Interview: Andy Gamble, CIO of Dixons Carphone

Andy Gamble joined Dixons Carphone at the end of January this year as group CIO, along with chief operating officer Mark Allsop. Their appointments were in response to “the world of retail changing at an extraordinary pace… We need our technology and digital capabilities to work harder for us and for our customers to create amazing experiences," said chief exec Alex Baldock.

Just several months on and that statement seemed truer than ever. “The pandemic acted as a huge accelerator,” Gamble tells Essential Retail. Indeed, in financial results out today, Dixons Carphone reported that online sales more than tripled year-on-year, while stores were forced to closed due to Covid-19, growing by over £500 million in a four-month period.

Together with Allsop, he had already been working on how the business could better connect the store and online experience for its Currys PC World business before the pandemic hit. (Prior to lockdown, the group announced its was closing all 531 standalone Carphone Warehouse stores, with 2,900 job losses). 

But some of the early work they'd been doing in that area put the business in a good position. “Something we leveraged during the crisis was incubated a little bit before was our order and collect proposition. So the ability of people to navigate through the website, choose a store local to them, complete the transaction and then hop in the car to pick it up." 

The company did have a reserve and collect option before but it didn’t involve completing the transaction and from an experience standpoint was less seamless, he says.

"For us that’s a massive enabler because of the store network we have. Typically there is a Currys PC World only 20 minutes from your house in the UK. That means by default you can get a same-day experience - if we are able to knit online and in-store more closely together.”

ShopLive

Part of that effort includes the deployment of its ShopLive feature, where customers get live demonstrations of products and advice from sales assistants online. “It was something that didn’t exist prior to the crisis and something we launched pretty quickly - in about 6-7 weeks.” The service then went live at the end of April. 

As products could only be bought online during lockdown, staff were able to showcase items and chat to customers online from their homes using ShopLive. Since stores have reopened, that service has transitioned to the shop locations and is provided by around 250 colleagues. 

Key to the project’s success was starting small and iterating. “Everyone talks about agile ways of working and the ability to deliver change quickly." Previously there was a tendency to think about projects as big and complicated, with lots of costs involved. "I guess we realised [that approach] wasn’t going to work,” he says.

“The product that ultimately launched first for ShopLive is not the product you see now… but that meant we could get off the ground much quicker than we're used to."  Most recently it has introduced an ‘add to basket’ capability, the virtual equivalent of a sales assistant leaving a product you’ve decided on by the till and a scheduling feature so customers can pre-book time with a sales assistant. 

He is also keen to explore ways of using the feature for live events showcasing particular brands or products to “allow our customers to get a much more in-depth feel.”

Another recent feature is the option for out of hours shopping, via a mock up of the store in its customer service training centre at Birmingham’s Fort Dunlop building. The store has all the same products, and it looks and feels like a store, but customers can use it with ShopLive to browse items after the physical shops are closed.  “Our customers seem to be loving it at the moment, but it’s a relatively small trial and is something we are looking to potentially extend.”

New experiences

During the eight weeks to 27 June online sales jumped 218% at the company, with the business recovering lost store sales due to closures. No doubt in part because demand for home-working equipment grew as offices emptied out. In its AGM trading update, released today, mobile revenue has taken a significant hit (-56%), but like-for-likes elsewhere in the UK business and internationally are on the rise - with online market share continuing to increase, despite stores trading as normal.

And for its full-year results posted last month, online sales rose 22% for the entire year, thanks to the surge in April. However, underlying pre-tax profits halved to £166 million, mainly due to lockdown store closures and worse-than-expected sales in its mobile arm.

The website is another area that Gamble’s team have been busy optimising: extending its reach into other payment options and improving navigation of the site and making the process of checking out as simple as possible.

While Gamble believes stores are going to need to be more digital he also says the online experience needs to better recreate the experience of in-store. “ShopLive combined with order and collect in our stores is incredible from a customer standpoint as it enables a completely contact free, same-day proposition… For me it’s that combination of both in-store and online which is where the magic happens."

The pandemic has brought into focus the importance of both areas of the business. "So our store colleagues now understand how valuable online is and our online colleagues understand much more about how valuable the store is.”

But for Gamble, omnichannel goes beyond just joining up the experience for customers online and in-store. “It extends to the supply chain, customer service and contact centres. The ability to implement technology around those solutions is really critical to the future of retail. 

"It can make a huge difference when done in the right way, which we are making big strides towards.” 

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