Discussing decisions with Eoin Kenneally, Head of E-commerce at Parkdean Resorts

By Tom Rivers on July 5, 2021 - 10 Minute Read

Great businesses make great decisions. But making great commercial decisions – those that have the potential to significantly impact a business and the way it operates – isn’t easy.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by Peak found that two-thirds of C-suite executives suffer from ‘decision paralysis,’ defined as ‘an inability to make or decide on a solution or course of action usually caused by over-analyzing or overthinking a situation.’

In an effort to delve a little deeper to the art (or science?) of decision making, we’re on a mission to get into the heads of business leaders. We’ve been speaking to senior figures from across multiple industries to find out the approach they take to decision making, the processes and technology they rely on to make the right calls, and hear about some of the best decisions they’ve made. We’re starting by getting to know Eoin Kenneally, Head of E-commerce at Parkdean Resorts.

With nearly two decades of industry experience, Eoin is an experienced digital leader with a demonstrated history of working in the retail and supply chain industries and a strong background in digital marketing, e-commerce, market research, and customer experience. Notably, he recently held the position of Head of CX – Digital Transformation and Insight at delivery company Hermes, before making the switch to join Parkdean Resorts in early 2020.

“I like to think that I’m quite a data-driven, rational person, when it comes to making decisions, ” he says. “I like to take the data, reflect on it for a while, make the call and move on – press ahead.”

“The most important thing to me is that the data that’s informing your decision is clear and you can understand the trends that sit behind it. People often take the data, look at it, run it again, look at it a different way, and they’re still not 100% sure – but at a certain point you have to take the leap, and I’d rather be that person.”

I like to take the data, reflect on it for a while, make the call and move on – press ahead

Eoin Kenneally

Head of E-commerce, Parkdean Resorts

Eoin’s desire to make the jump and not to overthink too much has served him well throughout his career so far, and is something he applies to his personal life, too. With a new house, a wedding to plan, and a baby on the way, it’s all systems go at the Kenneally household at the moment. 

“I do tend to make decisions based on what things are going to bring to your life, and what you want to achieve. So, for me it’s the right time for all of this – yes, it’ll be hectic for a little while, but once it’s all done you’re going to be exactly where you want to be.”

As for Eoin’s professional life, he discusses his process for making any sort of major commercial decision. Firstly, it’s about understanding the opportunity and rationale for making a certain call, understanding the value proposition, and – crucially – acknowledging that you’re actually going to be in a position to action something. Over the years, Eoin has seen many great ideas for innovation begin to stack up as the physical resource or time needed simply isn’t there. Plus, even the most logical decision maker needs a hand now and again, and for Eoin, that process for sense checking decisions and having an “internal sounding board” to rely on is imperative.

“I think, for any decision, you have to follow the concept model in terms of what the data’s showing you. What’s the potential benefit and – to quote my boss – is the juice worth the squeeze? If you’re going to put a lot of effort into something, you need to know what you’re getting out of it. Getting people to believe that and buy in to what you’re planning is the hardest thing – you could have the best idea in the world but if no one else is on the journey with you, you’re on your own!”

As is often the case, Eoin finds that a focus on the commercial benefits that a decision will lead to is a sure-fire way to get colleagues excited and bought in. As such, he always ensures he’s focusing on the upside rather than any potential downside associated with making a certain call.

For any decision, you have to follow the concept model in terms of what the data’s showing you. What’s the potential benefit and is the juice worth the squeeze?

Eoin Kenneally

Head of E-commerce, Parkdean Resorts

“You can always mitigate risk one way or the other,” he says. “Yes, that new product you’re launching may not stick, but at the same time, it might stick. Plus, the cost of launching that product versus the potential benefits for the business will most often outweigh any given risk. I always focus on the commercials.

“There’s a good example of this from my time at Hermes. There was always a belief within the business that those who were shipping hundreds of thousands of products a week were the most valuable, most important customers. However, those who were maybe running a little side hustle, shipping two or three things, weren’t worth focusing on.

“But, using data, we could disprove the internal concept of who we should be going after and where the benefit was for the business. Those shipping just a few items were far more cautious, and far more willing to take on additional products or services like insurance or recorded shipping, or overestimate how much things weigh. So, from a margin perspective, the data showed us that a high volume customer was worth 10p per item, but a low volume could be worth £2-3 per item.”

This leads the conversation nicely to Eoin’s time at Hermes, where he worked for seven years and spearheaded major digital transformation projects including the launch of the online ‘Myhermes’ offering. It was at Hermes that Eoin made, in his words, one of the best commercial decisions of his career.

“When I joined Hermes there was a backlog of ‘stuff’ – that’s the best way I can describe it! – that the business had planned. And I came in and had the unenviable job of being the bad guy and saying no. The decision was really hard but I stripped out 200 of these requirements – stuff like bespoke elements for the website and experiential marketing – and put them in the bin. I focused on helping the customer ship their products quickly and get them out the door, whilst also providing them with good content and SEO…to help us beat the Royal Mail!”

The results of this decision helped to transform Hermes’ e-commerce offering. When the site went live, there was a 100% bump in SEO visibility, while conversion rates rose to 11% for new customers and 45% for those returning.

