Behind the scenes of Just Group's digital transformation journey

Just Group CIO explains how the fashion and apparel retailer has rapidly revolutionised its online retailing strategy in the name of customer engagement

For the past five years, Just Group has been on a digital journey to revolutionise its online retailing strategy and expand its customer reach.

“For us culture is king - it’s not just about what you do, but why you do it and how,” Just Group CIO, Frank De Sa, told attendees at the IBM Customer Engagement Forum in Sydney. “Our digital transformation has been a whole company initiative, it’s not just about IT or marketing.

“We have no secrets when it comes to online retailing. Everyone knows we’re doing all these things online – and this level of visibility gives the combined team [IT and marketing] passion to say this is not just something we’re doing for ourselves. The board also recognises online is important for retail and for us.”

Just Group is responsible for a number of brands including founding brand, Just Jeans, and acquisition labels Jay Jays, Jacqui-E, Dotti, Portmans, Peter Alexander and Smiggle. With 1000 stores across Australia, the group is also in New Zealand and recently expanded to the UK in February last year, where it now has 30 stores. Just Group has its eyes set on Hong Kong and Malaysia in the next few months.

Just Group went online with the Peter Alexander brand in 2001, followed by Just Jeans in 2002, a relatively early achievement for an Australian retailer, De Sa claimed. But forward to 2010, and online became a completely different story.

“At the time, one of our key criteria was we wanted our online presence to be function-rich,” he said. “In fact, we wanted more functionality than we ever wanted to use ourselves. But we wanted to ensure our online presence would be around for a very long time.”

This meant the group still had four brands that lacked any transactional site online. In 2010, Jay Jays went live, followed by Dotti in 2011.

“At that point we decided to pull the transformation in-house and take control of this and move quickly,” De Sa said. “We also needed the team to work at the same pace as the business and understand the inside of the business. So we basically built a team to go fast.”

In 2011, the Just Group made a strategic call to build a world-class Web experience for its customers, and focus more on the customer experience.

“For Dotti, as a fast fashion brand, we focused on digital, mobile and video, but then we decided to actually rebuild our site only 12 months later,” De Sa said. “The first time we went online, it was about the transactions, but the second time we went online, it was about the experience and the transaction. After that, the approach was to optimise and grow.”

Apart from having a rock-solid platform, De Sa said a number of variables needed to be in order for effective digital transformation.

“These include a culture of innovation, a robust IT, team, performance and customer culture,” he said. “This has really helped the success of our business online.”

Traditionally, IT used to be a problem-solving hub, more reactive than proactive, De Sa explained. He decided to turn that around during the transformation process.

“We decided IT needs to work at the same pace and with the same attitude the whole business has,” he said. “That means if a shirt doesn’t sell in a store, and it doesn’t sell tomorrow, we need to find out quickly why, and ensure it doesn’t happen in the future. So that’s the sort of pace IT need to be operating at.

“It’s not about being reactive, but being ready to react.”

Uniting IT and marketing

De Sa stressed building the right culture within IT is critical to ensuring a robust and engaging retail platform.

“If the culture is not right, we can only dream about a successful implementation,” he said. “The key for us is our online solution needs to be supportable, it needs to be responsive and we need to be quick.”

De Sa agreed there’s a lot of talk as to how to effectively collaborate between the CIO and CMO. But from Just Group’s perspective, he said his team is very closely aligned with marketing.

“I spend probably more time in the head of marketing’s office than in anyone else’s office,” he said. “It’s about being on their steering committee, it’s about sponsoring their projects and making sure you’re part of a plan and not just part of a solution.

“Things change fast, so it’s imperative to be aware early, and react early so it’s really about being one team in terms of both marketing and IT. When things are changing so quickly, you want to communicate with each other in short delivery cycles and you need to ensure everyone works very closely together and deliver rapidly.”

De Sa also warned against being complacent, and to continue watching and monitoring the performance of your platforms, even when there are seemingly no performance issues.

“We watch, with eagle eyes, every single transaction to see what’s been slow, because even if it is not an issue now, it might in the future,” he said. “We’re constantly checking and watching and understanding. For us, a performance culture is a customer culture. We need to ensure everything is up and everything performs well.”

To support its customer-oriented culture, De Sa said the Just Group has an online steering committee that meets fortnightly with the CEO.

“We look at all the issues from the point of view of a customer,” he said. “We have the benefit of seven brands, so we can test and learn across each of them to see which campaigns work for which brands. Everything is based around the target customer of that brand.”

De Sa forecast the next generation of consumers will be far more digitally savvy and in tune with digital engagement, especially thanks the proliferation of social and YouTube platforms. This puts added pressure on brands to adapt to the change in user advancement.

“Read the signals, read the measures, and don’t get too disheartened it you trial something and it doesn’t quite take off,” De Sa advised. “We take that approach with customers and listen to what they’re saying.”

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