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Top 50 Q&A: Laura Doonin, Moustache Republic

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 Laura Doonin, partner and director of Moustache Republic and former general manager of digital at Pharmacy 4 Less. Based on her achievements in her previous role, which she held until November 2018, she ranked 35th on our list this year.

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

  • The only constant in the Australian retail industry is change.
  • While female leadership is lacking across the retail industry, Doonin believes real change happens in the day-to-day, rather than in sweeping movements.
  • Do your homework before you start using a new technology. Just because it’s expensive, that doesn’t mean it is good.

Internet Retailing: You’ve worked at eBay as a manager of strategic partnerships, and Pharmacy 4 Less as general manager of digital – what are the key learnings you took away from these roles?

Laura Doonin: I studied fashion and business at university, which was a while back now. Since then I have experienced retail from all angles: as a designer, a buyer, as a marketplace at eBay, a technology partner at Pitney Bowes, a retailer at Pharmacy 4 less and now as partner in a digital agency.

I know it sounds cliche, but I have learned the only guarantee is change. In a time when technological advancements are moving at an unprecedented pace, the industry needs trusted advisors more than ever, and I am trying my best to be one – to continue exploring new tech, looking to what global retailers are doing, or what fast-rising DTC brands are hacking to anticipate what may happen next in the Australian market.

A key takeaway from my time as GM of digital for Pharmacy 4 less was that many of the issues facing traditional retailers aren’t so much about keeping up with the fast paced innovation, but more to do with mindset shift that needs to happen within organisations’ executive teams to embrace the fact that harmonised experiences need to happen, especially with franchise models, and that decisions cannot be made in silos.

IR: You also worked as eBay’s manager of fashion – why do you think e-commerce has such high penetration in the fashion category in particular?

LD: E-commerce trends have been dictated by the shoppers. Today the largest source of global spending comes from millennials who are fairly comfortable buying fashion products online. By 2020, millennials are expected to spend up to $14 trillion.

Gen Z are digital native shoppers and often the fashion category is the entry point for them.

I’ve seen a shift in e-commerce fashion purchases over the past 10 years. Previously much of the “fashion” bought online was low-price-point fast fashion and, perhaps due to low financial risk, became an easier entry point.

However, with improved experiences digitally, more transparency and social proof there is a significant rise in e-commerce and the luxury end.

IR: You’ve held leadership positions across multiple retailers, what advice can you give to women in the industry in regards to rising through the ranks?

LD: I feel privileged to be a woman in technology at a time when the right conversations are happening.

Change is in the air for sure. Lack of female leadership is a real thing –currently, only 11 of the ASX 200 companies have a female CEO and of these 200, 75 per cent of directorships are held by men.

At a macro level, we need to keep driving this, but I really believe that change – real change – only happens in the day to day.

I am trying to take check of my own unconscious biases, support other females around me who are pushing ahead and focus on diversity as the matrix – not gender.

I also want to support the good guys around me – we need the good ones!

IR: In your current role at Moustache Republic, you help brands deliver best practice e-commerce. What are some of the most common things you see brands doing wrong, and what can brands do to avoid making these mistakes?

LD: A key driver to join a digital agency was due to the fact that, from being in retail for 10-plus years you understand the “what” should be done and “why” it has to be done, but the “how” is the hard part.

I want to bring solutions to retailers that can help set them up to succeed.

I am backing the direction of SaaS platforms. SaaS technology plus custom-built functionalities via serverless architecture – and that’s what Moustache Republic focus on.

There is a real vibe in the Australian retail space at the moment, with more honest conversations, collaboration, faster speed to implement and ability to fail and move on. It’s great.

My advice would be to never assume paying more for a technology or platform means it will work better. Do your homework before venturing into a big piece of work.

When you make a decision, think speed to market and agility. Work with people you trust. Have both a build and buy approach to your tech stack. Be okay with the small pivots. And, finally, trust your gut.

IR: Is there anything else you wanted to add?

LD: The future of retail is about collaboration and breaking rules. Retailers and brands have to think of themselves as technology companies.

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