“Retail personalization has been realized… we have crossed paths with the future.” — John Hazen, Senior Vice President, Direct to Consumer & Omnichannel, True Religion, Inc.
Today’s retail businesses are challenged with connecting with customers across multiple channels to create seamless shopping experiences. As more and more shoppers choose convenience — “Let me buy what, where, when and how I want” — omnichannel solutions have fast become an imperative. But without a decisive strategy and well-executed implementation, omnichannel is an unrealized concept.
“Simply put, omnichannel is a single view of the customer.” - Russ Ronchi, Formula 3 Group
An omnichannel solution provides an integrated, consistent customer experience across all channels: including retail stores, online/digital storefronts, mobile apps, or in-bound call centers.
92.2% of retail sales still take place in brick-and-mortar stores. e-Commerce sales account for 7.8% of retail sales in Q1, 2016. — U.S. Department of Commerce, May 2016
With 90% of his brand’s sales coming from its retail stores, John Hazen, senior vice president, Direct to Consumer & Omnichannel at True Religion, Inc. sought to implement an omnichannel solution that focused attention where it could affect the most change: store fronts. His goals were three-fold:
Extend Customer’s In-Store Time
First and foremost, Hazen wanted to slow down his retail store customers. True Religion’s 30 flagship retail stores are often a mere 1500 sqft — boutique size by industry standards — and their customers were dipping out too quickly. The company wanted the customer to linger… to see more and to buy more.
Empower Sales Force
Hazen knew he needed to incentivize retail associates to use new solutions. With a luxury apparel line and a young, often part-time, commissioned sales force, retail associates were disinclined to use new solutions unless the impetus to do so was built in: attribution for all sales, coupled with ease of use.
Increase Sale Conversions
And most importantly, he wanted solutions to convert more sales.
Initially, Hazen reached out to Formula 3 Group to design, program and implement a digital signage solution: phase one of True Religion’s omnichannel strategy. He quickly discovered Formula 3 Group’s comprehensive digital expertise and dynamic ability to customize innovative solutions — and implement them quickly.
Hazen had compelling criteria for choosing an omnichannel partner — one who could not only implement but also author a true omnichannel platform as a cornerstone for True Religion’s strategy. Hazen cites multiple reasons for choosing Formula 3 Group:
Hazen declined to work with the agency behemoths of the retail industry, instead seeking out cutting-edge, digital expertise. He wanted a partner that was big enough to get the job done, yet nimble enough to react quickly to changing technology and an evolving marketplace. He said, “The rate of internal change at F3G exceeds the rate of external change.”
During Hazen’s tenure at Nike/Hurley and at Fox Racing Clothing, he had successful collaborations with Formula 3 Group’s Russ Ronchi. “Their (F3G’s) solutions work,” he said.
Hazen wanted a digital partner who understood retail; he knew Formula 3 Group was a sage choice. With over 15 years of retail and fashion-industry expertise — an industry with its own specific subset of challenges — coupled with F3G’s digital éclat meant the challenge of implementing a new omnichannel strategy was in competent hands.
Cost, Speed to Implement
Hazen did not want to change True Religion’s enterprise eCommerce or Point of Sale (POS) platforms, instead opting for bolt-on modules that leveraged the pre-existing Demandware and Aptos systems, both lowering costs and speeding implementation.
Design, Ease of Use
Hazen knew a user-friendly design of all omnichannel tool interfaces was crucial to facilitate a rapid roll-out, to foster adoption, and ensure continued use. In line with the simplicity of the ‘Apple GUI’ design dynamic, he required a modern approach, and was not disappointed with the result. Hazen found that Formula 3 Group’s solutions are “gorgeous, elegant, and above all… easy to use.”
“Understanding the marriage between in-store and online is key to omnichannel”’ — Russ Ronchi, Formula 3 Group
The foundation for True Religion’s strategic approach springboarded from Formula 3 Group’s robust MILO Omnichannel Engine, which incorporates multiple modules.
1) Digital Signage
The modern consumer is go-go-go, and the retail industry serves up media that encourages this mindset, which can be detrimental to brick-and-mortar sales. Formula 3 Group’s digital signage became True Religion’s first step in slowing the customer down, extending and enriching the in-store experience. Using large digital screens in each store, featuring long, slow shots (without the rapid-fire edits seen in most in-store ads and highlight reels) served to focus a customer’s attention — often stopping them in their tracks — thus giving retail associates the opportunity to engage.
Signage is also tied in with the endless-aisle and specific solutions to showcase product that can’t be found in the store, as well as a product’s fit (on a model). The touch screens empower retail associates to “put on a show” for clients, who can browse any item, brand-wide. Once a customer selects an item, the digital display generates a UPC that is transferred to the POS to complete the transaction.
Content for all display screens, when not in use by retail associates, is handled through the MILO Omnichannel Engine to create a seamless brand-standard visual across 300 retail stores.
2) Endless Aisle
Formula 3 Group’s Endless Aisle module puts all of True Religion’s inventory and sales information into the hands of the front-line retail associates — where and when they need it — at POS stations, digital displays and on iPads. The module leverages pre-existing Demandware eCommerce and Aptos POS platforms so sales transactions are seamless.
Hazen’s philosophy is to avoid the “in-store self-checkout kiosk approach” for True Religion’s high-end apparel; its luxury brand demands a personal shopping experience. To that end, Hazen wanted to empower his commissioned sales force to use these digital tools. According to Hazen, “If a tool sabotages an associate’s income, they’re not going to use it.”
