Vena Doyle is Head of Innovation, Experience and Enterprise at Brown Thomas Arnotts. Here she talks to us about re-inventing the customer experience, the sustainable future of retail, and the power of working collectively.   

I studied politics and Irish in University College Dublin — so I could have had a very different career! But even in those days, I was always interested in fostering a sense of community. In college, I became auditor of the Outreach Society which provided support and fundraising for underprivileged schools across Dublin, and organised a number of events and fundraising initiatives to support those schools. I quickly realised how much I enjoyed that way of working, and decided to hang up my dreams of becoming Ireland’s next President! After a post grad degree in event management and PR, I interned at a marketing agency that had a huge range of clients — from the finance, retail, FMCG, motor, and the charity sectors. That kicked off seven years of agency work for me, from digital, managing product and brand development, communications, social media, events and experiential campaigns. One day, I saw an advertisement for a six-month marketing manager placement to support Christmas at Arnotts — it was a dream role that I couldn’t pass up, so I made the move from agency to in-house. Over the past four years at Arnotts, I have had the privilege of working as marketing manager, progressing to head of marketing, and have just recently been appointed to the role of head of innovation, experience and enterprise. 

I am extremely fortunate, because my job is so varied. My morning could start with researching trends and generating ideas to share with the wider business, the afternoon is often filled with meetings in different departments to get a clear picture of what is happening across the company. I work closely with our creative team to support them in bringing our ideas to life, and with our marketing team to discuss how best to communicate our ideas to our customers, in store or online. I also work with a lot of external businesses, identifying opportunities to collaborate, disrupt retail, and create talking points. With every project we conceive of, we are driving our key objective of reinventing retail, and thinking through strategies to evolve our way of doing things.  

The pace of change in the industry is the biggest challenge we currently face – the pandemic has focussed our minds across the business, and accelerated all of our initiatives. For example, trialling beauty products in our beauty hall has become a challenge with Covid restrictions. We responded by developing virtual beauty try-on (the first to market with this concept in Ireland) in both Brown Thomas and Arnotts, so our customers could still have a great experience of trialling before buying. Agility and flexibility are hugely central to our work, we are constantly adapting to our customers’ needs in real time.

"Customers will remain at the core of what we do and how we do it. But with just ten years to make a systematic shift to protect our planet, undoubtedly, sustainability will be the heartbeat of our business in years to come"

There has been a huge shift to customers shopping online throughout the pandemic — our customer research shows that forty per cent of customers are shopping online. Although this trend will likely continue on an upward trajectory, the experience and the atmosphere of our stores is unrivalled, and it’s this unique feel which will continue to keep our customers coming through the doors. Convenience is key right now, so we are working towards a number of plans to make the customer experience as seamless as possible. We recently launched our Car Park Click & Collect initiative and have a number of other projects launching in time for Christmas, so that gift shopping with us this year is stress-free.   

A new department that speaks to innovation, experience and enterprise is a really exciting initiative. It puts me at the heart of what we are about as a business — reinventing retail and creating a sustainable future. These ambitions are at the heart of every department in the business, but to create a dedicated resource that can proactively challenge the way we do things is something that really inspires me. We have cultivated a dynamic team of people who have extensive expertise in varying areas of the business, grouped together to work collaboratively on these business-wide goals.  

Customers will remain at the core of what we do and how we do it. But with just ten years to make a systematic shift to protect our planet, undoubtedly, sustainability will be the heartbeat of our business in years to come. There is so much power in working across different businesses within Selfridges Group — the opportunity to share learnings, work collectively, and create sustainable change as a unified entity is hugely exciting.