level, but then operating at the three-foot level where the rubber hits the road. A developer is developing a feature, now let's make sure that it's aligning all the way back up to the top, to the strategy, but then also horizontally across our different counterparts in different continents as well.
Devon: And I know our team is quite a bit smaller than those major teams, but I can see how taking that same architect and putting that on top of even a small team, such as Fobi, as we're growing, just creates that solid foundation for our product to grow just as well.
Jolie: You got it right. It all comes back to alignment and making sure that we have a shared understanding of what the foundation of our product is. We're making sure that we're all aligned on the strategic direction and that we're all marching forward. It's the same whether it is a five person team or a thousand person Head Office that Lululemon was, or at the time, the 200 to 300 person team at Aritzia. It's the same competencies and skills that are needed and pretty much the same concerns, although different because the context is different, the people are different and the strategy is different.
Devon: So I want to ask you, cause those are two major e-commerce plans and launches that you did there. What was something that you learned? It doesn't have to be something technical or something that's on your resume, but what's something that you really got out of being able to do that that was an achievement for you?
Jolie: It was really for a period of time. I really got the experience of what it's like to set up a business because that's what it was. There was no e-commerce at Aritzia there, the operational aspect was net new to them. The, how we go live with something online, it was net new to them and looking at all the different integrations that were needed really gave me a solid foundation to understand the digital landscape. But it's easy to think of technology's the technology, but technology and people and operations are two sides of the same coin. So it's really a source of pride and a privilege, if you will, to have been able to experience that at a period that was so early on in my career, and to be able to take those learnings with me into the various other endeavors that I have had thus far.
Devon: And from there, you transitioned to NTT, which is a large company that we're partnering with and we work with as well too. What was your experience there?
Jolie: NTT was a lot of fun. So I got to really put on my consultant hat and essentially be a product owner for hire in a government type setting. So had a lot of fun doing some agile transformational work with BC justice and the same with BC with health and the Ministry of Health here in BC. It's definitely a different lens, and a sense of responsibility when you realize you're dealing with public money. And the goal is to be able to increase outcomes or provide better outcomes for citizens. So what was really special about working with Ministry of Health was right, probably about four months in, not quite in the middle of my tenure there, COVID hit and how operationally from a product perspective, how we really had to pivot and how thankful the organization was that there was such a strong push to do that product in an agile mode.
So it made it easy for the Ministry of Health to be able to pivot and to focus on the right things during a pandemic and for them to not have to be concerned with months of change requests, renegotiation, but being able to really rapidly deploy different flavors of features to be able to respond to the pandemic. NTT is large. It has a lot of capabilities behind it, and it was really special being able to tap into the corporate aspects of NTT, and to see how it can really be an ally when you're working with government as well.
Devon: And you talk about all of the things that you are able to do working for such a large company as NTT. So my next question is for you, why did you transition to Fobi, which were more of a mid-level startup? We aren't as well known as a company as NTT. What was really the thing that attracted you?
Jolie: Well what really attracted me to Fobi was its really key differentiators and its technology, step: connect, insights, engage. The three different modules that we have is reshaping how retailers engage with customers and how brands engage with retailers. We are able to bypass traditional constraints. We're able to provide a medium to market, to known customers beyond email. And we are able to provide all of that information and the interactions that these customers have with the retailers, and package that up and give that information back to retailers to better action their information. Email marketing is over. How many of us have our dump accounts that we have that we just let all the emails stack up?
And what is really key here is having our wallet pass technologies, our ability to be able to ingest information from legacy systems, be able to visualize that information and being able to bypass the traditional methods of retargeting ads, emails, social media ads, to be able to get something that is direct to the consumers. And I think that was very powerful for both brands who are looking at the capabilities to do that and retailers being able to do that. So the opportunity to shape what that product looks like and to shape the experiences: these opportunities don't come around every day.
Devon: I'll just echo that. I think that's something that all of us here are excited about, and especially the ones that have the inside look and actually get to see what's developing either it being on the development team or the marketing team. Being able to understand what this new product today is and then being able to market it is very exciting right now. So we touched on omni-channel a little bit before and customer experiences around omni-channel. I want to touch on, because you mentioned there about this post-pandemic or pandemic, we are thinking as well now, too. What are your views on what omni-channel experience will be in a post-pandemic world?