Today, retail associates across the brand have embraced the Endless Aisle solution, as it converts more sales, increases their average per-sale ticket, and credits the associate for sales regardless of the product’s shipping origin — even if it’s from another store or a distribution center.
3) MILO Clienteling — “Black Book”
The heart and soul of the True Religion omnichannel strategy is F3G’s MILO Clienteling module. Clienteling allows the brand, the retail operation, and the sales associates to better manage individual client relationships, thus generating more sales. True Religion retail associates originally managed high-level clients via a hard copy Black Book — recording client information, number of contact attempts, and sales. Important, yes, but historically unreliable as a sales-and-forecasting tool, as information was sporadically and often inaccurately recorded. The digital solution: MILO Clienteling.
Formula 3 Group’s philosophy for building out its MILO Clienteling module was based in part on the rule of “Magical Number 7, plus or minus 2” which postulates that the average number of objects — or in this case, clients — that can be held in short-term memory is roughly 7, plus or minus 2. A sales associate may recognize their best clients, yet they cannot possibly keep all of their assigned clients’ information top of mind at all times. The MILO Clienteling solution, dubbed “Black Book” by True Religion’s team, provides instantaneous access to relevant client details, such as purchase history (including a virtual closet), average sale, returns, and some personal information (i.e. birthdays, favorite items and styles, etc.)
78% of consumers prefer to shop in-store. — icsc.org (International Council of Shopping Centers)
MILO Clienteling also includes both email and SMS/MMS platforms with templated messaging formats to ensure brand standards are met, and messages can include images of recommended products. The goals of using a built-in email and texting platform are:
– Drive client trips to retail stores
– Foster better relationships
– Attribute sales to specific email or text reach-outs
– Keep an accurate contact log
Safety of staff is also paramount, and played a role in the brand’s adoption of MILO Clienteling. Retail associates had been using personal phones and email accounts to contact clients, and True Religion needed a solution to help ensure safety and privacy for their employees.
“Black Book” helps True Religion monitor the success of its retail associates via key performance indicators (KPIs) that include the number of clients assigned, number of reach-outs by text or email, and client sales as a % of total sales.
Positive anecdotal feedback from stores to date is best summed up by Hazen, “Black Book is super successful and unequivocally converting more sales.”
“This is what we hoped the watch would be used for.” — Apple employees visiting the Formula 3 Group trade show booth at NRF, January 2016
4) MILO on the Go — Band for Apple Watch
The MILO Clienteling solution led to one of the most innovative and revolutionary retail advances in the industry today: Band for Apple Watch. True Religion wanted a mobile digital solution with an always-on footprint, so retail associates wouldn’t lose momentum mid-sale; in the past, POS or tablets have been known to inhibit the flow of the sales process. “Tools cannot impede the sales transaction,” says Hazen.
Formula 3 Group developed Band to put relevant information at the fingertips (and on the wrists) of retail associates. These associates are able to view client information, access inventory via Endless Aisle, and throw product images from the watch to digital displays.
Perhaps more significantly, in conjunction with iBeacons, the haptic response of the Apple Watch notifies retail associates when a high-value client — one who has opted in to an enhanced retail experience — has entered the store. Band also provides that client’s pertinent information to the assigned associate, in addition to a visual display of their purchase history. Hazen often refers to this as the “Holy Grail of insight and personalization.” And, at a reporting level, True Religion is able to correlate in-store visits to clients using the app to future sales.
With a young, part-time, often transient staff, Hazen adamantly advocated for a simplified UX to ensure adoption and sustained use. “You’ve never had to read an instruction manual on any app you’ve ever downloaded,” he stated. “Band is gorgeous, intuitive, and simple to use.”
Hazen’s team asserts they are on the forefront of retail; they’re excited to be the first to use Band’s game-changing technology. They also note the use of Band as a conversation starter with clients who are fascinated by the tech approach, which leads to longer conversations — slowing the customer down — and higher conversion of sales.
5) Product Information Management
In many situations, disparate enterprise software platforms do not communicate or pass data easily between systems; F3G breaks down the communication barriers with the MILO Product Information Management (PIM) module. Since True Religion opted to retain their existing ecommerce and POS platforms, they needed PIM to facilitate smooth and efficient interactions between all systems.
The MILO PIM module is the data hub for product and store systems; it is often fed data from the system used by the Product Creation team. At a central level, the MILO PIM module finesses, manages, translates and publishes that data in all directions to the many systems, essentially allowing all of them to “talk to each other.”
“Fail fast. Don’t get me wrong, have a strong strategy going in, but don’t over-think it. Digital changes so rapidly that it’s ok to get 60 to 70% of what you need to launch… simplify and go. You’ll have time to adjust and add from there.” — John Hazen, True Religion, Inc.
True Religion’s strategic implementation of the MILO Omnichannel Engine has been received with enthusiastic reviews and generated a solid return on investment. According to Hazen, the number of sales has increased, the value of sales has increased, and thousands of customers have downloaded the True Religion app and opted in to the enhanced in-store experience (of those opting in, 25% thus far have been Black Book clients).
Hazen offers advice to those ready to take the plunge into true omnichannel: “Find a digital partner on the cutting edge of retail and form a symbiotic relationship. These guys [Formula 3 Group] have made my career.”