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Big Interview: Orlebar Brown's head of IT Nick Owen

There’s a whole range of technology projects on the horizon at luxury swimwear brand Orlebar Brown, starting in the coming weeks with the integration of a whole new point of sale (POS) system to support future growth.

Following this introduction of a more flexible POS, the company made famous for dressing the likes of Daniel Craig’s James Bond in Skyfall and former UK prime minister David Cameron has plans to invest in new marketing, delivery and payment systems.

Led by the Orlebar Brown IT department, the implementation of Cegid’s Yourcegid Retail is well under way. It is set to be completed next month, at which point the tech team will revert to support and advisory mode for the forthcoming projects on the roadmap.

Nick Owen, head of IT at Orlebar Brown, says: “Cegid will help us get the simple stuff working correctly, such as getting sales information into head office, and it will offer the capability we think is needed to push the brand on in terms of customer service and omnichannel strategy.

“It’s a big change for us, in terms of tech complexity. We’ll be moving to a much more technologically advanced system, which will be an interesting thing for the brand.”

Owen is less than complimentary about the Netsuite POS platform the company has been using until now, but he is a clearly a fan of the Oracle-owned software provider’s back office stack.

Netsuite back-office ERP is amazing,” he notes. “I’m constantly finding little things that when using most ERP systems are incredibly difficult to do. All the ERP and back office function, finance, stock management, order management, etc. will stay in Netsuite.”

On a tech journey

With the new POS and retail management system in place, Orlebar Brown will look to build additional ways of engaging with its customers across its 21 stores and concessions around the globe.

It paves the way for mobile POS and staff-assisted information gathering for customers and, once the CRM team have identified the most suitable marketing automation software, the brand will be in a position to provide joined-up clientelling services. There are plans to study customer journeys a lot more closely, and get to know shopper behaviour so it can provide relevant messaging at the right times.

The journey Orlebar Brown is now on with Cegid is indicative of the wider technology change going on in the business. It replatformed its website from Propeller to Demandware – or Salesforce Commerce Cloud as it has been rebranded – at the end of 2016, which also coincided with the arrival of Adyen’s payment system.

Owen is an advocate of Adyen’s technology, complimenting the wide range of payment options it supports, and its back-up capabilities in the event of lost connectivity in a store.

“I started using them four or five years ago when I was at a different brand,” says Owen, who previous led IT teams at The Dune Group and Agent Provocateur.

“Technology wise they are very clever, and it is very well thought through. Their customer service has got a lot better too – it’s certainly significantly better than it was.”

He adds: “From the fraud offering, to the tokenisation of customers being able to return any payment anywhere in channel is a huge deal. I don’t know of any company that’s got that right yet.”

And the systems and solution investment doesn’t stop there for Orlebar Brown. Apple Pay is soon coming to the brand’s website and in its next financial year, which begins in August, Owen is eyeing changes to the online checkout which could include new delivery options.

Orlebar Brown has been known to keep its high-end shopper demographic happy by putting products in an Uber or Addison Lee taxi, as a form of special delivery, and with its new POS system, Owen is hoping the brand’s real-time view of inventory can be enhanced.

“A lot of challenges in retail occur when stock is moved around, and stock discrepancies lead to lack of replenishment which means stores don’t have the items in place to sell in the first place,” he says.

“Part of reason for working with Cegid means we can order items for customers from different locations. It will avoid us having to make calls between stores and taking five minutes to complete an order while staff rummage around in boxes somewhere.”

Travel and technology

Talking about the brand’s customers, Owen says they are generally well-off financially and technologically astute. Store locations in Mayfair, Notting Hill and Harrods highlight the affluent shopper associated with the brand.

“There is a very significant connection between Instagram and us – we have OB hashtags around the world, which are used a great deal and if we drop social and don’t keep up the conversation, traffic to the website drops drastically,” he remarks.

“I would suggest that our customers tend to have money left over at the end of the month, and don’t typically have a lot of time. So, when flicking through Instagram or whatever on the bus or tube, that’s when they get ideas and are likely to buy items.”

One tech-enabled and Instagram-able feature Orlebar Brown has operated for many years is Snapshorts. Customers can download an app, attach an appropriate image and have that designed and emblazoned on a pair of shorts – it is a compelling example of product customisation.

The app is also available in stores, enabling shoppers to go through the design process with help from staff. Owen thinks the service has room for improvement and believes there is an opportunity to make more of the feature in its shops.

“We have small stores, which means creating the right look in store is difficult, but it will become more prominent soon, I think.”

The themed shorts provide just one example of how Orlebar Brown is synonymous with travel, but it doesn’t yet have its own presence in airport retail, aside from concessions and wholesale. However, growth in that area is on the business plan.

“It’s certainly on the radar – one of the things that comes with our new POS investment is tax-free shopping on payments, which shows it’s on our agenda,” says Owen.

“Where in the pipeline? I couldn’t tell you right now. But our presence around travel will only ever increase.”

Orlebar Brown has recently relocated and unveiled a refreshed store on London’s Sloane Avenue, but the next push in terms of physical space will be in the US, where it already has four standalone stores. Owen and his team will continue to identify and support the technology required that can provide a platform for the brand’s continued expansion.

RBTE takes place at London’s Olympia, 2-3 May 2018.

You can register to attend here