We spoke with Temple & Webster CEO Mark Coulter about how the business scaled up its team to handle this rapid growth, why the launch of mobile apps is giving the company permission to be more creative and what he thinks about the rise of retail podcasts and the emerging furniture rental market.
On scaling the team to handle rapid growth
“The biggest increase in headcount has actually been in customer care. We run our own customer care team, so if anything goes wrong, the customer contacts us, as opposed to a marketplace model where the customer contacts the seller. We want to own the customer relationship and make sure that we are handling any inquiries or problems that our customers might have, and obviously as orders scale, so do pre- and post-order inquiries. So a lot of effort has gone into growing that team quite quickly,” Coulter told Inside Retail.
“Another area that we have been investing into is technology and data. We have been doubling the number of technologists we have — developers and product teams, etc. Technology is really what’s enabled us to do all the interesting things around personalisation, innovation and AR. We have also been growing our data team, so we now have data engineers, data scientists, data analysts spread throughout the business. Some of the early wins we’re seeing are things like dramatically improved forecasting accuracy because we’re using machine learning algorithms to forecast.
“Another area has been logistics. We have significantly increased our capacity around logistics expertise, not so much in terms of making sure the parcels get to where they need to be, but rather in terms of bringing in more sophisticated logistics knowledge to help us map out what our logistics roadmap looks like over the next few years. Where we should have warehouse locations, and what stock should be in those locations to optimise customer experience and reduce costs.”
On becoming the biggest furniture retailer in Australia
“We deliberately don’t put a time frame out there, but we don’t want to be waiting forever for it, so it’s definitely a mid-term goal rather than a long-term goal. Interestingly, Wayfair in the US is already the largest retailer of furniture in America — they’re bigger than the offline players, so they’ve already proved it out.”
On the benefits of TV advertising
“I think what TV is really good for is reengaging lapsed customers or customers that may not have bought with us for a while. It’s the kind of medium where it’s always on, so the next time you’re thinking about furniture and homewares, you’re thinking about Temple & Webster, as opposed to most of our marketing efforts which have been in performance marketing and are search led, where someone is actually specifically looking for an item.”
“When someone is interacting with our website or mobile site, you want to get them to a product and checked out as quickly as possible. They’ve probably come [to the site] through search, whether it be paid search or organic search, so they’re looking for something and the goal really is not to put too much in front of them.
“An app is different because an app customer is not someone who has found us through Google or stumbled across us. An app customer has downloaded the app and initiated a session on their phone. That gives you a whole lot more freedom to put more interesting things in front of them, as opposed to just getting straight to the product.
“If you open the Temple & Webster app and go to the home page, it’s very content-led. There are stories, curated collections, promos, recipes, there’s everything. Obviously the catalogue is there and the search is there, so we can get them to the product, but it gives us permission to see ourselves as more than just a transactional site. Our DNA is about making home beautiful, and [with an app] we can offer a bit of inspirational content. The app gives us permission to play with the experience a little bit more.”
“Increased investment in content is on the roadmap every period for Temple & Webster. One of our six values is that we are creative. We view ourselves as a creative company as much as a retailer and that is a very different mindset to Australian retail. We basically have our own media agency with creative directors, stylists, photographers, videographers, 3D artists and editors, and you’ll see us increasing that team and increasing our social content every year.
“I think if a podcast worked for beauty it would probably work for interiors, but I think the visual medium is much more in our sweet spot, so definitely more video. Exploring social beyond our core Instagram, so potentially things like TikTok or Pinterest, more editorial partnerships as well, so using not just our own talent but partnerships with talent out there. There’s a lot more we can be doing in this space.”
On the emerging furniture rental market
“It’s a trend we’re following. The startups [that offer furniture rentals] are more subscription than straight furniture rental. I feel like they probably have more application in markets like the US, which has a very transitory population that moves around a lot. You go to school in a different city than the one you were born in, you work in a different city. Australians don’t tend to move around that much.
“I think it’s an interesting trend, and the other thing it solves is not everyone has the credit or the cash to make big purchases, so I think potentially longer lines of credit, or interest-free finance terms, can solve a lot of what subscription models do. But we don’t see a need for Temple & Webster to have our own subscription service right now.”