Big interview: Cath Kidston IT director Mike Padfield

The year 2013 has been a significant one for home furnishings and fashion retailer Cath Kidston as it entered China for the first time, but there is still plenty to come from the business known for its trademark floral design.

By Christmas this year, the retailer will have opened flagship stores on Shanghai’s Huaihai Road and London’s Piccadilly – and both are generating excitement within the Cath Kidston team due to their prestigious locations and potential for customer-facing technology.

Unlike other Cath Kidston store openings in Asia, which are run in partnership with local operators, the Chinese operation consists of the retailer’s own stores and that means that the new shop in China’s capital will reflect many features of the one set to be unveiled in December at 180 Piccadilly in London.

“We are treating the flagships similarly. We’re opening with customer free Wi-Fi in-store, and we’re looking at implementing customer ordering points,” explained Cath Kidston IT director Mike Padfield.

“All of this makes the customer’s life easier, so that they have more options and a positive in-store experience.”

Padfield said that some of these features might not be present when the stores are officially opened later this year, due to the tight deadlines that the business has been working towards, but tech-focused functions and features are expected to be added over time.

Retail has moved through an eCommerce revolution over the last decade, and this has been followed by a lot of recent excitement and opportunity around mCommerce – but there are now a large number of retailers that are viewing technology as a way of harnessing this interest in digital capability for the betterment of the traditional store channel.

It is part of what many in the industry are calling omnichannel retailing, where customers are served in the same convenient manner across all transaction and communication channels, and although Padfield is not a big fan of the phrase used to describe this process, he is a keen advocate of the sentiment behind it.

He commented: “We’ll be looking at the mobile piece and omnichannel more closely – the concept of having a customer who can transact with you anywhere, with the same high quality level of service on each platform be it mobile, PC or tablet or, indeed, in-store.

“If the product is not in-store there needs to be the capacity to have a product delivered to store or home – it’s all about convenience and everything is now much more revolving around the customer rather than the tech to deliver it. The customer needs to be the number one important thing.”

On a more simplistic basis, the forthcoming Cath Kidston flagships will each have images and projections in-store, all designed to add to the necessary theatre and brand experience required in today's retail industry, but to really achieve success and build a relationship with the connected customer, back office solutions are also crucial.

With the company already opening two stores in China this year and with one more to be unveiled prior to the aforementioned flagship, much of Padfield’s work in 2013 has been around ensuring the business’s IT is fit for purpose in this brand new territory for the retailer.

We have our own systems in there – and we worked with our existing PoS supplier Futura to develop the solution they had internationally,” he noted.

“Apart from the language, things are very similar to the UK. We have created a second head office database to manage the Chinese translation and the various elements. It’s more complex in terms of getting information to and from the tills, but the tills themselves are very similar and the operation is being kept as clean and as straight forward as possible.”

While international expansion has occupied much of Cath Kidston’s time during the year so far – 2013 has seen the business open stores in Hong Kong and Singapore – eCommerce development has also been a strong feature of the retailer’s recent strategy.

A new website was launched in August, designed and built by BT Expedite using the latest version of the supplier’s FrescaCommerce platform. It includes online ratings and reviews, wish-lists, e-vouchers, enhanced search, click & collect facilities and a range of delivery options.

Cath Kidston is now looking to build on this platform and launch foreign language sites and localised payment options. The new site currently allows purchases in pounds, euros and dollars, but the next phase, which is due to be completed in the coming months, will see localised content for customers outside the UK.

Working with BT Expedite, the retailer is in the process of developing a French language site, which will be used as a test site for further local language portals. A Chinese website will ultimately arrive, but the company is using a nearby country to test how non-UK eCommerce can work.

“We deliver worldwide and in a multitude of currencies but in order to understand the complexities of delivering a different language website we chose one that is a bit closer to home and arguably easier for us to manage and understand,” said Padfield.

“We currently dispatch everything from the UK, but we’re looking at ways we can change this further down the line as it is not necessarily the most cost effective method.”

Judging by Cath Kidston’s recent activity, it is clear that the IT team are becoming increasingly central to everything a retailer currently wants to implement. Whether that is getting more involved higher up the supply chain with critical path management or managing stock levels in real time, there is a growing need for new applications and efficient technology.

During Padfield’s career to date, which has involved a 12-year spell at Marks & Spencer, ten years at Mosaic Fashions and time as head of IT for White Stuff, via a stint at BT Expedite, retail has changed in many ways.

“We as an IT team are now involved in all projects as far as I can tell in this business, but anything that happens – for example issues with payroll, a new website or retail delivery – has an impact on the IT operation, so we have to have some involvement in that.”

As Cath Kidston rolls out its new prestigious stores in the coming months, and then continues on its drive to grow as a global retail business, more technological input will no doubt be required. Whether in the UK or Asia, consumers increasingly want to use technology as part of the purchasing process – and businesses are learning that they must invest in the relevent systems to support this.