Jack Smith Goes For The New Global Customer-Centric Look

Group digital director of fashion retailer New Look, who is speaking at the Adobe Summit today, envisions global growth and is inspired by Chanel.

Jack Smith Goes For The New Global Customer-Centric Look

Fashion retailer New Look has more than 600 stores in the U.K. as well as an ambition to grow and transform itself into a global player with a digital customer experience that responds to the new consumer and retail realities.

Jack Smith joined the company over two years ago as group digital director from Deloitte Digital, which he helped set up in the U.K. His remit is to reshape New Look both technically and operationally across its three strategic territories of the U.K, Europe, and China as it moves to a new world of data-driven, customer-centric experiences that take it far from its bricks-and-mortar roots. Smith is presenting at the Adobe EMEA Summit today in the super session “Digital Transformation of Retail: Taking an Experience-First Approach.”

New Look is a 65-year-old business that has always been very U.K.-centric. Its growth strategy includes international expansion, a move into new categories other than its core womenswear offer, and a new multichannel proposition. It’s a big transformation project for the retailer. Smith spoke to CMO.com recently and we began by asking him to outline his approach to such fundamental change.

Smith: When I joined, we had a desktop and operationally focused £220 million U.K. e-commerce business. It was very focused on putting product onto a website and meant a lot of administration.

The first thing we did was to really think about the megatrends and future retail and customer context. Together with other executives we looked at what the future frame would look like. Will the role of the store continue to be a browsing and shopping environment or will it become a distribution centre or a showroom? What do we want our stores to be? We also talked about the multichannel expectation and what the customer experience will be like around it. Is it about continued convenience or seamlessness and moving easily between devices?

We also talked about what we call the federation of channels. Today it’s not just our channels we need to think about. These days our customers connect with us through three types of channels: firstly, those we own and have control over, such as our stores, website, and email; secondly, through “tenanted channels” such as Facebook, where we have control of the content but not necessarily the platform and how our content and messaging are presented to customers; and finally, completely third-party channels where we have no control. Google is an example—it scrapes our site and decides how it will present our brand back to the customer. We have no control over that channel at all bar from presenting our brand content in an easily consumable way for that third party.

Increasingly, these third parties are becoming an intermediary between us and the customer. Losing that access to our customer becomes quite important to us as we transform and think about digital. It’s a big thing for us to respond to.

We also talked about the need to market and communicate to people in a much more personalised way, and delivering a tailored offer around the experience, which is really key. We looked at the role of computers and artificial intelligence in enabling that to happen at scale and in a sophisticated manner.

The future frame is the basis on which we’ve we thought about our digital transformation.

CMO.com: Once you’d established a future context, how did you start to respond?

Smith: What’s clear is that our current systems and operating model are very U.K.-centric and do not support a global business and multiple category offer. So we had to deal with the legacy e-commerce platform and content management systems that don’t support this bright new world. We have good data warehouses and analytics tools, but they’re not capturing all the information we need. We’re still thinking about things in individual channels rather than in a connected manner.

We also looked at how we think about how to turn both data and content from a commodity into an asset. From a content perspective, we produce a lot, and throw it out, and hope it sticks. From a data perspective, we capture lots but stockpile it, we don’t use it very intelligently. Both are thought of as a commodity—they’re not really invested in—and we don’t think how we can drive massive value from them. We absolutely have to respond to that and start thinking about those things completely differently.

We also have to think about how to support these new elements with people, talent, and organisation.

We’ve put in place what we call “The Digital Platform Programme.” Although we’re replacing our e-commerce platform and changing various systems, it’s not about technology. It’s around changing the customer experience, and redesigning and replacing what customers see when they interact with us on digital channels.

We’re implementing a global operating model—essentially a hub-and-spoke model—that is less U.K.-centric. It has a central team delivering the majority of the content and the set-up of the website, and a number of local teams who can localise their version of the website and optimise it for the needs of the market. All of that is underpinned by new tools and technology,

CMO.com: Can you explain how you implement change for the customer experience and the technology itself?

Smith: We have to implement the user experience in a way that is accepted by our customers and enhances our brand, whilst also changing the operation underneath. It’s tricky.

The first stage has been to implement the user experience on our current platform. Every change we make is A/B tested and delivered to 10% of our customers, before it’s deployed to all our customers and we move to the next change. It’s a very iterative and optimised way of thinking about changing the user experience.

The second piece is driving the technology change on the new platforms. Before launching in the U.K, we are starting in France and Germany. This will enable us to test the technology without having to change a lot of the operation behind it. This means only a small number of people will use the new set of tools, which we’ll test over six months, before migrating the U.K. business onto the new platforms. When this happens is when we’ll really change the operational model.

Then we’ll move to a more production-like approach to push out content in a systemic way, and we will become massively data driven. One of the big transformational changes is the move to a data-driven approach where we are constantly analysing and predicting what we think will happen, and undertaking a lot of incremental change rather than having big bang change.

We want to move away from making changes to our digital platform every six weeks to initially every two weeks, and ultimately to releases every day based on the insight we’re seeing, so really tuning our digital experience based on what customers are doing and saying. That’s a big shift from where we’ve been historically.

CMO.com: How do you describe this approach internally?

Smith: We tend to work with a lean approach, but there are many principles from agile that we employ in the way we work, such as daily stand-ups and cross-functional teams—these are brilliant elements. But what I really like about lean is that we’re constantly thinking about the flow of work, how to remove bottlenecks, and the need to complete a stage of work before moving onto the next one.

CMO.com: When it comes to the New Look shopper, what do you think constitutes a good customer experience for them?

Smith: Customers want to browse and be inspired, and ultimately be immersed in an experience. You almost want them to be in a “mindless state of mind”—anything you put in the way that gets them out of that state of mind is a problem. We have to allow them to invest themselves in that experience and remove any friction, by that I mean removing friction so they can remain immersed.

The thing customers want to do least is pay. It’s important to make the transactional element as small a part of the overall experience as possible. The worst we can do is inspire a customer to do something, and then interrupt by making them fill in a long form. Even in a shop, the key thing is to let them enjoy themselves walking around and immersing themselves—you want the payment part to be an insignificant part. We’re currently rolling out transactional tablets so that payment can be made anywhere in store to overcome this.

CMO.com: You mentioned losing control of how your brand is experienced by customers. How can a retailer work through this disintermediation and regain some of that control?

Smith: The point for us, ultimately, is around our data and content. We have to think of these as genuine assets. The only thing we can control is our brand and product—we’re a product-based company, so we always have control of that. But we have to massively invest in how we present ourselves out to the big wide world in a way we never had to do before. Chanel is a great example of this; they have so much brand control. We need to be thinking in those terms because, otherwise, our brand equity will reduce massively and very quickly.

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