Ecommerce and Digital expert, Gail Shuman, has left her mark on brands ranging from Victoria Beckham to Beauty Pie and has most recently been working with Heidi Klein. Beginning her career in a fast-paced digital agency, Gail is the brains behind the websites of some of our favourite fashion and luxury businesses. Consulting since 2016, Gail lets us in on her approach to a project, plus how she switches off.
Tell me about your first creative job and how you got there.
I started out working as an Assistant Producer for BBC Scotland and got a chance opportunity to come down to London to work within a digital media company for the summer when I was 21 years old.
The minute I walked into this agency and saw the engaging, interactive digital design work they were creating I knew I had found my place. The immediate connection with the customer and the speed at which reactions and impressions were made and shared online was thrilling. I became an Account Manager and oversaw the Topshop/Celia Birtwell digital collaboration. My love of fashion and digital media were combined in that project and I never looked back.
Whilst your background is in digital agencies, you’ve been working in-house for fashion and luxury brands since 2009. Do you think of yourself as working within the fashion or digital industries, or somewhere in-between?
I don’t see myself as working within the fashion industry specifically. I’m an ecommerce expert who has been lucky enough to work with some incredible fashion brands (Victoria Beckham, Salvatore Ferragamo, DVF and Amanda Wakeley to name a few) but that is not the only sector I work within. My most recent client was Beauty Pie – the revolutionary beauty brainchild of superwoman/entrepreneur Marcia Kilgore.
My focus with the clients I work with is not so much on the specific product they sell, but on the brand statement, the online user journey and the overall customer experience. I put real emphasis on understanding the brand’s customer and can therefore help to create an online experience that serves them uniquely. Whether that is for a fashion brand, a beauty brand, a travel company or something else – the emphasis for me is always on a premium, personalised user experience.
How do you combine your work and home life (with three kids)?
I manage my work life with great attention to detail and a focus on organisation and results. I project-manage large teams and handle multiple project launches with several deadlines and budgets at any given time. I am completely committed to delivering work for my clients that achieve real results and, at times, it can entirely drain my energy.
Therefore I hugely value my down-time at home with my husband and children, I try to be disciplined about walking in the door and turning my phone off (for at least a few hours!) so I can focus on my family and their needs.
I have recently started to practice mindfulness at least twice a day, which sounds a bit pretentious, but it really helps me tune out unnecessary distraction and approach my work and family life with a sense of clarity and calmness.
What kind of projects are you brought in to support businesses on? What are your first points of call when you enter a new business?
I’m the person you call in if you have a specific project that needs to be completed for a key date: a site to re-platform, a new set of territories to launch, a campaign that has become derailed that needs to be re-focused. I’m quite bulldog-ish about getting projects done, on time and on budget. I mainly work directly into company CEO’s and they give me ownership to get a project done and to run the Ecommerce team independently. I like the level of autonomy I’m granted at this point in my career. I’m very fortunate to be trusted enough to handle their ecommerce businesses for them.
When I first arrive at a brand I like to get a very clear picture of who the customer is (existing and target) so I can understand exactly who the site is being used by.
I then talk to everyone in the business who has a touch-point with the site, from the CEO to the customer sales advisors to the fulfilment team and beyond. Everyone has a different frustration and a unique view-point as to what improvement looks like. Then I can create a clear list of recommended improvements across all areas of the ecommerce business, which I then prioritise, price out and project manage to completion.
You come from a really creative family, how has that influenced your career?
My father and sister are both artists. I cannot create beautiful art myself, but I love to be around creative people and to assist them in bringing their work to a wider audience online. I think that’s why I have found success working with fashion designers.
Who do you think is really getting digital right?
I’m not sure that anyone can get ‘digital’ right – the concept of digital is indefinable in a single scope… Such a broad landscape to cover. I think it’s more about who is creating a brand proposition online that speaks to a new generation of digital shopper.
Brands that embrace price transparency inspire me. The honest breakdown of how a product is made, why it costs ‘X’ amount to produce/package/distribute and exactly where the consumer’s money is going is incredibly refreshing. It creates an open dialogue between the customer and the brand. The new generation of online shopper places trust and loyalty at the feet of brands who dare to be truthful with them.
What are the key challenges of working with creative business to make a user friendly website?
There is, or certainly used to be, an issue with luxurious brand websites not affording users an intuitive, clear and simple user experience, which is partly why I think so many of them have turned to third parties to sell their clothes online.
I think the most luxurious service a brand can offer their customer is a completely hassle-free experience – a customer centric approach taking all obstacles to purchase away – which puts their user at the very heart of the design.
How do you disconnect from work?
I love walking in the great outdoors. I miss the glorious Scottish countryside (where I was born) and I take every opportunity I can get to take my family up to Loch Lomand and the surrounding hills. The smell of the air up there is the sweetest thing and I love the sense of peace. I don’t want my kids to grow up without a respect for nature.