MyTheresa.com Launches Arabic Website: Haleh Nia in Conversation with Justin O’Shea about the Launch

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MyTheresa.com Buying Director, Justin O’Shea | Photo: Courtesy of MyTheresa.com

Savoir Flair breaks the news today that online retail giant, MyTheresa.com, is launching an Arabic website in a holistic environment where product descriptions, styling tips, ordering, newsletters, and editorial content will all be available in Arabic for a Middle Eastern shopping audience. Here, our Editor-in-Chief, Haleh Nia, speaks to the site’s Buying Director, Justin O’Shea, about the launch over an eventful evening in Paris.

Justin, it’s so lovely to see you again, especially in the midst of all the whispers of your impending Arabic launch. I hear that the MyTheresa Arabic site is unlike other sites in that it is not just an Arabic translation, but that it is a 360-degree Arabic environment with fully dedicated customer service. Tell me, how is it differentiated from other retailers’ localized sites?
Wonderful to see you, Haleh. Every time we localize our website, we try and think about what the customer there needs or what the requirements are. For the Middle Eastern customer, we want to offer the greatest sense of luxury and bespoke service. We didn’t want just a translated website, or not having the in-house customer care. We want to make it feel like we have someone sitting next to them, 24 hours a day, and they can ask whatever they want and get their answers answered immediately. I think that is the service we obviously want to offer to everyone. It is very important for the Middle East.

How long in the making has this localized site been?
That is a really good question. We’ve been discussing this for a really long time. It is just now, with the extra people working in the company [MyTheresa was just bought out by Neiman Marcus], that we’ve grown a lot more. We figured now is a very appropriate time, because we can service them properly. We can really create something which is worthy. Maybe before, we weren’t at the right point in time.

Why the Middle East? Was it an important market for you? What does the consumer in the Middle East mean to you?
Well I guess with the Middle Eastern customer, they want pure luxury amongst all of the other things, but they are known for wanting the best of the best. I guess because our focus is on a luxury sector, and we are predominantly luxury. You know it is obviously the same clientele which really fits to what we believe in, what we are buying, and our overall direction. I think I also know when I am looking at a product I look at the price tag, but I don’t look at the price tag. I like buying the cheapest thing, but I also like buying the most expensive thing. And I also know that the Middle Eastern customer can appreciate these products whether they are the cheapest or the most expensive and they are also an excitable customer. I love the fact that I can buy things that make people who see them go “Oh, this is just the most beautiful thing ever.” I noticed also from my time spent living in Kuwait that you just need to be able to present the best of the best to an Arab consumer. This is just an exciting challenge.

I also know that the Middle Eastern customer can appreciate these products whether they are the cheapest or the most expensive and they are also an excitable customer.

I had no idea you spent time in Kuwait. What were you doing there?
I worked for a Kuwait-based company for almost two years. Al Ostoura. Needless to say this is why my experience with the Middle Eastern customer is pretty good.

So would you consider for MyTheresa that the Middle East is an emerging market or is it one of the biggest?
For us, it is in the top 15. It is more than an emerging market, but it is combined in the top 10. I think we haven’t even started to explore the territory. So we’ve only done the bare basics, and presented our product to the market. I guess you could call it emerging, because we haven’t yet put the emphasis on looking after the customer, and so now hopefully we know that with this we will give the extra added value to make it our top, top market.

Can we expect more localized websites for other markets, in other languages, customized to their wants and needs?
Yes, exactly, this is something that has always been very important for us: That we really make the customer feel like they are shopping at home in their language and with their numbers, with the customer care speakers, and reading the website in their language. We want them to get in association with us. MyTheresa isn’t just a German website; it is a Dutch website, it is a Middle Eastern website, and an Asian website. It is just this entity which is in the air. And we all really like the idea of that.

Over lunch yesterday, you mentioned that you were in Abu Dhabi for a vacation recently. Was that your first time in the UAE?
I’ve been to Dubai, but this was my first time in Abu Dhabi. I’ve also been to Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar, and lived in Kuwait as we were just saying. I am fascinated with the Middle East. I find it to be a very beautiful region. I really like the people; I have a lot of friends that come from there. I know a lot of the retailers and major players. It is such a relaxing destination for me to go to. I have a very close feeling to it.

As does the Middle East with you! You have a lot of fans in our region. Men and women alike.
Well, hello to all of them.

Justin, I know this is something we have talked about several times before, and I know your answer is always the same thing. But I’m going to try my luck again. Are there any plans for MyTheresa to pick up Arab designers in the future? You currently only have the one – Zuhair Murad.
Yes, he is the only one, and I guess it is one thing which I am very conscientious about, is that every designer on the website is judged according to the designers in Paris, Milan, or New York. I don’t look at Middle Eastern designers and think “There are six good ones; I’ll pick one out of the six.” I look at them and ask if that is an equivalent to Balenciaga or Christopher Kane, because I don’t want to treat them differently just because they are in a different country. I want them to stand alone by themselves. I am not trying to win favors or try to be patriotic. I want them to be a designer that sits on his or her own portfolio, and we have such limited designers for that reason. The minute they are in that category, I don’t care if they come from the Middle East, Turkey, or Hong Kong. They can come from Mars. I just want people to know that I am choosing them on their merits; not because I am trying to make friends.

I want them to be a designer that sits on his or her own portfolio, and we have such limited designers for that reason.

I agree with you completely, but what do you need to see for that to happen? What do you think is missing from our market, that I can go back and say to all our amazing emerging designers? I want to tell them, “This is something that Justin thinks that you should be doing.”
I think a lot of it has to do with the exposure, especially in Europe and America. It is very important that there is a presence. I know it is very difficult for a designer from the Middle East or Australia to have presence in London, or in Paris, during the sales markets. But you need to look at the market that is the most influential. You need to have an exposure in Paris, or the UK, or in New York, so you start to get a little bit of that talkability. I think that is really important. Also, social media – working on that and getting that exposure so people are hearing about the brand. A lot of the young designers I talk to don’t design for the European stores or American stores. They design based upon their surroundings. Sometimes, that doesn’t help, because that doesn’t translate to the customer in Europe. It translates to the customer they have there. I think it is like designing according to their heritage, thinking about the bigger picture. Because you need to have both.

How do you feel about this ambassador role you have been thrust into unknowingly? You have become an overnight sensation and are the unofficial face of MyTheresa…
I am trying not to think about it. I just love working and I just do my job. If a part of that is to do this other stuff, and if it is good for the company, then it is my major focus and I am super happy. If everyone is happy and it is good exposure and gets the MyTheresa name out, then I am the happiest ambassador that could ever be. Obviously it is not good if I do stupid stuff! I try and keep that to a minimum.

Everyone in the company speaks so highly of you. I hear you’re a workaholic and respond to e-mails within two hours, no matter where in the world you are.
My girlfriend [Veronika Heilbrunner] hates it because I am always on my phone, and I am always working during the night and I don’t ever sleep. I love my job; I am just very happy to do it.

We keep talking about online shopping, but what is your online shopping ritual? I personally am in bed after midnight, in my pyjamas, shopping on MyTheresa. But how do you shop online?
Want to know a secret? I’ve never shopped online before.

No. I don’t believe you.
No, I am a guy. It’s not a bad thing that I said that, and the reason I said that is because the stuff that I want is all bespoke tailoring by the same tailor for the past few years. And my shoes are from Vuitton, and I can’t buy them online. I just don’t have a choice.

That is the most ironic thing about you.
If I weren’t so God damned specific, I’d be an online shopping addict like you!

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