Improving the customer experience in retail with personalisation

The high street is experiencing turbulent times, with recent months seeing more and more consumers turning to internet shopping for convenience, choice and cost effectiveness. And unfortunately for many of our favourite high street brands, this is having a significant impact on sales. French Connection, for instance, recently revealed that it saw a 6.8% decrease in its like-for-like sales in 2018 compared to the previous year.

As retailers fight to make sure shoppers keep returning to their physical stores, it’s every man for themselves and technology has taken a significant role in many of their tactics. From augmented and virtual reality, to artificial intelligence and facial recognition, the shops are pulling out all the stops when it comes to competing for customer loyalty. But when 73% of shoppers simply want their shopping experience to be easier[1], seeing yourself as a dancing panda on a large screen might not be the kind of experience customers will leave the comfort of their home for. Instead, brands should be focusing on creating the kind of personalised and streamlined experience that will foster customer loyalty – and a crucial step to getting there is to invest in the human touch.


Coming around full-circle


Back in the day when iPhones weren’t even an idea in Steve Jobs’ brain, the only alternative to shopping on the high street was sitting in your front room browsing a catalogue and making an order via the phone. And since having a subscription to multiple catalogues often wasn’t an option, brand loyalty was at an all-time high. Retailers could connect with their returning customers on a personal level over the phone and had the ability to offer specific advice and tailored conversation to ensure they came back. In today’s digital world, consumers are back shopping from the comfort of their own home, however, there are now lots of different channels available to them. This can lead to significantly greater complexity when it comes to offering the right customer experience.


Online shopping has opened consumers up to a whole host of alternative retailers that might be able to offer something cheaper or better quality than the usual high-street stores. And not only that, customers are also able to directly compare prices and products on one computer screen. Consequently, today’s shopping process involves spending a significantly greater amount of time researching and considering purchases before committing to them. Which means brand loyalty is lower than ever as consumers now swap and change the retailer they choose to buy from depending on which better meets their needs at different times. The priority for retailers is therefore to find new ways of appealing to their customer base to ensure they keep coming back.


One avenue many retailers fail to exploit is the masses of data created through customer interactions and transactions which, if used in the right way, could offer a real competitive advantage. As maintaining a human connection with customers continues to become a challenge with more choosing to shop online, having the ability to personalise any interaction, especially over the phone, through the analysis of the available data could be crucial.


Striking the right balance between efficient and personal


Brands are increasingly investing in chatbot systems to communicate with their customers and, paired with voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, consumers are increasingly becoming used to interacting with human-sounding synthetic voices. However, it’s important to remember that, although a great step forward in the digital world, this kind of technology still has its limitations, especially in an age when customers become increasingly likely to pick up the phone when presented with an issue that can’t be resolved online.


Retailers now argue that chatbots and automatised telephony platforms are making the customer journey more efficient and streamlined. But the reality is that it risks stripping customer communication off precious personalisation and human touch. We’ve all experienced the pain of trying to call a retailer’s customer service line and having to press an infinite number of keys, only to get through to an automated voice that will make us wait on the line whilst letting us know that we’re number 20 in the queue. We’re at the point now where the “person” we are talking to is a digital platform. This creates a barrier between brands and customers.


This barrier is also separating brands from the wealth of data insight into a customer’s history that companies gather through interactions and that, if used wisely, could be the key to creating a significantly more personalised and seamless customer experience.


AI will be crucial to capitalise on these interactions, but there are alternative ways to benefit from the technology than chatbots. AI is now being developed to allow retailers to analyse phone calls and immediately pick up essential data from them. For instance, when an existing customer calls, AI will be able to tell the retailer’s contact agent who the customer is, what they previously called about, what products they have purchased and so on by providing a 360-degree view of all the customer’s previous interactions on the phone with the brand in front of their eyes.


Staying afloat in disruptive times


Industries across the world are undergoing the most disruption many have ever seen, and retail is no exception. With advancements in digital technologies occurring faster and more aggressively than ever, it has never been more critical for retailers to keep up with the pace of change and provide the experience customers expect. A customer’s loyalty is a retailer’s biggest asset, but it no longer holds the same significance as consumers now have the ability to move onto a competitor at the click of a button. It means it’s up to the retailers themselves to adopt the appropriate solutions and processes they require to ensure their customers don’t go looking elsewhere for the experience they want.