“There was a lot of outcome bias in my head; if we do this it’ll be better, we don’t need to do this fluffy stuff, because people want to come in, do the job and leave. Of course, time has been a good judge of this decision and we were since able to evolve and those nice-to-haves – video systems, QR codes, personalized messaging – that were originally-binned ideas four of five years ago are now available. But first we had to focus on the commercials and deliver a product that does the job – that then allows you to add more of that kind of stuff.”

New beginnings

Eoin closed the door on his time at Hermes at the start of 2020, embarking on a new journey with Parkdean Resorts, the UK’s largest holiday park provider. It’s safe to say that this was an interesting time to transition into the wonderful world of travel and tourism, with the COVID-19 pandemic drastically altering the business’ operations.

“I had a few offers on the table, but having met my boss I felt that the company itself and the potential it offered was really compelling. Working in travel was going to give me a chance to explore a different way of working. But, of course, eight weeks after joining I was stuck in my box room and our new shiny office in Leeds was empty – and we’ve since been delivering our entire transformation project from our houses.”

Eoin’s current focus at Parkdean is on launching a brand new website in September, building a user-focused platform focused on what customers want and need. It hasn’t been an easy journey during the pandemic – in fact, he only first stepped foot on a Parkdean resort, one of 67 across the UK, one month ago! 

“It’s been interesting, sure. In terms of having to ‘unlearn’ old ways of working, I came from Hermes with really deep legacy knowledge, and that isn’t the case here. While the business is well established, the board is relatively new, and everything is changing at the same time – IT, data, e-commerce, operations. We’re not yet in a position to work in that agile way, data is still raw in a certain respect, and the business is on that journey to change. The whole business is being levelled up, which is really exciting to be a part of. The last two years have been a big change, obviously, and accelerated our need for innovation, so we’re more or less starting with a blank canvas.”

As we delve deeper into the impact of the pandemic, the conversation turns to the future of decision making. What lessons have been learnt since the start of 2020, and how will these shape commercial decisions going forward? 

“A lot has been learnt in recent months, definitely. I think a lot of people have been more productive working from home, and are maybe working longer as well, so they’ve actually had the opportunity to do the work to get the decision making out the door. In the past, people may have struggled to find the headroom to find a concept, get the backing, and then deliver something.”

The last two years have been a big change, obviously, and accelerated our need for innovation, so we’re more or less starting with a blank canvas.

Eoin Kenneally

Head of E-commerce, Parkdean Resorts

“Going forward, businesses will still expect that level of quality. In terms of looking to the future of decision making, what will happen is probably more user-friendly tooling; ways of engaging with data on your own – without needing data science or engineering in the background – to get an answer or recommendation quickly. And, because you know the data is solid, you can make those fast decisions. Basically, it’s the democratization of data, and that’s where people have been going for a long time.”

While this perhaps conjures up images of some sort of Alexa-style, ask-a-question-get-an-answer utopia, for Eoin, the really exciting part about introducing technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) into decision making is its ability to spot micro-trends that people aren’t able to pick out on their own, and use them to the business’ advantage.

“At Parkdean, we have 4,000 pages within analytics. You can only look at so much, at a certain percentage of data. You can understand the customer journey, trends, and what’s happening generally, but those small micro interactions on pages – what people are doing, what’s going well, what’s going wrong – AI can tell you a lot more to help you maximize traffic, remove underperforming pages, do a lot of testing, and so on. 

“That’s really going to help someone in my position, because AI can help me with things like A/B testing. Put it into the decision engine alongside what we think the outcomes are going to be, run the test and let the AI pick up the inbetweens (this test might be winning but it’s also failing in other areas and so on). The output should never be win versus loss; it should be ‘this won outright, but if you bring in other elements from the other test, it will be a better overall result’ – so you can go again and keep going, all the time!”

At Peak, we’ve long since championed the ability of AI, particularly applications of it like Decision Intelligence, to act as a great focuser. The proliferation of data means that businesses are dealing with enormous amounts of noise in their decision making, and with only so many hours in a day, technology needs to be able to help people in roles like Eoin’s surface trends and bring them to their attention.

“At Parkdean, there’s huge potential there given the volume of data we’re dealing with, particularly when you factor into account things like park-wide Wi-Fi and mobile apps. You can effectively build up a 360 degree view of someone’s holiday – the pattern of people moving around, when certain areas are busy or quiet, where people are buying food from and so on.

“Once you have that sort of picture of your data, you can think about what that does to your staffing, your food preparations, your revenue management, your capacity within any given venue – the possibilities are endless. That sort of AI-enabled complex segmentation of customers is a gap that everyone’s missing at the moment; being able to know for sure what’s working and what’s not.”

As restrictions continue to ease, footfall returns and Parkdean’s holiday parks start to resemble some form of normality again, the next few months will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in the transformational journey that Eoin has embarked on with his colleagues. After almost two years of remote working and park closures, there’ll soon be more customer data for Eoin to play with, putting him in an even stronger position to make the right decisions, at the right time, to keep Parkdean holidaymakers happy. 

From where we’re standing, Eoin, you’ve earned a break or two yourself!

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