Our website uses cookies

Cookies enable us to provide the best experience possible and help us understand how visitors use our website. By browsing Essential Retail Magazine, you agree to our use of cookies.

Okay, I understand Learn more

CIO interview: Ian James, Reiss

Retailers have spent the best part of a decade, it seems, trying to get their stores in shape to ensure there is a reason for people to visit them in the age of online. For Reiss, the big focus right now is how to get its website to replicate the experience of its shops.

The move is part of a companywide mandate to improve its digital and cross-channel operation under new ownership from private equity firm Warburg Pincus, and a fresh leadership team spearheaded by CEO and former Next executive Christos Angelides.

Angelides joined as CEO at the end of March 2017, as founder and former CEO David Reiss began relinquishing his responsibilities. Soon after, ex-Paperchase and Casual Dining Group exec, Ian James, joined as CIO.

James says the company is working on multiple new digitally-driven initiatives, which aim to help replicate the retailer’s in-store reputation for strong customer service, on the web.

“After Warburg Pincus invested in the business in 2016 it has been looking at how best it can help grow the business, and a lot of that is obviously through digital, technology and innovation.”

James says the projects he and the digital team are involved in at present mainly revolve around “optimising the website so it can be used to talk to customers in a more direct manner”. The website was re-platformed prior to his arrival at Reiss, built in house on Sylius.

Meanwhile, like several retailers in the fashion space, including AllSaints, Reiss is implementing customer relationship marketing (CRM) software from Emarsys. James says it is “to give us more visibility of the transactional relationships with customers, as well as their demographic and geolocation”.

“We’re using the transaction feeds from in-store and online to be able to analyse and market to individuals in a more direct manner than just saying 'here’s menswear', and 'here's womenswear'.”

Explaining why this is a focus, James adds: “We have circa 62 standalone stores in the UK, and there probably aren’t too many more locations we want to be in.”

“But we can now use the digital channel in a much better way to extend our reach to customers. We’re looking to drive the growth of the business through digital, direct marketing, and CRM techniques.”

At the root of all the work going on to improve customer engagement through digital investment, Reiss is rolling out RFID across all stores to provide a single view of stock.

RFID at Reiss

The RFID project, which currently covers seven stores but has halted for the busy festive season, will be rolled out across the retailer’s portfolio in the first half of 2019. Essential Retail broke news of Reiss’s work with Detego and Retail247 consultancy in December.

James believes the technology has “moved on leaps and bounds” in the last few years but, crucially, the price point has come down to such a level that it is now a viable option for more tier two and three retailers. Reiss is tagging every product at source, destined for all its stores, and hopes it will support new ways of operating.

Once fully implemented, James says the idea is to fulfil stock “from anywhere at anytime” no matter where the customer decides to make a purchase – opening up stores as fulfilment hubs thanks to consequent stock accuracy improvements.

“We’ll be taking that RFID-ed stock feed, and given the heightened visibility and accuracy, we’ll be feeding and pumping that into our order management system (OMS) to enable our website to fulfil from anywhere we want to,” James notes.

A new OMS is at the evaluation stage, with its deployment planned for next year. And acknowledging that Reiss’s technology stack is “not cutting edge” compared to other retailers – Reiss uses Oracle-owned Nova for its central merchandise system – James is welcoming of RFID’s flexibility. 

“The beauty of RFID, in theory, is that it is quite a standalone solution, and you can then measure the stock file and feed it into your other systems,” he says.

“The solution effectively becomes the single view of our stock for the stores and the stock pool we open up for web.”

Shift in working

The most noticeable difference for Reiss since implementing RFID was related to staff roles. “From the trial we learned that you can’t do it with the business as usual (BAU) teams,” the CIO explains.

“The biggest challenge is not actually the technology. RFID perhaps had a bad reputation due to cost and inaccuracies, but most crucially in-store and operational processes must change to get full benefit of the solution.”

James adds: “There are warehouse, in-store and stock control processes that need to follow a different chain of thought and effort.”

A project manager and business analyst were brought in to help Reiss coordinate the project, alongside existing team members, meaning one dedicated person looking at each stream of the initiative. Retail247 helped here, too, with training and support.

Plenty of retailers have embarked on RFID journeys over the years, arguably under-prepared and seeing it as a fast-track to omnichannel success but without focusing on the fundamentals. However, James is confident the Reiss formula is different.

“Those that have used RFID to fulfil from anywhere at any time but not focused on in-store stock accuracy have then realised there’s lots of negative uptake because they can’t satisfy the demand. You might lose the customer because you can’t offer the proposition you are promising them.”

He adds: “We’re looking at it the right way; getting the data and accuracy right, and we can start to offer additional services to customers. There’s no point offering it if you can’t deliver. All this is about moving the business into the digital arena.”

What’s Hot on Essential Retail?