Neil Hammerton, CEO and Co-founder of Natterbox

Mastering the art of complaint handling

The retail industry has never been so competitive. On one hand, market-leaders including Amazon and Alibaba are casting an ever-growing shadow on the entire industry with their increasing firepower. On the other hand, customer experience plays a big role in retailers’ ability to thrive and grow. In this context, delivering a positive experience when customers have problems with a brand is vital for sustained success.

It’s common for issues to occur during a buying journey. That can be customers  struggling to place an order, a payment not going through, or a parcel turning up late. Hiccups happen, and, much like stalling a car during a driving test, recovery is key. Done right, complaint handling can go further than resolving a customer’s problem – it can leave them walking away with a positive view of the experience. Dealing with complaints well could even be the differentiator for businesses operating in an increasingly challenging retail environment, where good customer service can help brands increase buyer loyalty and take market share.

Complaint handling is an art that many companies struggle to perfect, but it’s vital to master – especially in this age of social media, where conversations between customers and companies often take place online for all to see. Resolving a complaint quickly, and effectively, is particularly critical on a platform like Twitter, where other shoppers are often watching and waiting to see how a company will deal with criticism. Handled poorly, it can drive customers away from a brand and switch loyalty to a competitor. Done well, it can lead to positive engagement and an increase in orders.

Fostering brand loyalty and attracting new shoppers are just two benefits of successful complaint handling – as evidenced by brands like Greggs, Sainsburys and Argos – but how can organisations master this?

  1. Act fast. In a call centre industry, one of the key metrics that agents are measured on is how quickly they handle a call and get ready for the next one. Efficiency is the key word, but too often this comes at the expense of quality and satisfaction. Bad customer service costs UK companies over £37 billion a year; conversely, good customer service can help retailers survive and thrive in the challenging retail landscape.


Call routing and audience mapping are two technologies that companies can use to increase the speed and quality of their response. By assigning dynamic phone numbers to specific product pages and campaigns, a call can be routed to an agent responsible for that particular audience segment. These handlers will be trained to answer queries, offering an expert level of customer service and helping increase sales conversion rates across a business. These tools are particularly effective for turning browsing into buying on big-ticket items like cars, real estate and luxury goods.


  1. Understand the caller. Being aware of the context of the customer’s call enables efficient and high-quality customer care. Businesses should therefore invest in technologies that provide extensive data insights, which can facilitate better customer-brand interactions. For example, using dynamic phone numbers can also be used to track a customer’s previous website browsing and calling history – so a call handler knows what previous interactions the customer has had with the brand. This adds context and helps agents offer a more personalised service.


Other insights can be gathered and used – like knowing what device a buyer is phoning from. This helps assess a caller’s level of patience – to further improve the customer service level.


  1. Getting the full picture. Most phone calls happen as a natural transition from a previous online journey. Therefore, connecting the dots between offline and online interactions will enable retailers to help customers quicker, and better. Knowing something as simple as where a caller is phoning from on a company website – for example, a complaint page – will enable an agent to immediately identify what a customer needs.


An unhappy customer could quickly turn to an incensed one, if the agent doesn’t know that the person on the other end of the line is having problems – and handles the call wrongly. On the other hand, if a caller is taken straight through to someone who then resolves their issue quickly and painlessly, they will likely end the call in a positive mood. That feeling of satisfaction a customer has, when they have been listened to and their problem has been dealt with, is what brands need to aim for. Insights and technologies that facilitate this level of personalisation are therefore crucial, as they can help empower retailers to handle customer complaints in the most effective manner.

Complaint handling is an art, but it’s powered by technology – and dealt with best by humans. Therefore, retailers need to provide their teams with the tools that will ultimately result in happy customers.

By Anne de Kerckhove, CEO, Freespee

Retail Connections Q&A: YR

When it comes to hot retail trends in 2019, there aren’t many bigger than the drive for personalised in-store customer experiences. Shoppers have lapped up the individualised offerings served by digital pureplays and they now crave similar treatment when visiting bricks-and-mortar stores. One firm, however, has gone a step further – delivering the kind of personalised theatre that trumps online retailers. Printing specialists YR have exploited a niche in the market to offer personalised customisation of some of the world’s biggest fashion brands including Levi’s, DKNY, Nike, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. Using state-of-the-art printing and kiosk technology YR gives shoppers the chance to interact with their brand of choice, in-store as they wait, customising garments and creating one-off pieces of wearable art.







