Ysabelle is a product manager at Zalora, Asia’s leading online fashion destination. Headquartered in Singapore, the fashion and lifestyle brand has a huge customer base in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Brunei. She works on the Discovery & personalization experience team and has been in the role for two years now. Having no idea during her communications degree that a role like product manager existed, her growth has been incredible from an intern to PM at Zalora.
We discussed her current role, the challenges of fashion eCommerce, customer engagements, and the transition from communications to product management. Let’s take a look.
How did you begin and how did this transition to product management happen?
I did business IT first and then I did my communications degree. After this whole time- after seven years, I knew that I want that something in between, the sweet spot. I didn’t want to specialize in both, and that’s why I chose not to pursue IT or information systems. When it was time to do an internship as a part of the school program, I knew I didn’t want to do advertising or journalism. I wanted something in between. In my whole school, which means four batches at the time, there was just one person who had done it in product management. I reached out to him. I didn’t even know that the product management role existed back then. I had no idea that it existed.
I think three years ago it wasn’t very talked-about, at least in Singapore. It all started from there. He told me that Zalora has an opening, and they are looking for interns. Why don’t you try it? And I did. The rest is history. So actually, I did my internship there. And then before I finished my degree, they asked me, “you want to come back?”. I liked the company culture, I liked what we were doing, so yes, I’m here 😊. It’s a data and experiment-focused company so everything is a learning experience.
What is the current stage and focus of Zalora?
Honestly, product management as a function is still growing. Also, e-commerce right now is evolving more, the industry has been focusing on social commerce. So, one of the biggest challenges we face right now is engagement.
We know that currently most of our shoppers would come to our platforms when they already know what they want. We want them to come here to be inspired- that’s the next step.
What usually happens is that they will take inspiration from elsewhere – mostly from social media platforms like Tik, TOK, Instagram, etc. And then they come to our platform. So that’s where Zalora has been moving forward into the real-time engagements. We want them to know that it is not just a place for them to buy stuff, we’re here for you to discover the limitless world of fashion.
What are the top two challenges that online fashion platforms face?
I think COVID expedited this. Zalora has expanded beyond just fashion – into the lifestyle as well, like groceries, furniture, and a lot more like sports, nutrition, and stuff. We have onboarded those kinds of assortments into our platform.
One main challenge of e-commerce is to stay relevant and be quick at making available what shoppers need. And it’s not just what your shoppers need, it’s all about the customer acquisition as well. For example, when COVID hit, people didn’t need new clothes, people needed some security, some stability when our local grocery stores couldn’t get their stock because they were overloaded. And then, Zalora opened up and provided that kind of service. That was one big challenge that we faced lately- expanding our assortment and categories, which is not super easy to do. We had to onboard so many new things.
Shoppers need something more than just a cheap price. They need something more, they care about brand affinity, especially Gen Z. The younger shoppers I would say also care about engagement and whether they are entertained or not.
The second one is shoppers need something more than just a cheap price. They need something more, they care about brand affinity, especially Gen Z. The younger shoppers I would say also care about engagement and whether they are entertained or not. Since everyone has been working from home, entertainment became a significant factor, not just with younger people. That’s something we’re trying to incorporate in our shopping journey too.
Cheap prices are not enough, ratings and reviews are not enough, we need to innovate better.
Anything in particular about innovation that you’re focusing on currently to deal with changed shopping behavior?
On the discovery and personalization front in the past year, we have been ramping up our personalization, like really ramping it up. Because our assortments have expanded, it gets harder and harder to find stuff that users may need. For example, they will come to Zalora for fashion, but they may not think about Zalora for things like furniture, and other experiences like sports. So, we want the shoppers to know about that too.
And, when they discover these products, we want them to be able to navigate through the same thing, because sometimes they may discover it sort of by accident. That’s why we have been ramping our personalization a lot and making it super real-time. Previously, our personalization wasn’t real-time; it took a few days for the clicks to come in and also for the purchase data to be aggregated. Now it’s showtime. It’s not just product recommendations, it’s content recommendations as well. So, whenever we’re running promotions or whenever we want to highlight anything, the information on our site is personalized to the shopper to make them feel “Zalora knows me”.
What’s the latest innovation on the mobile app side?
