by Divina Paredes

CIO50 2019 #26-50: Mandy Kennedy, Paperplus Group

Mar 28, 2019
Business ContinuityCloud ComputingCMO

Mandy Kennedy was two years into her role as the first CIO at Paperplus Group when she was asked to step up to another challenge – become its inaugural chief digital officer.

With her expanded remit, Kennedy continues to push for new and emerging technologies to help the retail group transform for the digital era.

One such initiative is their new concept store in Christchurch which was designed to optimise customer experiences.

The Barrington Mall store is the flagship premises in the first phase of a transformation project underway at Paper Plus, says Kennedy.

It was designed based on industry best practice, she says.

The executive team had gone on a world study tour and upon return, applied some of the retail concepts they observed that would be appropriate for the NZ environment.

“The key objective was to develop a smaller, more interactive store to deliver the same sales performance at a lower cost base, driven by an improved customer experience,” she says.

“In addition it focuses on the unique selling points which distinguish on-premise shopping from online stores. The new outlet is designed around multiple ‘experiential zones’ to personalise products, try the range of stationery and play with latest games and toys, and encourage customers to spend more time in-store.”

Alongside these, the group created a proposition that is new to New Zealand.

Franchise store owners can choose the depth of their digital offer by selecting from a standard set of components that she and her team have created.

These are:

  • In store kiosks which provide the seamless blending of the bricks and mortar in store and digital experiences

Kennedy says these kiosks will provide ‘endless aisles’ functionality, and allow the store to carry a full range of products across all categories, without requiring the capital outlay or space, or taking on the risk of holding the stock. The latest study from the US retail market reports that 88 per cent of customers now expect kiosk digital engagement, she states.

  • Digital screens in store provide an engaging, ever changing and cost effective mechanism to ‘call out’ new and hot products, promotional deals and The Big Deal Loyalty Club.

Kennedy says a study by Microsoft reports that the average attention span of a customer is “shorter than a goldfish”. Therefore, the requirements to provide customer engagement is becoming increasingly important.

She says the digital screens put the information right where customers make their purchasing decisions, and can become a very powerful tool that will inform, inspire, and entertain customers.

She says digital screens provide a range of benefits such as speed, ease and therefore frequency of real time updates which dynamically keeps content up to date. They reduce labour costs of displaying, removing and disposing of printed material. The engaging content increases the customers’ time in store, leading to an uplift in sales.

  • Cameras which count the number of customers who enter the stores enable an understanding of three fundamental retail variables

Kennedy says the cameras can provide information on conversion rates, or the number of customers who enter the store and make a purchase. The stores also get information on the number of staff needed to be rostered to work, based on the daily and hourly profile of customers going into the store and needing service.

The cameras can also show the effectiveness of marketing efforts. “We see if our advertising creates more traffic or more sales from the existing traffic,” says Kennedy.

  • Store WiFI to enable customers and staff to log on to the internet in the store, rather than using the data from their own mobile phone packages

Kennedy says wifi has proven to make customers more likely to linger in stores for longer, and up to 50 per cent more likely to spend as a result of comparing prices or searching for product information and reviews.

She explains that as a franchise organisation, it was important for Paperplus to develop the design as a flexible ‘kit of parts’. This equips franchise owners to cost effectively convert their outlet to a concept store.

This approach provides for customisation, with individual store owners able to select options which are most relevant for their customers’ and budget.

She says the digital team members can then assist with implementation in store, having been responsible for the design and testing of each of the components.

Kennedy says as a member of a lean executive team, she works closely with the CEO and CFO on all company initiatives.

In addition to her CDO role, she is also in charge of facilitating the group’s strategy growth process, programme management across the company, and the rollout of their new appraisal process.

As CDO, she has a new responsibility for trading, and significantly upgrading the website. She works closely with the merchandise and marketing teams, and regularly presents at their meetings.

She attends all board meetings, and has run technology sessions around information management and cybersecurity. The outputs from these sessions formed the basis for the group’s disaster recovery strategy and security policy, which was delivered to the whole company.

Kennedy says over the past year, she has increased age, gender and cultural diversity in her team.

“We have moved from a male-only team, to one in which there are more women than men,” she says. This is in addition to significantly reducing the average age of the team and ensuring a richer mix of cultures represented.

“All of these factors have dramatically changed the culture within the team, and led to a more collaborative and supportive working environment,” she states.

During the recent organisational restructure, she helped some key team members develop more up to date and relevant Job Scorecards.

“I am providing on the job training and support to help them grow into these roles, by taking on the extra leadership responsibilities required.”

She also coordinated with the Manukau Institute of Technology to provide opportunities for their students to complete industry projects at Paperplus.

For the stores, her team recently implemented a store communications portal so staff can get company information, including the promotional calendar, notices and news feeds.

“This has has radically improved the way in which information is delivered to stores and resulted in significant operational efficiencies and accuracy,” says Kennedy.

“The key to success is to build strong relationships based on trust, integrity and honesty and to treat people with respect,” she says, on a lesson that worked for her in her leadership roles.

“Whether these relationships are with customers, team members or suppliers, you will always achieve more collaboratively working together, than second guessing people’s intentions.

“You will engender more support through admitting to mistakes and failures and asking for help, than blaming other parties when you are not perfect yourself.”