Here Tim Williams, who founded YR with business partner Tom Hogan in 2014 before turning it into a global business valued at £5m, explains what makes his business venture so special.

Retail Connections: Personalised garments have been in existence for some time. How is the YR concept different?

Tim Williams: When we started YR we were confident that we could make creating amazing designs easy, fun and exciting. Most customisation websites and ‘experiences’ are dull and hard to use. We wanted to make it possible for everyone to create amazing designs. Our goal is to work with brands to bring customisation experiences, both online and instore, to life. Our software is at the heart of this experience.

RC: Are customers enabled to print whatever design they like onto garments?

TW: YR software gives users easy ways to make fabulous designs in-store and online – but we work with brands, artists and content owners to make sure that consumers always create on-brand and great designs using our software.

RC: Are there any limitations to your printing process?

TW: We work with lots of printing processes and that gives us great flexibility. Some allow all-over print, which is great for bold designs, others are a more tactile digital print. We also work with embroidery and vinyl as well as engraving, so we try to work with the right print or embellishment technique for the project we are working on.

RC: Why is unique personalisation is so important to modern consumers?

TW: Customers want more than simply buying products off the shelf. They want to stand out and not have the same product as someone next to them. We also see that consumers want an experience in every aspect of their lives – and personalisation adds a great level of interaction and excitement to the fashion retail process.

RC: Was it a battle selling this concept to fashion brands that are famously wary of diluting their brand image?

TW: It’s always a challenge to make sure that we offer enough customisation choice – but not so much as to dilute the brand. We have just worked on a great collaboration with Bathing Ape in LA where every item created had to be totally on brand, so choices were limited but demand was very strong. YR can always find a way of creating an experience without diluting the brand image.

RC: What next for YR? 

TW: We want to be global leaders in on-demand design and production, that means we plan on growing vertically as well as building on our in-store and online customisation platforms. Customisation is a super-interesting space at the moment, and it goes hand in hand with on demand production. Moving to on-demand is a huge task for brands but the benefits of vastly reduced inventory and more focused and nimble product offerings mean it’s a real focus right now. This is only going to increase, and we intend to work with our current and future customers to develop faster, more engaging and more efficient ways of producing products. We have expanded globally with offices in the US and Asia, now we want to build those markets and a truly global partner for our clients.


Recycled, Rebranded and Rubbish? Why your branding has to reflect your internal operations

It’s very, very easy to slap a cartoon tree on your packaging and hope your customers are convinced that you care about the environment. It also won’t work. If there’s one thing I cannot stress strongly enough to consumer-facing brands, it’s never to underestimate the intelligence of your customers.

If you’re selling yourself as an environmental brand, you will lose your market when it turns out that you are still sourcing your palm oil from illegal logging areas, or if your so-called “healthy” granola bar contains more sugar than a family-sized chocolate bar. Having shouted about your values, you could be lining yourself up perfectly for a very easy shot from the press and the public.

The same goes for declaring feminist values while having an all-male board. Or declaring allegiance to LGBTQ+ rights and manufacturing in countries with extremely poor gay rights records. Or claiming to support animal charities and having your latest fast food range sourced from battery farms. Whatever you aren’t doing on your supply chains or management teams, it will come to light – and it will reflect badly on your brand, damaging customer perception, trust and ultimately leading to a drop in retention and loyalty.

When you want to take on a value that’s integral to your customers, that is a wonderful thing. It’s so important for brands to embody what their market thinks and feels, and to support the important change that we need in the world. But you need to be ready to fully attach your business model to that goal, and if that is unattainable, you should take a step back and work out how you can go about that across every element of the value chain of your business.

Customers really, really aren’t stupid. They can see through a falsified number or hidden agenda extremely quickly, and if you don’t have absolute integrity in your desire to change how you do business or align to a cause for the right reasons, they will pick up on that faster than you can say “public apology”. Being dishonest or slapdash with applying a moral, environmental or social principle to your business will only ever come across as greedy, underhand business tactics, even if that absolutely wasn’t your intention.