Jolie: It's interesting. I think there's a hunger for us to be able to get out of our homes and to be able to go out there and see people and to touch products, touch things again, if you will. But I think at the end of the day, customers want a seamless experience, and I talked a little bit about that when referencing some of the work with Aritzia. The good news is that for retailers, it's a lot easier to do that these days than it was back then with some brute force and Excel sheets. But customers, they're not engaging with a brand and its Instagram, they're not engaging with the brand and its store or a brand and its website. They're engaging with the brand holistically. And what is really cool with where technology is moving these days is that we can start marrying those pieces up.
So it's kind of beyond omni-channel of being able to be online and in store, but how can we move it towards being in store and being able to activate something on somebody's phone and provide that digital experience while in store as well? So I think that's where omni-channel and omni-channel capabilities are moving towards. How can somebody maybe access the inventory of a particular product? Can we lead them directly to the product that they are looking for instead of being like, "Hey, is this lost somewhere?" and digging through racks of stuff or trying to get the sales associate to be able to find it for them. But really these days omni-channel is moving towards that seamless experience of not just the different instances of, "I am now in store, this is my experience. I am now online, this is my experience", but how are they going to be connected to each other? And I think customers are ready for that.
And I also think customers almost expect that these days too, it needs to be really easy for them. We have very short attention spans. If somebody can't find something, how easy is it for them to walk into another store? And what is really exciting about our real-time capabilities is that we have the opportunity to intercept people during the in moment, if you will, to maybe stop them from leaving the store and to be able to better provide them with what they're looking for.
Devon: And I think it's important too, to think of brands that aren't vertically integrated that don't have control over the full shopping experience because they don't own the store. So we look at CPG brands, oh, you're not shopping at the Coca-Cola store. They can't have that customer journey from online, right to finish. You're buying their product in a separate store. So they can pay a lot more for good shelf space, do some pop-ups, but really that's the end of their brand activation and the end of their touch point and experience with their customer, just because the customer is not purchasing it at something that they can control. But with our technology, through the wallet pass, through location-based services, we can really start offering that experience back to those brands who haven't had that option before.
Jolie: And that's exactly right. How do we put that power into brands' hands and bypass the need for an email or for a customer-triggered interaction. This provides brands to be able to be the actors themselves and to be pushing information and notifications to customers for something that may be of interest of them and with our segmentation capabilities, that is we don't want to inundate customers as well, but it's like we have the power to be able to provide the information to say, "Hey, when is a customer likely wanting to see this information? Where are they wanting to see this information? When do they want to see this information? And why do they want to see this information?" And to be able to really zero in and target on that customer, instead of having to blast your email list, because you just don't know who may be interested or not. And with that, you risk fatigue, you risk people just getting annoyed at you. But with segmentation and personalization capabilities, we can really target towards the right customer at the right time, in the right place.
Devon: And being a company with solutions that work in so many different verticals, we've touched on retail, grocery, CPG. We also are in sports. How can we adapt? We adapt and we solve so many of these different pain points where you look at, you mentioned modules that we have. So the connect, insight and engage. These are so adaptable to each vertical. It's not one product that we say, okay, this is how you use it and use it in the same as sports, retail, grocery, all these different verticals. It really is adapting to answer their pain point. So how do we move forward with these product lines that really aren't clearly defined in how they specifically work? They're a little bit more flexible in how they work. So moving forward, how are you going to develop those lines and really make it still understandable to the customer of what they want, but still have that edge of we can answer and solve all those different pain points for you?
Jolie: That's an excellent question. And obviously one of my priorities to be able to look at and to identify how we do this. I think one of the ways that is budding in my head right now, being a new member of Fobi, is that we don't have to focus so much on the technology itself, but being able to package it in a way that is understandable for what is the problem we are trying to solve versus selling a Fobi. So we're selling solutions to problems. It may use a Fobi, it may use a wallet pass. It may use insight. It may use connect, but at the end of the day, I don't think our customers care what is being used. They're caring that we are solving a problem. So it becomes around problem definition and being clear how we are solving problems. And I think that is the way that we are industry agnostic, but also able to communicate to clients what our benefit is and what that looks like.
