Fashion CIOs team up to maximise retail opportunities

“Our true test will be Christmas; e-commerce demand spikes up so much for such a short period,” says John Bovill, Group IT Director for Aurora­ Fashions, the retail chain behind major high street names like Oasis, Coast and Karen Millen.

Bovill is discussing not only the press­ures his own operation will face this Dec­ember, but also those of Peter Mila, CIO for quality men’s shirt retailer Thomas Pink. The two are working in partnership to improve the IT operations of both companies and most importantly to deliver a quality retail experience both off- and online to their respective customers.

“We are completely different businesses,­ but we use the same technology providers, platforms and applications,” explains Mila of the relationship with Bovill.

“We are mitigating risk through collaborating,” adds Bovill. The two are clearly a team as we sit together at the Paul Street HQ of Aurora Fashions. Both are customers of BT Expedite, the retail systems arm of British Telecom. Pink and Aurora are users of the Expedite electronic point of sale (EPOS) system, Mercatus stock sales analytics and Fresca e-commerce platforms, the latter also now part of the BT empire.

“The issues that we face are similar, so its quicker to collaborate. Both companies are in the fashion business, but we are not direct competitors,” Bovill says. Aurora only trades women’s fashion while Thomas Pink’s USP is quality men’s shirts.

“Thomas Pink was looking for a new EPOS and Aurora had already done it with Expedite and we came over here to see it in operation, we then had a conversation and it just seemed sensible to work together.

“Both organisations had similar goals and methodologies. Both teams get on very well, which means the organisations complement each other well and can produce good test plans together,” Mila explains.

“There is a lot of trust,” Bovill says of the relationship and business-critical oper­ations like testing. “There has to be because­ there is some sensitive data that is being passed back and forth.”

Not only are the two retail operations benefiting from the alliance, but so too is BT, which is working closely with them.

“We came together with BT Expedite as early adopters. It’s an opportunity to shape the development of the product,” says ­Bovill. “It brings a more retail focus to the product and we saw why other retailers were not adopting it. One of the key issues for both retailers and what we are developing with BT Expedite is the ability to seamlessly join together all our channels, which is easier to say than do, especially with things like credit card details,” he says.

The ultimate purchase for a retail CIO is a consolidated technology platform providing off- and online management along with stock management and fulfilment. For Bovill this is exacerbated by the fact that Aurora operates four separ­ate brands.

When we met the duo in the autumn they were at the roll-out phase as Expedite will tie together all the EPOS systems, stock management and even planning to integrate with the retailers’ iPhone apps.

High-end fashion has certainly embraced e-commerce. Last month Burberry reported an increase of 50 per cent in its online sales in the first half of the financial year, while Aurora reported that over the last year, 10 per cent of its UK sales were via e-commerce.

“E-commerce is showing considerable growth and we see it as a rising tide,” ­Bovill says. “But it is a rising trend in a tough ­environment of innovation and branding.”

Mila agrees. “People are more comfortable with it than ever. We have all made it easier for the customer, in the early days it was a bit rough, especially with delivery.”­ Interestingly, both CIOs still see the logistics industry as the potential fly in their ointment. Both respect the pure e-commerce players but take some solace in the fact that they have bricks and mortar operations alongside their online offerings.
“The logistics game – Home Delivery Network, DHL and FedEx – have all really improved,” says Bovill.

“They are still the weakest link in the chain once a product leaves our door. There is mileage there for them to improve further, Mila adds, and both retailers have instigated online reserve-and-collect services for customers who want to choose and purchase online, but collect the item from a convenient store.

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