Anna Samkova left her role as group GM of digital and loyalty at Brand Collective this month, after more than a decade with the business. In this exclusive Q&A, Samkova shares her wins and challenges at the fashion and footwear group, including navigating the merger between Brand Collective and PAS Group and what's next.

How long were you at PAS Group/Brand Collective (PAS/BC) for and what is your reason for leaving?

I spent 14 wonderful years at PAS/BC, a journey filled with learning and growth. 

One of my proudest achievements was building a strong, resilient team. They were truly exceptional, adapting and thriving even in the most challenging times. Deciding to leave wasn't easy, but after contributing significantly and seeing so much growth, I felt it was time for a new chapter. I'm now looking forward to exploring new opportunities where I can continue to make an impact on other businesses.

What is one of your greatest career highlights during your tenure? 

One of my greatest career highlights during my tenure at PAS/BC was the establishment and growth of the online and loyalty divisions. Starting these from scratch and watching them evolve into significant contributors to the company's success was incredibly rewarding. This journey involved not just setting up the infrastructure but also instilling a strong 'customer-centric' mindset within the team.

The key outcomes included a significant boost in our online visibility and customer engagement, along with a notable increase in sales and strengthened customer loyalty. We consistently focused on innovation, guided by a data-driven approach, not just for the sake of innovating, but to genuinely improve and enhance the customer experience. 

One of the most gratifying aspects, however, was seeing the team I developed emerge as leaders, driving ongoing success in the digital realm with their own innovative ideas and strategies

Did you have any challenges to overcome? What were they and what did you learn from them?

Throughout my tenure at PAS/BC, I faced numerous challenges, each offering valuable lessons. A particularly notable one was the merger of PAS Group and Brand Collective. This merger required blending different cultures, systems, and expectations, emphasising the importance of effective communication, patience, and a balance between flexibility and decisiveness.

A significant example was our decision to move each brand onto an individual, more modern website platform, transitioning away from several outdated systems. We embarked on the ambitious task of re-platforming initially 11 (out of 15)  brands within 12 months. Successfully delivering this project on time and on budget was a monumental achievement for our team.

Adapting to the rapidly changing retail landscape during the pandemic was another significant challenge. This period underscored the importance of agility and the ability to quickly respond to market shifts.

We also faced the challenge of adopting new emerging technologies, including diverse payment methods and catering to consumers' preferences to shop across different devices and channels. Our goal was to accommodate these evolving shopping behaviours and make the experience as seamless as possible.

The pandemic initially triggered a significant shift from physical to digital shopping. However, post-pandemic, we observed a full swing back to physical stores, with the discovery process often starting online but culminating in-store. Adapting to this trend, where consumers showed a renewed eagerness to visit physical stores, became a crucial part of our strategy. This shift highlighted the importance of a seamless omnichannel experience, blending the best of both digital and physical retail.

How did this merger impact your role?

The merger of PAS Group and Brand Collective in 2022 had a profound impact on my role. Almost overnight, my responsibilities doubled, if not tripled, as we moved to centralise the digital department. This centralisation was a significant shift, especially considering that the digital team at Brand Collective was decentralised prior to the merger.

The transition was challenging. The team had to adapt to not only a physical relocation but also new management and a different working environment. It was a tough period for everyone involved, as they were adjusting to these substantial changes while continuing to deliver results.

Additionally, we faced the complexity of integrating different SaaS platforms and technology stacks. This required careful planning and execution to ensure a smooth transition and maintain operational efficiency.

Overall, the merger required us to be highly adaptable, resilient, and collaborative. It was a period of intense learning and growth, both for myself and the team.

Being in the digital space, what are your predictions for digital retail in 2024?

In my view, the integration of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will become more pronounced in 2024. These technologies transform our approach to understanding consumer behaviour, tailoring shopping experiences, and streamlining supply chain management.

The use of Augmented Reality will bridge the gap between the physical and digital shopping experience (aka, phygital), allowing customers to visualise products in their own space before making a purchase.

I anticipate a significant shift towards sustainability and ethical consumerism in digital retail. Consumers already are and will continue to drive demand for sustainable practices and transparency in the supply chain.

I believe we'll see a continued rise in omnichannel retailing. The seamless integration of online and offline experiences will be crucial for retailers to meet the evolving expectations of consumers.

While these are the technologies and trends on the rise, we might see a decline in traditional digital advertising methods as consumers seek more authentic and personalised interactions with brands.

What about predictions in the fashion and footwear space?

I predict a continued emphasis on sustainability and ethical production. 

Another trend I foresee is the rise of personalised fashion, enabled by technology. Advances in AI and data analytics will allow brands to offer more personalised products and shopping experiences, from customised sizing and styles to tailored recommendations.

We're also likely to see a growth in the resale and circular fashion market. As consumers become more environmentally conscious, the appeal of sustainable fashion choices, like buying second-hand and recycling garments, will increase.

Lastly, digital innovation will continue to play a crucial role. From virtual try-ons using AR to the integration of social media in the shopping experience, technology will keep transforming how consumers discover and purchase fashion and footwear.

Finally, where to from here?

After taking a short break to recharge, my next step is to venture into the consulting and advisory space. This new phase will allow me to leverage my experience in digital transformation and customer loyalty to help other businesses navigate and thrive in the ever-evolving retail landscape. I'm particularly excited about the opportunity to work with a variety of brands and teams, bringing fresh perspectives and innovative strategies to the table.

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