Simon Ruggles Q&A: Leading an eCommerce Team

In our latest Q&A Series, we caught up with Simon Ruggles – Head of eCommerce at Autoglym, and seasoned eCommerce broadcaster and speaker.

4 Nov 2020


In our latest Digital Tonic Q&A Series, we caught up with Simon Ruggles – Head of eCommerce at Autoglym, and seasoned eCommerce broadcaster and speaker. Simon has been instrumental in developing and executing the Autoglym DTC strategy. We were lucky enough to get some time with Simon and to hear his thoughts on the present and future of eCommerce.

Stacey: “Hi Simon, how would you summarise your career to date which brings you to your current role of Head of eCommerce at Autoglym?”

Simon: “I have always been a true believer that in order to truly lead and affect change in an eCommerce leadership role, a fundamental understanding of the complexities of the entire value chain is important in an FMCG or consumer goods business. To that end, I have been incredibly lucky to work across a number of sectors, and markets, and with a number of well recognised brands, in roles that truly encompass, influence, or lead the full depth and breadth of the customer journey.

Starting as a junior marketer and digital analyst in the public sector (and later in a junior political role), I first began to realise the importance of customer engagement, honing my ability to seek insight, understand, and action meaningful change. Ultimately this understanding helped me to quickly play a part in impacting delivery/quality of service, whilst providing the tax payer value for money.

Stepping into the corporate world, I have spent time working with some of Europe’s largest retailers, distributors, and wholesalers, turning my data-driven understanding of the end user, into profitable, digitally focused strategies for growth.

Whilst the world of physical security (locks, chains, safes and the like) might not seem exciting, one of my first commercial roles taught me the value of owning the relationship with the consumer, and the importance of UX on retention, not just acquisition!  Like many brands today, faced with the heavy influence of commodity prices, and an eager and competitive far eastern export market, the choice was stark – adapt or die. I quickly stepped in to help move one of the biggest players in the physical security market from a crumbling Brick and Mortar focus, to one that capitalised on the margins, efficiencies, and opportunities of both Bricks and Clicks, and a relatively virgin pure play market.

From there, I stepped up the ranks as the subject matter expert, eventually moving to Autoglym during its 50th year celebration – an opportunity of a lifetime, in one of the world’s most recognisable automotive brands (particularly a car nut like myself).  Taking the time to step back and understand the nuances of the value chain, a legacy route to market, and evolving consumer attitudes, the perfect opportunity arose to shape the next 50 years, which I have been doing with pride since joining the company in 2015.

Throughout my career, I have always maintained an interest in my second love – broadcasting. Through these links, I’ve been honoured to network and influence in the eCommerce and digital space including contributions to BBC Radio 4, the Internet Retailing Magazine / Research Source, Curious (the digital forum for Milton Keynes), and a recent Open University study on the impacts of digital change towards HR strategy”.

Stacey: “How have you needed to adapt your approach during 2020?”

Simon: “For all of the challenges 2020 has thrown at us, it has also had its upsides. Like many of our personal lives, a national lockdown and the impacts of COVID-19 have given us time to reflect, understand what is important, and adjust accordingly.

Whilst we haven’t necessarily had the luxury of time, what has been reaffirmed is the importance of our incredibly brand loyal customer base, and those beginning to connect with the brand for the first time. Crucially, the importance of our digital strategy has been reignited across the business, and the need to be agile in our ways of working, further reinforced.

In 2019, our traditional planning and budgeting process would take into account key satisfaction and decision making drivers, attitudes, accompanying growth opportunities, and a wealth of metrics/management information. The team would benefit from a 3-5 year roadmap of digital and eCommerce initiatives, each carefully linked to the relevant business case. However, the roadmap was often relatively rigid, broken up into “agile” blocks of work, for delivery in a relatively linear way.  In hindsight, this was merely a stepping stone to being agile in our approach to eCommerce change.

2020 has torn up the rulebook in many ways, but also improved focus, and pace of change. By taking a deep dive into the data driven by increased online engagement and spend, customer insights have emerged at pace. Naturally, given the changing landscape, one of the challenges has been to sort the temporary, from the long-term impact. However, once sorted accordingly, and prioritised based on business impact, this insight has birthed renewed energy, enthusiasm, and focus for all who support the eCommerce value chain.

Being truly agile has been key to both realising retail growth and shielding the business from many of the difficult challenges that lay ahead. On a weekly basis, our growth drivers and high-impact priorities are reviewed amongst the senior team. We establish our area of focus – singling out a small number of priorities that our cross-functional team will work on collaboratively. With this level of focus and flexibility comes the expectation that this timeboxed “sprint” of work will be completed to a high level of quality, on time, and in full. And that the attached value will be realised by the business.

To date, this non-linear approach has seen us deliver more in 2020 (with a limited team) than I would have imagined across a number of traditional budgeting and planning cycles.”

Stacey: “In your opinion, what are the most important skills right now in order for an eCommerce team to be successful?”

Simon: “There are a number of facets to a successful eCommerce team as we press fast forward on the eCommerce journey. Perhaps the most important and pertinent of these skills is customer-centricity. The need to understand the consumer/customer is greater than ever before as audiences, reach, and demand continue to shift rapidly.  Critically analysing and appraising data with consumer/customer centricity in mind has been key to our strategy. From this, a well-functioning team should drive strategic insights that shape short, mid, and long-term objectives, providing focus for both the channel, and the organisation.

