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'The future of retail is definitely going to be digital': CX with Ocado's Amanda Yu

Mhairi Geraghty spoke to Amanda on the Venari Podcast


You could be forgiven for thinking that making the move from consulting to industry might be a huge challenge – but Amanda Yu, Director of Customer Experience at Ocado, ‘really loved the transition’. Having had experience of project-based work in consultancy, Amanda was keen to gain more commercial and operational experience and hasn’t looked back since.


Mhairi Geraghty, Senior Consultant in our Interim Solutions practice, was delighted to catch up with Amanda on the Venari Podcast. They discussed the latter’s career and thoughts on topics ranging from mentoring to AI.




From Bain to industry

Amanda began her consultancy career at Bain, working on a range of retail and consumer projects as well as private equity. During her seven and a half years at the company, Amanda had the chance to work in both the London and New York offices prior to joining Ocado two and a half years ago. Before the Customer Experience Directorship, Amanda was Head of Strategy as well as Chief of Staff to the CEO. She describes her current role as being ‘really interesting’, as it involves a number of areas from CRM to customer communication, retention and growth – not to mention trade and campaign marketing, loyalty and proposition, which takes in ‘our app and our delivery pass as well.’


Influential factors

If you think Amanda’s role sounds fast-paced, you’d be right. She credits the ‘really smart people’ on her team with helping to smooth her transition, and notes that she learned many transferable skills by working in consulting. For anyone looking to make a similar career change, Amanda recommends thinking long-term about the ‘things and skills and experiences’ that could help your career journey, then working backwards to consider in detail the steps that will take you there. Separately, she advises ‘really thinking about the learning path’ that will be most helpful for such candidates – not only in terms of the next move, but the one after that as well. Finally, Amanda believes that talking to as many people as possible, and using a trusted network of mentors, is key. For her, speaking both to senior figures she could rely on, as well as ‘peers who’ve made the move’, was invaluable; as she notes, ‘it’s really interesting to learn from different people. There’s no one career path, so actually learning from them and having a sounding board is really important’.


The importance of mentors

Amanda is grateful for her mentors both in a formal capacity at Bain, who championed career development and long-term progression, in addition to more informal support. She cites the influence of people ‘who might have done something slightly different’, who provided a ‘sounding board to think about my longer-term career path, but also take some perspective from the day-to-day as well and really look at the bigger picture.’ Amanda has sought to repay the positive influence her mentors have had by taking on mentees both at Bain and Ocado, helping them in their development as she was helped before in turn.


The potential of AI

As in many industries, AI is a big talking point in retail at present. Nonetheless, Amanda is quick to note that its use is not exactly a new development; ‘Ocado, for example, has been using AI for decades now, and probably one of the reasons it’s a pioneer within the online grocery space.’ Still, generative AI is the hot topic at the moment, and Amanda believes that such programmes help ‘us to be able to use AI in a better way to crunch the data, really understand our customers,’ and think about how to ‘do a much better job’ for shoppers. Generative AI is a powerful means to examine long-term trends to analyse not just ‘what customers will want in the future, but also how they will shop in the future’, as well as providing a spur for departments such as marketing to think about content generation.


Personalising data

Ocado are experimenting with this generative AI now to focus on personalising customer interaction and using data to think about how a person shops – ‘making it more relevant to that person, which might be different to how you shop as well,’ Amanda explains. Their data set allows them to view all of the different products Ocado customers shop for, plus ‘the substitutions they make, what they’re looking for, what they’re not finding on our website as well.’ She believes that the majority of shoppers now want and expect personalisation from the brands they use – though she recognises that Ocado takes data privacy and ethics very seriously. The company is fully compliant with GDPR and has strict policies on customer data and privacy. ‘We are very clear with our customers about what data we collect, how we use it, and how we store it,’ she notes. ‘It’s something that is a key pillar for our customer proposition.’


It makes sense why Amanda sees data as being central to customer experience – for her, ‘data is the key to the future’. As well as using it to improve customer interactions, she views data as a key part of achieving operational efficiency to ensure optimised service. Continually asking how to serve customers better – and how to make their service better by, for example, predicting delivery times and driver availability – are the core facets of using ‘data in so many different ways’ for the benefit of Ocado’s customers.


What does the future hold?

In Amanda’s view, ‘the future of retail is definitely going to be digital’, though she notes that there will still be plenty of opportunities for people to consider how they want to shop. This will likely manifest itself in several different trends, from an even greater emphasis on personalisation as well as sustainability and wellness. ‘People are thinking more and more about what they put into their bodies, how they live their lives,’ she notes, which is then reflected in their shopping basket. She also predicts that people will shop more often: ‘a trend that we’ve seen over the last few years, and that I think will continue’, spurred along by the convenience of digital retail.


Do you need talent solutions – on an interim basis, and/or within the retail and consumer goods sector? Please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

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