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River Island hasn’t seen the future of retail

In recent months, the Nextail team has had the pleasure of getting to know the River Island business a little better. We’re seeing a dynamic, ambitious and committed team not only driving innovation, but also implementing it swiftly.

And what is especially refreshing about the UK high street retailer with 70 years of history, is its embracing of tech isn’t driven as a cost savings exercise — it’s a business-wide commitment to becoming an agile organization. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Agile as a culture

River Island is advanced in its path to agile — something that at Nextail we see as the very foundation of good retail today. In fact, agile is embedded in the very culture of the business.

River Island has made a huge commitment to its tech team, doubling the size of its Shoreditch office, trebling its previous tech employee count of 100 to 300 and creating a ‘RI Tech’ specific website to attract that new tech talent.

But the enterprise environment doesn’t stop with the tech team — there is huge coordination across the business to ensure that all departments are cross-functional and that specific experts are identified. Scrum masters have been put in place to help manage these agile ways of working and cloud technology embraced.

“There are no right and wrong ideas” — Tim MacIvor, Head of Customer Experience

Tim MacIvor, Head of Customer Experience, says of the environment “it’s inclusive because there are no right and wrong ideas and there are different people at different levels in the business involved so we get a great mix of ideas and perspectives.” CEO Ben Lewis agrees, stating that “every person within the organization, regardless of role, feels like they can voice an opinion and contribute to the company’s success.”

And that’s not a change in direction for the business, it’s something which Faye Roth, Head of Delivery & Transformation, says has been the foundation of the company all along. “The real success of agile in the business is that it is so close to the culture at River Island — what can we do, what can we get on with?”

“The real success of agile in the business is that it is so close to the culture at River Island” — Faye Roth, Head of Delivery & Transformation.

And what they have been getting on with is creating a single view of product from creation to basket, the result of enormous collaboration, with multiple stakeholders. While it may sound idyllic, Doug Gardner, CIO, told the Shoptalk audience this year, “this is not easy — nobody in the business feels this is easy, but we have a leadership in our business that has really supported the tech transformation — they’ve invested heavily, allowed us time and allowed us to make mistakes.”

River Island knows the path to transformation is continuous — a mindset that every retailer should adopt.

Using Nextail AI for merchandising

Recently we’ve been able to get a taste of River Island’s ambition first-hand, as they implement the Nextail software. They will now be using prescriptive analytics and artificial intelligence to drive decision-making and to access more powerful forecasting.

This has started with an overhaul in the replenishment logic at the retailer. Uncoupling from “monolithic systems” across the business has been key to creating faster processes. Now, with machine learning, the retailer will be able to anticipate and act fast on changes in demand, enabling decisions at SKU and store-level.

This speed is critical for the swiftly changing tastes of its millennial customer. As Gardner says, “For us being digital is not just about having a cool app or a cool website. It’s about the whole organization being able to move very rapidly to deploy quickly when things move in the market.”

Nextail’s tech fits in perfectly with the digital transformation we’ve made across the business. Its automation means we’re now able to act rapidly with merchandise, which suits the agile processes we’ve implemented internally and ultimately benefits our customers.”

“We’re now able to act rapidly with merchandise, which suits the agile processes we’ve implemented internally and ultimately benefits our customers.” — Doug Gardner, CIO.

Nextail algorithms use historical sales and stock data to learn about the behavior of different product attributes in different stores, model seasonality, and promotional factors at store and product level or calculate size curves to account for the demographics of each store. The result is an incredibly granular forecast that estimates probabilistically how products will perform in the future.

Even when no historical data is available, algorithms can dynamically cluster by store and product attributes, extracted by computer vision, to create a robust forecast of a product not yet in existence. That’s something that will support River Island’s product expansion plans.

Of those plans, CEO Ben Lewis told Drapers, “We have a proven strategy that gives us the confidence to deliver new and expanded product ranges, while also continuing to build the right store portfolio and digital capability for future growth”.

That’s already being seen in new and upcoming product expansions. In Fall 2018 the retailer launched homewares for the first time and is tipped to introduce a line for women over 40 this Spring.

Understanding of consumer

Growing the product offering comes as a response to deep analysis of the customer. This is something River Island is incredibly passionate about, having built out customer experience and UX teams to deliver frictionless cross-channel experiences and build lifetime value.

But again, the responsibility of customer-centricity doesn’t lie within the CX team — it is shared business wide. Even down to customer journey mapping, which has split ownership across “UX teams, the contact center, senior leadership and my team — customer experience” says MacIvor. “The key is to obtain different views and perspectives from all parts of the business and collaborate on solutions that drive the business forward.”

That also flows into customer-focused marketing, where lately River Island has emphasized diversity. Last year, that took the shape of their highly celebrated #LabelsAreForClothes campaign, which ran across Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. It featured a range of models with diverse abilities, races and sizes, delivering a body positivity message.

This year’s campaign, #ThisIsFamily, is just as timely, celebrating the non-nuclear family often overlooked in advertising.

Upholding the importance of the store

River Island knows that to really be at the forefront of retail you must commit to retail’s frontline: the store. And for this retailer that means rethinking what the store’s role is.

“I think we have to as an industry redefine the economic value of a store, not just in terms of the transactions that are taken at the till but the part that it plays in serving customers in this multichannel world.” says Lewis.

In reassessing the store’s role as a service center, River Island is training its store staff as fashion experts, on hand to support and inspire the customer. The retailer has also implemented endless aisle in store, with handheld technology connecting shoppers to product not available in store, and beacon tech to locate product.

At Shoptalk, Gardner spoke of the new metrics required to measure the success of these kinds of initiatives, and how what under the old rulebook appeared to be a poorly performing store rose to the 2nd place in its store network with the new framework.

As they continue to create frictionless store experiences which delight the customer, River Island will be pushing data into the hands of the shop team, with the Nextail platform. We’re proud to be there with them.

Nextail is a smart platform for retail merchandising. Developed by retail experts, it delivers agile data-driven decisions to meet increasing consumer demands.

Take a look at some of the retailers already using AI to improve their decisions.

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