[INTERVIEW] Thomas Vosper of aisle 3
An ecommerce background built in Amazon
There were just 6 people in the marketplace team, when Thomas joined Amazon’s Slough HQ, and only a few hundred employees launching the categories and services we take for granted today. He was at the forefront of the nascent platform, working with brands, retailers and independent sellers; “when we used to challenge eBay” says Thomas, and “before Prime even existed”. As the business scaled, Thomas helped introduce ads, payments and the white label platform which included running the Mothercare and M&S sites. After the offices relocated to London, he moved to a senior role at Tesco Direct to build a challenger marketplace on their general merchandise site.
Taking a first step outside corporate life, Thomas ran the retail operations at a price comparison start up that was trying to index products alongside a machine learning model to aggregate items using barcodes, before it slipped intro administration.
“It was scary” says Thomas, as the country went into its first lockdown, but he took lessons alongside his corporate experience to explore how he could disrupt the online shopping landscape with his expert team. A month later aisle 3 was created – an ecommerce tech business that aimed to use the latest AI to aggregate products under one page and one checkout.
Rethinking the Shopper experience
Despite the continued dominance of Amazon and Google, online shopping remains fragmented – predominantly down to poor data quality and a reliance on barcode numbers first invented for the grocery sector and not the current online ecosystem.
A typical Google search often leaves you right-clicking links to open a load of different tabs before flipping between them, searching for availability or the best price. Whilst the Big Tech giants are turning those clicks into a trillion-dollar advertising businesses – aisle 3 say they challenge this “ridiculous and fragmented way of shopping that consumes Shoppers time and retailers marketing budget”.
“The current experience is damaging for both the customer and retailers” says Thomas, “our vision is to remove the need to open another app or tab to shop”. After showing the customer all the information they need to make an informed purchase in one place, their Cloud Basket™ technology then makes it possible to purchase in one-click without completing forms, accounts or logins. aisle 3 argue that this approach saves advertisers budget and ensures they can gain incremental sales without spending through traditional ‘pay-to-play’ channels.
All this is made possible by using newly available large training data sets, bleeding edge AI and computer vision that enables aisle 3 to create a ‘universal view of shopping’ without ever seeing the product barcode number. Their remote team has developed proprietary web crawler software and product aggregation algorithms from scratch – all built inhouse across the globe.
Making progress in uncertain times
It’s no doubt that ecommerce has accelerated during covid time, but the impending recession will impact what was sometimes artificial growth. Having built the business remotely over the last 2.5 years, aisle 3 is well-backed by retail and ecommerce veterans from the likes of Snap, Big Commerce and MoneySupermarket – including partners from Seedcamp and US VC FJ Labs. “Raising investment for a highly technical pre-revenue business has been challenging” Thomas says, “and we’ve seen more dynamic engagement outside of the UK”.
Although launched during the economic downturn, early sales in their inaugural category has been positive with over 1000+ signed up customers and over £30k of sales in just a few weeks.
Rewarding customers without complication
Part of aisle 3’s appeal, is their private digital wallet technology which instantly rewards shoppers with a signup bonus for money off their first purchase. “Most voucher codes are expired, cashback sites are complicated and site deals inconsistent” says Thomas, “Shoppers have enough to worry about, so we make it easy with a flat 3% cash back on every order that is paid within 14 days”.
It’s fairly common to hear of similar UK startups spending 40%+ of their marketing budget on Google and Facebook ads to gain initial traction. aisle 3 aim to disrupt that status quo by diverting that marketing money, and their revenue back, to the pockets of the consumer.
Navigating today’s consumer expectations of UK retail
Right now, things are tough, and the daily news is full of gloom. This is an opportunity for retailers and brands to come together and do better for their customers. “Make it easier, make it clearer.” says Thomas, “Shoppers are still going to buy stuff – either as an essential purchase or for a little bit of joy”. “In both scenarios, they are looking for the right product, for the right price at the right time”. It’s here that aisle 3 see the opportunity to work with the retailers and brands to delight customers under a universal checkout.
Coming up at The Retail Conference
Having spent 15 years in eCommerce, Thomas has been fortunate to work with a wide range of people in some of the biggest roles at the most-recognised companies. When it comes to marketplaces, he’s experienced the early days at Amazon where people used to say “that’ll never work.” At The Retail Conference, he’ll share an insight into the role and impact of marketplaces today and offer a unique perspective to how to innovate in a way that delivers for the customer.
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