For upscale retailers, providing an intimate and responsive customer experience is even more critical than it is for more mainstream chains. In The Pink, a Falmouth, Mass.-based, seven-unit affiliate of specialty retailer Lilly Pulitzer, is disrupting both how customer service is delivered in its stores and how IT vendors deliver technology to retailers.
In The Pink is in the interesting position of essentially serving as its own retail platform vendor. Gordon Russell, founder of In The Pink, is also co-founder of Springboard Retail, provider of retail software that helps In The Pink perform activities, such as checkout, reporting, inventory management, order placement, CRM and purchasing/receiving in a unified way that transforms the customer shopping environment.
“Proprietary applications helped In The Pink grow between 1999 and 2008,” Russell said during an in-person interview at a Boston-area coffee shop. “In 2008, we realized that we couldn’t keep building proprietary applications.”
“We wanted a modern retail platform with applications on top,” Russell said. “We see huge benefits from providing information across internal and external channels.”
For example, the Springboard Retail platform provides In The Pink with a Web-based POS system that store associates can use on any device, including Android-based mobile phones and iPads. The system also allows employees to perform purchasing and receiving, inventory control and discounting from mobile devices. This makes activities such as ordering out-of-stock items much more responsive to customer demand.
Even more relevant to providing a disruptive customer experience is a first-generation customer dashboard accessible to store associates via mobile device. For customers who identify themselves or whom associates recognize, the dashboard enables a significant level of real-time personalization.
“Sales associates get vital information so they can make more relevant recommendations,” Russell said. “They get a comparison of the customer to all customers on average during the past 12 months. They can look at data like average transaction margin, units per transaction, total sales and rate of product return. Associates can also see the customer’s preferences by vendor, category and style, and can make adjustments as needed.”
The Springboard platform provides APIs to allow the development of custom applications, and In The Pink has taken advantage. One notable custom app, which sits in the store and is accessible via mobile device, allows associates to view the lowest-selling Lilly Pulitzer styles in real time. This enables associates to take steps to boost sales of these items, which helps even out overall sales and contributes to higher margins.
In The Pink has had impressive financial results from its disruption efforts so far. Between August 2011 and August 2012, the retailer grew same-store sales 15.3%. In the second 12 months of launch, between August 2012 and August 2013, In The Pink increased same-store sales another 19% on top of the initial increase. And the chain has more plans for extending the reach of real-time data.
“The second generation of the application will be customer-facing,” Russell said. “We also want to put data in the hands of other constituents. What if product vendors could get access to performance data with a permission-based login?”