Retail Royalty: Meet Princess Polly’s Director of Operations, Alex Collis

Our founders Daphna and Dasya were lucky enough to sit down with Alex Collis, Director of Operations at Princess Polly. Alex joined Princess Polly back in 2019, and has had an incredible impact on the business over the last few years.

Retail Royalty: Meet Princess Polly’s Director of Operations, Alex Collis
Retail Royalty: Meet Princess Polly’s Director of Operations, Alex Collis

Welcome to the first post in our newest Q&A blog series, Retail Royalty, where we’ll be sitting down with top executives and experts in the retail space to discuss all things fashion, retail and returns! We’re so excited to bring you advice, inspiration and trend updates from some of the greatest minds in ecommerce and retail.

And we’re extra excited to be kicking off the series with one of our all-time favorite fast fashion brands - Princess Polly. Last week, our founders Daphna and Dasya were lucky enough to sit down with Alex Collis, Director of Operations at Princess Polly.

Alex joined Princess Polly back in 2019, and has had an incredible impact on the business over the last few years. Growing up, Alex always dreamed of working in the fashion industry, before starting her career as a professional figure skater turned ecommerce extraordinaire.

We loved hearing about how Alex has implemented her personal values of progress over perfection, always putting the customer voice first, and advocating for sustainability and inclusivity, into every aspect of how the brand operates.

But don’t just take our word for it! Hear from Alex herself:

Hey, Alex! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. Can you tell us a bit about what led you to work in the fashion and ecommerce world, and what inspired you to start working at Princess Polly?

I’m a former professional figure skater, and I’ve always been passionate about working in fashion. As a young girl, it was my dream to be a fashion designer. I’d spend hours tearing out pictures of models from Vogue magazine and redesigning their outfits as figure skating dresses!

After years of touring as a figure skater, I went on to study fashion, but found that I was actually more drawn to the creative, marketing and operational side of online retail. I love to learn and challenge myself, and it was only a few years before joining Princess Polly that I really got into ecommerce, then customer experience and now operations.

I’ve always loved Australian fashion, so I was very drawn to the Princess Polly brand, and I joined at a really exciting time - just before we launched our US operations and store launch. So I've been a part of all the growth that we’ve seen since we launched here in 2019 and that’s been an absolute joy.

That’s amazing! What do you love most about your role?

I love working to create synergy across different departments and teams, and making sure we’re always listening to our customers. Whether it be streamlining our customer support or improving our operational efficiencies, helping everybody work together to serve our customers is what gets me excited. For me, it’s all about empowering my teams to help each other and constantly improving the overall customer experience.

When I first started, there were some parts of dealing with inbound and outbound and returns and warehouse management that were so new to me, and I loved learning to build effective teams. It’s been so exciting to be able to learn so much and get creative with my problem-solving every day.

It’s true - even when you’re not working on the design side, there’s a real creative aspect to finding problems and solving them. And one thing Princess Polly is great at doing on all fronts is adapting to new trends. How do you adapt to changing consumer preferences so quickly?

As a business, we’re always paying attention to what’s on social media. We’re always on the lookout for the latest trends in fashion and street style and pop culture, which allows us to be the place people can go to shop the latest looks.

Our mission is to make on trend fashion sustainable and accessible, so we’re doing our bit in the movement for positive lasting change in our industry, to put people and planet first. Where that touches me is on the customer experience side. When customers reach out with their feedback, we take that feedback, we listen to it, we hear our customers, and give our customers what they want. Then our awesome design team takes it from there!

We love that! So it’s the customers’ feedback that improves Princess Polly's operations and customer experience? Can you give us an example of how something customers have asked for has changed something you do at Princess Polly?

From an operations standpoint, we listen to customer feedback extremely closely. We create effective processes and policies to allow us to be in this agile and ever-changing environment. We optimize our tech stack, focus on platform optimization, and integrate all the tools we need to talk to each other so that we can get back to customers faster. Our customers are Gen Z so they expect fast service, and on the CX side of things it’s critical that customer support infrastructure is set up in a way that allows for fast service and outstanding experiences.

