How House of Fraser restructured to think customer first

House of Fraser has shaken up its internal structure to put the customer at the centre of all its thinking. 

Chief customer officer at House of Fraser, Andy Harding, said the retailer has been realigning its business around the customer so they can buy “any place, any time, any way”. 

While the retailer was late to the digital game in launching its website – six years behind John Lewis and five behind Debenhams – it quickly rolled out a web and mobile proposition and even became one of the first retailers to launch a ‘buy and collect service’. But while the retailer had multiple successful channels, Harding said it soon realised that thinking about customer service through channels was detrimental to creating a seamless customer experience. 

“I hate the word omnichannel,” said Harding, speaking at MetaPack’s Delivery Conference in London this week. “I don’t like to think everything is the same, all channels have the unique ability to add value to the customer. And it’s really important, because if you try to maintain the same proposition across everything, you’ll lose out on benefits some of those devices have.”

Harding said the retailer began ‘Project Gold’ which was to look at how the company was structured internally and to ensure commercial revenue was driven by customers, rather than by channels. 

“We needed to embrace complex customer behaviours,” explained Harding, who said customer behaviour is constantly changing. “We can’t predict what will happen in five years’ time – eight years ago we didn’t have the iPhone, and look how that has fundamentally changed the world.”

Harding said the business structurally changed to think about the customer first. Harding became chief customer officer and other sub-departments also changed their way of thinking.

“I’m chief customer officer and there’s only half a dozen or so of us, and all of us do different job roles, so we had no blueprint for this,” he said. 

House of Fraser’s brand team was traditionally separated into the team which dealt with TV advertising and a content and social team for online activities. “There were lots of different elements to our brand, but it was fundamentally split by channel, so we squashed all that together,” explained Harding. 

Meanwhile, the online merchandising team was combined with House of Fraser’s customer marketing teams, while the digital product team was moved to sit in between IT and the business so it could focus on everything about the digital customer experience, from app interfaces to the journey online customers have to make to pick up goods from a store. 

This restructure has allowed House of Fraser to gain true customer insight, while becoming channel agnostic. “There’s a consistency to everything we do and we have seamless customer experience linking everything together.”

Harding said he is happy if House of Fraser can encourage customers to get their phones out in the retail environment. “Even if you can get customers to connect to Wi-Fi to check the football scores, then we can introduce value through [in-store] interactions. If you can just scan a barcode with your mobile or connect to a mannequin beacon and buy straight away – that’s a big win.”

Harding said House of Fraser uses delivery as a differentiator, providing shipping into 130 countries. 

“Buy and collect are the cornerstones of our growth,” he said. “We’ve continually pushed the boundaries and now offer a midnight cut-off for midday collection the following day, seven days a week.”

He said this service has been received extremely well by customers, but the retailer has become a victim of its own success. “It creates enormous queues at lunchtime in that one hour when everyone wants to collect their parcels.”

This queue was particularly long the day following Black Friday, so House of Fraser is looking into predicting this daily hour rush and offering customers incentives to come and collect their items at different times. It is also working with start-up, Qudini, which provides a digital queueing solution to improve the customer satisfaction. 

“For us the journey we’ve been on has been enlightening,” said Harding. “We used to speak about putting the customer first, but we were not really delivering. It’s much easier to talk the talk, and it is much harder to walk the walk, and I think that’s where we are now.”