Exploring The North Face’s e-commerce strategy with Mark McKechnie
The North Face is committed to delivering excellence in e-commerce, with a digital strategy focused on customer experience, from offering the best products to inspiring a global movement to get outside. To learn more about why The North Face’s e-commerce channel is so much more than just selling products online, FashionUnited spoke with Mark McKechnie, senior director of digital sales for the apparel brand. outdoors.
What is your role at The North Face?
I am responsible for strategic development and e-commerce sales growth at The North Face. My responsibilities include digital marketing, merchandise planning, digital technology, customer experience and UX, operations and analytics.
Have you always worked in digital?
Yes, my entire career to date has been in a digital retail role, always keeping an eye on Google Analytics! I love sports and the outdoors a lot, and I don’t have
knowing what to do after university, so I applied for an e-commerce internship at a London-based online clothing and sports retailer.
I thought I would at least meet people who love skiing and the outdoors, and I quickly realized that because I was the target customer myself, being “consumer-centric” came very naturally. It shaped my career because I always wanted to work in consumer goods companies that sell a product that I love and want to buy myself.
I worked in agencies, with multi-brand e-tailers and within brands. Prior to joining The North Face, I spent five years running the e-commerce business at a high-end sports nutrition company in the UK. In my current role, I appreciate how different branded e-commerce strategy is from retail.
How did you rate The North Face in terms of numerical IQ when you joined in 2019?
Honestly, very strongly, and I was pleasantly surprised. I come from a smaller but very entrepreneurial company, and you can’t help but think that a big company might not be as nimble or forward-thinking, but I was wrong.
As The North Face is part of V.F. Corporation, which includes Timberland, Vans and others, our digital technology platform is centrally managed, meaning digital innovation from one brand can quickly benefit another. Within The North Face there was also a very clear brand strategy and market strategy.
Has the pandemic changed your digital strategy?
No, not hugely – we’ve grown in areas like omnichannel and inventory agility, but The North Face already had a strategy that prioritized digital DTC, and the pandemic just allowed us to accelerate our plan.
The centerpiece of our digital strategy is that we have a “point of difference” at thenorthface.com versus our digital wholesale partners to create a reason for consumers to shop and visit the brand website directly. . We achieve this by offering our widest range of products, including collaborations and by producing exclusive content. The website is the best place to learn more about the brand, compare products and allows our customers to talk to us directly via live chat.
One area that changed quickly was the role of our own retail stores, as we suddenly found ourselves in a situation where demand moved online. This meant we had to be nimble with our inventory, located across Europe, to leverage it online. We also used our omnichannel capabilities, such as buy online, ship from store, book online, buy in store, and Zalando Connected Retail.
Overall, the pandemic has changed the way we think about our retail stores, with The North Face integrating its DTC business (e-commerce and B&M stores) around customer convenience.
What do you mean when you say digital strategy is different for branded e-commerce versus retail e-commerce?
A third-party online retailer or marketplace can combine the strengths of multiple brands and create strong value positioning, such as fast delivery, great pricing, or expert customer service to drive sales growth. For a branded e-commerce channel, success is tied to building a great brand identity by focusing on storytelling and content on the
website, avoiding product discounts, ensuring the right balance between performance marketing and brand marketing, and looking beyond sales as a KPI.
What excites you about the digital world?
Within e-commerce, there are still many barriers to buying online, such as customers preferring to touch/try the products, wanting the product immediately, or preferring face-to-face service. Online is constantly evolving to remove these barriers, such as offering super-fast delivery or live chat features, and I’m excited to see this continue by connecting online to offline, whether through omnichannel services or augmented reality.
I also believe that as privacy laws expand to protect individuals and their personal data, the industry will need to rethink several operations that will benefit brands that already have high standards. This will drive innovation around personalizing customer experiences that use technology while adhering to privacy regulations.
What do you find unique about The North Face?
The North Face is truly a people and brand driven company. I love how everyone who works here believes in its mission to provide great gear for our athletes to inspire people to get outside and protect the planet. I really like sports, so it’s great to be surrounded by people who spend every weekend (or even work nights!) in the mountains skiing and running. But also, I’ve met so many people who live the brand exploration values in different ways outside of sport that’s inspiring. Also, with The North Face EMEA headquarters located in the Ticino region of Switzerland, I think it is one of the most beautiful places in Europe. If you love the mountains, you’ve come to the right place.
What advice do you have for someone looking to follow a similar career path?
My role requires very general skills. There are elements of analytics, branding, marketing, operations and technology, so you can progress into digital through so many avenues as the skills are highly transferable.
My advice would be to focus on getting a job in the digital companies or sectors you believe in or are interested in, whether it’s the product they sell or the service they offer. You will find a culture and people that better match your own and, therefore, thrive there.
For more information about VF Corporation, see Employer branding page.