Plein’s business went global, including stores in Hong Kong, Italy, Los Angeles, Seoul, Macau, Amsterdam and Casablanca, to name but a few.
And the pandemic created another big boost for Plein’s fashion brand: with a new online shop and smart IT decisions in the backend, he could scale up his business like never before. One of the driving forces behind all this is Olga Burfan, Head of Global E-Commerce. In this interview, she shares everything about omnichannel strategy, the scaling-up of businesses and how PHILIPP PLEIN remains a brand with a unique personal touch.
Interview by Sandra-Stella Triebl
Ladies Drive: Please share a little bit how you ended up being with Philipp Plein in the first place?
Olga Burfan: I had just started to work for Amazon as Key Account Manager Fashion and on the day when I actually was due to move from Hamburg to Munich my manager contacted me with exciting news – luxury brand PHILIPP PLEIN wanted to start a partnership and he was sure I was the best match to follow the brand. Somehow, he was 100% right. That’s how I personally met Philipp. We started working together and in every appointment I was fascinated that he was always actively involved and knew all the numbers and background of every topic even better than his team. He was the CEO, designer and the brand himself. Later in 2021 Philipp asked me if I would join his team. However, I was born and raised in Ukraine, in Kyiv and did my first bachelor’s degree there in International Relations and Affairs.
How is it for you to have a family living in this war and now working in this glamorous fashion industry? How do you juggle between these two worlds?
This is a very good but difficult question. I need to be honest, it has been hard, especially the first months, I would say. You know, it was this feeling, like I wouldn’t understand the world anymore. So I was constantly on the phone checking the news, hoping that everything will be fine, waiting for a message from my parents and friends who still live in Kyiv. At some point the best message became “we are alive, don’t worry”. At the same time having the business here – PHILIPP PLEIN is not only fashion apparel, it’s luxury. It was a completely different reality here from what I had inside. But I learned to split it – it was hard for me as both worlds where you live are so different. But private is private and work is work – I learned how to deal with my emotions and feelings, and how to live in both worlds without mixing them together. I think it was the biggest learning for me, also professionally.
Can you share a little bit about the online strategy for PHILIPP PLEIN? How did you build that up?
When I arrived at the company, I understood how strong the online channel was in this company. At the same time, digging a bit deeper, I saw even bigger potential for development. The first year we almost doubled the turnover online. It was 2021, people were shopping online more than ever. We managed it to build up an infrastructure, manage our client base and offering the products, delivering them and selling the items we had in the stores while the majority of them needed to be closed down due to the pandemic. So we really have been a true omnichannel brand. Many companies tried to survive that time to come back to normal offline operation but we knew that for us there is no come back. And after we could re-open the stores, we kept our omnichannel online strategy in place with a clear goal to grow in both channels offline and online. We worked very hard on improving our digital marketing activities, invested a lot in further development of our data base, IT infrastructure and reporting tools.
Let’s talk a little bit about omnichannel commerce experiences. What does omnichannel mean at PHILIPP PLEIN?
Oh my gosh, really everything I need to say. To be honest – I don’t say it because it’s my employer – but omnichannel has been a buzz word for a long time, like everyone was using the word omnichannel. Although there was never a real connection between the worlds and channels. I think it should not even be a connection, everything should become one world. Here PHILIPP PLEIN is really different. Starting from cross-channel stock, for example. If you are in our store and you are looking for a specific sneaker and your size is not available or you want to have a different model, the store can easily order it for you and you can decide if you want it delivered to the store and to pick it up tomorrow maybe because you’re in the city or working there. Or if you want to have it delivered to your home. Of course, we have some exclusive pieces that you can only buy in stores. Here you can get assistance from our omnichannel sales associates, people that assist you while shopping online – like a personal shopping assistant in store, and get the items delivered to you. They also know what our clients usually buy – and like. So they’re able to recommend new items in stock and say “Hey, those are the new styles that we have received and based on your previous purchases this is what you might like, are you interested? We don’t have many items in stock, so maybe you want to reserve the items?”. Or support you with choosing an outfit for every occasion, assisting you on every purchase step you might need help with. And of course, you receive the same service if you maybe do not like your purchase or it just doesn’t fit you. You can contact us through any channel if you need assistance or you simply want to do an exchange. So all the different channels, from social media to our online shop, customer service and sales associates are perfectly aligned and connected. This is the omnichannel shopping experience that we can provide – thanks to Philipp, the main driver behind it, being also personally in touch with our clients and Salesforce, the shop system and CRM tool in the background.
