Philip Rooke is the chief executive officer of Spreadshirt, an online merchandise company that allows people to design, sell and buy custom apparel the web. Created by two German graduate students, Spreadhshirt launched in 2002 in Leipzig, Germany and entered the U.S. market in 2004.
Rooke joined Spreadshirt in 2009, as vice-president and managing director. By May 2011, Philip was promoted to CEO. His ability to skyrocket revenues and implement best practices continue to position Spreadshirt as a market leader and pacesetter in the e-commerce industry.
We caught up with Rooke recently to get his thoughts about the so-called “third wave” of e-commerce, his views on the the Marketplace Fairness Act and, of course, what the future of commerce will hold.
Q. You have an extensive background in e-commerce and, specifically, creating engaging customer experiences. As the industry has evolved, customers have gotten smarter and, in some ways, much more demanding. How do you define consumer engagement and how do you accomplish it?
Philip Rooke: I truly don’t define customer engagement; the customer does. If you truly want to give the customer what they want, you need to ask them what they want. What they tell us at Spreadshirt is that our customers love the feeling they have when they make, find, wear or publish a saleable design they truly like. When their response to creating an idea on our e-commerce platform results in an emotion like pride, excitement, uplift or achievement, we call this the “Spreadshirt moment.” If we get the customer to that point, they become engaged and enthused about our brand.
Q. Spreadshirt has had a very successful viral adoption. “Viral” is such an elusive buzzword—can you talk a little bit about how you feel your brand achieved this marketing feat?
Rooke: When the customer comes to the point where they have a “Spreadshirt moment,” they develop an emotional connection to what they have found, made or published for sale. At that conversion point, the customer wants to tell their friends, fans and other people about what they have achieved or discovered. “Viral” may be accurate in terms of growth and shareability but the true driver of our marketing and sales success is the continual focus and concentration on delivering a service that our customers are happy to share or show off.
Q. We understand that you are a proponent of proposed Marketplace Fairness Act and the Internet Sales Tax. Why do you feel it’s a good idea?
Rooke: There are 2 underlying reasons. First and foremost, I believe that all businesses should compete on a level playing field. Under the current system some businesses have a location advantage, which allows them to sell more cheaply than another.
This is not good for competition or for the consumer. Big businesses have the freedom and advantage of relocation as the cost is minimal in proportion to the potential tax savings. Small innovative local businesses or offline businesses cannot compete on this basis. The net effect is less pressure on a market to achieve what the customer wants or needs. With a level playing field, the best companies that innovate and stay customer focused win. This is really the best practice for the marketplace and consumers.
Secondly, my orders are still dependent upon local infrastructure for delivery. As far as paying sales tax in the states, we have to pay in the states that we have actual locations – Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Nevada. But we only pay for shipments that go to those states, and only for the items that are taxable. In Nevada, everything is taxable, so we pay sales tax on all items shipped to customers in Nevada. In Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, clothing is not taxable, only accessories.
We do not currently pay tax for roads, drainage, police and other services that we rely on to ensure that the deliveries arrive in a timely and efficient manner in areas outside of the above noted states. If we want these to exist, we have to pay for them. With a level fairness tax, the more we deliver to an area- the more tax is raised. Seems like a good plan and a fair model to me.
Q. FAB CEO Jason Goldberg recently opined that we’ve entered what he called the third wave of commerce, and that’s emotional e-commerce, based in mind-blowing customer experiences that bring something special and unique into their lives, delivered (no pun intended!) via commerce. Do you agree with him? Why or why not? If you do, how does this play into the future of Spreadshirt?
Rooke: Jason and I are seem to be of the same opinion! We continually strive to get the customer to the “Spreadshirt Moment” when they reach a point of achievement or connection with what they have purchased or put for sale on our service. A T-shirt is just a T-shirt; but a T-shirt that has content on that says something about you as an individual; your beliefs, values, style, humor, loves or hates is an emotional feeling and showcases a personal brand or attitude. Finding it, creating it and even selling it to others is that “Spreadshirt Moment,” I guess that is what he means about emotional e-commerce and I completely agree with his perspective.
Q: Tell us: What do you see as the future of commerce?
Rooke: Commerce gets easier and cheaper. We are currently working on the next generation of the Spreadshirt “sell your t-shirt ideas” platform. This will allow anyone from big businesses to individuals to put an idea for sale on over 140 products in up to 17 countries in less than two minutes. Continuously more and more plug-in and play commerce solutions come to market. The future of commerce will no longer be about the act of getting to market, which e-commerce has been all about for the last 10 years. Rather, commerce is going to be about what you take to the market and do the customers really want it. Finally, commerce will become more and more customer focused and driven by what consumers actually want to buy.
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