From a ‘fast follower’ of retail trends a few years ago, Cue Clothing Co is now a leader in retail innovation, says chief information officer, Shane Lenton.
The retailer’s transformation program began with stabilising innovations to improve IT performance and optimising these offerings to improve people’s work, Lenton says.
“Today, we are focused on disruptive innovations that are accelerating business agility and competitive advantage,” he says. “With our unified commerce platform and use of APIs, it’s now easy for us to partner with startups and tech companies to take advantage of new capabilities and deliver results at a speed and scale that would be unachievable within a traditional omni-channel model.”
Over the past two years, Lenton and his team have introduced a raft of technology innovations.
Cue was the first brand in the world to launch Afterpay’s ‘buy now, pay later’ option in stores and one of the first to launch Afterpay online. It was the first fashion brand to accept mobile payment platforms Alipay and WeChat in stores; it introduced ‘store-to-door’ which use its store network to deliver items to customers at their preferred location on the same day they placed an order.
An ‘endless aisle’ solution allows customers to shop the entire range at any touch-point in real time; shoppable screens in stores enable customers to browse an entire collections at any location; and 30 minute ‘click and collect’ is one of the fastest online fulfillment options in Australia, Lenton claims.
Personalised electronic receipts for store purchases use artificial intelligence to include targeted product recommendations. Finally, customers now have a tool to search for styles by uploading images of looks from their phone. Developed with Alibaba Cloud, StyleFinder uses machine learning to improve results and product matches over time.
Taking on the big boys
Lenton says that by using Cue’s more than 200 stores across Australasia to create a competitive advantage, the retailer is talking on online giants like Amazon and changing the way customers shop.
“Adding new channels and services is no longer a case of ‘how?’ Instead, we think ‘what’s next?’
Due to its latest innovations, Cue is now on track to increase annual sales by more than 5 per cent; annual online sales have increased by more than 15 per cent and now exceed 25 per cent of standalone sales thanks to the latest innovations.
Revenue from the ‘store-to-door’ product exceeds $5 million; 20 per cent of ‘click-and-collect’ customers purchase an additional item when collecting orders; and customers are using new payment options and are spending more with 30 per cent of online payments now made using Afterpay.
Lenton says he has worked to eliminate structural and operational barriers as well as cultural behaviours that would discourage innovative thinking.
“A key example is the way we manage our ‘buy anywhere, fulfil anywhere’ initiatives, he says.
“There were two important factors for their success. First, we had to eliminate channel conflict for instore staff to see the benefits of e-commerce sales and support tight turnarounds on orders.
“Second, it was important to provide the visibility and tools to monitor and manage the end-to-end process to ensure the best outcome for the customer.”
Lenton says did a few things to achieve these goals within any additional staff or overheads. Firstly, the store and the individual filling an order are rewarded with the sale so there’s an incentive for instore teams to action orders straight away.
Secondly, a reporting dashboard enables staff at the retailer’s head office to oversee store fulfillment. They receive an alert if a ‘click and collect’ order is not acknowledged within 10 minutes and contact the store to action the order. Lastly, the retailer pushes refunds and exchanges back to the original sale location so stores no longer have a negative impact from online returns.
Motivation through change
When introducing a change program that challenges entrenched processes or disrupts established routines, it is critical to get buy-in from all the people involved, says Lenton.
“But most people prefer stability and can be reluctant to learn new skills or change their day-to-day habits – making a change is a difficult and daunting process with a high risk of failure.”
Lenton says when he joined Cue, the company had a legacy system that was used to manage the production of its garments from design through to manufacture. It was in dire need of replacement; the hardware and software was unsupported and most areas of the business still used manual processes and spreadsheets.
Managing a large-scale transformation and the needs of a very diverse group of people with different views and personalities was always going to be a challenge.
“And with a business our size, we couldn’t just create a dedicated project team – every still had their day jobs,” he says.
But while there was a big risk from making the change, there was an even bigger risk from no change at all.
“I knew that for the project to succeed, we need to take a holistic approach. My team and I worked closely with the key stakeholders to ensure a deep understanding of their requirements and how they worked, and that decisions were driven by known needs and not assumptions,” Lenton says.
“We mapped out the business processes, so it was easier for everyone to understand how everyone worked and we found opportunities to streamline and optimise ‘end-to-end’ processes. Armed with a detailed set of business requirements, we went to market, selected a new platform and successfully deployed it across the business. We’re now regarded as a leader in quality fast fashion – we can go from design floor to store in only four weeks.
“For me, the critical factor was taking the time to talk to users and include them throughout the process. If you don’t fully engage your stakeholders, then you’ll just encounter resistance and your initiative is likely to fail,” he says.