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The Personal Touch

BY Dan Berthiaume

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.

Grow With What You Know

“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.”

So in 2009, Russell co-founded Springboard Retail, using learnings from nine years of developing proprietary applications at In The Pink and a cloud-based Javascript infrastructure. In August 2011, In The Pink became Springboard Retail’s first client with an alpha rollout of an extensive platform.

“We wanted a modern retail platform with applications on top,” Russell said. “We see huge benefits from providing information across internal and external channels.”

The Right Data, Right Away

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.

Disruption Pays

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?”

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Customer Disruption 2014

BY Dan Berthiaume

The convergence of a number of leading-edge technologies is launching a revolution in the customer experience. Mobile devices, social media, 24/7 connectivity and a blurring of the lines between formerly separate customer service “channels” have upended the rules of retail, forever disrupting the notion of business as usual. It’s a brave new world — and one that Chain Store Age will explore at its first-ever Customer Disruption event, May 7-9, 2014, at Sofitel Hotel in Redwood Shores, Calif., the Gateway to the Silicon Valley.

Here are some highlights of the upcoming event:

  • A visit to the Plug and Play Tech Center, where retailers will have the chance to network with executives from some of Silicon Valley’s most innovative start-ups.
  • Presentations from leading-edge retailers on how innovative technology is reshaping the very nature of retailer-customer interaction.
  • A lineup of expert speakers, including Nadia Shouraboura, founder and CEO of hot retail start-up Hointer, which is reinventing the in-store experience, and Nicolas Franchet, head of retail and e-commerce, global vertical marketing, for social networking giant Facebook.
  • Discussions and insight on the new technologies that are disrupting the traditional customer experience paradigm — and how retailers can get on board.
  • The opportunity to network and learn from other attendees, who will include retail executives in such areas as IT, marketing, finance and merchandising.

“I look forward to the Customer Disruption conference,” said Hointer’s Shouraboura. “I see a group of retail and IT disruptors talking about innovation, sharing ideas and figuring out how to respond to mind-boggling changes in customer experience.”

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2014 – The Year of Disruption in Retail

BY Dan Berthiaume

Sooner or later, disruption occurs in almost every sphere of human activity. While the radical upending of long-established norms and conventions is not always a positive development, oftentimes disruptive forces enable a burst of creativity and innovation that move an industry toward new levels of success and achievement.

The Sex Pistols disrupted rock music in the 1970s with short and simplistic, yet powerful songs that focused on real emotions and social ills. Quentin Tarantino disrupted films in the 1990s with movies that disregarded traditional approaches to plot and dialogue. Both industries were thus opened to further innovation and insight that had previously been unobtainable.

Leading-edge technologies, such as social, mobile, video, location-sensing and Big Data analytics, hold promise to produce similar results in the retail industry. These technologies are simultaneously providing customers with a far greater level of control over their individual customer experience, while also providing retailers with insight into the personal preferences and habits of individual customers they could only have dreamed about a few short years ago.

The year 2014 is shaping up as the year of disruption in retail, and in this special section Chain Store Age takes a look at some of the unfolding trends and developments. From specialty retailer In the Pink, which is empowering store associates with real-time mobile data, to casual dining leader Applebee’s planned rollout of tablets at its tables nationwide, retailers are exploring new ways to engage customers and enhance the shopping experience, both online and in-store. And then there is ModCloth, which is using an innovative crowdsourcing model to create intimacy — and fuel its growth.

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