Eric Singleton, SVP and CIO at Chico’s FAS, Inc. has to deliver the best experience across channels—in store, online and on mobile devices—to both employees and consumers, and make sure it’s consistent. We spoke with him to find out how he is using mobile technology to improve retail sales and service.
ME: What’s new with online sales?
ES: We have four major web sites (Chico’s, White House | Black Market, Soma Intimates and Boston Proper), and on each of those sites we get a high number of transactions. We’re now working on making the relationship between the online experience and the in-store experience increasingly tighter. This whole science of blending the two buying experiences has become tremendously important, because it goes hand and hand with the behavioral shift in consumer purchasing.
Blending the two will make it possible for customers to do three things:
• Shop online, and then pick up in the store
• Shop online, and then try on in the store
• Try on in the store, and then buy online
Blending the two experiences requires the stores to cooperate with one another as location choices for different apparel. One store may not have an item, but the store across town may have it. The stores have to work together; and all of these actions depend on information exchange between the different players.
This blending is an important focal point for us—one that will allow us to do some new and interesting things that nobody else is doing.
ME: How does mobility help?
ES: Mobility is one of the most important aspects of all this. Whichever device you choose as a consumer—a tablet or a smartphone—information is now available everywhere.
Customers use a number of devices and may want to make a purchase at any time and in any context. At Chico’s we need to make sure we are there at all those moments and in all those contexts—so that we’re just a click away. In fact, we want to be just a thought away. Our entire operation is focused around this concept we call the "Chico’s Digital Retail Theater."
Consumer mobility is a crucial factor we need to understand and weave into the customer relationship. It’s a lot broader than simply having an app on a mobile device—although we are going down that road too. Our approach is more of a holistic one, addressing mobility of the consumer in his or her lifestyle.
We have made a serious commitment to creating an omni-channel experience for the consumer. We want to address the nuances of their day-to-day lives in a way that keeps us present in their thought processes at the moments when they’re thinking about the products that we provide and the lifestyles that we address.
ME: How is mobile technology making your workforce more effective?
ES: We are in the process of deploying a tablet-based solution for the 20,000 associates in our stores. The first app, which is designed for the iPad mini, is a very robust customer relationship management (CRM) solution that uses the cloud infrastructure we’ve engineered. So that when a customer walks into the store, we have, at our fingertips, a myriad of information that help our associates initiate a discussion.
This gives the associate a better opportunity to provide what we call, "most amazing personal service." In a matter of moments the customer can view our entire assortment across multiple brands.
This app is now being rolled out, first with the Chico's brand, which is our largest brand. Then we’ll roll out to our three other brands.
ME: Was the iPad mini one of the triggers for mobile?
ES: The iPad mini was definitely something we chose early. We had some data that told us the adoption rate by the associates would be significantly higher with an iPad mini than it would be with another device, such as the iPad Air. The mini is smaller, lighter and more cozy to have with you all day.
ME: How did you deal with the cultural change when implementing new technology?
ES: We didn't really meet with resistance, but some people found it challenging to learn how the device works and how to leverage it successfully. We anticipated this; so we teed up a simple and straight forward education and training component that lands in the store around the same time the iPads land there too.
There’s always going to be some percentage of people who are, perhaps, nervous, or have concerns about whether they'll be able to figure it out. But these people usually quickly discover, within the first day, that these devices are friendly, with an intuitive user interface. The associates realize that these tools will help them in the job of selling.
Today’s mobile apps are profoundly intuitive, and touch and gesture sensitive. They’re easier than ever before. The broader percentage of the population of associates at Chico’s has been really enthusiastic, which is a great sign.
We’re also benefiting from the fact that mobile technology has been a part of our culture for a few years now, and that people aren't surprised by the devices and apps.
ME: What other things are you doing with mobility and employees?
ES: We’re mostly focused on helping the associates in the stores. But like any other company, we have a fair number of enterprise apps with a mobile component.
It’s just keeping up with the advantages of mobile technology with a workforce that, in our case, really isn't crammed inside one building. We have something like a college campus environment, which by itself creates a situation where we have to select enterprise applications with mobile elements.
ME: What’s ahead in mobile for you?
ES: We have a research and innovation department within our IT group. The purpose of that department is to continually explore emerging technologies, or technology that is in production but that hasn’t yet been properly adopted.
Our engineers constantly think about what the implications are to our business and to our customers, and what opportunities emerging technologies might create for us to provide better products and service. We are all working hard, doing what we’re doing, and hoping to move the needle on retail a little bit.