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Myer’s Mark Cripsey on technology in retail

Thinking like a start-up, embracing an agile business approach and implementing simple concepts that benefit its staff are paying off for Myer.

Retailers are well aware of the latest, greatest tech and gadgetry that is termed essential for success in today’s business world. Interestingly, one of Australia’s oldest and largest retailers actually looks backward in thinking about the future. Speaking to Inside Retail, Myer’s chief digital and data officer, Mark Cripsey, is well placed to offer insight as to where the department store giant views the use of technology to improve its services. But is it necessarily a case of requiring futuristic leaps and bounds, or rather, simplistic refinements to improve operations?

Considering every business’s current favourite trend of personalisation is often seen as fundamental towards engaging with customers in today’s retail scene, it’s hardly a new phenomenon Cripsey explained.

“We think back to the way things were before all this digital and data stuff existed, when Sidney Myer was around,” he said. “And he had a big store back in the day, he knew his customers, their preferences etc, and would have a conversation. And as all retail organisations scaled up over the last century, shopping has gotten less personal and you could argue that Amazon is an extreme example of that.

“I think the sweet spot for Myer is to actually get more personal and make people feel connected with Myer in the same way they would have done so back in the time of Sidney.

Product personalisation features heavily within Myer stores, particularly at Christmas where customised Nutella, M&M jars, Barbie Dolls and Mon Purse concessions are seen. It’s also demonstrated by mobile customer apps where loyalty points and receipts can be accessed.

“We are segmenting our customers in a way that is more specific than we’ve done in the past and obviously we use our data to look at how our actions are performing against those segments,” said Cripsey.

“I’ve seen a huge change in the way we use data, not just in the insights team but the whole business is using data to inform our decision making.”

So having the technology of today is important for facilitating that personal connection with consumers – but only if it’s useful and helpful. The department store retailer has been investing heavily on the fulfilment side over the past six to seven months, with the company recently confirming a reduction in cost of doing business as a percentage of sales were above target in its annual report.

Cripsey said the implementation of a new picking system has reduced picking, packing and dispatch times ahead of cut-off points for online deliveries and click & collect services during Christmas.

“Every item that we have ordered or dispatch we’re spending 25 per cent less and that’s been improving,” he said.

A new picking system, centred on an app that facilitates faster recognition when picking orders has streamlined operations for the retail giant.

The large size of Myer’s stores provides the advantage of having a large amount of stock in one location available to be picked. The flip side is that picking an order can take time, and with online sales on the rise, meeting demand can be difficult. The app includes images for the first time, with on hand and location indicators made clearer by allowing staff members to find products faster.

“This app is actually taking significant cost out of our business and allowing us to continue to grow,” said Cripsey.

“It’s not just what we are building but how we are building it.”

Typically, Cripsey said, innovation is made from many months or years building resources and systems. But a change in mindset and using principles perhaps more associated with a start-up mentality, means Myer is now working in a more agile way than previously.

“Simple concept, simple design,” said Cripsey. “When you do an app for a consumer, if you’re a good organisation, you spend a lot of time designing it with customers in mind, taking on their feedback.

“I’ve found for my part, that organisations don’t spend as much effort building apps for their team members or spend time designing it in a user friendly way.”

With Christmas around the corner, and a raft of casual staff bounding around department stores across the country, providing them with complex systems increases learning times and improves the chances of things going wrong or slowly.

“If you have beautiful technical products for team members to use to help them do their job better, it pays off immensely,” said Cripsey.

This approach, according to Cripsey, is now allowing Myer to think in terms of delivering in quarters, halves and years – while adhering to the overall strategic direction outlined in its five year transformation plan.

“This is a lot better than doing a two year project that doesn’t deliver till year two, we are building some momentum there,” he said.

Myer has also taken note of an increase in the use of mobile technologies, with consumers using smartphones before, during and after walking into a physical store.

“If you asked one or two years ago, people in my position would be saying let’s just optimise the desktop site to work well on mobile – that’s now not the thinking.

Customers are dipping in and out of the Myer mobile platform “when they’ve got an immediate need” rather than spending hours browsing as they typically would on a desktop or tablet.

“Our job is to be conscious of not just the trends towards mobile, but the different use cases the experience that our customers want and ask for because there is a huge amount of opportunity for us and customers.”

This story first appeared on our sister site, Inside Retail Australia.

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