All our developments are app-first.. Recently the team came up with live shopping platform. It’s very new, like, launched yesterday. We’re in the era of social commerce, right? So, this is about merging entertainment and shopping. The influencers are doing a live stream and talking about their products. Not just the influencers can do it, but brands can do it as well. Shoppers have strong influencer loyalty and brand loyalty so that’s what we started to give them.
What are your learnings on this journey till now and what are the top three things that you look at daily?
The number one is to always look at that data. Keeping a close watch on our personalization and recommendation algorithms and seeing how we can improve them. If the CTR and transactions are going down, based on all the findings, I would always be primarily discussing it with business teams first and decide on the direction we should move into.
A lot of my day-to-day focuses on alignment to ensure that both business teams and tech teams are focusing on the right topic that would deliver the most value to our shoppers. It’s about experimenting, proving, or disproving hypotheses every day. So, I guess every day is a challenge. You’re always looking, how can I validate whether this data is true? How can I fact-check this too in other things? I would say one challenge is also knowing that I have to lead by influence and more so than authority. And I’m not saying that this is not mutually exclusive. It doesn’t mean you can either lead by authority or influence, but it’s about how to convince people, how to show your capability as a product manager. You have to come in with data, to come in with confidence and that belief to inspire and motivate people.
How do you keep scaling yourself as an individual? What keeps you going despite the pressures?
Recently I picked up gaming, you know! On a serious note, most of my PM friends, actually anyone in a high-pressure industry, feels how to make the best use of their time. We should do a side hustle; we should do a side project. I’ve done side projects as well, and also, I would like to recommend people to do side projects.
Besides this, now and then you should just relax. After work, you should give your mental health a break. Yeah. So, you know you can do gaming, reading, cooking, yoga.
I think in COVID work from home situation, a lot of people have found it so much harder to like separate work and life things. You just have to make a conscious decision. And I feel that in this sense I’m quite lucky as Zalora’s culture doesn’t encourage OT but I know that in some companies, the OT culture is very rife. So that’s when you just have to make a decision.
What changed significantly during COVID?
Before COVID, it was mobile apps first. When I joined Zalora there was an increasing number of mobile purchases on the apps. It shows that more and more people are getting more comfortable with mobile app purchases in general. Then COVID happened. People shop on our platform on their phones in the morning when they are traveling for work in the morning or at night, and that is gone. A bit of that shifted to the desktop because I think they were shopping after lunch.
Besides this, to be honest, I feel like between mobile apps and webs, there was no big impact on the organization because we are still doing apps first. After all, that’s where most of our users are. But on the desktop now, it’s not like you’re lagging behind a lot.
What goes into winning trust and building a loyal customer base?
Our loyalty squad has recently formed. It all belongs into this DNP (discovery and personalization) vertical, and we all work together because they are so interrelated. To build brand loyalty you’ve to build a brand experience. How do you do that? Well, think about how the users will navigate through the website. Showing recommendation feeds, putting the ratings and reviews, telling this product is authentic, etc., are one of the first few steps we take. And then the loyalty programs come into the picture.
What are your two major WINS in this role?
The recent major win is leveling up our personalization backend algorithms because it has a direct impact or direct effect on our shoppers. Making it real-time and hyper-personalized for a user was very technical and rewarding as a project because previously it wasn’t at that level. I guess, especially for someone coming from a non-technical background to super technical, it’s pretty exciting. We had a very short timeframe because of the integration and the vendor availability, but we still pulled through.
Another success that I had was with this feature called “get the look”. It was a ground-up initiative. When you’re viewing a product and you like what a model is wearing, then that kind of cross-sell feature comes in, where shoppers can instantly see what a model is wearing and some other cart fillers. It was based on the hypothesis that the shoppers would prefer seeing how real people are wearing it, and it worked so well.
How do you rally different teams; especially when there are conflicting views?
Alignment should be the priority. If three different teams have three conflicting opinions, and you are seeing something very clearly, think of what’s driving the product, which boils down to focusing on the importance of a user-centric system. That’s the only way to get everyone together -think about your users, our shoppers. And then, convince your teams with data.
At the end of the day, I think number one is focusing on the people. And that’s why a lot of PMs come from social sciences more than computers. One should also get rid of the imposter syndrome – knowing that you don’t have to know everything as a product manager helps.
And last but not the least, it’s with collaboration that you learn and grow. I’m very upfront whenever I don’t know anything, and so I say, “Hey, can you teach me”. It works wonderfully.