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09/23/2022

CSA Exclusive: Chico’s supports personalization with microservices

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Jay topper
Jay Topper, chief digital officer, Chico’s FAS

Chico’s FAS Inc. is cloud-enabling its e-commerce platform.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Jay Topper, chief digital officer, Chico’s, about how the specialty women’s apparel and intimates retailer is launching a microservices-based “composable commerce” model to support omnichannel customer engagement.

Basically, composable commerce is each service in a commerce system having its own individual database and its own individual self-contained set of functions that it performs for the operation,” said Topper. “This is as opposed to something like an enterprise platform, where everything is contained within one coupled system.”

Moving past the legacy
When Topper joined Chico’s in spring 2021, the retailer had a number of solutions that were approaching legacy status.

“There were antiquated products and platforms in our portfolio, specifically around e-commerce,” said Topper.

One major issue Chico’s faced was that its e-commerce platform was almost at end of life, due to mandated upgrades by the end of 2024 to stay compliant with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI/DSS) standards.

“You can't upgrade the operating system to keep up with the security requirements,” explained Topper. “So there is a little bit of a forcing function, which I always think is great, because that provides a good backdrop to be able to get other things done.”

In addition to PCI/DSS compliance issues, Chico’s e-commerce platform also does not support capabilities such as cross-selling, shared omnichannel shopping carts, or product information management (PIM).

“We knew it would be a massive lift to able to, for example, offer a t-shirt bra to somebody that's buying a t-shirt on White House Black Market,” stated Topper. “If you go to our website now and you look at the attribution, we don't have a PIM. The catalog is incredibly limiting. So, we have very few filter capabilities on the site, and there are fewer and fewer developers and very few platforms are developing integrations out of the box. It's just become a limiting function for what we're trying to do for our customers.”

Selecting microservices partners
Based on positive experience in previous retail technology executive positions, Topper engaged with digital consulting firm Bounteous to help select a composable microservices architecture provider. In February 2022, Chico’s partnered with headless commerce platform Fabric Inc. to create a new technology foundation based on Fabric’s modular architecture.

The alignment of how Fabric coded its system with Chico’s infrastructure, along with the vendor’s high levels of accessibility and responsiveness, were critical factors in the selection. In addition, Fabric is willing to provide all the APIs for its solutions, meaning Chico’s can customize them or integrate them with technology from other vendors without difficulty.

[Read more: Chico's in new tech partnership to drive omnichannel growth, innovation]

“This project is broken out into seven or eight different components,” said Topper. “Each one has its own benefits. Cross-selling is a big-box checker for us, especially for the Soma brand. There's not a tremendous amount of overlap between the Chico's and White House | Black Market customer, but there's an awful lot of overlap and potential overlap between White House Black Market and Soma and Chico's and Soma, because our intimate and apparel business serves anybody from 16 to 86 years old.”

The need for speed
Topper also stressed the importance of site speed for customers.

“The measurement of speed is a killer right now on our site,” stated Topper. “We lose SEO rankings because of it, we have abandons and dropoffs because of it. Filtering where a customer can actually type in silk, blue blouse and ruffles and actually get a result or on search, or go over to the filters and select by color by fabric. I mean, these are basic things that for the most part we can't do right now. So, it's going to make that kind of shopping a lot a lot easier.”

Behind the scenes
On the back end, Topper said that because its new composable commerce architecture will be cloud-based, as vendor Fabric will take on responsibility for product roadmaps, upgrades and updates; as well as the infrastructure, servers, and security.

“None of that falls in our lap, and there's an 18-month ROI even if we get no customer improvements, although the vast majority of this involves customer improvements,” said Topper.

Topper expects the pilot, which will probably last about 18 months, to officially launch in November 2022. The pilot will not be consumer-facing.

“It's just to make sure that we have the pipes tested, that we have the scope completely outlined,” he stated. “The biggest risk with microservices architecture is the plumbing.”