Julian Fisher of Jisp: “Know your competition”

Know your competition, because sometimes you might find that you are doing something wrong whilst your competition is doing something right. For example, if you have a waiting room in your store with just a chair, your competitor might have a small sofa there with some magazines to read and a free coffee machine. Therefore, […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Know your competition, because sometimes you might find that you are doing something wrong whilst your competition is doing something right. For example, if you have a waiting room in your store with just a chair, your competitor might have a small sofa there with some magazines to read and a free coffee machine. Therefore, you might be missing out on a great customer experience!

That leads us to creating a good atmosphere in your store, so that people feel comfortable when browsing your products. How bright is your lighting or how loud is the music playing in store? That is all very important.

As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julian Fisher, Founder and CEO of Jisp, an award-winning technology company offering mobile marketing, shopping and payment solutions.

Julian has enjoyed a varied background in technology, payments and new media that saw him launching the UK’s first internet exhibition in 1994. The expo, which showcased companies providing internet-connecting services, was covered live by BBC Breakfast. Their first question was: “So Julian, what is this thing called the world wide web?”

Since then, his work has remained inexorably linked to technology, improving sales and payments and tackling compliance issues for a wide group of blue-chip companies. The passion to provide innovative solutions fuels Julian and his team to constantly push the boundaries in unifying on and offline platforms, bringing the best customer experience across retail, hospitality and entertainment industries.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was eight years old. At that point my father worked for a division of Coca-Cola, and he was allocated tins of Coca-Cola, Lilt and Fanta. So, my first foray into making money was when I sold those products at school in 1974 and used that money to buy games and things that you would buy as a young kid. That gave me a taste for wanting to do more, not that I understood it properly as a business but more that you’re able to sell things and make money. So, I went on from there to run clubs, and during holiday seasons, I would run other activities, nearly always selling some kind of services near where I lived.

Into my teenage years, I wanted to fly airplanes. So, I set up a business, pressure-cleaning people’s pavements and their homes in very expensive private estates. I recognised that if I went to a client who owned a big expensive house and a fancy car, I could make more money, and I did. With that money, I learned to fly airplanes, gained my pilot’s license and bought a share in an aerobatic aircraft.

From there, I went on to get my degree at university. During my time there, I ran the university student magazine, and I made it profitable by selling advertising to the community of retailers. That gave me an idea to start a publishing firm, and then an exhibition company at the same time. Unfortunately, the recession came in early 90s, and advertising agencies owed us hundreds of thousands of pounds. We simply couldn’t survive with the fact that our ledger of debt from what was owed to us by the advertisers was huge. And we unfortunately were forced to close the business and sell it to a London firm. That’s how I learned my first lesson of credit control.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

When I was at university, I ran a company providing tea and coffee machines and products. I was renting them to Indian restaurants, and that equipment was relatively new — they were very popular in the States, but they were a novelty in the UK. And unfortunately, a lot of the restaurant owners thought “Oh, this is great, I can heat up milk by pouring it into the top of the coffee machine where the water went in”. So, rather than the water heating up, and then going through the filter into the pot, they thought “well, if we don’t put the coffee in and we just pour milk in, it will then heat it up”. That, of course, ruined pretty expensive equipment, which actually led to these restaurants blaming me for not having told them that you could not use the machine to warm milk up.

The funny lesson I learned is that even though you might think something is obvious, it might not necessarily be obvious to everybody. I’ve realised that I should have showed and demonstrated to them how the equipment worked rather than expecting them to be aware of certain features. That opportunity then led me to renting out a separate unit which heated up milk.

So, always expect the unexpected. It’s a very cliché thing to say, because really how can you be ready for the unexpected; but actually, don’t be surprised by anything that happens in business. Because the greatest thing that you will ever achieve out of running a business is the experience of running it, and only when you’ve gained that experience you can learn from your mistakes and do better.

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

I am incredibly grateful to my father. My father’s work ethic was second to none — his focus, dedication to the job at hand and his ability to understand and turn a profit. That has truly inspired and influenced my life and my approach to business.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Yes, “Losing My Virginity” by Richard Branson. Many years ago, Richard Branson was the most known and most celebrated entrepreneur. The reason why it struck me as being a remarkable story is because he told basically everything — the good, the bad, how he started all the tricks, how he had to apply some of them which weren’t legal, or certainly very questionable. He was so open about where he had the skills and where he didn’t, and his honesty and self-deprecation have truly made an impression on me. I highly recommend giving it a read!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Jisp is completely about disruption and changing the way things are done. People might say that what we provide is very much similar to other solutions on the market, for example our Home Delivery, Click & Collect, Scan & Go are also available from other companies. But the difference is that we are striving to become the UK’s and Europe’s first super-app by providing all these services and much more on just one mobile platform, and nobody is doing that at the moment. So, we are all about disruption, and our biggest one is yet to be released.