From experience, brands and businesses of many shapes and sizes handle a huge amount of data on a daily basis, but many are in the dark about the actionable insights that can be derived from a wealth of sources, paid, owned, and earned. It is this data that has been core to winning senior stakeholder buy-in, and focusing teams across the business on the projects/change that delivers the greatest impact. As well as saying yes to the priority that delivers the most, there is also strength in saying no (particularly where data-driven).

Of course, this is only one step in the right direction. The most successful eCommerce teams make time to regularly assess the outcomes of their actions vs. objectives, and have become incredibly agile in their ability to evaluate and react. I use the principles of Agile methodology to underpin this approach, even outside of our front end and dev ops team (e.g. in our approach to pure play platforms or fulfilment). Principally it is incredibly important that the right people are in the team, who can work in an open, honest, and collaborative manner. Using insight to speed up the planning cycle helps bring new products and services to market, removing red tape and making the customer king. The traditional roadmap, in many ways, is out of the window.

At Autoglym we’ve been very lucky to have an incredibly strong organisational culture. Our family and “Passion for Perfection” mantra has made this change easy for our teams to adapt to”.

Stacey: “What would your advice be for someone looking to establish a career in eCommerce right now?”

Simon: “With rapid change in consumer behaviour forced by COVID-19, demand for eCommerce professionals shows no sign of slowing down. With many of these changes likely to have a degree of permanence, digital demand looks more rewarding as a career choice than ever before.

Whether your desire is to work with the growing number of pure players in the market, or within a growing and adapting legacy brand, there are a huge number of options out there, all requiring a relatively common, yet easily adaptable skillset. For this reason, remembering the fundamental principles of marketing and commercial strategy remain core to standing out from the crowd, starting first and foremost with the needs of the consumer and demand generation.

When looking to professionals to fill roles within an eCommerce team, I’ve always paid special attention to those who demonstrate a deeper understanding, beyond the “silo” of the channel, or a specific discipline. If the job of an eCommerce team within a legacy brand can be absorbed into the very fibre of the organisation in so much that it is a core part of the day-to-day, our job is done… Until then (to varying degrees depending on the role) a good eCommerce professional takes time to understand the value chain in the context of the user experience, and can often contribute to ever changing demands.
By this I mean, a performance marketer might be looking at inventory control challenges on the Amazon platform and have the versatility and understanding to contribute and drive operational change. A developer may keep abreast of changes further down the value chain, and may proactively drive changes in the last mile, based on customer feedback and new technology available. A platform manager constantly surveys the surrounding landscape and seeks competitive or commercial advantages by driving optimisation across the business.

Some of my most successful teams have had a high level of interoperability and cross-functional working. A solid commercial grounding from any background, and a demonstrable drive to continually influence and manage change is a fantastic place to start in a challenge that shows no signs of slowing down”.

Stacey: “How has the sudden move to remote working impacted you and your team?”

Simon: “Foresight is a wonderful thing! We have been incredibly lucky to work with a very talented and forward-thinking core IT team. Together with the senior leadership team, our group IT function recognised the risks associated with disaster planning prior to the first cases of COVID-19 in 2019, and took steps to introduce new cloud-based telephony and collaborative tools to minimise the impacts associated with unplanned events.

Coupled with working in a very digitally minded team, when the impact of the pandemic lead to home working, many took to the change like a duck to water. Increased flexibility has allowed us to change our working patterns to meet consumer demand. Where working an evening or early morning was previously a challenge, website maintenance can now be better planned and puts less strain on our colleagues. In turn this improves our user experience, and has maximised our returns in our D2C channel.  Take out commuting time, and productivity has increased exponentially in the normal working day, like many other organisations.

Some of this success is down to the use of these tools to maintain regular contact, and ensure team spirit maintains high. Daily timeboxed stand-ups and encouragement to book casual personal catch-ups with colleagues has helped to keep the team dynamic.  Working from home can be challenging depending on the environment, and we intend to offer a level of flexibility based on individual needs in the short to medium term, as opposed to a forced return to the office.”

Stacey: “And finally, how do you see the eCommerce industry changing/evolving in 2021?”

Simon: “Posing this question in 2019, we never would have foreseen the outcomes of 2020 to date. Even now, I’m certain the industry will change in the final quarter beyond recognition as the effects of Black Friday/Cyber Monday and festive shopping take full effect online.

To some extent I expect the same to be true of 2021. With an ever-changing brick and mortar / bricks and clicks landscape, I expect the outcomes of the financial year end in traditional channels to further shape some of the challenges we will face, as consolidation in the market will inevitably occur.

Both from a manufacturer and retailer POV, a frenzied technological arms race is upon us. Organisations with eCommerce “baked in” to their strategy have reaped the benefits of their focus in 2020. Being on the front foot has undoubtedly offered a much needed lifeline to manufacturers and brands with a D2C presence, and a well-considered pure play platform/retail strategy.

2021 will likely offer significant opportunity for eCommerce professionals across the value chain who can offer legacy organisations fresh thinking as confidence returns in investment. I’m often surprised to read and network with professionals within brands and organisations that approach eCommerce with “gut feel”, using the same strategic toolkit as traditional retail. Perhaps 2021 will spell the end of this approach, and put another nail in the coffin of traditional “Sales and Marketing” as we know it?

As organisations move away from traditional spaces and traditional places of work out of necessity, so do I expect brands and retailers from across the spectrum to re-evaluate traditional value chains, further embracing the power of data to guide decision making – at a much faster pace. As a result, 2021 could spell change to many traditional organisational structures, breeding a culture of rapid change and adaptability (particularly those that are customer/consumer focused). I foresee that the shape and skillset of many eCommerce teams further adapt to an increasing requirement for commercial/operational/technological acumen to influence organisational change across the value chain”.

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Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

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