• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on Thomas J. Vosper

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

At Spotlight, we had the opportunity to speak to Thomas J. Vosper, CEO and co-founder of aisle 3, who told us about his passion for ensuring shoppers find the best deals for them.

A background into you and your business

I’m obsessed about eCommerce and how technology creates opportunities for individuals and businesses online - especially when it comes to online Shoppers.

I was fortunate to start my eCommerce career as one of a handful of people on the nascent Amazon UK team, working with marketplace sellers for over 6 years to launch many of the categories we take for granted that now exist on their site. After trying to replicate this for Tesco before their financial scandal, I ended up at a Price Comparison site that went into administration in early 2020.

For as long as I have been in e-commerce, I have been fascinated with just how difficult it is for Shoppers to find the right deal for them.

I find it bizarre that you can book a flight, view a hotel or compare car insurance in minutes - but it takes hours to research and purchase something like wireless headphones! You probably know the feeling of opening multiple tabs and checking lots of different websites.

Which is why, a week before lockdown, I took the plunge and created aisle 3 as a new shopping destination that solves two issues for Shoppers – product discovery and offering them complete comparison.

Firstly, aisle 3 gathers all retail offers and deploys our own AI and Machine Learning to aggregate every size, colour and deal onto one page so Shoppers don’t need to open another tab.

Secondly, we aim to make it easy for Shoppers to discover new products where there is no comparison and collaborate with retailers to access these buyers without being at the mercy of Big Tech.

I like to think that we are building a time machine that turns hours of online shopping into buying within minutes.

Your biggest challenges and how you have overcome them

The biggest challenge for me is balancing family and work-life – if such a thing is possible at this early stage of a business.

Being passionate about the big challenges aisle 3 is solving doesn’t confine itself to a prescribed number of hours in the day, so it has become somewhat of an obsession.

It can feel quite lonely sometimes at ‘the top’ but I firmly believe we are all stronger together. Building a business from scratch, remotely, during lockdown could not have been done alone. It was often through the support of my immediate colleagues and the wider network that I strengthened my conviction in the difficult moments to tackle this very big problem at the heart of all online shopping.

What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?

I hope to champion independent retailers and want to make it easy for Shoppers so they get some time back in their lives.

Early in building our business, our research showed that the majority of Shoppers thought that Amazon offered the best prices when the reality is that when Shoppers extend their purview of retailers, they can make significant savings. Of course, this is not easy to do when you have to check lots of different retailers' sites.

If you consider that from both sides, Shoppers can get the best deal off Amazon and support independent retailers of all shapes and sizes.

It’s crazy that with the growth of e-commerce, Shoppers are still making purchase decisions without seeing all of their available options – Shoppers deserve to find the best deal as quickly as possible.

Drive and determination

I’ve always been passionate about the underdog and whilst Amazon, Google and Facebook have created many mom and pop shop millionaires, there is a darker underbelly that has (and will) continue to squeeze independent retailers and placing a wall between their customer ownership.

Marketplaces charge high commissions, own the customer data and use merchants data to create compelling own label products.

I believe there is a much better collaborative approach to online shopping and the entire ecosystem – in just a few months since founding aisle 3 we’ve found many brands, retailers, agencies and technology partners that feel the same and together we are already working on building a platform that creates a more democratic shopping experience for Shoppers and Retailers alike.

Advice for others

Develop a growth mentality, live it and accept that you are probably not the smartest person in the room. We all hear people say they like to be challenged but when asked difficult questions we see the worst of defensive attitudes. I’m as bad as anyone at this, so I always try really hard to accept when I get things wrong and try to learn from them.

Become an expert or a generalist. There’s no middle ground. It’s impossible to be the best at everything, but you will always add value if you can know 100% of the 1%. Alternatively, it is often the people who are not a specialist that ask the most astute questions, a challenge in the right areas and can see the overall view that often escapes the people stuck in the detail. The middle ground is where you become just another in the crowd with an opinion.

If you focus on what you are bad at you run out of time and might become ‘good’. It is far better to look at your strengths, work hard to become great at them and compliment them with people who cover your weaknesses.

The future is expanding

At aisle 3, we are working hard to create a shopping destination for trainers, that Shoppers can visit and see all of their buying options such as size, colour, in stock, aggregated in one place.

Our ultimate mission when you find the product you want is to make sure you never have to open up another tab on your browser. It’s a huge and exciting task that we are tackling with some pretty groundbreaking AI and Machine Learning we have created in just a few months.

We’re also in the process of securing further investment into the business to help us expand our retailer coverage, offer better support to our partners and improve our Shopper experience.

Advice for remote workers

Our entire business has been built during lockdown – including all of our hires - and communication is absolutely vital. I don’t believe you can over-communicate, however, as we move towards more conversations across messenger services and video calls becomes even more important to understand the intentions behind the message (and trying to take them in an intended manner).

Try and assume the best in people, put trust in your team and make sure that everyone is working with the end in mind.

How has your business adapted to deal with such uncertain times?

We’re very fortunate that online shopping is one of the big winners (if there is such a thing) in this global pandemic. It’s been heartbreaking to see the hospitality industry or the high street retails really suffering – along with many other professions. I’m hugely impressed with how many businesses have pivoted to online offerings.

aisle 3 was founded not much more than a week before lockdown, so our entire business has been built remotely. This has actually enabled us to find some incredible talent from all across the world which may have been different if we’d had a central London office for example.

I believe that the last few months have taught us that there are many jobs that don’t need a 9-5 day in the office and I feel that, where possible, this opens up incredible opportunities to bring in talent, with different backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints from all across the world.

Ultimately, the origins of aisle 3 are born from a period of huge disruption in the industry, professionally and personally. We’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity and support to go from redundancy to building a business in less than a year. We’re always open to new partnerships to help us improve our offer to Shoppers in 2021 and beyond.

If you would like to learn more about Thomas and aisle 3 then check out their website here, or to learn more about Thomas, you can find his LinkedIn profile here. To read more inspiring blogs, you can visit our spotlight blog section here.

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