Superdrug’s online offer is set to become a lot bigger this month when it presses the green light on its marketplace.
And the launch has become that more critical as Superdrug’s biggest competitor Boots revealed earlier this month that it is developing a rival marketplace.
The man tasked with building Superdrug’s marketplace is A.S. Watson IT director Andrew Cobb, who has been working hard to integrate more than 200 brands into its offer.
Cobb has lofty ambitions for its marketplace, whcih he says will “remove listing barriers” for health and beauty brands. “This initiative provides hundreds of offline and online businesses with a flexible business opportunity and support they need to succeed in the digital world,” he says.
“There’s appetite to buy things that are outside of the normal range of products,” Cobb says, explaining that the marketplace gives people access to niche or innovative brands that “don’t have the full infrastructure to go into Superdrug as a stocked product”.
Those brands can benefit from Superdrug’s traffic and brand equity, which in turn will boost the retailer’s sales.
“The sales opportunity is quite significant,” Cobb says.
Superdrug will not physically stock the products sold on its new marketplace as the brandsfulfil orders themselves.
To build the platform in a matter of months, Cobb has worked with marketplace software specialist Mirakl.
He and his team have been working frantically over the past few months to onboard the hundreds of brands that have signed up so far and have been linking the sellers into Superdrug’s marketplace infrastructure.
Improving the user experience
The marketplace is not the only big project that Cobb, who joined A.S. Watson in 2015, has spearheaded over the past year.
Last September, he started upgrading Superdrug’s website, moving it onto SAP’s Commerce Cloud, a process that was completed by the end of June.
Cobb says the main reason for the move was to “help the trading team develop the customer experience at speed”.
“That was really a good move because it gave us extra capacity and volume to be able to cope with the volume across Black Friday, and peak trading for Christmas.”
One of the main improvements in the customer experience has been navigation of the product category and product listing pages.
Superdrug can now develop these pages faster allowing the business operations teams to adjust the look and feel of the pages themselves allowing for a more unique and individualised customer experience.
“We have a vision for continual investment in technology”
Cobb has also redesigned the front end of the website, so from a customer’s perspective, it will look cleaner. The new platform also allows the retailer to make more of customer incentivisation, such as more shopping bundles.
Tech has clearly been a priority for AS Watson, which injected an additional £100.6 million in technology this year to accelerate digital transformation.
Cobb believes that investing in technology is more important than ever in a post-pandemic world.
“We’re now in a world where you can’t give people what they want if you’re not invested in tech,” he says.
It is also integral to ensure the workplace is firing on all cylinders.
“Whether that’s hybrid working capability, good tools, consumer grade applications for use in the head office or in the store, you’ve got to keep relevant, and you’ve got to keep updated,” he says.
“We have a vision for continual investment in technology and making it relevant for the business.”
Cobb and his team are certainly business right now as projects that were put on hold as the business focused on dealing with Covid get the green light.
“The floodgates are opening, and everybody wants technical projects. So whether it’s the hybrid way of working to give people flexibility or whether it’s a large list of projects in the supply chain where the distribution centres are looking at productivity and automation, we’ve suddenly seen an increase in demand.”
Rise of the robots
In the year ahead, Cobb’s focus is on productivity and automation. His team is working with a software called Blue Prism, which is a robotic process automation and looks at manually intensive processes to work out how to put that into one of the company’s software robots.
“We have three software robots – Ruby, Roxie and Archie,” Cobb says.
“All three are now busy doing one thing or another for either the finance team or commercial team.”
This includes putting new lines into its Enterprise Resource Planning [ERP] system and even doing bundle creation online.
From robots to marketplaces, Cobb is putting tech at the heart of Superdrug and helping it deliver both more products and a better experience.