After ten years working in strategy consulting, then in e-commerce, Sixte de Romblay joined Octopia as head of Octopia Products. His ambition is to connect the catalog of more than 60,000 products to as many European online sellers as possible, bringing them new momentum with competitive prices and product references that meet the needs of consumers.
What is your vision of retail?
Retail is based on a simple and still current principle: offering the largest possible variety of products to as many customers as possible, as quickly as possible. Today, this sector is undergoing a number of transformations that are positive for the economy. While certain players still favor a traditional approach to retail, the majority of retailers have understood that they must adapt and offer the consumer greater simplicity. This is a beneficial and very positive effect of the crisis, which has forced us to find solutions to work differently.
What has changed today?
What has changed is connectivity, in other words, how easily you interface with a large number of different economic players and, through them, with consumer customers. The lockdown resulting from the health situation has driven companies to improve their connectivity in order to get closer to their staff, economic partners and customers. Retailers have had to face the emergence of new needs, such as making a very wide range of products accessible as easily and as quickly as possible to compensate for the closure of physical shops. Many of them have launched or expanded their businesses on marketplaces in order to connect to customers as easily as possible.
How did Octopia Products come about?
Octopia Products is the result of a strategic management decision to increase the number of sales channels for our products and services, by linking up with as many e-commerce and marketplace sites as possible, and therefore with consumers all over Europe. We chose this new direction by viewing the competition between platforms in a different light, and by recognizing that the differentiation between e-commerce sites is mainly based on criteria other than the catalog: browsing experience, service quality, after-sales service, which are specific to each site. Initially, this decision may have seemed counterintuitive, but we gradually realized that other sites could become more like partners than competitors, by allowing them for instance to reach as many customers as possible.
What are your objectives?
Our main objective is to make our catalog ever more accessible, so that in the future, an e-retailer can access it instantly in just a few clicks. To achieve this, we are using technology and automation, two key pillars of Octopia’s business culture.
Although there is no question of eliminating the human interaction intrinsic to the very concept of retail, automating validation processes will help, among other things, simplify connectivity, and further accelerate access to the catalog and distribution on our marketplaces. This search for simplicity and interconnectivity is a driving force in our daily work.
What resources have you provided to achieve this?
Octopia Products, is a multilingual team that currently manages 80 marketplaces and 500 sellers who use dropshipping*. We now offer 60,000 products across all categories and will soon be able to offer several million. Our ambition is to double our business every year. That is the course we have chosen with my team.
From a more qualitative standpoint, I would like to create a team dynamic that encourages them to overcome difficulties and to always look beyond objectives. As a sportsman, striving to excel is a fundamental value that has always underpinned my career and I hope to share that with my team members on a daily basis.
Who is your core target?
We are targeting all online sellers, regardless of their business maturity or size. We can cover the needs of small retailers who are just starting out online, or e-retailers who are already online or have already launched a marketplace.
"Our added value is our ability to secure a position with all retailers on all three critical fronts - size, maturity and range of products - while remaining as simple as possible. Our major challenge is making the processes and the dealings with all the stakeholders seamless."
How does the Products division fit into Octopia's strategy?
The Products division plays a direct role in Octopia’s strategy. It provides a core of very competitive products that we can easily connect to all platforms. We are often the first step to a closer partnership with e-retailers who want to develop their e-commerce technology and will find the tools they need in our marketplace solutions. With Octopia Products we are able accelerate their sales in just a few weeks by providing them with products that meet their customers' needs.
This demonstrates our e-commerce expertise and helps us forge a professional trusting relationship that will make it possible to move forward when it comes to more complex issues. It is very stimulating and we are taking up the new challenges in retail in a changing context that is forcing us to continuously adapt.
So, time is your best asset?
More specifically, it is about reducing the time it takes to make the catalog available. In e-commerce, instant messaging has replaced email to become the main work tool. This is a good illustration of the current challenges of connectivity. Now, everything can (and should) be done instantly at the click of a button. Digital tools are making it necessary to rethink communication standards, being sure not to overload the recipient, but in many cases, they continue to be the best means of effectively resolving a situation or dealing with customers.
Sixte de Romblay's motto
"Work hard; Have fun; Dream big"
How do you understand the changes in the market?
The market fundamentals are very positive and robust: not all sectors in Europe can boast two-figure growth. Every day sees a product innovation. Who would have imagined barely 15 years ago that, in 2021, smartphones would be the essential everyday tool for everyone? Innovation concerns all product categories and is constantly being stimulated by consumer needs.
In this context, the marketplace model is driving most of the growth in e-commerce. Nevertheless, there is still some resistance, presenting this channel as contrary to the more traditional model of physical stores. Yet, the two are becoming increasingly interlinked to form an inseparable whole, the omnichannel. For years now, we have been able to order an item online and collect it in-store, or order online in a store and have it delivered to our home. In this case, is this an online sale or a traditional sale? The combination of the two channels enhances the customer experience and gives easier access to a larger catalog of products without undermining the seller's special relationship with their customer. Methods of buying are converging in order to achieve an increasingly simple, rapid and seamless customer experience. This conflict between the digital and the physical must be overcome.
How are your teams organized to respond to this change?
For the teams, it offers considerable responsibility because we can see the impact of our decisions and our actions everyday.
On a practical level, we are organized into three teams of a dozen or so staff:
- One team takes care of our C-Store, which distributes our product catalogs across dozens of marketplaces in Europe.
- A Dropshipping sales team will make our own catalog available to other sellers so that they can make sales to the end customer.
- And a cross-cutting project team focused on high added-value projects.
What objectives have you set for 2021?
Making our own catalog accessible to all online sellers is a major step towards greater connectivity. That is why we have decided with the Octopia management team to round out our own products and services with those of a number of sellers in order to best meet consumer needs. We are currently redistributing, across the various marketplaces in Europe, the product catalog of some of our third-party Octopia sellers who have been informed about this new opportunity.
Our role in this is to connect two communities: sellers who do not have time to contact marketplaces to offer their products, and marketplaces whose job is to offer an increasing number of products to ensure that the customer can find everything they need. And it is already working really well! Of course, we are only at the beginning, but the dynamic is in motion and we are doubling our sales every week.
What are the pillars of your performance?
There are several, but our two main levers are our competitive prices, and connectivity. To distribute the catalog as widely as possible, we must make it increasingly interesting and relevant, by adding a maximum of products and by working on pricing, for example.
Our second pillar involves improving connectivity, in other words, the ease with which we send the catalog to e-commerce sites and marketplaces. A catalog that is not integrated into a marketplace is useless, even if it is a very interesting one. We are also working on the relevance of our pricing and the performance of our shipping to provide our customers with the best possible level of service.
And for the consumer, what is the difference between your own products and the sellers' products?
We ensure that there is no difference between our own products and those of our third-party sellers. We ask sellers prior permission to post their product offers on new marketplaces. When an order is confirmed, we immediately buy the product from the seller and ship it directly to the consumer. The level of service is strictly the same.
What are the next steps for Octopia Products?
We are gradually launching by country. We have very broad coverage of Europe, but there are still several countries to launch, starting with those outside the European Union. These markets are more complex because they are less connected to the European economic ecosystem and often have different administration systems, like the United Kingdom. Brexit was a challenge for us. The UK’s exit from the European Union generated a number of issues that had to be resolved. After Switzerland, we are also working on launching in Norway.
* Dropshipping is a system that makes it possible to sell products by using the services of a third party that manages the logistics. The consumer orders a product online on the retailer's site and the order is sent to the third-party logistics company which will take it through to delivery.