Fashion retailer City Beach has no illusions about the disruption facing the retail sector: fashion conscious customers and fast-moving trends, its young frontline staff, and emerging online competitors are constant reminders of the sector’s flux.
Established in 1985 – long before online retail and the internet were mainstream, the iconic brand now operates 62 physical sites, an ecommerce outlet, and manages 60,000 products – adding 300-400 new lines each week to ensure it remains relevant and fresh.
Chief operating officer Anita Dorwald has a clear view of the challenges ahead. “Our vision is a blend of continued growth and survival, and while the latter may come as a surprise we have seen the demise of many brands around us in recent years. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels or past successes. To trade on brand equity we need to maintain relevance now and in the future.”
Dorwald notes as a privately held business City Beach is spared the bureaucracy and red tape that slows some rivals, and is able to be agile and responsive to rapidly shifting conditions.
Even so, when the company decided to overhaul its information systems it took a measured and careful approach. It wanted to deliver an exceptional customer experience instore and online, and to pave the way for a back office overhaul that would inject efficiency, boost productivity, and establish a robust and reliable infrastructure able to deliver the sort of agility needed by successful retailers in the digital age.
Dorwald explains key to success lies in the sort of business intelligence that allows City Beach to dynamically optimise its cost base and effectively curate the retail offering.
“For us the customer needed to be front and centre,” which, she says, explains City Beach’s decision to focus initially on a point of sale (POS) and customer relationship management (CRM) overhaul ahead of a back office core system revamp.
“We want to understand the customer journey and achieve a single view of the customer, to be able to interface with more agility around promotions and have an opportunity around loyalty programmes. That was what drove the decision to go front-to-back rather than back-to-front,” she explains. It’s a decision that is paying off in terms of business impact.
Leveraging Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Operations has delivered flexibility and scalability. For the present City Beach is operating a hybrid cloud and on-premise environment, but as it refreshes the back office legacy platform Dorwald says the company will take a cloud-first approach.
Working with Microsoft partner and Dynamics 365 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. 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.”
Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Operations has now been rolled out with full integration of the systems scheduled for early 2017, after the Christmas and New Year retail rush. One of the immediate signs the solution was right came from the retailers’ own staff – most of whom come from the same youth demographic as City Beach customers.
“Dynamics’ user interface was so intuitive and responsive to changing conditions that there was barely any change management required – staff just started to use the system,” Dorwald explains.
“This represented the single greatest investment in technology in the last ten years – so there was a high level of nervousness,” says Dorwald. “The reality was the teams in store logged on and largely found their own way around – that ease of adoption bodes well for other changes we’re looking to make.”
Meanwhile Dynamics 365 is collecting rich insights about customers, what they were buying, how they shop and their interaction preferences, that can then be used to curate the City Beach collection and shape the retailer’s roadmap for the future.
According to Dorwald; “I think our CRM allows us to validate what was a gut science. Dynamics allows us to gather data in a practical sense and really target our communications – EDMs and social interactions – and map out our website in 2017 to be more customer focused with that new insight.”
Once the POS is fully integrated City Beach will offer a seamless retail experience and achieve a single view of the customer to enhance the shopping experience both instore and online.
With the front facing systems now operational and effective Dorwald is focussing her attention on the back office in order to streamline workflow and inject efficiencies. Instead of purely manual and labour intensive stock management and inventory checks, City Beach will deploy hand held scanners and a range of Microsoft technologies to streamline workflow and automate communications and information gathering.
Of technology transformation in general Dorwald says; “The key is that you have to have absolute clarity about what you are trying to achieve and your priority – that needs to guide your journey. You need to understand your capacity for change and the core objectives you want to achieve. That should drive the order of transformation – in terms of business outcome you achieve a far better result.”