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INTERVIEW Alessandra di Lorenzo of group on data-led approaches to merchandising

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In the run up to this summer’s InternetRetailing Summit in Berlin, we’re speaking to senior retailers who are taking part in the event. Today we hear from Alessandra di Lorenzo, chief commercial officer, media and partnerships, at The Travel People, part of the group.

InternetRetailing: Tell us about The Travel People and what it does.

Alessandra di Lorenzo, chief commercial officer – media and partnerships at The Travel People, part of group: The Travel People is the group’s media business, where we give brand partners the opportunity to reach customers across our entire European network of online travel sites – including in the UK and France, Volagratis in Italy and Rumbo in Spain.

Since our launch, we have run over 1,200 campaigns for more than 300 clients and reach 43m unique visitors a month.

In September, we acquired WAYN, the world’s largest social travel network, as part of our ambitious content strategy. Our dedicated in-house team (with content and creative hubs and a trading desk) means we can work with our advertising partners on integrated strategies. We’re continuing to develop this and trialling many of the tools for group’s own marketing.

At the InternetRetailing Summit you’ll be leading a discussion on merchandising. What kind of issues will you be focusing on?

AL: I’ll be taking a slightly different approach to merchandising and talking about what we’re doing at the moment with activity that adds value to a booking. If somebody is booking a flight with us, they are essentially transacting with us. Through partnerships with a variety of brands, we are able to add lots of other things to the booking that can make the retail experience more exciting, more fulfilling and generally richer. Our content, for example, makes people aware and inspires them around the things they can do when they travel. We also work on a number of branded partnerships to bring products to people that are travelling. For example, we know that someone travelling to a sunny location like Majorca is likely going to need a pair of flipflops or sun cream – so we work with those brands to offer relevant products to our customers. Our customers travelling to Rome will probably want to see the Colosseum, so why not offer them the ability to visit it at a special rate?

These examples show how the business unit I lead, which is 55 people strong across seven markets, not only drives incremental revenue for the company but also adds massive value for our customers by bringing new products and services to them.

It’s about cross-selling and up-selling, and at the core of what we do is using our data in an intelligent way so we can predict and interact with our customers in sensible ways. If we’re offering a product to a customer and that product makes sense to them, then the likelihood that they will interact and perhaps buy that product will be high.

The story I will be telling at the Summit is around how other retailers can replicate this kind of model to complement their core revenue, and revenue generating activities. I worked on similar projects in other organisations in the past including eBay, Vodafone and Nokia.

IR: Is this an approach that’s easily replicated by other retailers working in different categories?

AL: I wouldn’t say it’s easy, it’s challenging. The biggest challenge for a retailer who is looking to diversify their business is making sure they don’t cannibalise their core business and drive people away from their sites. The biggest theme is going to be around protecting the core business and making sure we’re using data appropriately and offering products to customers only when it works for them.

We know from our data management whether a customer has a high propensity to buy tickets or whether they are only browsing. If they’re only browsing there’s an opportunity for us to show them a different service since the likelihood of them buying a ticket may be low. It’s very sophisticated data management. That’s the biggest hurdle, the biggest difficulty with this model.

There’s also a general difficulty that’s the same for any companies trying to do anything different – you need a senior sponsor to back the new business model. But I do think there’s an opportunity for companies if they take it seriously.

Hiring the right talent is another big challenge. I’ve done it a few times, and that helps, but it’s never easy.

IR: How far do you see retailers are along the path to understanding and using their data intelligently?

AL: I think it depends which retailer we’re talking about. The big giants, such as Amazon, have sophisticated approaches. In the travel space we’re working very hard at group to get more sophisticated around predictive capabilities and artificial intelligence. It’s on our radar and I think it should be on the radar of any digital company looking to grow into the future and compete with the big guys. Without data, without being able to understand it and action it, I believe it’s going to be very difficult for retailers to win over the course of the next few years. It’s even more difficult for retailers who haven’t digitised yet – they really need to hurry up.

IR: Do you think all retailers will have the option to make the most of their data?

AL: I think it comes down to the tools. Data is a difficult topic. There is software out there that enables even smaller companies to do some things with data. The key is breaking it down and making it actionable. In the case of marketing it’s about using it to attract the right customer, there are lots of other use cases such as conversion for ecommerce and showing the right offer to different customers.

To answer your question, data is at the core of what we all should be doing – I don’t think every retailer has the same ability and the same access to resources to leverage data and implement it properly. It’s a challenge.

IR: Might Travel People sell its services to other retailers in the future?

AL: As we’ve developed a successful business for group, we’re now looking to offer these services – both the tools and the know how – to other retailers.

Everything is really connected in this world. I am a commercial marketing expert and generating revenue streams for retailers is my specialism. My bread and butter lies in working with customers to offer relevant things to them. Data plus some good creativity is pretty much the solution. Then there are lots of other things to consider around human resources and finding the right talent. I think retailers can do more of this, and hopefully we’ll see more of it in the future.

Alessandra di Lorenzo will lead a discussion on merchandising at the InternetRetailing Summit.

The InternetRetailing Summit is held in Berlin and runs from July 3 to July 5 2017. It brings together senior figures from leading retailers from across the European Economic Area (EEA) plus Switzerland for an immersive three-day event spent focusing on the way that multichannel retailers are innovating to improve the customer experience. It is held in partnership with our IREU Top500 research project, and aims to give Europe’s Top500 retailers the opportunity to spend three days learning from, sharing with and simply talking to other leaders in the ecommerce and multichannel industry.

To find out more about the event click here.

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