By @SimonCocking

Interview with Geoff Scully, @geoff161, MD of Shop Direct Online.

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From the talk at Oracle last week, you made a strong case for how you have turned around the business. How do you hope to continue to progress it in the future?

The future will be dictated by consumer habits. Already 50% of sales come through mobile devices, wearable’s, TV’s and other devices will become more important as we progress so that will be a big focus.

We are also part of a large retail Group with multiple retail brands, there is potential to introduce some of these brands to the Irish market, at the right time, to complement the Littlewoods Ireland offering and fuel the growth of the Shop Direct Ireland business.

The last thing is that the Littlewoods Ireland brand still has huge growth potential, as long as we stay true to our purpose, which is to make good things easily accessible to more people.

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What areas are you currently focusing on?

Currently we are focused on improving the customer experience through all channels, including the user experience online, the delivery promise (end to end) and improving response times from a customer service perspective.

A key focus at Group level is to leverage personalisation onsite in order to deliver the most relevant experience, to every customer, every time.

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There is a big debate about whether Irish businesses can scale well enough to become global players? Based on your success what’s your opinion on this?

I should be clear at the outset and say that Shop Direct Ireland is an Irish company, trading only in Ireland, mainly because we are regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

However, from a retail perspective, there are already Irish businesses scaling globally. Make no mistake, it is not easy, very much capital intensive and a slow burn. Distribution costs are a big factor and investment in platforms doesn’t come cheap, but given that ecommerce is still in relative infancy, there are opportunities there right now for Irish businesses, particularly those operating in niche sectors, or those with unique USP’s.

To be fair though, many Irish businesses are focused on establishing their domestic platforms at present, which feels like the right thing to do so learning’s can be applied to global opportunities.

Scaling internationally (from a promotional point of view), has potentially become a little easier due to the increasing efficiency of digital marketing strategies and the relative ease in which they can be applied across different cultures, in comparison to far more costly legacy marketing activities of old.

To summarise, scaling is tough, not impossible and the opportunities are there, particularly for businesses with a very focused product offering.

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We’re starting to see some interesting businesses grow out of Ireland. Do they need to move to California, or can they continue to grow from Dublin / and or London?

Really depends on the business, some need to locate offices stateside and in central Europe, others are doing just fine based in UK or Ireland. I think it is really determined by the product. Maybe more B to B businesses need to relocate to be closer to their customers, but more B to C businesses just need the right conditions, i.e. skilled workforce, tax regime, proximity to major markets, Ireland ticks lots of those boxes.

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Your instagram page looks great, how is that going in terms of getting potential buyers via that route. How about pinterest, tumblr and some of the other more visual social media channels?

Thanks, Instagram is a work in progress for us and we are slowly building our expertise in this area. We are a business with a very clear core target market, and as a result our activity in this space is focused on Facebook, YouTube, and then to a lesser extent, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

As our business model becomes more relevant to more people, the last three platforms become more important.

Personally I am very interested in the power and influence of some of the more visual platforms as online retail develops. There are great examples of retailers in the US (e.g. Nordstrom) using Pinterest to great effect as a direct response tool.

We will definitely up weight our presence on these platforms as we develop our content and social strategies over the coming months.

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In terms of social media in general, how do you maintain the right level of engagement and deal with everything else?

The balance between the two can fluctuate. From a content perspective our goal is quite simply to be as relevant as we can be. At different times of the tradingcalendar there are different requirements. At peak trading times, content involving product (we have 50,000 products at Christmas) drive the most engagement, at other times content that may or may not involve product is required to maintain our relevance to our followers. The numbers do not lie, followers engage when we are doing a good job at social.

The emphasis here is on quality, not the actual number e.g. no point in having 200,000 Facebook followers if many of them are not in the target market. So this is closely monitored and strategies adjusted according to requirements.

From a service point of view, I see very few businesses doing a fantastic job here. We are certainly looking to improve in this area. Aligning our social platforms with the platforms that hold customer information is tricky, so we are constantly looking to improve our performance with queries, in order to deliver the most relevant responses to our customers in a time frame that suits them. More and more customers find social an easy way to engage with us, and this is an area we will develop.

We are also looking at rolling out social reviews, where customers can engage and comment on our own platform. This will be a moderated service and will allow us to engage real time with our customers and serve their needs quicker.

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Work / life balance. How do you manage the time demands that brings, and also managing everything else?

To be honest, sometimes I don’t…

Always a tricky area for people running businesses of any size. My priority outside of work is my family (my partner and two young kids) so I try to spend as much time with them as I can in my free time. Beyond that I try to hit the gym and run and play tennis as often as possible, however these activities regularly play third fiddle to my family and the job.

There is no doubt that when you can find the right balance with all three, as an individual you definitely perform better in all aspects of your life.

Like Paul Allen, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet, and a lot of other people who have had a number of successful ventures, they have turned to wide ranging initiatives to help humanity. What’s your own particular philosophy on this?  Should there perhaps be a specific explicit element to encouraging new businesses to consider their corporate / social responsibility approach, and perhaps include a philanthropic element from the very beginning (like Oracle & Sales force for example) 

This is a very interesting point. I don’t feel we are there yet, in terms of whether investors are ready to accept this kind of model in businesses, particularly start-ups. It may take another 20 years before we get to that place across the board. In the meantime it is left up to the truly exceptional individuals who do this already to pave the way.

From our own perspective, we feed into our Group CSR policy (I am a member of our Group CSR Board) which is comprehensive. Locally we support Irish charities on an ongoing basis, and I sit on the board of a charity foundation, which helps me gain a perspective into the challenges the charity sector face. We like to get involved with our charity partners, and besides helping to raise funds we also lend the expertise of some of the members of our management team to help with various strategies.

I would certainly like to think that the philanthropic element you mention will become more of the norm as businesses develop and demonstrate the value that such activities can bring to new or established businesses all over the world.

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Did you play any sport? Did it help prepare you in anyway for your later career?! 

I love sport, and have played and watched it all my life (admittedly less so in recent years and still struggle to maintain the balance). I think sport has strongly influenced my career in terms of my style. I am a Man Utd fan, so clearly I believe anything is possible, and I don’t give up easily! Football certainly helped me to develop my competitive nature, and it is fair to say that I am probably a bad loser, so I try not to let that happen very often.

I also played lots of tennis as a youngster and still love this game. In particular the mental discipline required in tennis is interesting to me. The margin between winning and losing a tennis match can often be nothing to do with physical prowess or skill, more a game can be won or lost in the head. Tennis requires a level of focus to achieve your objectives and I certainly learned at an early age to at least pay attention to this in order to win.