Remember, trust in corporations is incredibly low. Forty-eight per cent of people surveyed in 2017 said they do not trust businesses to ‘do the right thing’. This is hardly surprising. From Iceland to Pepsi to Nestlé, we’ve seen some monumental slip ups in ensuring that a value or sense of purpose is continued across the supply chain and throughout a company’s ethos. It’s all very good to apologise, but that horse has already bolted, got on a plane and joined a circus in rural Ohio, so it’s no use fitting a lock to the stable door now. If you can anticipate a bad story that could damage your reputation, it is your responsibility to do everything you can to contain, challenge and address the issue before it occurs.

If anything, you should care too. This isn’t a matter of pernickety customers bewailing a changed logo. Their concerns on values are valid: deforestation is a massive issue, and global warming is the single biggest threat to our species. Women from every nation on the planet suffer from abuse, violence, harassment and prejudice. Racism remains a daily occurance in the lives of billions, and often goes unchallenged. Obesity rates in western countries are soaring. All these things need attention and you, as a brand, should care and raise awareness. It shouldn’t be something you simply do to make an easy profit off some rainbow sweets or a pink version of your product.

Ultimately, if you are taking on a value, make sure you mean it. You have incredible power as a brand: use it wisely and care about the way your business will impact the world around you. Move your business from corporate social responsibility, which is probably no more than a tick box exercise to social responsibility. It’s a subtle, yet significant, difference in culture and purpose.

Retailers! don’t just ‘do digital’, ‘be digital’

A new business book from Rob Laurens sets out a step-by-step process for ‘people-first business transformation’, urging businesses to think more holistically about getting in shape for the future. The book, entitled Get Fit for Digital Business’ and published by Routledge is targeted at retail, hospitality and other customer-facing sectors.

Refreshingly, it puts strong emphasis on how the people within organisations need to be motivated to engage and embrace the breadth of necessary change – and together learn how to ‘be digital’ rather than simply tick a few digital process boxes.

Create more value – together

“Ultimately getting fit for digital is about people – leaders, employees, supply chain partners as well as – first and foremost – customers,” Laurens told Retail Connections. “The goal is to use digital tools and technology more effectively, making it easier for all those people to collaborate and create more value together.”

Laurens’ aim, he says, it to cut out the corporate gobbledegook and jargon around digital transformation and offer practical guidance on clearly set-out stages of the process. To that end he’s provided a framework for leaders to help their teams “get into great shape to survive and thrive in a digital world”.

“If we were to dissect the digitally fit enterprises, we would see fundamental differences in the way they think, act and behave compared to more traditional companies,” says Laurens. “They treat digital as the main event rather than a side-show, the means to fundamentally change the way they work and deliver their product or service. In other words, they are not just doing digital but being digital at their core.”

Face up to the future

Central to the book are these questions: Has your organisation changed the way it works to keep up with the new connected consumer? Or is it still stuck on the digital business basics, losing relevance and falling behind in the race for customers?

Laurens talks about the importance of assessing where you are now, where you need to go and how you can get there. Further chapters then cover his recommended six-step process “that any leader can use to accelerate change, seize the opportunities and counter the threats that digital technology brings”.

Get Fit for Digital BusinessDigital skills in the spotlight

Technology, of course, is the driver of retail’s digital transformation, as AI, robotics, cloud, data-analytics and channel integration reshape how retail businesses function. However, people are still very much at the heart of implementation and ongoing processes. With this in mind, Laurens focuses on the specialist skill sets required, and the talent management that should be in place. The power of cloud, the power of content and the power of the team are all discussed.

The final stage of his framework cuts to the quick of business wins from ‘being digital’. Agility, speed, control, flexibility, balance, coordination – are core characteristics these digitally-focused and empowered teams of people should aspire to, so that great things can be achieved.

Bypass the digital business MBA

For busy retailer leaders who may not have time to complete an MBA in digital business, this book could help them create an enterprise that is more productive and profitable. Readers will also pick up a lot of tips about team leadership in the digital age – very useful when dealing with Millennials and – in the not too distant future – Gen Z-ers. Laurens successfully bangs the drum for the human side of business fitness, seeing it as the muscle behind the technology. “Being digital should also be about happier and healthier colleagues,” he says.

Achieving digital fitness across a business should leave teams feeling and performing better in every department – and that would be a boon for any retail organisation in today’s highly-competitive and fast-evolving market.

Get Fit for Digital Business, by Rob Laurens is published by Routledge.

