From a novice to number one, we sat down with Jane Lu to discuss Showpo, ups and downs, and how she built her empire across the globe.
Firstly, congratulations on your three wins at this year’s ORIAs! You’ve certainly added another great achievement to your list: Online Retailer of the Year, Forbes 30 Under 30, Cosmopolitan Girl Boss of the Year – now this! How does it feel having so many prestigious titles under your belt?
I think I must have had a chip on my shoulder from school because I didn’t win any awards back then! So I’m obviously trying to overcompensate now. I actually can’t believe that nine years ago I was a novice in online retail and now we’ve been inducted into the ORIAS Hall of Fame. I’m so proud of Showpo and the incredible team behind it, and I can’t wait to see how far we can take the business!
You won three awards at the ORIAS: Best Pureplay Retailer, Technology Champion and, of course, Hall of Fame. What were some of the key reasons why you think you earned these awards?
We’re just really focused on our customer – the end-user – and how they feel when they’re shopping with us, so we’re making constant improvements to make sure its the best experience possible. Our e-commerce strategy has been something we’ve been constantly testing and iterating right from the start. In the fast-paced and dynamic industry that we’re in, if you’re not constantly innovating and trying something new, you’ll go backwards.
We’ve focused on building out our team over the past year, and we’ve brought on some really strong technology partners. We’ve seen a conversion rate uplift of 47 per cent YoY for our US site, and 14% on our AU site through our focus on customer research and testing. We’ve recently placed a heavy focus on our app as well, which was ranked one of the Top 10 Shopping Apps earlier this year.
You have an experimental e-commerce strategy – from influencers to weddings and pop-up stores in LA. When a company first starts out, it can utilise the ‘trial and error’ method in its marketing campaigns, social strategy, etc. Now that Showpo is growing in size and gaining respect throughout the industry, does your philosophy still stand?
I really believe companies are always in a trial and error state. You really can’t get complacent, especially in the online space. It’s constantly changing so quickly! We’re always testing, learning and refining as we go. The difference between when we were first started out to now is that we have so many more learnings than we did back then. After nine years in the business, we know what works but don’t take anything as a guarantee. A style of skirt that repeatedly converts may suddenly not, so you’ve got to constantly be on your toes and adapting.
Fashion has, and will always be, one of the largest players in the retail game. It seems that every day there’s a new label popping up and trying to snag the spotlight. What makes Showpo stay at the top?
Yes, the industry is constantly changing, and new brands are always popping up – that’s exactly how we started out! So we don’t ever take our position in the market for granted and know that while we have loyal customers, the market is fickle and we always have to bring our A-game. We have a strong brand and constantly work at how we can strengthen it and communicate it better to our audience. We want to be leaders across product offering, technology, customer service and delivery, to name a few. It’s not enough to just have a great product; it’s about the whole end-to-end experience for customers.
We also have unique points of difference, like our size offering (4-20) and same-day shipping in several cities across Australia. Lastly, it’s also about really valuing your customers and taking on their feedback because they are the biggest advocates and can impact a brand’s success.
Looking back at those who influenced you and your career, is there anyone that you modelled yourself after? Or are you making it up as you go along?
Most of my experience with bosses or managers came from the corporate world and to be honest (and not in a harsh way), but it’s probably more of a case of learning who I didn’t want to be as a leader. I’m probably more making it up as I go along and making Showpo a place I really want to come to every day. But I have definitely been inspired by other people’s entrepreneurial stories though such as Jo Horgan, owner of Mecca Cosmetica and Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx.
Showpo’s bridal collection offers trending wedding and bridesmaid dresses at affordable prices. Source: Showpo
Your Instagram handle is The Lazy CEO – this isn’t just a brilliant name, but it’s also a great branding strategy. How important is branding for Showpo? And how does your personal brand influence the culture of the company?
Branding is so important for Showpo; it’s one of the main things that sets us apart from our competitors. Our Showpo customer is fashionably fun, just like us! When I first started hiring, I made sure I brought on people that not only brought amazing skills to the company but also embodied the type of values that are important to me so I would say the foundations of our culture definitely stems from my personal brand.
