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Fashion brands digitise retail experience

Fashion brands digitise retail experience
Thursday April 10 2014

Retail executives from Anya Hindmarch and Aurora Fashions discuss the role technology has to play in building modern omnichannel customer experiences

 

The industry is awash with interpretations of the latest technology fuelled buzzword that is ‘omnichannel,’ including what it is, how to achieve it and what benefits it can bring.

Retailers operate through multiple channels – that much is beyond dispute. But the experience of one company operating in the fashion sector, recently revealed at an industry event, demonstrates how important the IT-enabled strategy is becoming.

Hosted by Fieldworks Connections on behalf of telecoms service provider Hughes Europe, a wide range of industry representatives gathered in London last week to hear Dan Orteu, operations and IT director at Anya Hindmarch, describe the IT journey undertaken that the designer handbag and accessories retailer is on.

Heeding the market messages

As a designer of ladies’ high-end luxury handbags, Anya Hindmarch has 57 international retail stores as well as an e-commerce website. “We had to work out practical, tangible terms what omnichannel means to our business,” Orteu told attendees. “The messages are very clear.” 

He said declining store footfall was an indicator of the fact that a rebalancing between channels is taking place. “The store is still an important place. But, with no overall increase in global retail sales in terms of takings on the High Street, most retailers are finding that growth is from online.”

Orteu also compared the state of retailing before the era of mobile and social media. “We used to define the brand by ads and coverage in glossy mags,” he explained. “Now suddenly we’re in a world defined by social media, where we can’t influence perceptions, but only manage the chaos.”

Developing a strong digital presence has only been part of the answer for Anya Hindmarch. “What we needed to do with our stores in this new age was the other bit,” continued Orteu, “especially where shopping is another leisure activity. We want customers to come to our stores because it’s an enjoyable experience.”

Transforming into digital business

Here the operations and IT director stressed that the key to joining up these channels was a single view of the customer. “We looked for IT systems to support the fact we needed to be a digital business,” he said. “So we didn’t want to try and solve issues in an analogue way. We needed to support common brand experiences for our customer in all channels.”

The company scoped a number of different customer shopping journeys – shopping online and collect instore or delivery from a store, for example. 

It also set about specifying when to capture customer information at an appropriate time, as well as defining a common way of storing and sharing it securely across channels.

Orteu said the company opted to build a best-of-breed ‘hub,’ to “hold all the logic for the interfaces and data”. But he also described it as an “inordinately painful process,” which challenged IT providers to meet its complex requirements.

Practical store implications

Having recently gone live with the main part of its new IT ‘hub,’ he added that one of the main challenges in Anya Hindmarch was working out what it means to federate a customer across all of the systems their information touches. “The technology is important, but it’s what you do with it that has really practical implications.”

Lara Jelowicki, an independent consultant and formerly e-commerce manager at Aurora Fashions, also addressed the audience by picking up on Orteu’s reference to the store environment. 

“Digitising the store experience is essential,” she said. “Bridging the store and online and bringing that into the store with personalisation and content can generate a huge amount of brand loyalty.”

Dan Thornton, product manager for Hughes Europe, concluded: “Successful retailers via any route to market could be said to be ‘omnichannel’. But mobility also means the working model has changed to support 24-hour access. So it’s essential to have secure, reliable networks. If your network goes down you risk losing your customers forever.” 

Tagged as: Anya Hindmarch | Aurora Fashions | fashion | omnichannel | store | online | e-commerce | digital | customer | federation | Fieldworks | Hughes Europe