What we can all learn from Barbie


Opinions about everything seem polarised these days, otherwise how do you get so many dictators running countries, or Brexit, or Trump, I could go on, but it’s too painful. We tell each other we need to have a debate about stuff, but never actually do because freedom of speech and freedom of expression, while they are enshrined in law and constitution, are everywhere on the run. Even Remainers and Brexiteers don’t really want to get into a proper argument for fear of upsetting each other. Oh dear. I’m a Remainer and all you Brexiteers can shove off.

Barbie is 60!

Even discussion about Barbie, 60 years old this year, is polarised. One camp claims that Barbie’s lifestyle sets unreachable lifestyle targets that no normal girl can ever attain, and therefore that she causes only unhappiness as each unrealistic target is missed. If you want to marry a Prince (though frankly why would you) you need to have got your shit together and made a plan from nursery school onwards.

Contrast that with Smyth Toys which is celebrating Barbie’s anniversary with a campaign to tell young girls that they can be anything. 3000 people showed up at eight stores. Not bad for a doll that is now eligible for a senior rail card.

Get typing!

Now, whatever your own point of view, bear in mind that 60 years ago, most girls were prepared for adulthood by their mothers by being sent off to Pitman College to learn to type, as they prepared for an office job before hopefully getting a marriage proposal before they were 30. If you don’t believe me, I can report from personal experience that my own mother also suggested I learnt to type ‘just in case,’ as she put it.

The only party in all this trench warfare that might actually bring both sides together for a kick about would be Barbie herself. Here is what she would say (apologies to Mattel for literally putting words in her mouth).

Barbie talks sense

  1. We can be anyone we want to be, as long as we realise that we can’t be everyone we want to be. Achieving goals requires a plan, focus and commitment, which requires us to agree on a single destination. If you think you can do everything, you may end up doing nothing.
  2. Not all women want to break through the glass ceiling. We should be recognised for the roles we choose and not for the roles that the glass ceiling brigade say we should want.
  3. Men are not the enemy. Some are, but most of them have their own struggle for recognition, success, identity, health, partnership, love etc. One day soon, it will become clear that all of us, irrespective of sex or gender, are facing similar challenges.
  4. Our only purpose in life is to make life better for the people around us. Focus on that and we will be happy. Well, most of the time.

Own-brand retail promises to be a key battleground for retailers in post-Brexit Britain

After more than two years of political uncertainty, it’s fair to say that the UK is still no closer to agreeing what form Brexit will take. But one thing is widely accepted, the cost of living is set to rise outside the EU, and the value of Sterling is unlikely to make up for recent losses.

This economic double whammy means that shoppers will be even more price-sensitive if/when the UK finally waves goodbye to the EU. In this atmosphere of economic uncertainty, retailers and consumers alike are likely to increasingly focus their attention on the growing number of high-quality own-label product ranges as a cheaper alternative to their big brand rivals.

Superdrug is just one of the retailers that stands to benefit from this trend post-Brexit, having already carved out a niche for its own-brand beauty products. The high-street health and beauty chain has 43 own-brand beauty collections with each product featuring Superdrug’s star logo and a ‘100% happiness money-back guarantee’ promise, which offers customers 25% off their next own-brand purchase.

Superdrug has also invested heavily in its affordable cruelty-free beauty product range. All of the products in the range feature the leaping rabbit symbol to show they are accredited to Cruelty Free International. The chain has also recently launched its own fully vegan cosmetics collection.

So, what is it that motivates retailers to invest so much in own-brand? The attraction is that retailers, like Superdrug, can cut out the middle man, and take full control of a wide range of factors that can help reduce costs, increase margins and boost sales conversions.  These factors include product development, sourcing, warehousing, merchandising and marketing. For example, own brands seldom invest in expensive TV advertising nor do they sponsor big-ticket events or use celebrity endorsement. It also means that, in many instances, retailers can sell a product that’s better value, but with the same profit margin. A high-quality own-brand product that keeps shoppers coming back for more also automatically increases dependency on the retailer, because shoppers simply can’t buy that product elsewhere. Own-label also ensures the retailer’s brand stays with the consumer once they leave the store, boosting brand awareness, loyalty and advocacy.

