In the Cloud

Cloud technology opens torrent of customer data for Chico's FAS

Implementing a cloud solution has given Chico's a better understanding of its customer.

Maintaining a wealth of customer data has become a primary directive for retail IT departments. In recent years, retailers have been making substantial investments in solutions that collect and store data relating to their customers' purchases, behaviors, preferences, demographic characteristics and almost any other traits you can think of. But after all this data has been captured, what do you do with it? 

In the case of Chico's FAS Inc., the Fort Myers, Fla.-based parent company of women's specialty apparel retail banners Chico's, White House I Black Market, Soma Intimates and Boston Proper, the answer came from the sky — in a manner of speaking.

"We had a rich customer database but couldn't get to all the data," said Barb Brandon, director of CRM technology for Chico's FAS, which operates more than 1,250 stores under its various banners. "We were looking for a way to capitalize on customer data."

Chico's stored its troves of customer data on disparate servers with different applications. This meant the company had to send data out to external sources in order to be able to work with it. In 2008, Chico's decided it was time to implement a single solution. However, at the time the retail operator was already in the midst of a very large enterprise-wide technology rollout.

"It caused a drain on the IT and infrastructure teams," recalled Brandon. "We didn't want to rock the infrastructure more than we already were. That led to us seeking a SaaS-type cloud solution."

Chico's had some very specific criteria for potential cloud partners. Most importantly, the company sought to partner with a cloud services provider that could also help it bring hosted data tools in house if needed.

"We didn't want to commit to the cloud forever," said Brandon. "We wanted a partner, not a vendor. Vendors are easy to find. We wanted to find a partner that would bring us into their family and work with us."

With those prerequisites in mind, the retailer evaluated six vendors, dropping some because they did not offer cloud capabilities, and ultimately settled on SAS. According to Brandon, SAS' strong commitment to R&D was a key factor in its selection of the vendor. Chico's then partnered with the SAS On-Demand cloud team.

"We were not implementing an out-of-box solution," said Brandon. "So we determined a strategy to create a robust database with a set of tools sitting on top. The six-month implementation went fairly smooth. I was surprised how quickly we got it done with our very small team."

During the initial implementation, Chico's rolled out SAS solutions, including Marketing Automation, which comprises Campaign Intelligence Studio, Enterprise Miner, Enterprise Guide and Business Intelligence. Since initial rollout, the retailer has also implemented the Size & Pack and Forecast Server solutions from SAS, and the On-Demand cloud team has maintained an active partnership with the retailer.

According to Brandon, the most important benefit Chico's has received from using cloud-based SAS solutions is that technology has been placed in the hands of business users.

"Business users are operating the pedals and running the tools," said Brandon. "They understand the data better now. Having an integrated single source of customer data extends our capabilities as an organization. It's pretty powerful. The partnership between the business and technology sides of the organization is rock solid. They couldn't do without each other's support."

In addition, Brandon said the ready cloud-based accessibility of data and technology has allowed the company to move from beyond simply being a data-savvy organization to one that approaches information with curiosity.

"We understand that when you're digging in data, the question you ask is not the one you wind up answering," said Brandon. "You find 10 nuggets of information beyond the one you originally dig for."

Looking ahead, Brandon said that Chico's will use cloud-based access to in-depth customer data to keep developing better insight into its customers.

"We will continue to understand our customer, how she thinks and behaves," Brandon added. "As we move into a multichannel world, this is where the power is. To know more about the customer and where she is and what she wants. Chico's is more focused on the customer than anyplace I've ever been. We want to use the cloud to optimize customer touchpoints and put tools in place to avoid 'customer fatigue' by creating the specific experience that each customer is looking for."

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