CSA Exclusive: DSW puts best foot forward when it comes to innovation

DSW’s revamped loyalty program is just the latest of many new services the company is offering to improve the shopping experience, both online and off.

The footwear retailer adopted a new brand mission last fall, one that focuses innovating customer experiences to drive better engagement. Its new VIP loyalty program is the newest offering in its plan.

The updated program, which launched on Wednesday, May 9, has transitioned away from a traditional points-based rewards program to offer new benefits and more relevant rewards. Featuring three tiers of membership, DSW now offers personalized perks based on its 25 million members’ purchase behavior both in-store and online. Customers can also track points, reward thresholds and earned rewards through DSW’s app.

“When our loyalty program launched 20 years ago, we were one of the leaders, but lately we started to fall behind,” Simon Nankervis, DSW’s chief commercial officer, told Chain Store Age. We wanted to revamp the program to look beyond rewards and offer what is really important to customers. When we asked their feedback, their expectations were clear: they wanted to earn points faster, free shipping, and early access to events and offers.”

The program also enables customers to earn points when they make in-store shoe donations, an effort that benefits DSW’s philanthropic partner, Soles4Souls. Looking ahead, DSW plans to enable customers to donate points to charity. This program is expected to launch later this year, according to Nankervis.

LAB STORE: Like its loyalty program, customer feedback is driving many of DSW’s other improvements, including those being tested at its “lab” store. Opened in fall 2017, the store is located at Polaris Fashion Place mall, Columbus, Ohio, and is dedicated to testing programs and initiatives “that address customer feedback and expectations,” explained Nankervis. “The store features innovations that build engagement, distort traditional assortments, enable associate product knowledge, and improve operational execution.”

One of the lab’s priorities is to adopt new solutions that utilize all 35,000 sq. ft. of the location. According to Nankervis, DSW was only using approximately 28,000 sq. ft. of it stores, so “we needed to find more options to immerse our shoppers in the store and shopping experience.”

Some of the options and new elements featured in the lab store include:

• The “trend design zone.” The first 15 ft. of the store is being used as an ever-changing space that will feature the latest fashion trends, design, or group of merchandise.

“We will use it to distort the assortment, and make the experience more interactive,” Nankervis said.

• Updated fixtures. DSW is getting back to its “warehouse” roots and using new display elements to achieve its goal. A mixture of natural wood sliders and metallic racks ranging between 2 ft. and 9 ft., support more visibility throughout the store. These additions also helped DSW increase available in-store merchandise, which jumped from 30,000 pairs of shoes to 50,000. Currently, four DSW locations are adding the new warehouse-style racking and fixtures.

• New navigation tools. Taking cues from how customers search for merchandise online, DSW classifies Polaris’ in-store departments by online search terms.

“Seventy percent of DSW customers search online before visiting a store,” Nankervis said. “We analyzed how they browse, and now display the most searched merchandise. We also created navigational signage based on the most searched terms to create a more engaging journey.”

• New services. DSW is leveraging partnerships to add an array of new services. For example, the retailer partnered with the W Nail Bar to open a nail salon in the rear of the space — and DSW VIPs earn points during their visits, Nankervis said.

The store also offers shoe and handbag repairs through a partnership with My Shoe Hospital. And through its partnership with Fit Step Pro, the store has a section dedicated to creating custom insoles. The space also features a buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) department, and a lounge, or concierge area.

“It doesn’t look like a typical DSW,” Nankervis explained. “We are morphing the brand. But, by embracing our heritage, we are creating seamless transactions and services.”

Going forward, all new DSW stores will feature different elements of the Polaris lab format, starting with the retailer’s upcoming location at Easton Market in Columbus, Ohio. The store, which is due to open in September, will offer a W Nail Bar, shoe repairs, fixturing and store design, and a lounge area. The retailer also plans to incorporate select elements from the lab store in some of its existing locations.

LAS VEGAS: Emerging innovations are not just confined to DSW’s Polaris lab. The company is preparing to open a 12,000 sq. ft. flagship in Las Vegas in July. It will feature pieces of the new warehouse design concept, as well as digital elements, such as a 3D digital tunnel that surrounds an escalator.

The store will also feature what DSW called a “shoevator,” Controlled by an item locator app, “the service will enable us to source product in a specified location in the store, and then use a conveyor to transport the item to the customer wherever they are in the store,” Nankervis explained.

Nankervis also envisions a time when the loyalty program will tie-in with DSW’s added services.

“Eventually we want to connect rewards to our other services, such as W nail salons, our shoe repair and Fit Step Pro,” Nankervis said. “We envision DSW VIPs pre-booking a manicure or pedicure, and shopping before their appointment. They can order a pair of shoes, get their nails done, and the shoevator could have the merchandise waiting at checkout following their service. We are positioned to do unique things going forward.”