Devon: And next question is kind of a little bit more for our listeners around the actual product team. You hear a lot about development team is something that a tech company has to have. You have a sales team, you have a marketing team, maybe you have HR, but a product is a super important piece which sits very nicely in between marketing and development. Can you tell our listeners more about kind of what the team you plan on building and why product is so important?
Jolie: Yeah. Dev, do you say how that's important between marketing and development? Because that means I get to protect you a little bit. I'm your middle women.
Devon: Just a little bit.
Jolie: So there's a lot of misconceptions and a lot of different interpretations of what a product team is. And obviously, we have product owners, product managers, and their role in aligning with stakeholders. But beyond that, it also stretches into the engineering teams, the development teams, if you will, as well. And the key here kind of comes back to that product definition, our problem definition, and figuring out how we are productizing our various capabilities. So what I mean by that is we need to be identifying what our value streams are. And that is a very key word when we're talking about agile development, whether it's scrum or Kanban, but it's really aligning our value streams and our teams in the right way that maximizes their ability to ship products and features out the door quickly and consistently.
And there's a lot of different things that go into that. But at the end of the day, the capabilities and the competencies that we're really looking for is strong, creative talent across engineering, but also within our stakeholders and also product owners, obviously to be able to drive a vision forward, our company's vision forward, with agility and creativity as well. So from a tactical standpoint, what are our products? What are our problems? How can we align the teams, how does it make sense from a product and technical perspective to align the teams as well? And how do we tap into some strong creative talent who have the skills of being able to decompose tasks and understand value and being able to ship that out the door as fast as possible so that we can continue on experimenting and delivering value quickly.
Devon: And I think we're all super excited about that because that's the stage of where Fobi is now, it's delivering a great product and improving and innovating on all of those initial products that we have. We look at the Fobi IOT device, which was the first product developed, and it's really taking that to the next stage. And I really liked how you were talking about not just selling the technology, but developing the solutions around it, where that Fobi device may be used in four or five different solutions and offerings that we have around that. But it's really solving that pain point. I think that was a good piece that you touched on there.
Jolie: Thank you.
Devon: So, as you know, we've recently gone through a rebrand, Loop Insights to Fobi. You've luckily not had to start as Loop and then quickly transition to calling us Fobi. I know I've said it a few times. I'm the person that's always on every email, we are not called Loop. Please call us Fobi, even internally, but being VP of product now, where do you see us.. Not, not right now, because I know you just started and you talked about how you want to develop your team, but where do you see the product in a year or two years from now?
Jolie: It's really actioning the capabilities that we have. Driving forward the foundation that's that has been there for a few years now, but really I think Fobi and that capability with connecting insights and engagement, I think we'll be at the forefront of that. We are on the leading edge of the curve here, leading edge, not bleeding edge because I think there's a lot of proof out there already that these types of capabilities work and that there's a market and a hunger for them. In a year from now, we are in many stores, we're with many retailers. We are engaging in our partnerships with many brands and being able to provide both retailers and brands the information that they need and want to be able to better make decisions. I'd like to say we have a Fobi in every store in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, LA, but you know what that's what big, hairy audacious goals are for. And that is how we need to be looking as a company. I think culturally, these big, hairy, audacious goals is how we want to be looking forward to driving towards that.
Devon: And becoming almost an industry standard with the insights that we can provide or the engagement that we can provide, where I think other companies look to us and look how we've developed and started off small and really structured the product, I guess you would say, to be an industry standard where other companies are developing or using our product as well to provide their activations to.
Jolie: You hit it right. It's really becoming that industry standard of, not just our capabilities, but how we have grown, how we are operating and how we are getting our technology into the hands of retailers and brands.
Devon: So Jolie, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule, to talk with us today and to our listeners specifically, to tell them a little bit more about why product is important, what are you doing with your job and where do you want to move the product team and actual Fobi products forward. I'm personally excited to have you join the team and I'm sure our listeners will get to hear from you again very soon on a future episode.
Jolie: Thank you.
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