Q&A   //   August 21, 2023

Levi’s first-ever chief digital officer is ‘focusing on the fundamentals’ to triple e-commerce sales

Last year, Levi Strauss & Co. announced two major goals: Expand its direct-to-consumer channel to account for 55% of total revenue, and triple e-commerce sales by the year 2027.

The company — which oversees the brands Levi’s, Dockers and Beyond Yoga — is already making progress. In 2021, DTC accounted for 36% of Levi’s revenue. For the first half of 2023, DTC accounted for a “record” 44% of Levi’s total sales, CEO Chip Bergh said. Levi’s DTC net revenue for the three months ending May 28 increased 13%, largely due to e-commerce, as well as full-price and outlet stores. 

Levi’s has been working to build its digital business for quite some time. In 2020, it debuted its first digital app and launched a loyalty program with free shipping called Red Tab. Because of the pandemic, it also began offering curbside pickup, appointment scheduling and buy online, pickup in-store. Levi’s accelerated mobile contactless and payment devices in its stores as well, Marc Rosen, then-head of Levi’s Americas business, told Modern Retail in 2020.

To grow the segment even more, Levi’s brought on Jason Gowans as its first-ever chief digital officer in February. Gowans joined Levi’s from Nordstrom, where he spent a decade in a variety of marketing, data science and digital positions, including senior vice president of digital commerce. At Levi’s, Gowans has been tasked with “bringing together LS&Co.’s engineering, data, AI and digital product management to spearhead digital efforts both for e-commerce and the digital go-to-market,” the company said in a statement at the time.

Gowans spoke with Modern Retail about his first six months in the job and his strategy for getting more consumers to think of Levi’s for online and in-app shopping. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You are the first person to hold the title of chief digital officer at Levi Strauss & Co. Coming into the job, how did you decide what you wanted to tackle first?
A lot of listening, a lot of digging into the data and a lot of working with the team. And from that emerge three things that we need to focus on to get us to 3x the e-comm business.

The first is, focus on the fundamentals. So, think about what it takes to be an excellent online retailer at every part of that consumer journey… whether it’s the discovery experience, whether it’s the evaluate-and-buy part of the experience or whether it’s fulfillment…

The second big opportunity that emerged is an opportunity to evolve the assortment. And so, for us, it really comes down to three things. The first is driving a better in-stock experience for the consumer. The second is expanding our choice count, or our assortment, and selection for the customer. And the third thing is differentiation. So, as you navigate Levi.com, you’re faced with a lot of choices. What’s the right choice for you? And the answer is, it depends. So, those are all opportunities in evolving the assortment.

And then the third big opportunity is what we’re calling create a digital flagship experience… Already, 75% of our traffic is mobile. We have 26 million customers in our loyalty program. And we already see a meaningful number of customers that are already shopping in an omnichannel way. So, how do you really amplify all of that?

What steps have you taken to get closer to that goal of tripling the e-commerce business?
It’s really grounded in those three things I talked about… On the fundamentals, that would include the discovery part of the journey. So, as you search, browse, navigate, filter, these are all ways that we can help consumers find what they want. Once you’ve landed on that pair of jeans, how do we give you the confidence that this is the right pair for you? In such a size and fit-intensive business, there’s a lot of opportunity to be better there.

So, as an example, one of the things we’re working on right now is our new size and fit guides. We’re working on a new denim education guide, and there’s a lot that we can do there. In fact, one of the tests that we’re running right now on the product detail page for some of the products are stylists’ videos, where the stylist herself is talking about her jeans and how they’re going to feel and how much they’re going to stretch and whether you should therefore size up or size down… These are all ways that we can help the customer.

Levi’s has talked about expanding beyond denim into other categories. Is that something you’re working on, on the digital side?
Yeah, it’s super important… It’s tops, it’s outerwear, it’s non-denim bottoms — there’s a real opportunity there. And so, as a denim lifestyle retailer, part of that has to be, help me style these items. And so, what should the perfect outfit look like for any given occasion? When you think about product recommendations today on Levi.com, you’ll see that those recommendations tend to be for a single product. But over time, you can expect that we’re going to be testing recommending outfits.

Where do you stand on the metaverse?
That’s a big question. For us, it really [needs] to be grounded in… is there anything there to be learned that’s going to help us create a better consumer experience? We’re going to be wherever the consumer wants to be… I mean, our ambition is to be the best omnichannel retailer out there. And so if the consumer wants to shop in the metaverse, then for sure, we’re going to test that. For right now, though, again, we’re focusing on the fundamentals.