One of the quotes I speak about often is “Customer experience is the heart of the organization, and they pump blood and deliver oxygen to vital parts of the business to help them thrive.” That’s something I truly believe, and we live by that at Princess Polly. A lot of businesses say they do it but we really do push feedback out through all of the different teams to make sure that everybody is hearing our customers!

That’s amazing to hear. Being customer-centric is a real differentiator for fashion businesses. And of course, we have to touch on returns! What are some of the most common reasons why customers return items purchased from Princess Polly, and how do you address those issues?

Most returns in the online apparel industry come from customers wanting to ‘buy and try’. Customers send back items which weren’t the right size for them or they order 2 different sizes to try and then return one of them.

That’s the case with every online retailer right now, and at Princess Polly our incredible quality assurance teams are always ensuring that all our garment measurements and fabrication for our customers are accurate in the descriptions so that customers can rely on us to give them all the information they need before they buy.

Agreed - that’s so important! We’re on the logistics side of making returns easier, but there’s so much that can be done to help decrease returns before the return happens. What do you believe the future of online returns looks like, and how is Princess Polly preparing for new trends and innovations in the industry?

I would say a huge part of retaining customers in online retail is getting the returns experience right. Especially when you’re up against massive retailers like Amazon, having an easy returns process is essential for keeping customers happy. At Princess Polly, we’re always considering the latest tech and how we can make returns as seamless as possible. Our customer experience team actually sits under operations, to make sure we’re not putting bandaids on solutions (like in some businesses where the CX team sits under marketing), but we’re actually diving into all the back-end processes and operations that can make life easier for our customers.

That’s awesome. There’s also been such a shift towards inclusivity and marketing towards every type of girl and every type of background at the moment. Is this something you focus on at Princess Polly?

Yes, definitely! We’re an international brand, so our target market is and always has been everyone. But it all comes back to listening to our customers. A lot of our business decisions are based on things like comments and social DMs that we receive on social media, customer support tickets, along with product reviews, general feedback, and returns. We consider all of that data, and it’s what steers our priorities in the operations team.

For example, people wanted more sustainable options, so we introduced a lower impact line. People wanted petite sizes so we now have petite sizes available. We’re always listening and our teams very much have the mindset of looking ahead to the next thing.

It sounds like you’re very environmentally conscious. What steps do you take to minimize the environmental impact of returns?

Our Princess Polly Resale site launched in 2022 in collaboration with thrifting app Curtsy. It’s our community and a place for customers to buy and sell new and gently worn Princess Polly clothing. We’re so excited to bring this community together to share the Polly love and sell pre-loved Polly-only products (an element of exclusivity which differentiates us from other resale sites), and we’re marketing this to our customers to make sure that they know this is an option.

We really strive to be a sustainable brand and company, so we always encourage our customers to use our resale site, as those kinds of returns could end up in landfill. We’re very mindful about what we put into the environment and we also love donating to awesome environmental charities.

And for all of the online shopping addicts (like us!) reading this interview, what should we be getting excited about seeing this year from Princess Polly?

We actually just launched our PacSun partnership, so we’re now in 15 PacSun stores across the US and will be in more over the summer! We’re also opening our first store in the U.S in LA this summer. We also have a lot of very exciting things planned for this year, so I would advise everyone to keep an eye on our social channels for some big announcements coming soon!

Sounds exciting! Finally, what advice would you give to young women who want to join the online retail ecosystem, and how they can prepare for their career?

Firstly, it’s always important to do something that inspires you. And you have to know that it’s a journey.

As a professional figure skater, I was always taught to focus on progress, not perfection, and I’ve carried that with me throughout my career. I really do believe that perfection is not attainable, but sustaining long-term progress allows you to recognize incremental achievements. Always remember that failing or not knowing something does not mean you're not good enough. It’s all about your openness and willingness to learn new things. That would be the advice I'd give to anybody doing anything, not just ecommerce!

What a note to end on! I hope you’re all feeling as inspired as we are by Alex’s work ethic, career journey and values. And that you’re excited about what Princess Polly has got in store (literally!) for 2023.

Remember - next time you go on a Princess Polly shopping spree, we’re there to help make getting your returns done a breeze. Just download the app to get started!