Charis Márquez: “Innovation is also essential to keep customers interested and engaged”

Transparency and Authenticity are key when it comes to creating fantastic retail experience, and it sets retailers apart from competitors. Trust is critical in the consumer landscape, an example of this is eBay’s Authenticity Guarantee. This was an action that eBay took in direct response to customer needs around trust. This long-term trust can lead […]

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Transparency and Authenticity are key when it comes to creating fantastic retail experience, and it sets retailers apart from competitors. Trust is critical in the consumer landscape, an example of this is eBay’s Authenticity Guarantee. This was an action that eBay took in direct response to customer needs around trust. This long-term trust can lead to customer loyalty for brands.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charis Márquez, VP of Fashion at eBay.

Charis Márquez is the VP of Fashion at eBay. Charis joins eBay from Levi Strauss & Co., where she focused on enhancing the organization’s digital selling process, in-store consumer experiences and site merchandising. Prior to Levi’s, Charis — who has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University — held leadership roles at Sears, Kmart and Sam’s Club.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I will say I tried to avoid it! LOL. My mom was a merchant so I grew up in stores and going to visit NY market, with everyday shopping trips to the mall which turned into looking at clothes and learning how on trend something was, how well it was made, and how to notice the details of a garment. While I initially wanted to be a diplomat, my high school jobs and college internships were in retail and fashion. After being exposed to retail and fashion I wanted to understand how a piece of clothing is made and all of the steps it takes from being a thread to landing at your front doorstep, and overall, how to run a retail business. After working in logistics, support functions and brick and mortar retail, I moved to ecommerce and was fascinated by how much data I could learn about consumers and what ultimately motivates them to make a purchase.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It is hard to choose one as I have found so many interesting pieces of my career, but one that stands out was when I was a fair employment consultant and investigated affirmative action cases brought against the company. It taught me how important fairness and consistency are, especially when managing a team. There were instances where it appeared that someone thought they were doing something nice for someone but in turn it alienated others. Ultimately perception is reality and I think about that a lot in terms of my leadership style.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

Ugh- this isn’t funny, but I still cringe when I talk about it. When I was working in finance, I created a tool that helped my business unit track where they stand versus their financial goals (and ultimately their bonuses). The tool was accurate in the beginning but at some point, I must have inadvertently updated it and it showed the teams that they were making plan when they weren’t, FOR MONTHS. From that point on I learned to check my work and pay more close attention to detail.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

At eBay there is so much exciting work happening right now! I wish I could talk more about it but stay tuned! For me personally, my most exciting project has been working on me. More specifically defining what is my purpose and how am I fostering that every day? My focus is around helping people become more self-sufficient whether it be at work, at home with my children, or the businesses/organizations that I choose to support financially.

For example, I have a goal this year to increase my spending with Black-owned businesses and not just purchase but promote them where possible i.e. social media, word of mouth, reviews etc. As I started the process, I have now expanded this support to other businesses and organizations that I feel align with becoming self-sufficient. I try to be very intentional about where I make investments of my time and money.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

The retail industry has undoubtedly seen a variety of challenges during this pandemic, and resultantly people have been working hard to meet new consumer and business demands. Now more than ever as we continue to work from home, it is important to check in with yourself, connect with others, and make time to disconnect from work for some downtime. Here are some personal tips.

First, connect with your coworkers, and it doesn’t have to be via Zoom or about work. The pandemic undoubtedly reminded us of the importance of connection. Having a sense of community at work, and trusting and communicating with your colleagues, especially during times of uncertainty, is key.

Second, take small breaks throughout the day. It’s important to find balance with your schedule to refuel your brain and well-being. Breaks also can help promote higher productivity.

Third, upgrade your remote office space; don’t forget to add a few fun items to break up the Zoom monotony. I have a small wooden figure with multiple faces on it and I turn the faces based on my mood. It’s silly but it allows me to put any negative energy into that figure, and when I look at it, I laugh and usually the mood is over.

Many of us continue to work from home, or even work partially from home, it’s important to invest in a space you can work comfortably and efficiently in, and ultimately, make work more enjoyable!

Finally, be kind to yourself and the people around you. Don’t feel bad if you aren’t quite feeling yourself and know that others aren’t too. That extra bit of patience for yourself and others can go a long way.

Understand the things that bring you joy and happiness and make it a priority to integrate them into your routine.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am grateful to a lot of people, as we all need need help along the way. However, I have to call out my mom. She was an executive during a time that being a woman, black or both was not always accepted, but for me, seeing her showed me what was possible. It taught me how much representation matters.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I try to bring little bits of goodness wherever I go, maybe it’s having a mentoring conversation with someone at work, advocating for someone who may not feel they have a voice, or just providing a joke or a smile when it looks like someone might need it. I am a believer that little things can and do make a difference, and that is what I feel has made me successful for much of my life.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

The pandemic has changed the way retailers operate both short and long term. Now more than ever, retailers around the world are tasked with creating innovative solutions and new opportunities to reach a digital consumer and stay competitive through the pandemic and remain successful post-pandemic.

The pandemic forced consumers to push the reset button on their purchasing behaviors, and retailers had to work hard to accommodate those changes. From keeping up with inventory availability and hygiene considerations to meeting new consumer demands including buying online, curbside pickup, in-store pickup, at home delivery, and more, many of these new engagement models are here to stay, and I think retailers will continue to implement these offerings after the pandemic.