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

Always listen to those that are the closest to you, whether it’s your other half, your friend or your family member. For example, for me that person is my wife who will give me indications as to when I’m overdoing things. As the founder of Jisp, I’m going overboard on the extreme of living my life to maximise everything I do for the company, and when that pressure gets to a point where it’s just too much, she will always tell me. It’s by listening to her that I’m able to not burn myself out — she’s my indicator, as I honestly couldn’t tell you if I am close to burning out or not. It’s your partner that can truly warn you when enough is enough, and it’s time to take a break.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. 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?

Yeah, so the majority of success for a retailer comes down to understanding where there is an opportunity in the market. Clearly, if you’re trying to sell something and the market is not interested, it means you’re not listening to your customers. When you see an opportunity to fill a gap or support a niche in your industry then you might discover something that nobody else is offering yet. You’ve therefore listened to the market and recognised the need for a specific product or service.

I’d say that the majority of retailers who failed were the ones trying to dictate to their customers what they needed. If you do that, there’s a very good chance the market is going to reject what you’re proposing and go somewhere else. We’ve seen that in a lot of shops who lost favour with consumers, and the market naturally moved to a different supplier or a different store that has given them what they wanted.

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 retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Again, it comes down to listening to what the market wants. Without question, some of the consumers will navigate towards the cheaper end of the market as they would rather buy the same product but at a lower cost. But equally, there will be people who prefer, for other reasons, buying products from different sources despite the price. So, it is really about being able to listen to what the market is demanding and to see whether or not you can put forward an alternative.

Consumers nowadays are not only fixated on prices but also on quality, sustainability and supporting charities or local produce. The question is whether that market is sustainable for your proposition — are you a store owner, an e-commerce website, are you able to sell enough products to support yourself? Only the market will be able to tell you that.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I have seen many businesses being successful in one area and starting to rapidly expand into other regions or countries. However, success in one area will not necessarily mean that you will have the same or equal or even sustainable success in other areas. So, a lot of the times retailers will expand their operations and unfortunately, their sales won’t always equal or match those of their initial operation base.

The truth was they weren’t necessarily researching whether the market where they wanted to expand to was able to support the products they’re selling and maintain demand. So, for example, you can identify that some of the locations will have a greater number of people from a certain age group, which means that they all have a different desire for your product range than people from a different age bracket.

In the days when retail was growing, and the High Street was thriving, opportunities seem to be endless. The expansion would take place without doing proper validation exercises and truly understanding where they’re moving to and why they’re moving. But when the market started shifting against them — people are not shopping on the High Street or choosing online services such as Amazon — a lot of these stores have suddenly seen their turnover falling below their costs to be there. Then what happened was that loss had to be carried by other stores in the chain. As they continued to lose money, stores then had to pull back on stock, development or research of their own future sales opportunities.

What we saw next was even worse as those stores started selling their premises and renting them back, whilst borrowing money at the same time. And, of course, as the rates went up, they were then having to pay more money for the borrowings. So, the majority of the companies in the last decade that have gone under simply could not actually service their debt — the debt on their balance sheet was far greater than the revenue they’re generating. So, as I said before, always expect the unexpected, do a very thorough research and assess your abilities to sustain your business.

This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?

Word-of-mouth is the most important asset you can have from your customers. When you provide them with the best customer experience, they are going to talk favourably about you to other people, who will then remember and choose to buy from you. A great customer service not only retains existing shoppers and builds loyalty, but also generates awareness and brings in new opportunities to your store.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

Many years ago, Jeff Bezos spoke about the fact that his focus in the company was on the customer experience, and that was it. He didn’t talk about price, delivery or anything else. He said, “If there’s one thing is about, it’s obsessive attention to the customer experience, end-to-end”. It didn’t matter whether their products were cheaper than anywhere else, or because they provided delivery or had some brilliant information on their website — it didn’t matter. What mattered was, did the consumer get a good experience? So, it doesn’t matter what it is that the customers are happy about, you just want them to be happy.

