Crew Clothing, a leading UK retailer, has transformed the shopping experience for its customers with a new, fully mobile sales solution – replacing traditional sales tills with fully mobile handheld solutions that let staff serve customers from anywhere on the shop floor. Now, Crew Clothing can make smarter use of its floor space, as staff can use handheld tablets to access all point-of-sale functions, including sales, refunds, customer service and promotions.
Richard Surman, Head of IT, Crew Clothing, explains how the UK retailer has transformed its IT infrastructure by utilising Couchbase’s high-performance database.
Can you tell us about your role at Crew Clothing and what this looks like day to day?
I’m responsible for all of the IT strategy, infrastructure, software, hardware, etc. for the business, as well as what our current systems do and how they’re used within the departments in the business. I’m also responsible for deciding what we should be introducing to the business to help innovate and grow and make everybody’s day-to-day life as simple as possible.
Tell us about the initiative behind deciding to partner with Couchbase and about your strategic vision?
When I joined Crew around two years ago, we were coming out of the pandemic and there was uncertainty around whether stores would be open for a prolonged period of time, or whether we’d go back into lockdown and have to close again. Around this time, the business was looking for other ways to drive revenue and help support us through these troubled times. One of the initiatives driven by the business was getting our name out there through a number of sponsorship events. There was still an element of uncertainty about what that would look like as we didn’t know whether the events would go ahead, what the capacity would look like and whether we would need to socially distance etc., but we had a plan to sponsor the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) events and we’d have little pop-up shops in each of these events where we’d sell our products. However, we needed to make sure that we could drop a mobile selling solution in place, allow our store staff to sell products to customers, but also if needed, have the ability for our customers to be able to purchase products in a socially distanced way. We also wanted the ability to drop a solution into one location, but then pick it up very quickly, move it to another location and drop it in there so that our store staff could pick it up quickly and simply.
After reviewing a number of solutions on the market, we decided on one that was introduced to us via PMC which designed and developed the mobile selling solution that basically sits on top of the Couchbase database system.
We had a very quick timeframe to deliver this. I was given the remit in February 2021 and we needed to be ready to go into our first event at the end of May. So we signed off a 12-week turnaround to develop from scratch a new mobile selling solution that would work at these events.
How has Couchbase enabled Crew Clothing to transform the shopping experience for its customers?
I wanted to prove to the business that this solution would work in our store environment. I was quite fortunate that a lot of our directors and heads of departments went to these events and saw this solution in real time. I was then able to go back to the board and tell them that it would work in our stores. They all agreed and we quickly signed off to get this to a fit-for-purpose solution that would fit within our store environment.
It’s enabled us to provide a mobile selling platform at our stores that is more intuitive, improves the customer experience and is more real time. One of the big things with the Couchbase environment is that I can get data very rapidly, whereas with all our previous systems we would have to wait for overnight processes to run and there’d be a delay in our ability to get sales back from stores because the database couldn’t keep up with the processing. The Couchbase environment is very real time. It’s very, very fast. We can now see what’s going on in our stores minute by minute if needed.
What efficiencies/benefits have you seen since working with Couchbase and how have these impacted your customers?
One efficiency has been the speed of customer transactions. We can process customer sales a lot faster than previously at approximately half the speed. Having a mobile tablet solution in our store gives us the ability to reduce the size of our cash desk. We’re now planning to have just a small cash desk area where there’s a printer and a cash drawer. And effectively the store staff are just using it for banking product because they can sell the product and take the payment anywhere in the store. The training element is brilliant, the fact that we can have a new sales agent start within the business and we hardly need to train them on the solution is amazing. We can drop it into a new store and it just works.
What trends are you seeing in the UK retail space and how does this affect your Digital Transformation journey?
One of the things I’m really keen on is innovation and we’re trying to follow suit with a lot of the more forward-thinking technology retail brands. If you compare us to one of the big technology stores, they are fully mobile and I’m trying to follow their lead and be at the forefront from a fashion retail perspective. I like to keep on top of what it is that technology retailers are doing and where they’re heading to try and give us a bit of a steer on where we should be going. One of the key factors for me when I’m looking at any solution is how mobile it is, how easy it is to use and what it looks like – is it attractive to our staff and can they engage with it.
What are the next steps for Crew Clothing – how do you predict you will evolve from a technology standpoint?
As a business we’re continuing to grow. We’re opening new stores across the UK. We’re considering various international markets and we’re also building on our channel partners. From an IT perspective, we’re trying to understand how to deliver that business growth and strategy.
From the CouchbasePMC element, the key things that are on our radar at the moment is we put the original solution in just to take card payments, but now we’re trialling the cash capability and also integrating our gift card solution into it.
The next step moving on from there is to integrate the web sales experience with the store experience. So, it’s all about integrating our Couchbase database system with our website database to make sure that they’re talking to one another.
What best practice advice would you offer to those in a similar position before your work with Couchbase commenced?
I would say consider the integration with your backend systems and spend some time looking at the nuances of that. One of the biggest pain points of the project was having to introduce workarounds with the new system to meet the restrictions that our old legacy systems couldn’t. So, for example, take the real time element of the Couchbase platform; we still have a little bit of a lag at the moment because our old system can’t ingest the data quickly enough so we have to schedule it. So we are on a 15 minute delay at the moment but the premise is that we will improve those legacy systems to allow us to get more real time.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since your journey with Couchbase began?
I’m amazed at how quickly we’ve been able to deliver this solution. The fact that we’ve been able to do it within 12 weeks and do events from inception to delivery and then move on to a store-based function has been absolutely amazing. I can’t fault the delivery of the product or the solution.Click below to share this article