Q&A, Olivier Buffon Head of International, Faire
Olivier Buffon is Head of International at Faire, the largest online wholesale marketplace connecting over half a million independent retailers and brands across the globe.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and role at Faire?
I joined Faire in 2021 as Head of International, based out of the London office, to lead on the business’s international scaling and expansion strategy. My current focus is on growing the number of brands and retailers on the platform across Europe and beyond. Prior to Faire, I worked at Airbnb where I was head of Airbnb Experiences in EMEA and the Americas. I was responsible for scaling operations from a small pilot project to a growing marketplace helping over 50,000 hosts around the world connect with millions of travellers in new and unique ways. Before that, I launched and ran a social payments startup, Tilt, in Europe, which was later acquired by Airbnb. I’ve also held roles as an operations leader at HgCapital, and as a consultant at McKinsey.
What is Faire?
Faire is an online wholesale marketplace connecting 600,000 independent retailers across North America and Europe with 85,000 emerging and established brands from over 150 countries. Our data-driven approach to wholesale lets retailers overcome decades-old obstacles by helping them easily find the right products for their shop and even try-before-they buy. We also offer straight-forward financial terms that eliminate inventory risk and provide access to capital for independent retailers—levelling the playing field in two key areas that previously prevented many small businesses from successfully competing against major retailers and e-commerce giants. For brands, the platform provides powerful sales, marketing, and analytics tools. Through Faire, up and coming entrepreneurs can simplify their wholesale business and focus on making great products that are rarely found in mainstream brands in big box chains.
Can you share any customer success stories?
At Faire, we have facilitated nearly two million new business relationships between independent retailers and brands on the marketplace – creating many customer success stories from the small business retail community who are using Faire to help navigate a pivotal time in retail history.
Tabitha Eve, for example, is an eco-friendly brand that produces ethically made, beautiful, reusable items, based in Oxfordshire. When Brexit hit in 2020, the business lost the majority of its customers in mainland Europe, reducing its turnover by 20% nearly overnight. Immediately after joining Faire, the business was able to re-engage retailers on the continent, with Faire handling the red tape. Tabitha Eve was also able to successfully expand into new markets like the US and Canada ahead of schedule. This was made possible in no small part due to Faire’s seamless multi-currency payment processing capabilities and integrated marketing solutions that propelled the brand to new audiences outside the UK.
Another example is Paper Mirchi, a brand born out of a love for beautiful wrapping and a passion for tradition. The company focuses on creating luxury artisanal papers that are handcrafted, recyclable, and sustainable. The independent business joined Faire seeking to expand its base of luxury retailers in the United Kingdom and saw immediate uptick of customers’ orders, with more than 50% coming organically through the Faire marketplace. Faire’s shipping incentives for example reduce barriers to ordering, which also allowed the business to introduce their products to new frontier markets around the world.
How would you describe today’s consumer expectations for UK retail?
Consumers are increasingly expecting retailers to provide a seamless customer journey and experience. When making a purchase, consumers often traverse online and offline shopping channels, sometimes several times, before making a decision. Before the pandemic, less than 20% of Faire retailers had an online presence. By 2021, more than 70% had found ways to bring their business online, through their websites, social media, live shopping and more. Independent retailers are influencing their community and driving a lot of social engagement. They will keep doing the things that they do best – curating amazing products and telling stories about those products online and offline. That personal touch to the shopping experience online that I think previously, we didn’t know was possible, but they’re proving that it is. This is another way independent retailers can effectively compete with retail giants.
Conscious consumerism also continues to grow as a force in the retail market and presents a major opportunity for retailers to demonstrate a true understanding of the issues and preferences that are important to their customers. Moving forward, retailers that stock and support brands that accurately reflect the values of today’s consumer will likely be the big winners going forward. For example, the number one search filter found on Faire is “Not Sold on Amazon: At Faire, we use big data to help retailers get inspired, discover, and stock products that align with what their customers want, and what we are seeing is a higher priority placed on relationships: who you buy from, how you sell. Technology is making shopping more personal and agile as customer needs continue to fast evolve.
What challenges do UK retailers have in meeting these expectations?
As global economies work to recover from the pandemic and face down geopolitical events with far-reaching implications, including Brexit and the ongoing war in Ukraine, the UK retail sector is coming under immense pressure. From supply chain issues to rapid inflation and skyrocketing energy prices, retailers have numerous existential issues to contend with which take away the requisite resources, be that time or money, needed to meet shifting consumer expectations.
How does Faire uniquely help companies take advantage of these opportunities?
Faire is uniquely positioned to help independent retailers not only build financial resilience but even thrive by honing into consumer trends and aligning their business strategies accordingly. We remove the risks traditionally associated with trying new products and sales strategies through our platform, which leverages the power of data to make recommendations based on the retailer’s profile, or through favourable financial terms that don’t place a huge burden on the retailer if a product doesn’t work for their customers. Our infrastructure also helps break down international barriers by simplifying the procurement and marketing process to connect brands and retailers wherever they are, all with minimal red tape.
What is on the horizon for you as a company?
Right now, one of our major priorities is continuing to build our European business and ensuring that we’re serving our community of global retailers and brands the best we can. Part of this mission is driving the adoption of digital tools that can modernise and support the retail industry through difficult times.
That said, we’re always looking for opportunities to introduce Faire into new markets around the world to build upon our incredibly powerful network effect and create a truly globalised marketplace where retailers and brands around the world can seamlessly connect and meaningfully compete against retail giants.
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