Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
From extending its traditional bricks-and-mortar roots to an optimised Web and mobile engagement strategy, City Beach is on a digital transformation mission to connect better with its millennials and post-millenials customer base.
City Beach’s COO, Anita Dorwald, spoke with CMO to reveal how leveraging technology has boosted customer engagement and enabled gaining deeper customer insights in a heavily competitive retail space.
Dorwald, who heads the the business strategy section of City Beach’s digital journey, said while the retailer began its ecommerce journey in 2009 with a new website, the rest of its tech suite was still legacy based.
“We recognised we really need to overhaul everything, and so the digital transformation journey for us has actually really only begun in the last 24 months,” she said. “we’ve dipped out toe in the water, we've taken the few initial steps to get a bit of a proof of concept and make sure that we're heading in the right direction - and that we've got both the right products and the right partners in mind.”
Selecting the product suite
According to Dorwald, the first step in the transformation journey for City Beach was selecting a product suite, and choosing a Microsoft product was the right logical choice for a number of reasons.
“Firstly, because it had the ability to configure the product in a manner that we liked, it satisfied the inevitable retailer desire to ‘customise without truly customising’ - and that was very appealing to the executives here,” she explained. “Secondly, Microsoft's reputation was about investing in technology and innovation – and that meant that we felt like we were backing the right horse for a long term view.
“Thirdly, from a user experience point of view, we already had technologies in place such as Office 365, so we from a change management perspective, introducing more Microsoft products into our stack seemed logical."
Working with Microsoft partner and CRM specialist Sable37, City Beach undertook a lengthy needs analysis and prototyping project to ensure the customer experience was right.
“Central to our success is working with a partner that shared City Beach’s vision, and from the get go Sable37 were on the same page as us," Dorwald said. "The focus was all on our success, and that provided a high level of trust and security at our end that Sable37 had our best interests at heart. For us both this is a long-term investment and I’m confident we’re forging a partnership that will see us work together for many years to come.”
The first component City Beach launched was point-of-sale solution (AX 2012) which the company rolled out in 2016 across all sites. At the same time, the retailer completed a dynamic CRM project, which the company successfully implemented towards the latter half of 2016.
“Since then, we've really been focusing on some of our digital marketing strategies particularly around automation with e-mail campaigns, to start leveraging that CRM integration and starting to get a bit of a view of our customer,” Dorwald said. “Prior to that, we really had nothing beyond transactional data.”
In addition to the Microsoft suite, City Beach also uses Salesforce Marketing Cloud as part of automating the customer journey.
“Again, we will leverage that further as we get into the point of sale integration, which is literally only weeks away,” Dorwald claimed.
Increasing point-of-sale customer visibility
Dorwald revealed the next stage in the CRM space is to integrate with point-of-sale. “Obviously the website and ecommerce is a large part of our business, but the bread and butter are all our physical locations – and at the moment, we have no visibility of those customers at all,” she said.
“To bring them out into the CRM space, to get a true 360-degree view and to start putting some credibility behind that of omni-channel word that everybody throws around - that's the next step in that in the customer journey.”
Despite the retailer still being in the early stages of its digital transformation journey and mapping out its strategy, Dorwald claimed City Beach is seeing some positive engagement results.
“I feel like we're in that stage where we're sort of gathering the nuts but we still don’t know what to do with them,” she said. “We have, however, through the introduction of automated campaigns off the back of CRM, seen an upswing in our customer database and we're definitely seeing an increase in engagement in that space.”
Leveraging customer data for a more personalised experience
For the first time, City Beach can also understand lifetime value, at least in the online space, helping pave the way to ultimately offering the customer a more personalised experience.
“That's critical when starting to look at personalisation,” Dorwald said. “We're looking to leapfrog from a batch-and-blast perspective to leverage some behaviour-driven personalisation. That's all driven by data. So without data, we can't actually take that next step in the journey.
“The current data set is definitely allowing us to understand the basics of demographics, like how many of our customers are regional versus those living in metro areas - really simple stuff like that was previously either hard to obtain or in fact, impossible.”
An ambitious journey
Dorwald admitted the City Beach is currently on the cusp of the most ambitious phase of the journey, where the company is replacing its entire back-end tech stack altogether.
“We’ve selected Dynamics 365 and that's quite a leap coming from dot-based infrastructure,” she said. “So we're literally skipping a couple of decades in the process. But we understood that we needed to build a strong platform from which we can then sort of innovate in a more agile fashion, whereas at the moment we're really constrained by our back-end integrations and very tedious, manual processes.”
“The coming two years are probably going to see us take the most ambitious leaps forward in terms of refreshing our tech stack and providing a solid foundation for future innovation.”
The company will also introduce master data management, MBM, implementing product information management software to ensure City Beach can enrich its data appropriately through the various channels and marketplaces where it wishes to serve it up, Dorwald said.
“At the same time, we’re already undertaking a rebuild of our existing website to make sure we have more agility in the mobile space as well and that we're fully responsive,” she added.
Dorwald stressed retailers in today's highly competitive space need to remain agile and proactive in order to remain competitive and relevant.
“Like most retailers, we are very attracted to all the sort of the sexy front-end stuff here and whether we find website rebuilds and changing the style sheets all very appealing. But the foundation work is not so appealing," she said.
“It really does require quite a bit of change management to ensure it’s going to fundamentally shift a lot of our business processes - and that's obviously a less palatable journey for a lot of people and will necessitate some careful management throughout the process. But there is a recognition across all of the disciplines in our business that innovation really isn't ‘just an option’ if we want to remain competitive and relevant.
"This is not something that we can afford to sit on our hands and think about in the next six months - we have to get on with it and get it done."
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