RBTE 2014: Clarks looks to stand out through use of technology

Shoe brand and retailer Clarks is putting a significant focus on evolving its in-store technology offering in 2014, as part of a wider digital strategy to grow its business and stand out from the competition in the footwear sector.

The company is currently using its patented iPad foot measuring gauge in 50 UK stores, but aims to roll it out to all 680 stores in the UK and Ireland by the end of the year.

The tool, which is used when selling children's shoes, features the brand's animated characters, Jack and Daisy, to help keep kids entertained but it also allows Clarks to digitalise foot measurements and gain accurate readings using an app capable of quickly generating complex algorithmic calculations.

The information collected could during the process could eventually be used to help personalise the future shopping experience with Clarks, as parents could track the development of their children’s feet size and potentially assess past purchases.

Global IT director at Clarks, David Grant, told Essential Retail: "The iPad foot measuring gauge makes us stand out from the crowd, offering a different experience while following the Clarks ethos of innovation."

In a further sign of innovative thinking, Grant was talking as an exhibitor at leading European technology solutions show RBTE. The idea behind the retailer's appearance on the exhibition floor this year (see image below), which is primarily occupied by the vendor community, was to generate interest in Clarks' technology among other retailers and brands.

"Retailers on the high street potentially could use the iPad foot measuring gauge," he explained.

"Part of the reason we are at RBTE is to explore those ideas. We want to see how we could white label the technology and use it for other brands as well."

Clarks is also working on a mobile app, which could ultimately allow customers to measure their own feet at home, purchase a product online and organise home delivery. Grant suggested that this could potentially be in place by 2015, and the move is in acknowledgment of a 54% annual rise in eCommerce sales last year.

"Bearing in mind the speed the mobile industry is moving, we need to have an app that can work on any device so it doesn’t restrict us in terms of consumer experience and one that allows us to potentially provide it to any consumer in the future," the IT director noted.

According to Grant, the IT department at Clarks has worked extensively with the company's board to develop a digital strategy that it hopes can help grow and future-proof the business. A team led by Chris Towns, Clarks innovations manager, are in place to help turn technological ideas into a reality.

"The aim has been to leverage mobile technology like the iPad and other devices to enhance the consumer experience," Grant said.

"This is achieved, not only by offering personalised accurate measurement of feet, but by taking it further and using the application to see if a shoe is in stock, improving on the current consumer experience."

Deploying mobile point of sale (MPoS) capability in-store, which would give Clarks the opportunity to serve and convert sales at different locations within its shops and help avoid long queues, is also on the agenda.

Grant predicts that MPoS is about a year away from being introduced to Clarks stores, but it is clear that it is crucial, from the chief financial offer's perspective, to get sufficient value from what would inevitably be a significant investment.

"We have a number of programmes underway internally where we are refreshing some of our PoS systems and we're thinking very strategically about investments and who we make the investments with," he added.

"Being at RBTE has been very useful for that purpose."

Clarks is evidently looking to introduce new ideas to the business and become more than just a retailer and brand over the coming year. Leaflets on its RBTE stand, this week, were encouraging passers-by to share their innovative ideas, with the view to building potential partnerships.

Grant commented: "There are lots of potential opportunities, so coming to an event like RBTE allows us to explore these new ideas, widen our message, take our innovation and move it forward."