How does such marketing automatisation help you to meet the expectations of your shoppers?
I mean, it’s not a secret that Salesforce is one of the biggest and one of the best shop systems. And not only shop system, but everyone also knows that Salesforce comes from the CRM background, and this is basically where the game changer starts, because you can easily manage your customer groups, your clients and across teams. You really can have this 360-degree view of your client, online and offline. It doesn’t matter. There are no borders. Personally, what I can see from my side, first of all, we never have technical problems. So, it means that they give us security during the most important shopping days and events, like holiday shopping, for example, or a launch of a new product or fashion show that is supported also with live streaming, it doesn’t matter, because we know we are safe, and our website doesn’t collapse. This is very important for every online player. We also entered a totally new world of possibilities with them. I am very grateful that we are able to test many new things, and I think this is super cool because we can start to learn together. I absolutely love our last connection of TikTok ads – everything from one platform without any need to switch from one account into another, it’s just one big ecosystem and that saves a lot of time.
So do you work with artificial intelligence tools as well?
Yes, me personally and my whole department. This is a kind of a must (smiling).
Can you share a little bit of best practices here?
Overall, I believe that artificial intelligence can revolutionise and improve productivity in the workplace. Like starting with the meetings for example. One of the most significant benefits is the ability for AI tools to take meeting notes and create to-do lists, which can save a significant amount of time for all participants. I mean I still have Post-its on my desk – I love it. But to collaborate with a global team there are AI tools you shouldn’t miss – the team can focus on the discussion and ideas being shared, confident that the important details will be captured automatically. Everyone of us has a lack of inspiration and time sometimes and I’m not an exception. You can play around with ideas and have them created and structured much faster than without AI. You can ask for a better formulation or translation etc. One of my top AI tools is ChatGPT, Jasper, Sembly, Meet Jamie, MidJourney.
What do you think is the key success factor for a flawless and personalised omnichannel commerce experience for the customer?
It’s still personal contact and touch with the client to be honest. Let’s have a look at newsletters: it’s a mass communication tool. They can be pretty annoying because it might not meet my needs. I’m convinced that if you know your customer, you know what they really like, what makes or breaks a deal. So it’s all about relationship management. In our company Philipp himself is the biggest influencer for his own brand. People really love him, and he always tries to pay attention if you are a new client or if you are interested in something, he always invites you to all our events. You can always have an opportunity to get some pictures with Philipp Plein or be invited to his home parties. And he’s really super easy going. And this is it – Philipp, so, also the brand, knows his clients and this is basically the approach. Be present and know your customers.
What does a Philipp Plein customer expect if she or he shops online?
Well, a big fat wow effect. And on every stage, I need to say, because still it’s a very loud brand. PHILIPP PLEIN customers also expect to get all the inspiration and products directly and authentically from Philipp Plein. Socks to watches or even to furniture. We have an amazing exclusive furniture collection that is produced in partnership with the brand Eichholtz. We have clients who really purchase everything! So the total look. So again, they want to be inspired and be a part of the Philipp Plein world. Whenever Philipp posts something, we know immediately this will be a best seller. Unfortunately, we can’t control it (smiling). Whatever he does, this is right and authentic at this very moment. And our customers know it and expect this personal touch.
Philipp Plein is all in with everything he does. Does he expect the same amount of working hours from his team as well?
Interesting question (laughter). The brand is his baby. And you cannot take care of a baby from 9 to 5, right? This brand is a huge part of his life, that’s for sure. And people who work here – they are sharing the same. Philipp tries to give you a lot of responsibility, so you’ll have the feeling of having contributed to the success. As for my team, I never had to ask them to work extra time if needed – they just did it. They know the importance and impact of every single person. So people share this excitement for the brand. We all feel that we’re part of it, that we are more than just employees, that we’re part of something bigger. That’s absolutely cool!