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Marketing Mix Podcast with Charlie Cole

Charlie Cole discusses the future of e-commerce

Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast with Jeff Ragovin is Charlie Cole, Global Chief eCommerce Officer at Samsonite and Chief Digital Officer at Tumi. Charlie discusses keeping up with global consumer expectations, the role of personalization in brand affinity and maintaining loyalty in the age of Amazon. In exploring advancing capabilities of consumer data, Charlie dives into the future of eCommerce and tracking online to in-store conversions.

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Jeff Ragovin: Congrats on the new short video that you guys did with Lenny Kravitz and his daughter Zoey! From a brand perspective, why Lenny Kravitz, and why the short video?

Charlie Cole:  We’ve learned that a true authentic connection to the brand is important, specifically with Tumi. Lenny was a Tumi user and fan and that’s an obvious but sometimes undervalued hurdle that we wanted to clear. Zoey and Lenny represented this generational view in their family as we introduced the new Alpha 3 collection. The fact that Lenny and his daughter can move through the Tumi collection in their own lives and showcase their family progression allows the video to serve as a symbol of evolution of Tumi families.

Authenticity is sometimes easier said than done. We’ve learned through our own progress that having people who actually use your product is just as important as fame, influence and followers. We didn’t have to sell to Lenny the quality of the product because he was already a real user. I would like to think that all brands represent themselves that way but it’s particularly important to us.

Jeff Ragovin: Was this content meant for a US audience or did you want it to be more global?

Charlie Cole: This was global. Some of our campaigns are more region-based while some are more global based. But I think that Lenny had a certain level of global appeal. This was coupled with the fact that it was a campaign for a global collection, which isn’t always the case. It’s being pushed out around the world which is always a really cool thing.

Jeff Ragovin: As a global brand, how do you ensure that you have the same experience all around the world with different locations and nationalities?

Charlie Cole: In some cases, we have collections which are limited to a region, so it’s quite literally impossible. We’ve been working on having both a global view of our customers from a data perspective, and a global view of expectations from a customer service perspective. If our goods wear-and-tear, for example, it’s most likely not going to happen in your local market because you’re going to be traveling and on the move. Since Tumi is a direct consumer facing brand, we have to live up to these expectations globally. Having that consistent customer experience after the sale is the most important part of us meeting our consumer promise around the world.

Jeff Ragovin: When we think of Tumi, we also think of true personalization. How do you think this changes the mindset of people when they’re actually buying products?

Charlie Cole: It might seem subtle to have your name and initials engraved on a bag, but it does give the chance to have a different level of interaction with the brand. In some cases, you can customize the color and the patches that the initials go on- and we’ve seen that this creates a massive affinity within the brand. During the holiday season, we see personalized gifts hitting the 60-70 percent range. It’s clearly resonating with the receiver as well as the person giving the gift. I personally think the more you interact with the brand the better chance you have to drive a longer lifetime value. The personal touches have a much higher propensity for people to come back to the brand. It has a positive business effect and I like to think it increases the ability for the product to sell through the person using it.

Jeff Ragovin: Do you have a cross-section of a customer in mind who you think of as your biggest brand advocate?

Charlie Cole: The Tumi brand has always resonated with anyone who is serious about traveling. Something that I’ve always thought about is the idea of the journey, and we have a mantra of trying to get people to perfect the journey. The journey may be as far as Seattle to Hong Kong, or it may be from my house to my coffee shop a mile away. The fact of the matter is, our challenge is being equally relevant and equally high performing in each case. Maybe it’s a little idealistic, but I’d like to think that we can help perfect any journey. Anyone who views their luggage or their backpack as both a utility and fashion statement is a person who we resonate with. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a twenty year old in suburban America, in New York City or in Hong Kong.

Jeff Ragovin: When I think about the purchase funnel, people have turned to Amazon and other websites given the rise of digital. What do you think is the future of brick and mortar?