Evans Cycles has also cottoned on to the beauty of own-brand. It’s has carved a niche for its in-house range of Pinnacle bicycles which sell at an entry to mid-level price point with styling that is deliberately simple, and both age and gender neutral so the range appeals to the widest audience possible. Close control of its supply chain and product development means that Evans can remain agile and responsive to the latest UK cycling trends. Outdoor leisure retailer Go Outdoor is another retailer known for its high-quality own-brand offering, winning big at the Retail Week Awards 2017 for its range of affordable tents, sleeping bags, clothes and accessories, while its own-label bike offering also won similar plaudits in 2018.

Perhaps the best example of own-brand prowess goes to Co-op, which is well known for its own-brand food range which is also sold through third-party retailers. The supermarket chain won headlines and raised eyebrows in November 2018 when Which? judged its champagne superior to Moët, despite being almost half the price.

Whether champagne corks will be popping when/if the UK finally leaves the EU remains to be seen. But one thing is certain, retailers with well-established own-brand product ranges will continue to fizz despite the increased economic pressures.

Comment from Alan Giles, Associate Fellow, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford and judge at the annual Retail Week Awards

What will retail business models look like this year?

The retail crisis on Britain’s high-streets is apparent as sales continue to slump, and shops close and jobs disappear. It’s therefore no surprise that the topic of business transformation is making a comeback as the saviour for UK retailers.

Aside from the traditional strategies of realigning people, processes and budgets, 2019 gives the opportunity for retailers to change outdated traditions and define a new vision for the future.

With that in mind, here are some key changes that retail businesses can make if they are to have a successful 2019.

Business to home

We’re all familiar with direct-to consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) models but a new trend is coming onto the scene: business-to-home.

Take the rise of the intelligent fridge for example, allowing customers to stock up on groceries from their smartphone. Indeed, the intelligent fridge is set to become popular in 2019, but business-to-home isn’t exclusive to kitchen appliances alone.

Consider the magic mirror, essentially a mirror computer that connects to fashion catalogues, beauty and jewellery products to allow the customer to select and filter by favourite brands and price.

The Business-to-home model is much like a rental service, in the above cases, a piece of furniture that exposes a product catalogue hat the customer can decide to switch off at any time.

The Omnipotent Omnichannel

As we dive into 2019, we’ll also see the digital centralisation business model gain traction. The customer being at the centre of all touchpoints is now a common industry standard, but once retailers achieve customer centricity, they need to face another challenge coming their way.

It involves merging store operations with ecommerce operations and the wholesale business (B2B) with the direct-to-customer business. In short, it’s the emergence of the omnichannel platform.

Wondering just how to do this? A centralised model for retail involves investment in digital transformation for new end-to-end processes such as:

  • Deliver to delight – Developing services to better serve the customers
  • Order to delivery – Making goods available as close as possible to the customer
  • Route to market – Transforming sales and marketing omnichannel operations (in-store and online)
  • Market to order – Driving conversion with expertise, intelligence and trust between customers and sales agents

Engaging with the consumers in this way is an opportunity for companies to form deeper connections focused on experiences and feelings that products are able evoke. It’s clear that the demand is there, and the technology is there to serve the promise, but how many businesses are actually implementing the strategy?

Retailers and the innovation proposition

Customers are demanding and expecting more than ever before – it’s not enough for retailers to have a unique selling proposition, instead, they need to come armed with a unique innovation proposition (UIP) and make deeper connections in context, focusing on the experiences and feelings products can evoke.

The struggle is rife for retailers at the moment, and not just for high street stores either. Competition from the web can’t be blamed as the suffering has spread to online stores too, and it’s becoming more evident that companies which resist the wave of change will find themselves on the edge of extinction, despite their belief that brand loyalty will keep them afloat.

The kinds of trends that innovative companies will be following will include making shifts to cloud data, connecting commerce, marketing, sales and service capabilities into one single data base. These are some of the most critical technical attributes that retailers should implement if they are to enable innovation in their business:

  • Consistent look and feel of the UX in all the business processes so that users can easily create great customer journeys
  • End-to-end processes (from supply chain to front office and from front office to supply chain) to build connected journeys rather than fragmented touch points
  • Common set of master data services to enable one source of truth for all customer data across the various departments (i.e. stores, marketing, commerce, warehouse, contact centre, etc.)
  • APPIs based on an open ecosystem, exposing all services to the public cloud

The sharing economy, a peer-to-peer model based on access to goods and services through online platforms, is gaining steed in the retail industry.

