Interview: Richard Cunningham, group IT director, Mulberry

Luxury retail is synonymous with excellent customer service and brand experience. But for a number of years, many luxury retailers have been behind the curve when it comes to using technology to deliver this service and experience, relying instead on their reputation and craft to draw in customers.

Meanwhile, those target customers with a high disposable income are very likely to be buying the latest iPhone, exploring what’s new in cutting edge technology and therefore experiencing digital in their day-to-day lives – so is a glass of champagne still enough to delight those luxury shoppers when they walk into a store today?

British luxury fashion company Mulberry identified this changing consumer a couple of years ago when it embarked on a modernisation of its store estate. The retailer – which has 114 owned and franchise partner standalone stores across the world, 46 of which are in the UK – designed a concept which replicates a homely feel with plenty of textures and features which pay tribute to the retailer’s British heritage. Created by interior designer Faye Toogood in collaboration with Mulberry’s creative director Johnny Coca, the store has stylish seating areas and soft furnishings to encourage dwell time and conversations with store associates. But a beautiful store to complement Mulberry’s infamous handbags wasn’t enough, the retailer needed to seamlessly implement a number of digital services to make shopping at Mulberry as seamless as possible.

And this is where Mulberry’s group IT director, Richard Cunningham, comes in. He led the project to deploy mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) as part of the new-store concept. Instead of a fixed till, store associates using smart devices are able to assist customers and complete payments while the products are whisked away for packaging before being returned to the customer.

The idea of ripping out the physical till points actually came from the continued improvements the retailer has made to its online presence. Cunningham describes how five years ago the company re-platformed onto SAP Hybris and focused much of its efforts to drive up eCommerce sales. Mulberry now sees 17% of sales come from online, putting the retailer at the forefront of luxury eCommerce which averages at 7-9%.

“We wanted to bring that level of technology into the store,” says Cunningham, who leads the IT team from its Somerset offices.

Apple user interface

Mulberry’s two-floor flagship store on Regent Street was the first to be redesigned and feature the new technology, opening its doors in September 2018, with three other stores experiencing the same treatment in recent months. Mulberry chose Apple iPad and iPhone devices using Tulip’s assisted selling application, and Adyen for payments.

“The most exciting thing with Tulip was the backing from Apple in terms of front-end design,” he explains. “Apple is a standard user interface which can be deployed globally and training staff is simple because it’s truly intuitive – if you can use your iPhone you can use it.”

Store staff can use the devices to search and pay for products, as well as upsell and order items which are currently unavailable in store.

“They just swipe left to remove an item from the basket. It’s so slick. It’s something you want to use.”

Cunningham says none of the staff training was difficult and store associates were really pleased to work on devices they were familiar with. Previously, they had to use two separate applications to see store stock and order items online. The retailer has even started using an Apple Watch application which allows the store associate to request an item from the stock room which can be packaged ready for sale without having to interrupt the flow of the conversation with the customer. If the item isn’t in stock at that shop, a store associate can retrieve the item from another nearby store.

Of course to enable this technology to work, Cunningham and his team had to embark on an extensive upgrade of the store infrastructure to build a robust Wi-Fi network with a decent coverage of the entire space – including the stock room. And it isn’t just the mPOS which depends on reliable Wi-Fi, the retailer also has remote receipt printers and cash drawers which all rely on Wi-Fi.

Single customer view

But the most important part of the entire deployment wasn’t robust Wi-Fi or staff training: “It is aligning all the back-end systems in readiness for this technology, because you have to really have all the customer data in one place and ensure it’s accessible.”

Cunningham says the only way to ensure this is to have tight integration with eCommerce and ePOS, for which he puts down to Mulberry’s long-term relationship with Salesforce which allowed the IT team to get the customer data in one place and implemented Tulip as the front-end application without having to replace the entire ePOS system.

Tulip also enables communication with customers via personalised emails from store managers, which meant Mulberry needed to tighten its integration with Salesforce Marketing Cloud even further to ensure better co-ordination. This ensures the business doesn’t send a centralised marketing email to customers who had already received a personalised email from a store manager following a specific conversation the previous week.

“We’re still investing in stores and investing in eCommerce – in our sector the stores are vital,” adds Cunningham. “We aim to provide the customer with what they want, when they want it.”

Internal collaboration

A huge project like this can’t be created in silo. There are designers and store staff to consider, but also, for a business which has traditionally had separate IT and digital functions, this was a chance for the two integral teams to understand the true benefit of collaborating.

“One thing we’ve learned through this whole project is the way traditional IT and digital have to work together and I think formerly projects have been owned by one or the other, but this is clearly a collaboration,” explains Cunningham.

“We’ve started that relationship as part of this project, but we’re developing that now where IT and digital share the same roadmap.”

Hear more from Richard Cunningham, group IT director at Mulberry, on 27 March 2019 during Essential Retail's webinar on The Workplace of the Future. Cunningham will be describing how the role of the CIO has changed in recent years and how IT and digital must work closer together in order for brands to succeed in modern retailing. 

Sign up to join our remote webinar here.