Online retail has enjoyed tremendous growth in Australia over the past decade. In fact, Australia is in the top ten countries worldwide for retail sales online, despite having a population of just 23 million (the US, in comparison, has a population of 323 million).
It’s a growing market that one particular family-owned Aussie retailer has found hard to ignore.
We recently caught up with Dax Lee, CTO at Winning Group, to talk about how he moved from San Francisco to Sydney in order to capitalise on the opportunity to grow a 110-year-old family retail business into an online empire.
Dax met John Winning, the CEO of Winning Group, via social circles. The two soon got talking about the business. Dax was intrigued by what John had to say about his group; so much so that in early 2016 he travelled to Australia to get to know the business a little better. On that trip, he ended up completing an initial evaluation and audit for the group.
“I was really impressed with how much they had already been embracing technology and orienting their whole business around their use of technology,” explained Dax.
“They have the opportunity to be a 110-year-old business with a startup mentality and approach.”
Winning Group’s online presence is but a small piece of its corporate puzzle. It’s a complex business with a call centre, brick and mortar stores, a Winning appliances showroom, warehouses, trucks, drivers and installers. It’s an organisational ecosystem that has evolved over a century; the type that is notoriously difficult to bring into the digital age.
“I felt like I could bring a lot of value helping them navigate the waters,” says Dax.
That feeling soon turned into Dax’s reality. He officially joined the team in November 2016.
Hitting the ground running
The biggest focus for Dax and the team is their Neural Network Project; a bespoke system that they hope will greatly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their delivery efforts.
One aspect of the project centres on delivery route optimisation for their fleet of trucks. Routes are served up via a smartphone application called HandyView that is utilised by the drivers.
But it doesn’t stop there. The neural network will also help optimise how Winning Group pack their trucks, including the order that they pack them in, the groupings of the deliveries, and the route the drivers take. The project promises to even factor in real-time traffic conditions.
“We are focussing on every single factor in order to really optimise what our fleet is doing,” says Dax, “improving the customer experience at each step.”
Quiet leaders in innovation
Despite 110 years of success in the Australian retail sector, the leadership at Winning Group are certainly not resting on their laurels. They are a truly entrepreneurial business, with a firm focus on innovation in tech. Dax remarked that the way they are doing things at Winning is on par with many of the movers and shakers in Silicon Valley.
The group has their own R&D team who are developing their own type of machine learning. Self-learning algorithms drive their dynamic pricing and their inventory purchasing logic. In contrast, the few competitors who choose to enter this space do so by using off the shelf technology like IBM Watson.
“I don’t think there are a lot of companies of our type that are doing things like this,” says Dax. “We are doing totally bespoke systems which are beating many of the Google AI benchmarks that have been published.”
Customer service at their core
While the tech side of Winning is undoubtedly exciting, being a first-class online retailer is impossible without killer customer service. The merit of every single development within their technologies is evaluated and quantified by asking one simple question – ‘how will this improve the customer experience?’
It’s exactly this attitude that secured Appliances Online the Customer Experience of the Year Award at the World Retail Awards in 2014. As well as Online Retailer of the Year and Best Pureplay Retailer of the Year in 2013 and 2014 at the ORIAS.
Winning Group live by their Net Promoter Score (NPS). They ask every customer for feedback on their experience and they use this information to improve. As a result, they have one of the leading NPSs of any business in their category in Australia, with a score of 76 (for context, Google’s is 38).
It’s not just their tech that allows them to achieve such an exceptional NPS. The group’s CEO, John Winning, is known to spend hours on a Saturday calling customers to ask them about their experiences, personally ensuring that their expectations have been exceeded.
“Our goal is to keep that gold standard intact,” says Dax, “by staying current with all of the latest technologies.”
Stepping into new territory
If you’re picking up a theme when it comes to Winning Group, it’s most likely this – they don’t settle for the standard. Rather, they create the standard. Reinforcing this point, they have taken on two projects aligned with – but ultimately outside – their core business of e-commerce.
1. Acquiring a tech startup
Winning Group recently acquired a small tech startup. The company is developing an internal communication tool which helps organisations to manage their team satisfaction by recording anonymous metrics. It offers a simple way to gather structured, honest and reliable feedback.
Winning fell in love with the platform when using it to help manage the satisfaction of their geographically diverse team. They are now eager to bring it in-house, enhance it, rewrite it, prepare it for scale and offer it to other organisations.
2. Setting up in 3PL
Their next endeavour is in third-party logistics (3PL). Due to their amazing NPS score and their network of warehouses, driver and installers, it’s no surprise to hear that other businesses have approached Winning about doing deliveries for them.
They trialled this with a small group of test customers who ended up being delighted with the service. On the back of those great results they decided to take the next step, creating an entirely bespoke 3PL business with a dedicated customer portal. This will allow clients to view what is happening with their inventory in real time, and gives Winning the opportunity to offer this service to other organisations.
With all of that going on, it’s no surprise that Winning is about to embark on a serious hiring frenzy. Technology will be their biggest growth area, with plans to add 24 new staff, increasing the team by about 50 percent.
They’ll require talented engineers in a variety of specialisations, including mobile development, front-end, back-end, .NET and Java.
“We are focussed on investing in the right people and systems”, Dax says. “It’ll allow us to maintain our leading position in Australia, and to develop into a leader globally.”