A look back at last year's CIO50: #2 Shane Lenton, Cue Clothing Co

shane lenton 1
Cue Clothing Company

CIO Australia is running its fifth annual CIO50 where we highlight the achievements of the top 50 senior technology and digital executives who are driving innovation and influencing change across their organisations.

2020 has been a very difficult year for organisations across Australia and around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has put enormous pressure on tech chiefs and their teams to deliver remote working solutions that provide business continuity during a crisis.

Nominate for the 2020 CIO50.

We are taking a look back at last year’s top 25. Today, we profile Cue Clothing Co's Shane Lenton, who ranked number 2.

Cue Clothing Co. is at the vanguard of the reinvention of retail, says chief information officer, Shane Lenton.

“Now in our 51st year of business, we’ve adopted a start-up mindset to unleash disruptive new services that create new value. And we’re doing this at speed and scale,” Lenton says.

“Our transformation program is focused on finding disruptive ways to introduce new value, accelerate business agility and build our competitive advantage. We focus on creating immersive and frictionless experiences for customers across all channels.

“We innovate by observing consumer behaviours, identifying new opportunities and challenging the status quo to change mindsets and disrupt processes to deliver better outcomes for customers and grow revenue,” Lenton says.

Cue was one of the first retailers to invest in ‘unified commerce’ to make buying things online and in-stores easier.

“Every channel interacts with the platform in real-time and everything stays in sync. Adding new channels and services is no longer a case of ‘how?’ Instead we think, what’s next? With our unified commerce platform and use of APIs, we can seamlessly partner with startups and tech providers to take advantage of new capabilities to deliver results at a speed and scale that would be unachievable with a traditional omnichannel model.”

In recent years, Lenton and his team have introduced many innovations. It pioneered the use of artificial intelligence to understand customers’ needs, preferences and online behaviours and provide them with hyper-personalised experiences in store and online.

Its ‘endless aisle’ innovation lets customers shop Cue’s entire range at any touch-point with real-time inventory and fulfilment automation. They can select standard delivery for more than 80,000 items that the retailer delivers from stores across Australia and globally.

Cue was the first fashion brand to give customers visual search by uploading photos to its website, introduced a 30-minute ‘click-and-collect fulfilment option, and was the first brand globally to launch Afterpay in-stores and one of the first online. It was also the first fashion brand to launch Alipay and WeChat in stores, and now accepting ApplePay online.

Now, the retailer is a forerunner in ‘contextual commerce’, which is the ability to seamlessly implement purchase opportunities into everyday activities and natural environments. It allows customers to buy anything, anytime and anywhere with the click of a button or even just their voice.

"We are in the process of developing and executing our contextual commerce strategy consisting of onsite image and voice search, conversational commerce via messaging and social media platforms and smart speakers," says Lenton.

"This will capitalise on our unified commerce solution enabling customers to buy how and when they choose without having to go through a tradition shopping process on our website or in our stores."

Lenton says that by integrating its online and physical channels to create frictionless ‘one brand’ customer experiences, and using its more than 240 stores across Australia to create a competitive advantage, Cue is taking on the online giants and changing the way customers shop.

Indeed, Lenton and his team have delivered some impressive results for Cue. These technological innovations have increased annual online sales by more than 130 per cent and grew international revenue by 100 per cent. The expansion of ‘endless aisle’ to 80,000 items increased conversions by 70 per cent, increased sales by 130 per cent, and grew Dion Lee sales by 419 per cent.

Currently, 80 per cent of online sales are fulfilled through stores, 34 per cent are filled through click-and-collect with average fill time of only 15 minutes. Revenue from store-to-door, which uses Cue’s store network to deliver items to customers at their preferred location on the same day they placed an order, now exceeds $5 million per annum.

Eliminating barriers

Creating a disruptive culture depends on both stability and a dynamic capability, says Lenton.

“I’ve created a stable operating model with clear structures and processes, while introducing more dynamic elements that allow us to respond nimbly and quickly to new challenges and opportunities,” says Lenton.

“I’ve also worked to eliminate structural and operational barriers and cultural behaviours that would discourage innovative thinking,” he says.

One example is the way Cue manages its ‘buy anywhere, fulfill anywhere’ initiatives. Prior to launch, the retailer developed solutions to manage the end-to-end process and eliminate channel conflict so that in-store staff could see the benefits of e-commerce sales and support tight turnarounds on orders.

“This ensures a consistent and high quality customer experience without any additional staff or overheads. The store and the individual are rewarded with the sale so there’s an incentive for in-store teams to action orders straight away,” he says.

“A reporting dashboard enables our head office team 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.”

Motivating through change

Key to Lenton’s success has been motivating people through change. He says it’s vital to get buy-in from everyone involved when challenging entrenched processes or disrupting established routines. But most people prefer stability and can be reluctant to learn new skills or change their habits, making change a difficult and daunting process with a high risk of failure.

When Lenton joined Cue, the retailer had a legacy system to manage production of its garments from design through to manufacture. It was in dire need of replacement, hardware and software was unsupported and most areas of the business still used manual spreadsheets and processes.

“Managing a large-scale transformation and the needs of a very diverse group of stakeholders with different views and personalities was going to be a challenge,” says Lenton.

“Many of our people had worked in the business for some time and were very comfortable with how things worked. And with a business our size, we couldn’t just create a dedicated project team. Everyone still had their day jobs. However, while there was a big risk from making the change, there was an even bigger risk from no change at all.”

Lenton said he knew that for the project to succeed, the retailer needed 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.

“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,” he says.

“We are 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.”

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