This is a bold move for traditional retailers who would find this model highly disruptive. Yet there is a reason why it should be a priority investment – millennials are a lot thriftier and savvier than previous generations are; in general, they just buy the necessities and move onto the next thing the minute after, avoiding impulse buys and splurges.

We’re already seeing this with the likes of Freecycle, a not for profit allowing people to give things away for free and Shpock, a platform letting people buy and sell things to people in their local area.

Breaking free of industry shackles

As ethics and morality continue to come into play in the fashion industry, the utilisation of blockchain technology is becoming more widespread in efforts to bring more transparency to the supply chain. Anti-counterfeiting and authenticity-ensuring benefits in the fashion industry are one of the examples where collaboration is proving central.

Even though many companies are indeed discussing the advantages of collaborating with other businesses across the supply chain, tradition it seems, is blocking the way for innovation to occur at a rapid pace.

2019 has the potential to be the year of letting customers know where every single product came from, how it was assembled, its shipping route, and, ultimately, the social and environmental costs associated with it.

What would this mean practically? Customers would likely see more information presented to them during the checkout process, and receive intelligent recommendations, for example, on how to reduce plastic consumption and atmospheric carbon impact.

The start of this transformation could mean just a redefinition of the relationship and rules between suppliers and buyers, and as customers become more ethically aware and value an ‘ultra transparent’ supply chain, traditional retail will need to start thinking about what this could mean for them.

It’s not a distant goal, but instead a near reality that technology together with software can create a more sustainable world, however innovative and forward thinking. Strong leadership is the key to bringing these new business models to life.

Which companies will embrace new models bringing them success in the future, and which will wallow in the past?

Maria Morais, Global Industry Principal SAP CX

Retail Connections Q&A: Sole Supplier

Meet George Sullivan, the rising sneaker star who plans to ride the athleisure wave


Despite challenging times on the high street, there’s no ignoring the stand-out star of the fashion sector – athleisure.  As consumer habits have shifted towards more active and healthy lifestyles, exercise and wellness have become prominent social activities and fitness has officially been catapulted into the mainstream. Latest figures suggest the athleisure segment is growing at 7% annually and is now worth more than £2.5 billion to the UK economy.

In a world viewed through the filter of Instagram, brands and sub brands are increasingly being used to project which athleisure tribe consumers belong to — and no item of clothing is more telling than the humble sneaker. This leads to cut-throat competition for the latest trainers and high demand for information about UK release details.

It is this heated atmosphere that led self-confessed sneaker addict George Sullivan to first develop a blog and then The Sole Supplier app and website, which is designed to help the 25 million annual website visitors purchase the hottest trainers the moment they hit the shelves, with minimum fuss.

Here we speak to George about riding the crest of the athleisure wave:


“The Sole Supplier app provides a lightning fast way to keep up with the latest rumours and release dates on the go, as well as access to buy different types of product including high heat shoes that sell out fast as well as the best general releases.”


Retail Connections: You recently re-launched The Sole Supplier app. What are the top three aims of this channel for The Sole Supplier?


George Sullivan (GS): The overarching mission for The Sole Supplier is to become the largest lifestyle destination for casual footwear in the world. The Sole Supplier app provides a lightning fast way to keep up with the latest rumours and release dates on the go, as well as access to buy different types of product including high heat shoes that sell out fast as well as the best general releases.

The three main aims of The Sole Supplier are as follows:

  • Help users find the right pair of trainers without leaving the app.
  • Provide breaking news to users before anyone else.
  • Tailor information to the individual and what they like e.g. you are a UK Size 7, you will then get news and products that can fit you.


RC: In what ways do you leverage customer data to drive your business model?


“With The Sole Supplier app, our unique selling point to our users is that it’s a tool they can use to cut through the noise and find what they’re really interested in.”


GS: Our goal with customer data is to understand what brands and types of trainers people like at an individual level and allow us to provide them with tailored messages.

In the modern world, people are constantly being bombarded by annoying marketing materials from brands which they’ve either signed up to or not. Even on social media, feeds are being interrupted by so-called “targeted ads”. To get customers to sit up and take note, quality and relevant messaging is key.

