Joel Layton Thinks Like the Customer to Drive Retail Growth

Joel Layton, VP of marketing technology and e-commerce at The Children's Place, on thinking like the customer and the importance of simple website navigation

Joel Layton, The Children’s Place

The world of retail is not only rapidly evolving, but incorporating innovative digital strategies is nearly a requirement for survival. That’s where Joel Layton comes in.

The vice president of marketing technology and e-commerce at The Children’s Place—a specialty retailer of children’s apparel and accessories—is a seasoned e-commerce professional with extensive marketing, user experience, and software development experience from fields that range from retail and electronics to finance.

But it’s the vice president’s inherent curiosity that has kept him on the cutting edge of technology for the past twenty-five years, as well as his willingness to “go for it” that keeps he and his teams driving digital expansion.

Layton, who joined The Children’s Place team in late 2017, says that most of what he loves about his role can be traced back to an invention that predates WWll. “I am wildly fascinated and passionate about understanding how a dot on a radar does what it does,” Layton says. “I absolutely love trying to solve the problem of getting that dot on the radar to do what I need it to do.”

In his current position, that means a number of objectives for Layton and the digital team. From content management and user experience to merchandising and front-end development, Layton says that keeping the customer journey in mind is essential every step of the way. “People with a tech slant have to be cautious of over-engineering a problem a lot of the time,” Layton explains. “Sometimes, making something simple is really a difficult task to undertake. You have to try finding that elegance and just help them not overthink it.”

The continued transition to the digital realm means challenges for Layton’s designers, who are often tasked with creating content for detailed mobile screens. “Now that you have 70 percent of your visits coming from mobile, you have to figure out how to design on the small screen,” Layton says.

It can often be a struggle when elaborate and interactive sites have to be simplified for mobile use, so Layton encourages his designers to start from the mobile perspective and expand outward. It can be a difficult mind-set to adopt. “If someone asks you tomorrow to start walking backwards, then you would be a little confused, even though the actual steps to do it aren’t that difficult,” Layton says with a laugh. “Changing that mind-set can be tough.”

When it comes to user experience, Layton says that simplicity also remains key. With ballooning traffic, Layton says remaining pragmatic about online shoppers’ intentions means looking for ways to make easy seem easy.

“When you look at heat mapping and think that you’ve put all this cool, creative content on the website, and then you see most people are clicking on the login because they want to get to My Account, it can initially be deflating,” Layton says. “But we make that seeming mundaneness as slick and as easy as it can be so that the customer can get exactly what they want.” The permutations of a user journey are virtually endless, but Layton says mapping those flows help ensure a user experience that will build repeat business.

Layton frames his approach around what he calls the absolute best and worst parts of the internet. On the plus side, real-time analytics and feedback allow for testing in a way that has never been seen before. Changes can be made on a dime and in clear distinction to the capabilities of a brick-and-mortar operation. But the double-edge to that sword is that customers are basing their buying decisions on split-second website functionality. If the website isn’t operating in the most optimal way possible, then they’ll move somewhere else—and fast.

“It’s your responsibility to understand your customer’s journey, so even though they’re opening up multiple tabs, you’ve created something so engaging and so simple and so easy for them to use that they stick with you and become loyal,” Layton says.

The Next Frontier in Retail

Every day, Joel Layton drives his tech teams to continue to look ahead to find ways to expand their capabilities. In fact, after seeing his young twin daughters experiment with Amazon’s Alexa, he sees major potential for voice search capabilities.

“Typing in a site search is going to be a mundane move,” Layton says of the future of e-commerce. “They’re going to want to talk it in: ‘Siri: get me graphic T-shirts.’”

Rather than rue the ever-changing plane of e-commerce, Layton simply loves learning. He returns to the dot on the radar concept and his continued fascination with making the dot go his way.

“Tech is changing at such a fast clip that there’s things to learn constantly. To me, there’s nothing better,” he says.

Jason Duran/The Children’s Place


Congratulations, Joel Layton, on your well-deserved recognition! Epsilon and The Children’s Place share a commitment to making shopping easier, more rewarding, and personalized for each customer. Every time. One partner—all your solutions. Visit epsilon.com.