I think one of the reasons why some retailers don’t survive is because they’re not thinking about every single touchpoint of the experience the consumer has when dealing with their brand. If any part of that experience is a poor one, that will be the experience they will remember, and they will leave. You don’t typically return to a retailer thinking “I had a terrible experience with them, but I really liked the lighting in that store and the price of the product was actually good”. No, you just go somewhere else, full stop. And this is what most retailers are missing.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

One of the things that we as a company do very well is talking to the retailers we are about to onboard. Our Client Response Centre (CRC) Team always understands that these retailers may have no previous experience with the digital world at all. So rather than going into these calls with a thought that they should already have some understanding, we go in on the expectation that we are there to help them with every aspect of working in the digital world. And we typically end up hearing from our clients of the incredibly helpful, sympathetic and unrushed experience that they receive from our CRC team, and that’s truly humbling.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

if there’s one thing that anyone will tell you about digital is that it nearly always goes wrong at some time. And it could be something that we’ve done, or it could be something that the clients have done, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. What matters is we are prepared to listen, understand the problem and resolve it. And that wins you a lot of favour and loyalty.

Our clients have no fear that when things don’t go well for them or when something doesn’t happen for them the way they would like to, they are able to instantly get on a call and talk to us. As a result, we have seen some great feedback on social media as well as through word-of-mouth that brought us more clients in the long term.

A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?

I think simplicity, communication, information, selective choice and response. Whilst the first three “ingredients” are pretty simple to understand — your services should be easy to use, you need to communicate with your customers to provide them with your latest updates and all the necessary information to make the purchase.

Now the reason why I said “selective choice” is because sometimes having too much choice can be a bad thing as it confuses people. When you come to a restaurant and have 50 different things on the menu, your customers find it overwhelming and end up spending too much time on deciding what they want. If you understand your market, you can use your expertise to direct them into areas where you know they are going to enjoy what you’re providing for them.

And finally, responding to customer enquiries is incredibly important. When I see anyone contacting us, especially if they’ve got an issue, I get very jittery if we haven’t got back to them within 24 hours. Sometimes it may not be important to us, but it’s definitely important to them, and they want an answer. Even if you go back and say, “We’ve got your message, we’re dealing with it and we’ll come back to you”, you’ve at least satisfied them that they’re not being ignored.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. 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.

Well, you need to know your market before you start selling your products. If your customers don’t find what they need in your store, they will never come back.

Know your competition, because sometimes you might find that you are doing something wrong whilst your competition is doing something right. For example, if you have a waiting room in your store with just a chair, your competitor might have a small sofa there with some magazines to read and a free coffee machine. Therefore, you might be missing out on a great customer experience!

That leads us to creating a good atmosphere in your store, so that people feel comfortable when browsing your products. How bright is your lighting or how loud is the music playing in store? That is all very important.

Fourth, your customers need to be able to have a good interaction with your staff. Nobody wants to be served by a rude person. A guy I know, Chris, often goes to a patisserie near him, but at certain times of the day there’s a woman there who serves and she’s so grumpy. He now avoids going there on a particular day and goes elsewhere. So, he doesn’t give that store business because a member of their staff is horrible, and that’s costing the store money.

And finally, confidence in buying. When you buy something, if you’ve got the confidence of being able to know that if anything goes wrong, you can go back to the store and get the issue solved, whether you change the product or you return it. For example, I’m fearful of buying anything in France because retailers often break the rules — they won’t take the product back if it doesn’t work. Or they’ll take it back and they will repair it, which means you are not getting a brand-new product. So, personally I am immediately on edge when buying stuff in France, and frankly I try to purchase what I need in the UK and bring it with me instead.

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 set up in the Jisp app the ability for you to buy products that will automatically direct you to its environmental impact. We usually purchase products without fully understanding how we can recycle it — sometimes you can recycle one part of it, but not the other. But we don’t really think about it before we buy it, we only think about it when we’ve consumed it. So, if we can actually help people make those decisions before they buy, this then encourages the manufacturers to make their products better.

This is something that happened recently to Ribena — they changed their bottle, so that it had as close to zero impact on the environment as possible when recycled. So, consumers feel safe knowing that when they consume that product they won’t make a negative impact on the environment. I think if we can provide consumers with that ability to make those decisions before they purchase the products, we will completely change the way we buy things. We need to change the way we think in order to change the way companies manufacture products, so I would love to have this feature in my app.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can visit our website — or follow us on social media — @jispapp. I will also be very happy to connect with people on LinkedIn —

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

Thank you for having me, it was great to share some of my stories and experiences in retail!

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...


    10 Crisis Communications Dos And Don’ts During COVID-19

    by Caroline Carter Smith

    Rachel Shemirani of Barons Market: “Take care of your employees so that they can take care of your customers”

    by Tyler Gallagher

    Nick Bogacz of Caliente Pizza & Draft House: “5 Ways To Create a Wow! Customer Experience”

    by Ben Ari
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.