Horse’s Mouth – Sarah Kearney of The Warehouse Group

From cutting her teeth at a large multinational technology company in Singapore, this Chief Digital Officer has gone on to use her experience to set The Warehouse Group up for future success with its digital transformation journey.

On learning the skills to lead a digital transformation

Before The Warehouse Group (TWG) I was based in Singapore working for the Alibaba Group as Senior Vice President for the South East Asia region. That’s where I really deepened my knowledge in the digital space. I was looking after the optimisation and conversion for the site, across seven markets, building a strategy around apps. It was my bootcamp into digital. 

I had the absolute fortunate opportunity to be taken under the wing one of the execs who taught me much of what I know. I was able to bring that amazing experience to New Zealand and help the local market on its digital journey. 

Having been brought up and subsequently worked in the Northern Hemisphere, I became familiar with
the trial and error journey of early e-commerce adoption. When I got to Singapore I was able to employ those learnings, and then again when I first arrived at TWG. So, there was no need for us (TWG) to go through a step-by-
step journey to get to that end point, but more a question of how we can start to be a leader in this space. 

We are a fantastic 40-year-old company, but sometimes that comes with a legacy of not capturing the data streams that really help power those amazing decisions or digital experiences for our customers. 

However, with the support of our fantastic Group CEO Nick Grayston, we’re becoming more data driven. 

On setting TWG up for future success 

We are very clear on our vision of what we want the customer experience to be in the future. I’m reluctant to use the word digital because consumers don’t separate the digital part of their journey versus their physical sense of the journey. It’s really critical to us that we’re looking at that experience across the entire value chain. Pushing the boundaries on how we can be a leader for Kiwis, bringing new experiences that they might not have even known they needed. 

We’re also keen to ensure we are solving real problems and not thinking up great ideas in isolation. We spend a lot of time with our customers and our team to develop digital experiences to solve such problems. Really simply, our vision is that we want Kiwis to think of us first every single time they need something. That’s the building blocks of how our strategy is being formulated.

On using technology to deliver personalised experiences to customers

Any good personalisation journey requires you to know something about the customer, and therefore data. The way I articulate personalisation is building meaningful relationships. I’ve been using a phrase ‘digital empathy’ instead. A lot of people are using the word personalisation, but many organisations and even customers aren’t clear on what that means to them. At TWG it’s about taking those cues from our customers and building hyper relevant and meaningful relationships with them by making their experience better than they ever imagined it could be, but also being really helpful with how we communicate with them. It has to be personal, it has to be relevant, and we want to build the same empathy in our digital channels that our store teams have been so good at building in person over the past 40 years.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are really critical to us, because if we truly want to create one-to-one hyper personalised experiences at scale, we absolutely need great AI and ML capabilities. 

On using Salesforce to supercharge the customer experience

Partnering with Salesforce has meant we are able to move at pace. Two mantras we have got going forward is flexibility and scalability. I love how their products allow us to be flexible when we’re creating and thinking about what it is that we need from a technology point to create that vision of our customer ecosystem. 

We always start by thinking about our customers’ needs, what it is that we think our customers are going to need in the future, and how might tech play a role? Expectations are moving really rapidly and offshore retailers are coming to New Zealand. Kiwis are also shopping overseas and their expectations are evolving quickly. I love my job because every day I’m reading about something new. That flexibility and scalability has to be a core principle at TWG, and we want to invest in technology that has greater flexibility so that we can accelerate and rapidly evolve those experiences for our customers.

On using technology to help conversions

Obviously, conversions are important because we are a business. However, for at least the past 24 months we have challenged ourselves to think about what happens if we don’t just focus on that immediate conversion metric. What happens if we focus on the success metrics of our customers? Conversions are a great measure for short-term success but we are thinking more long-term about how we can create experiences that build customers for life.

A big thing for us is how do we start to get that ‘share-of-life’ with New Zealanders. We know they are spending 15 hours a month on TikTok and Instagram. We want to be there and be the first retailer or experience they think of when relevant. It’s important for us to continue on this path because our Warehouse brand has been so ingrained in New Zealanders’ lives over the past 40 years, and we want to be here for many more years. 

On offering more convenience In October we delivered more value for The Warehouse customers with the launch of a range of third-party products on The Warehouse app and website. Called Marketplace, customers now have more choice when shopping with us online, with products from other merchants. This is another step towards building a strong customer ecosystem and delivering more convenience. We want them to choose us first, and what better way to do this than by giving the gift of choice whenever, wherever.

This article was originally published in the Dec/Jan 2022/23 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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