Josh Rathour is the founder and chief executive of UNiDAYS, one of the UK’s fastest-growing websites that has a strong retail focus.
An entrepreneur by nature, Rathour worked as a real estate agent before taking the leap and establishing UNiDAYS – and one of its core aspects is the way in which it connects students with secure deals offered by retailers and well-known brands.
Headquartered in Nottingham, the company now has works with over 600 brands across 32 countries, with international offices in Silicon Valley, New York, Sydney and London.
In this week’s 5 Minutes With segment, he explains why students are a demographic that cannot be ignored or overlooked in retail.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before UNiDAYS.
Before UNiDAYS I ran a golf course but realised it was not for me after our mini excavator rolled down a hill – with me in it.
I also worked in real estate, and when I was a commercial property agent 10 years ago I acquired the offices we are in today. I’ve gone full circle – we now have the entire 25,000 sq ft building as our headquarters.
The inspiration for UNiDAYS came from my daughter, Asha, who was five years old at the time, when she told me she was worried about being safe on the internet and questioning how we really know who people are online.
That made me think about verification technology and if it was possible to create more trusted relationships between people and services online. From this, the UNiDAYS’ Student Affinity Network was born, so students and brands can do just that.
What are some of your general thoughts on the retail sector?
Retail is an incredibly dynamic industry and going through a significant period of change. Consumer expectations are higher than ever before. With immediate access to information, reviews and alternatives, shoppers today feel more empowered than those of previous generations. User experiences online and instore need to be more intuitive. Developments in augmented reality and virtual reality have created new opportunities to deliver immersive experiences that surprise and delight increasingly tech-savvy consumers.
Describe your responsibilities as CEO of UNiDAYS.
One of my core responsibilities is spearheading the development of UNiDAYS and future gazing for the business. After setting ambitions for the next five to 10 years, I then work closely with our talented team to ensure our current strategy and resources are focussed on building the most effective channel for brands to engage with the world’s 200 million university students.
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
My education in real estate valuation enhanced my passion for finding value in unexpected places. I brought this experience with me to create processes that enable companies to be profitable as they grow.
Can you explain the concept behind UNiDAYS?
UNiDAYS is the world’s leading Student Affinity Network that connects a verified global student audience with brands and services relevant to their lifestyle.
We developed the technology ourselves that enables us to verify 70 per cent (142 million) of the world's student population – the connections made on the network are strong enough for brands to create lifetime affinities with active consumers and the future earners of tomorrow.
What are some interesting stats and insight you’re able to share this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend?
Black Friday, Student Saver Weekend and Cyber Monday have become fixtures in the retail calendar of our key regions. Over Black Friday weekend 72 per cent more customers logged onto the UNiDAYS UK site, 64 per cent in the US and 24 per cent in Australia compared to the November average. But retail needs to look to Singles Day in China (November 11) to realise the potential that other global markets can offer to progressive and globalised retail brands.
Why do you think young student consumers expect multi-channel offers when it comes to retail?
Students think about the brand, not the channel. Brands live in our minds, so the experience the consumer has on any individual channel will influence their opinion of your brand. Young consumers expect a brand to be consistent in their retail experiences across all channels. This is an area of focus for us and ensures a seamless shopping experience when our member is instore, online or using our app.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Knowing if I'm doing the right thing.
What is the most rewarding?
Doing the right thing.
What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?
You need to display bundles of creativity, be data-driven and understand the importance of a multichannel approach to deliver a seamless shopping experience. Consumers today don’t just want that, they’ve come to expect it.
What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?
Consumer confidence dropped in the retail sector shortly after Brexit, with spending on non-compulsory items witnessing a sharp decline, but the medium-term risks are more serious in my opinion.
Retailers may have many foreign exchange hedges in place now and potentially in the near future but so far they have been largely unaffected by the drop in the sterling. In the future when these foreign currency hedges lapse, the cost of goods purchased from overseas will become more expensive (overnight).
This will leave retailers with a dilemma: do they increase prices or absorb the loss on margins in such a heavily competitive sector?