Charlie Cole: I think brick and mortar is the most underrated channel there is. The latest data I saw from eMarketer stated that China was the most penetrated market for ecommerce, at around 24 percent. That’s nothing; it means that 76 percent of sales are still being done in offline channels. This shouldn’t be trivialized. In the US, the penetration rate is only in the 16-18 percent range. Put another way, I really consider 80 percent of our job as digital operators to help form online to offline connections. For both Tumi and Samsonite, our products are far more of a considered purchase. They are designed to last and customers are going to put in thought before buying it. 

The tools that Google and Facebook give you to understand the offline attribution for what you’re doing online is huge. However, we have to understand the effect of our website in driving people to stores and increasing the propensity to purchase. Even if you buy the product in-store, digital serves as the best means of communication for after sales service and warranty repair. We’re always obsessing over that connection- and frankly, I don’t think the majority of brands are putting in the same kind of effort. Digital is such an easy channel to prioritize and romanticize, simply because it’s such a growing channel and there’s a lot of buzz that surrounds it. But retail is still happening offline, and I think that’s easy to forget.

Jeff Ragovin: How is the rise of Amazon affecting your brand?

Charlie Cole: It’s a very different answer depending on which brand in our portfolio you’re talking about. Amazon is a channel we use, but only for about 40-50 percent of our products.  When looking at one of our brands like American Tourister, Amazon is a very important channel. When you want to think about where Amazon is the most relevant, think of anything that’s not brand modified. The harsh reality of Amazon is that what you’re going to see is at an entry level price point because Amazon curates these results for the typical consumer. For instance, I don’t think someone who is looking for the highest quality piece of luggage is starting their search on Amazon. We want to give people a reason to interact with our brand stores and shop directly with Tumi. I really think of Amazon in two ways. First, it’s a transaction channel if you’re on the lower end of costs. Secondly, if you’re on the higher end, it’s a search engine for people to discover your brand in ways that they otherwise may not.

Jeff Ragovin: When you think about digital and e-commerce, how impactful is that from the investment perspective of a company?

Charlie Cole: To be a little self critical, I still don’t think we’re doing a good enough job of quantifying digital investments in offline attribution. It’s tricky, because the conversion loop between browsing the website or buying in-store or at a Nordstrom store is hard to close. Typically, partners are not willing or allowed to share that information. I think it’s an area we need to continue to invest in. Google and Facebook have released some tools that make it a little bit easier but we’re constantly out there trying to solve the online to offline attribution equation. Technology is starting to catch up but it’s not perfect. We need to make sure that everything we’re doing is truly designed for value-addition for consumers, as opposed to just data for data’s sake.

Jeff Ragovin: What strategies do you use pre-purchase to increase awareness and drive sales?

Charlie Cole: There’s top of the funnel work we do, such as the marketing campaign with Lenny Kravitz. We also did a large campaign with American Tourister and Cristiano Ronaldo. I don’t think there’s anything there that’s never been done before. There’s nuance about picking the right brand ambassador. To me, those opportunities are more superficial. The real question is, how do you move someone down that conversion funnel? A lot of this is reliant on educational content. We’ve tried to guide that shopping experience both online and offline. The being said, the best experience you can have is still going into a Tumi store. Given the fact that it’s a considered purchase, we try to move people down the funnel largely through education, as opposed to shouting a message over and over. An important question we focus on is, “How do you encourage loyalty in a brand for something that is designed to last a very long time?” If we do our job right from a manufacturing perspective, this bag will last longer than a marketing cycle. We want to reward people for the journeys they take.

Jeff Ragovin: What do you think comes next in the future of e-commerce?

Charlie Cole: Amazon is a global phenomenon. For a brand on the direct consumer side, there are things we can do better than Amazon. I don’t think it’s realistic that we’re going to beat them in terms of logistics or in the use of data. But there are a couple of things we can do: we have to give people a reason to shop directly with us. We have got to give a better after sales experience than anybody else. On Amazon, you buy something and you have 30 days to return it. But then, they basically forget about you. They’re not in the business of after sales services after that 30 day period. We need to give consumers reasons in the after sales process to continue to interact with the brand. This idea of service will start to extrapolate beyond just return policy, and give you added value throughout the course of the journey instead of just being purely transactional and that’s where we can win.

Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.

Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes