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Top 50 Q&A: Brad Foenander, Coles Online

Welcome to our weekly Q&A with Internet Retailing’s 2019 Top 50 People in E-Commerce. You can find this year’s Top 50 report here, and see our previous Q&As here.

This week, Internet Retailing interviews Brad Foenander, head of e-commerce and strategic partnerships at Coles. Brad ranked 39th on our list this year.

Short on time? Here are the three key takeaways from the interview:

  • Delivering everything a customer expects from grocery online is more difficult than it sounds.
  • Brad is looking forward to seeing innovation in bricks and mortar due to pureplay online retailers entering physical retail.
  • The growth in technology, data, machine learning, and on-demand is driving change in e-commerce.

Internet Retailing: What does an average day look like for you? What are the daily concerns?

Brad Foenander: My role has recently changed to focus on the transformation of our core online grocery business, which involves changing all of our online platforms and building two highly automated customer fulfilment centres.

So, right now a large part of my day is spent working across the business and our partner ecosystem to shape the business processes and solutions underlying this massive change program.  Outside of that, my average day always starts with coffee, followed by coffee – you know you’re drinking too much coffee when all the baristas know your name! 

Every day I make sure I stay in touch with the core business by reviewing our customer metrics and feedback to ensure we continue to be on the right track. Then there are usually team check-ins, huddles and stand-ups for key change initiatives, and key stakeholder and strategic partner meetings related to the online transformation program.

IR: What has been your general approach to e-commerce at Coles? How have you brought that brand online?

BF: First and foremost has been to never lose sight of the customer.  The business exists to serve customers, so they have to be at the forefront of everything we do.  I know it seems obvious, but it’s too easy in an online world where we don’t always see our customers to forget that.

Second is to make sure I know the team who are dealing day to day with customers. For e-commerce this is typically our customer care team and our front-line service teams who prepare customer orders and take customers’ orders to their kitchen bench. 

I try to keep free time to get out to our stores and meet and talk to our online teams. I believe it’s really important to see and hear directly from them about the challenges and concerns they are seeing and dealing with on a day to day basis in order to make effective change.

Finally, I’ve always made sure I am a customer.  The best way to ensure the decisions we’re making as a business are working and taking us in the right direction is to feel and understand the impact of them for yourself.

IR: What have been the challenges in that approach, and what have been the advantages?

BF: So for me, the real advantage of this approach has been that by walking in the customer’s shoes, it’s far easier to challenge yourself to ensure you’re making the right decisions day to day. 

I’ve been really fortunate in the various roles I’ve had with Coles Online.  I’ve always felt that one of the big benefits of working in a business like Coles Online, is that we have a real start-up culture and mentality in the online business but with the support and resources of a mature retailer like Coles.

We get to be innovative and agile and try lots of things to make life easier for our customers and our team. That said, we still have obligations to the broader group that need to be fulfilled so the challenge is always about finding the right balance.  But I think that approach has paid dividends –  we’ve “earned our stripes” so to speak. 

I feel like the broader business has really placed their trust in online now, and we’ve been given a licence to make a real step change in the way we trade online with the creation of our online transformation program and the announcement of our partnership with Ocado Solutions. 

We now have a chance to really go beyond what we can do in our current network, with the possibility of an expanded range and more flexibility and convenience for customers through enhanced delivery and collection options.  It’s quite humbling and exciting to be trusted to be a part of the leadership team for something so significant for our business… no pressure!

IR: You’ve held e-commerce positions at multiple retailers over your career. How has the industry changed over that period, and what are the exciting opportunities you’ve identified for the industry moving forward?

BF: Four key things stand out for me:

First, the pace of technological change continues to increase and has had massive impacts, but most specifically the continuing improvements in mobile devices and the ongoing shift towards mobile experiences this is driving.  I’d always believed in this from my early days with Vodafone, but it just continues to amaze me how fast things are changing in this space

Second, growth in data – the volume of it, tools and therefore the ability to use it to create richer and more personalised experiences

Third, easier and easier access to machine learning, which is driving opportunities and efficiencies to do more and more in real time, but also allowing our team to focus more on customers whilst the technology does more of the grunt work

Finally, the on-demand economy and the impact of the growth in this area on customer expectations around immediacy and the opportunity it offers to deliver unique last mile options for customers

I’ve always worked for businesses that have been focused on complementing their traditional bricks-and-mortar retail strategy with e-commerce and I think it’s exciting to finally see some of the pureplay online retailers starting to play in the bricks and mortar retail space. I’m really looking forward to seeing the reinvention of retail spaces as a result of this shift.

IR: How do you marry the physical experience of grocery shopping with the convenience of online? What have been some key learnings in customer expectations for such an offer?

BF: It has been a long journey, and is still going. We try to bring all the things that customers expect from grocery online, which is often far more difficult than it sounds.

That means the same quality of product that customers expect from a store, having click-and-collect options wherever we have a store, so it’s convenient and easy, having consistent pricing and promotions so that when people see our catalogues (or any other advertising for that matter), they can get it all online.

One of the most important learnings for us along the way has been about the importance of the delivery or collection experience and making sure we give customers the best possible experience.  I’ve heard so many stories from customers about the fantastic experience they had with our customer service assistants who bring your order to your kitchen bench. 

They are some of our best brand ambassadors and they really set the tone for the whole experience.  They are the face of Coles Online to our customers, so we spend a lot of time trying to make it as easy as possible for them to do what they need to do. 

That’s a massive part of what our transformation program is all about, giving our customers a really slick delivery and collection experience that makes them want to come back again and again. 

IR: Is there anything else you wanted to add? Anything you think we missed, or that you’re particularly looking forward to or passionate about? 

BF: Of course it goes without saying that I’m really passionate about e-commerce and I love the pace of change, but I look at what’s happening in the industry locally at the moment, and I think it’s a really exciting time to be a part of the e-commerce industry in Australia with well known, established local brands like us making significant investments into e-commerce and digital to really step change the end to end customer experience across all their channels. 

That’s just great news for everyone!

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