With The Sole Supplier app, our unique selling point to our users is that it’s a tool they can use to cut through the noise and find what they’re really interested in. For example, if James is looking for a UK Size 10 in the latest black Nike Vapormax, but his size is sold out, he’ll get a push notification straight to his phone when his size comes back in stock and he can click through to buy right there and then.


RC: What plans do you have to use AI/predictive analytics as part of your platform?


GS: This is a very exciting technology for the online retail sector at the moment and it’s something I’m personally very interested in.  As a business, we do not currently use AI as part of our platforms but – spoiler alert – its something we’re looking to offer our customers in the near future to make the experience of finding the perfect pair of trainers even faster and enjoyable.


RC: Do you share data with brands and manufacturers as part of their customer-focused supply chain? If not, is this an aim in the future?


“…last year the website had over 25 million visitors. In order to protect our reputation and attract even more users, we’re very clear we won’t sell or share their data to brands or retailers.”


GS: The Sole Supplier has worked hard to earn the trust and respect of its community, which continues to grow year-on-year. In fact, last year the website had over 25 million visitors. In order to protect our reputation and attract even more users, we’re very clear we won’t sell or share their data to brands or retailers. When working with external partners, we only ever share anonymised “audience” data with them so no one person can be singled out or contacted. At the end of the day, our decisions are always for the benefit of our users and not the brands selling to them.


RC: How important is personalisation for The Sole Supplier and how granular is your personalisation model?


GS: Navigating through the casual footwear market can be difficult for consumers, with new releases announced every week. Through The Sole Supplier website and app, we’re trying to make the whole process of finding the perfect pair easier by filtering results by brand, colour and size.

Our app is particularly good at delivering the most relevant content to users based on their preferences which they can update at any point.


RC: To what extent do you pass discounts on to consumers?


GS: At The Sole Supplier, we provide our community with direct links to buy the latest trainer drops before they sell out; it’s not our model to offer pairs at a discounted rate. However, we do try to save our customers money where we can, linking them to all the sellers we know have them in stock and notifying them of any promo codes we know are circulating.

This activity ramps up for us around Black Friday and Boxing Day sales, where we push as much discount information as we can out via our website, app and social channels. Occasionally, we also team up with brands and retailers to offer our community exclusive discounts which they can’t get anywhere else.


Want to know more about The Sole Supplier? Or how you can use their stella new app? Find them on their website

Read more Q&A’s and exclusive interviews on Retail Connections here+

Weekend Reading: Don’t miss these 3 brand new retail reports

Fieldworks Marketing has been working with some leading technology providers and publishers to produce and support industry reports that explore pressing industry issues of the day.

We know our readers are busy people, so here’s a handy snapshot of what this weeks top three cover, with some edited highlights.

Don’t miss these 3 reports:
Access Group

Access Group has produced an insightful report, Workforce Management: the case for human intelligence in automated retail.

Key take-away:

Forward-thinking retailers including Crew Clothing and WHSmith are using workforce management solutions to ensure they have a retail workforce fit for the future. The report explores in detail what can be achieved with this technology.

Download the your free copy of the report here:

Workforce Management: the case for human intelligence in automated retail 


The Retail Masterbuilders report is a blueprint for future-proof retailing.

Imagine you had all the tools, talent, and time to build a retail business from the ground up. What would you do? This eBook explores what it takes to build (or rebuild) a successful retail brand in today’s omni-channel world—even if you’re not starting from scratch.

Key take-away:

The argument for AI in retail is now clear – the value that lies deep in an ever-expanding data lake can only be found and harnessed with the help of AI algorithms, and most analytical applications are now taking advantage of AI and machine learning.

Download your free copy of the Retail Masterbuilders report here.

Retail Masterbuilders 



From a survey of 2,000 UK shoppers, this special consumer led report details what should be driving retail decision-making in 2019, where the industry is currently excelling, and where it is falling short. Who is winning in the CX stakes? The report reveals the best retailers for in-store and online customer experience, and who is re-energising their offering to match what consumers want and expect to see from retail. It offers inspiration, guidance and good practice for the sector to re-energise retail in 2019 and beyond.

Key take-away:

40% of consumers say they don’t enjoy making online purchases on digital home assistants,
such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa. So there is clearly more work to do with voice enabled commerce.

Download your free copy of the One Vision 2019 Retail report here:

ONE VISION: how to re-energise retail in 2019 and beyond

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