At eBay, we remain focused on delivering the best experiences for our customers — both buyers and sellers, and we continue looking for ways to bring more offerings to our customers, better communicate with them and maintain a strong community on our platform.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

The role of physical retail spaces has certainly changed, leaving the experience of shopping ecommerce to be more pivotal than ever before. Though I believe brick and mortar stores will continue to adapt to new purposes, store closures due to the pandemic brought an opportunity for retailers to explore the digital landscape and acquire a new consumer base. As restrictions continue to lift and consumers everywhere yearn to explore and get out of the house, retailers — both online and in-store — have an opportunity to get creative with experiential escapes and innovative IRL experiences. I am very excited to see this play out in the retail landscape, bringing more “fun” to shopping, and happy to see how eBay is participating as well.

For example, last November in Los Angeles, eBay launched its very first authentication drive-thru experience, ‘Authentication Station’ where we invited people to bring their sneakers, watches and trading cards to be vetted and appraised from the comfort of their cars and in a safe and socially-distanced way. The enthusiasm for eBay’s IRL experience was so overwhelmingly positive, that we decided to reimagine it this year and bring it to additional cities, which kicked off in Atlanta on April 9th, followed by Nashville, Seattle, Las Vegas and wrapping in Austin on May 8th.

Physical events allow ecommerce platforms to share a multi-dimensional version of their online experience, bringing to life brand association and loyalty. Providing our customers with a personalized experience like ‘Authentication Station’ allowed us to bring eBay’s Authenticity Guarantee service to life, which provides an extra layer of trust and confidence when purchasing high-value collectible items on our marketplace.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

With the consumer shift to online shopping, especially among older generations which increased drastically during the pandemic, ecommerce has never had a louder call to action. Ecommerce platforms present a unique opportunity for brands and retailers to engage new customers in ways that they never could before and adapting to the shift is essential to long term growth.

Providing a positive customer experience is key. Customers today want a seamless, convenient experience that allows them to shop from anywhere at any time, at great value. To keep up with today’s heightened expectations for online convenience, retailers must respond to the demand for personalized experiences, and engage customers at various touchpoints.

Getting to know and understand your customers is important to connect and build trust. Customer satisfaction is what drives our process at eBay. We use feedback from our customer satisfaction surveys to adapt our experience in real-time.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Visibility, customer service, quality, and experience are all factors in consumers’ decisions about where to shop. eBay, for example, is one of the world’s largest and most vibrant marketplaces for discovering great value and unique selection. We also have an unmatched community on our platform as we connect millions of buyers and sellers across the globe. With a growth in sustainability standards and conversations on the significance of recommerce within retail, eBay can have a seat at the table due to the nature of our business. eBay plays an interesting role amidst an emerging competitive set as an authentic leader in this space.

Being a leader in global commerce, eBay was founded on the principles of empowering people and creating economic opportunity for all. Those are the same principles we stand upon 25 years later as we continue to drive more access and diversity within the marketplace. Since 1995, eBay has helped grow hundreds of thousands of small businesses and we are always looking for ways to support our eBay community by driving the success of our sellers on our platform and providing unique value and selection to our buyers.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Creating a positive customer experience for shoppers is crucial to the overall success of your business because a happy customer is likely to become a loyal customer.
  2. Transparency and Authenticity are key when it comes to creating fantastic retail experience, and it sets retailers apart from competitors. Trust is critical in the consumer landscape, an example of this is eBay’s Authenticity Guarantee. This was an action that eBay took in direct response to customer needs around trust. This long-term trust can lead to customer loyalty for brands.
  3. Innovation is also essential to keep customers interested and engaged. Retailers that constantly reinvent the customer experience and provide new ways of offering their customers value are the ones that have shoppers coming back for more.
  4. As I mentioned earlier, getting to know and understand your customers is also important. Understanding your customers allows you to ensure you are providing them with what they want or need with your products and services.
  5. Online integration is something all customers expect, now more than ever, and they look for a seamless transition between shopping online and shopping at your store. Consumers also want flexibility and convenience — they may want to shop online, but then pick up the item at the store, or buy products online and make a return to a physical store. Customer rewards programs allow you to show your customers how much you appreciate them and enhance their experience. Most importantly though, all of this must be simple; customers won’t return if their experience is too complicated.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to start a movement where anyone could start their own business and become self-sufficient to provide more equitable opportunities for everyone. I joined eBay because the platform does exactly this, and it is my job to ensure that the experience stays simple and customer-focused to invite more people into this work.

This would be a comprehensive program that would involve mandatory financial literacy training in schools, and students would be required to start a business for a few months as their final project. This would also be required for anyone who wants to get their GED.

Overall, I would simply want to provide the tools, knowledge, and access for anyone to become self-sufficient and ultimately live their best lives.

How can our readers further follow your work?

We’ re always looking for new ways to enhance the eBay experience for buyers and sellers, especially in our top categories like sneakers, trading cards, and luxury watches. You can follow @eBaysneakers on Instagram and Twitter, @eBaywatches on Instagram and @eBay on Twitter, YouTube and learn more about what we are working on.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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