Big interview: Charles Tyrwhitt retail director Ian Shaw

UK-based shirt-maker Charles Tyrwhitt is a retailer of traditional formalwear, and its retail director of the last 12 months Ian Shaw is a keen advocate of using smart shop-keeping techniques to get customers through the company's 21 stores.

Primarily a mail order catalogue retailer, Charles Tyrwhitt has 20 stores across England, Scotland and the US, as well as one in Paris, and Shaw argues that the business's most powerful use of technology currently comes in the form of direct marketing.

To coin an American phrase that is probably more likely to be used by the retailer's staff in one of its three New York stores or its one Washington DC outlet, the clothing company is regularly reaching out to customers with online offers or in-store deals – and sensible data collection over time is helping the business better predict footfall patterns.

"You collect infomation at the till, whether it's postcodes or email addresses, and this data capture is a critical part of the process in gaining knowledge of who shops with you and when," Shaw explains.

"We can segment our database and see who is a frequent shopper, and tailor our marketing accordingly. It's a case of applying direct marketing methods that are more familiar with our mail order business to a retail customer."

Using these direct marketing skills, the retailer is able to predict, to a relatively accurate degree, footfall levels and which stores people will visit, allowing Shaw and his team of store managers to amend staffing levels and opening hours accordingly.

Although these may be relatively modern components of the wider retailing process, Charles Tyrwhitt seems keen to use these tools to enhance the traditional customer service element of shop-keeping. Emails are automatically sent to anyone who makes a purchase in-store, allowing for customers to provide feedback that in turn gives all departments an opportunity to learn what they are doing right and wrong.

"We get an average of 20-30 customers per day per store feeding back to us via email after they've shopped with us, telling us what their experiences were," Shaw says.

"They can tell us about service, products, who served them – it's better than a mystery shopper and much more regular. The amount of feedback we get is fantastic."

Charles Tyrwhitt is planning to open two more stores in the US next year, while there are also one or two outlets in the pipeline for the UK in the next 12 months. As the company grows, it is gradually adopting technology that is in-keeping with its target audience's requirements, rather than introducing tech for tech's sake.

In-store technology is becoming increasingly essential as a tool for improving the customer experience, though, and Shaw believes systems that have worked for leading consumer electronics retailer Apple can work for Charles Tyrwhitt. Apple iPads have been installed in two of the shirt-maker's stores to give customers a chance to browse the full range of products it offers – and these may be rolled out further in the months ahead – while digital screens are being used in-store more regularly to display deals and other brand messages.

"Technology is no substitute for great product," the retail director argues. "If your products aren't great you can huff and puff with IT all you like to no avail. Stores are a portal for the brand, so what I would be looking for technology to do is allow customers to enter a store at any time and buy anything from any range, offering no barriers to a purchase."

And when it comes to the wider use of technology, Shaw always has the customer in mind. Although women's formalwear and accessories are offered in-store, online and via the catalogue, the vast majority of Charles Tyrwhitt customers are time-poor men who often visit stores on their lunch-break or after work.

"I want us to be able to use wireless technology to allow us to make more transactions, so people don't have to queue," he notes.

"We should be able to provide more mobile point of sale options to minimise queues. We're not there yet, but it's a direction we'd like to go."

Shaw has been working in retail for around 30 years, having spent time at Arcadia before more recently assuming the retail director role at fashion retailers Fat Face and Jack Wills. While working for Fat Face he oversaw a period where the fashion retailer grew from eight stores to 100 over an eight-year period.

He is an experienced industry player, and he still humbly refers to his job as shop-keeping. It's refreshing to hear this nod to tradition in an industry that is creating new job titles and tech-fuelled buzz-phrases on what seems to be a daily basis.

There is no denying, however, that the way consumers shop is entirely different to the 1980s when Shaw's career was in its infancy. For Charles Tyrwhitt, though, technology is not turning the business upside down; it is being used to aid the tried and trusted formula of good customer service.

"The fundamentals of retail are the same as they have always been, such as providing good service and interesting merchandising – you can't forget that," Shaw asserts.

"But now, with the advent of technology, it's also about getting the right people in the right place at the right time, and using the technology available to provide feedback and help our staff learn. It is basic shop-keeping with lots more science."