When we first sat down to put our values on paper we came up with “Think Big, Get Shit Done and Have Fun” so as the Showpo team was expanding, we made sure we brought on people who embodied these values and had the right skills for the job. While the culture may have stemmed from my personal brand, everyone in the team also brings their own personality to add to our culture, which makes it such a great place to work!
Speaking of culture, Showpo is famous for having a fun and effervescent office culture – how important is this for the overall business?
I want Showpo to be a place everyone not only enjoys but also feels inspired to do their best work, and our culture is one of our greatest assets to achieve this! Having fun is actually one of our values here at Showpo. But it’s not just about having fun in the social sense like celebrating and holding events (which we definitely do), its but it’s also about putting the effort in to make work enjoyable for everyone around them – that’s the most important part!
As you know, Instagram has been trialling the removal of likes from the public. Despite its initial motive being geared towards mental health, it seems that brands have to pick up the slack and funnel more money into their social media strategy to get voices heard. Has Showpo found this the case? If so, how have you overcome it?
I don’t think the removal of likes has decreased the power of Instagram, nor has it had an impact on our social media strategy. It’s still such a popular channel for inspiration and how brands communicate with their audience. People go to social media for quality content, so it’s not really about likes. Our strategy has always been to produce content that resonates with our followers and continually test and learn so we can post what does perform and avoid what doesn’t.
According to a Power Retail study, 44 per cent of online shoppers follow at least one influencer on social. You are considered an influencer – how does Showpo utilise influencers in its marketing strategy? Have there been any changes recently in the impact of these social celebs?
I think the definition of an influencer has definitely broadened with the growing use of macro and even nano influencers by brands. On the one hand, nothing’s really changed because brands have always relied on celebrity endorsements. But then, the shift (and its shifting at an exponential rate) is to take the power and influence from a few celebs, and multinational businesses with big budgets to the individual so smaller businesses can leverage this.
Influencers are an important part of our marketing strategy. We do both paid and unpaid collaborations, depending on a few factors. Influencers can have a large and impactful reach, and their followers look to them as a source of inspiration and trust. We make sure that the influencers we work with are the right fit and reflective of the Showpo brand. For us, it’s not just about sending the product to influencers and getting them to post an image or a story. What we’re really trying to do is work closely with influencers to build strong relationships and a circle of Showpo ambassadors that really love our brand!
In 2017, you launched Showbro as an April Fool’s Joke. While it was a great prank, is there any chance you’d think about launching a legitimate menswear line?
Haha, no immediate plans to (much to Waldie, my fiancé and Showpo’s CFO’s, pleasure – I’m trying to stop him repeatedly wearing Christmas jumpers at the moment).
For now, we’re focused on what we do best and expanding into more categories for our Showpo girls. Like earlier this year, we launched our first Bridal Collection, which was a huge milestone – being able to make brides look and feel amazing on their special day at an affordable price point. We’ve also just created a Maternity Edit, as we found there has been more demand for this from our customers. This means that as the Showpo customer enters new phases of her life, we’re evolving with her!
You’ve said before that you wouldn’t do anything differently if you were to go back in time. Is there any advice that you’d offer your younger self instead?
I stand by that, both my wins and failures, have been unique experiences and have been important in my journey to today. The advice I’d give myself is to not be afraid of failure – the idea of it is much scarier than experiencing it, trust me. After my first failed business, I had less fear starting again (even $60,000 in debt), and it taught me what I needed to fix for Showpo. Failure provides valuable learnings, so focus on taking them on board to come back stronger.
What’s on Showpo’s radar? Should we mark our calendars for anything exciting?
We’ve always got some really exciting things going on! Summer is coming so we’re launching our SS19 collection next month, we’re also about to hit a really big customer milestone so stay tuned for that announcement! And one of my favourite events of the year is in September as well – our charity sample sale! This is our fifth year hosting the sale in the middle of Martin Place with all proceeds going to our charity partner, The Hunger Project.
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