La Redoute has come along way since being founded in 1837 and of late has undergone a transformation from a mail order business to a digital powerhouse.

The French fashion and home décor e-tailer is now employee-owned following a management buyout in 2014 and its recent growth has been driven by international expansion.

It is now in over 20 markets and its operations outside of France are run by Michael Truluck, chief executive of La Redoute International.

La Redoute is expanding internationally through a mixture of setting up subsidiaries in international markets, such as its UK operation, and striking franchise deals, which it has in markets including China.

Meanwhile, the LaRedoute.com website allows cross-border transactions and ships to “pretty much anywhere in the world”, according to Truluck.

Each country with a La Redoute subsidiary has a chief executive that reports into Truluck, while the cross-border and franchise businesses each have their own boss who also report to Truluck.

He tells Essential Retail he keeps on top of this vast and complex operation by “empowering them to make decisions so they don’t need me to be the decision maker”.

“In doing that [being the decision maker] I would hit a complete bottleneck,” says Truluck. “Equally I’m not the expert of every single market we are in – I have a team of people beneath me who are the experts and the key element I can then bring in is the strategic view of where we are going, ensuring there is alignment, and they have resources and support in order to do that.”

La Redoute’s ever-changing international operation includes two franchise businesses in China, one of which sells the e-tailers’ products in physical retail stores including Tesco and Carrefour.

“You need to look at the company you are, the expertise and the budgets you have in order to decide which route it is that will give you the best level of success,” says Truluck.

Reverse marketplace

La Redoute also operates what it calls a “reverse marketplace” in some markets as a low-cost way of “getting a feel for a market”.

This involves La Redoute placing its products on the marketplaces of companies such as Amazon and eBay in countries where it does not have a presence.

“You always need to bear in mind that in the end that is not your customer because you do not retain their details and they are still owned by the marketplace,” adds Truluck.

It is over the last three years that investment has enabled La Redoute to “become a true digital company”.

Although the company has had more than half its business coming from digital transactions for almost a decade, the step change in becoming a digital company has come more recently through investing in mobile, apps, the website user experience, traffic generation and conversion at checkout.

Future transformation

Truluck reveals La Redoute is exploring the next stage in its digital transformation by reviewing personalisation, augmented reality and chatbots.

The France operation is trialling personalising the website to present individuals with different rankings of products based on data held about the user.

Meanwhile, Truluck says La Redoute is taking a close look at chatbots as it explores artificial intelligence. The company is considering bots that help with customer care or act as personal shoppers and is yet to make a decision on what type of bot would best serve the customer.

“You have to make it easy for the customer,” concludes Truluck. “Everything is about making it easy for the customer.”

Truluck will be interviewed at RBTE 2017 by former director general of the BRC, Stephen Robertson, on 8 May between 14.05-14.35 in RBTE Theatre 2.