Big interview: Jaeger CIO on tech transformation and turnaround

Top-to-bottom technological transformation has been on the agenda at Jaeger over the last two years, as the fashion retailer looks to get itself back into the black.

Currently halfway through a five-year turnaround strategy, the Better Capital owned retailer has been making progress with changing the way it serves customers in store and revamping its eCommerce operations.

Ex-Burberry and Arcadia, Cathy McCabe, has been overseeing the technology investment as Jaeger CIO, and she told Essential Retail this week that the introduction of more consumer facing technology in the company's stores has been well received by customers, while also contributing to a more efficient retailing environment.

"We've replaced point of sale in all our stores, we've introduced mobile point of sale (MPoS), we've introduced other tools such as digital receipts to help drive different types of engagement with our customer base," she said.

"We brought the loyalty programme in house after it had been outsourced for a number of years – we’re in the process of transforming loyalty. We introduced JaegerInspire [in association with tech start-up Proximity Insight] – an in-store tool which gives the store staff more information at their fingertips such as product data and customer engagement and purchase history."

The MPoS and mobile solutions, such as iPads in store, represent a marked change on the fixed cash registers previously installed in shops, said McCabe, but they are helping the business offer a more personalised shopping experience. By using a new customer relationship management tool in conjunction with new stock management systems, the retailer's staff are now able to personalise both in-store and email customer communication.

"It's a very different level of personalisation to a campaign email or generic email that comes from a central system," the CIO explained.

Jaeger is the first retailer to invest in and combine the complete set of Omnico Group's latest suite of products for this purpose, and the vendor's CTO, Steve Thomas, has described the fashion retailer's use of the omniStock, omniBasket and omniEngage tools as "pioneering".

Jaeger operates around 50 stores in the UK

Jaeger piloted omniStock in May as it looked to bring all stock pools on to one single platform and open the way for online orders to be fulfilled from stores, and by the middle of June it had been rolled out across the company's store portfolio. "It was meant to be a bit more of a phased approach but we thought there'd been such a lot of success around the pilot that we rolled it out quickly," McCabe noted.

Jaeger expects multiple benefits from using this technology, including making online product availability more transparent to customers while also helping the business increase full-price sell-through. Selling products at full price has been a key new focus for the current spring-summer season, after years of the retailer following a promotional route to market.

"We really stuck to our guns keeping to full price and we've been pleased with the performance of the spring summer product," said McCabe.

"It's quite a change for us because the last couple of years we've desired a full-price approach but because of the need to drive sales and revenue we've ended up going down the promotional route. The customer does get used to that, and so it's very much been an approach to drive different consumer behaviour."

She added: "We are making progress in terms of building confidence in the brand."

Jaeger's latest figures show that losses had narrowed year on year to £7 million in the 12 months to 28 February 2015, although the top line showed encouraging momentum with sales up by 6% to £84.2 million. Chris Horobin is acting as interim CEO following the departure of Colin Henry almost a year ago.

After a reduction in the company's property portfolio, in line with its transformation programme, the retailer now operates around 50 stores across the UK. At the start of the year it made the decision to close its London Regent Street flagship, but McCabe explained that senior management are seeking a location for a replacement flagship in the capital – and there could be plans to introduce different types of technology there.

"We were conscious of [the impact of] closing that store and the need to drive customers to our other London stores – in John Lewis, House of Fraser and Chelsea's King's Road, etc," McCabe remarked, adding that the company has attracted customers who previously shopped in Regent Street to Jaeger's other London shops and its website.

"We are actively seeking another London flagship – Regent Street was far too big for the brand. We are looking for a flagship and we have some vision around the kind of technology we would like to differentiate in this store."

She added: "We need a space to remind people about the brand and surprise them about our ambitions for the brand going forward. We didn't want to compromise by having a site that wasn't the ideal one, which is why we are still actively looking for what we feel will be the right site for a flagship."

McCabe described the technology transformation she has led at Jaeger as like starting with a "blank sheet", meaning when she arrived at the business 18 months ago there was a lot to do, including untangling old systems and refreshing the technology toolkit. Out went the Oracle-owned Micros Retail-J point of sale and an outsourced loyalty scheme from Ikano Insights, while work was started on modernising the homegrown "archaic legacy system", described by McCabe as "ERP plus", with the help of Omnico's suite of solutions.

The data warehouse is being migrated to Talend, and the loyalty scheme is now an in-house solution that utilises software from Omnico.

For an IT leader, who had previously worked as international business systems manager at Arcadia and VP for IT customer & payments at Burberry, the task at hand proved to be an attractive proposition.

"It was one of the reasons I joined because they needed someone to completely relook at the tech and understand what was needed across the board to do things very differently and enable efficiencies and drive the business very differently.

"The last 18 months has been [centred on] customer focused technology. We've just gone responsive on the website and we're introducing features and functions that are bringing Jaeger up to what consumers expect today."

New features and functions in the pipeline include improving the mobile experience for shoppers to cater for the growing number of consumers who now access the Jaeger brand on their smartphones. The retailer is also planning to introduce online customer reviews and video later in the year, as the business rolls out new tools and fresh content to boost customer engagement and further link up its store and digital operations.

Some new fulfilment options for customers are soon to be announced, with McCabe confident the omniStock solution embedded into the business can help the company speed up delivery times and get items picked, packed and dispatched on the same day, "which is great for the customer".

McCabe said: "It's a very exciting time because there's been a lot of change – and a need for change – to revitalise the brand and transform the organisation generally. It's a great time to be at Jaeger and drive the initiatives forward.

"We are in turnaround – we still have some work to do to bring the brand into profit. It's first and foremost in everyone's mind and we're working hard on a number of initiatives to help achieve that."

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