Tag Archives: Retail


The Friday Update 8: Developing a great customer experience in a digital age

Online shopping has changed our expectations around customer service and bricks-and-mortar retailers are changing in response. On behalf of ZDNet, I recently attended the Rethinking Retail Technology event, organised by Rackspace in London, and discovered how individual high street stores are adopting distinct strategies.

Take Oliver White, ecommerce director at Heal’s, who says the furniture specialist likes to offer customers a large amount of personalisation. The firm recently completed a proof of concept trial for in-store tablet technology. Customers were able to use mobile devices to engage with furniture via near-field communication. White says each access point provided additional information on products, such as dimensions and materials:

“It allowed customers to build a digital wish list, to discover product information and to check availability. What we’ve learnt through the trial is that customers want access to the detailed information they can get online, but they also want to come in store to touch and feel the products.”

Nick Hopkinson, CIO at Devon Partnership NHS Trust, faces a different kind of challenge in regards to customer service. I recently interviewed the experienced IT leader for Computer Weekly and discovered how he is directing his attention to transformation at the trust, which was established in 2001 and supports 18,000 people across Devon and Torbay.

The required focus on great technology can be a challenge in the current cash-constrained environment. Hopkinson recognises that every pound that is attributed to IT – and, therefore, not spent on direct healthcare – must lead to big increases in the quality of patient care:

“As technology professionals, we need to work beyond the walls of the traditional IT department and become part of wider business planning decisions, so that the importance of digital transformation is articulated and understood.”

The challenge around customer service, then, is unlikely to diminish any time soon. In coming weeks, I’ll be analysing other key concerns for modern CIOs, including the rise of other roles – such as the CDO – and the importance of new cross-European initiatives. If you’d like to get involved in some of the articles I’m putting together, just drop me a line at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk. It would be great to hear from you.

Creativity is only significant if it does not entail excessive risk

Your working life should be a continual learning process, from your first day of employment to your inevitable promotion to the top table.

Any employee who makes the mistake of thinking they know everything is bound to fail. A good worker listens, talks and learns – and the same methods for success exist across every sector and individual business.

Take technology journalism, where novice business reporters are traditionally given the storage beat. It is a dry, technical area but any reporter who proves their worth in storage is likely to flourish at the front line of IT innovation and implementation.

The moral, I guess, is you need to do the right ground work. And the same principle holds true in the real – rather than reported – world of business technology, where CIOs are expected to put years of technical experience into practice for the benefit of the business.

Once at the top, it is easy to become sidetracked by ephemeral talk of alignment and agility – and to forget that lasting success is all about policy and process. A true technology leader recognises that the governance helping maintain day-to-day IT will not be forsaken for the more exciting areas of implementation and innovation.

The winter edition of CIO Connect magazine (from which this editorial is taken) shows that successful technology chiefs find a balance between creativity and risk-taking.

When it comes to how the CIO should develop novel techniques for intractable challenges, Marks & Spencer’s director of IT and logistics Darrell Stein says he only gets excited about business cases, sales and costs.

Change attempts are set by a business agenda, an approach echoed by Paul Forester – IT director at fashion retailer Monsoon Accessorize – who is looking to create an IT planning function to focus on innovation.

Creativity, it turns out, is only significant if it does not entail excessive risk. And that propensity for the business to cope with risk relies on the well-learned basics of policy and process.

With strong governance, CIOs are much more likely to see projects succeed. Like storage, governance has a reputation for being dry and staid. But it involves a learning process that must not be forgotten.

Tom Herbich, now director of business applications and information governance at Deutsche Bank, has spent three decades honing a unique and effective approach to compliance. In a special feature on the finance industry, Herbich offers advice which is true for CIOs across all sectors.

“You must implement solid business controls,” he concludes. “You need to know how to manage and you need to understand what is really important.” As ever, experience will see you right.

South Woodford Waitrose and a £25 car parking ticket

I guess you probably think Waitrose is a classy store. Your call, I guess – but the following example of (non-)customer service has left me changing my perceptions of the highly rated retailer.

Shopping at Waitrose is normally great. Part of the John Lewis Partnership, it offers a smashing range of products, is better priced than most people believe and is connected to the brilliant online shopping specialist Ocado.

Unfortunately, a recent experience has left me to conclude that Waitrose is also the kind of retailer that allows an outsourced firm to charge a family (one Dad, a pregnant Mum and a three-year-old daughter) £25 to park for more than two hours in their car park as they spend more than £100 on a weekly shop. Thanks Waitrose.

Rather than drone on like a demented consumer champion (any of my neighbours in Wanstead will tell you that I have already bored them senseless about the incident), have a look at the following droning letter of complaint I sent to Waitrose HQ. And get bored by that instead:

To whom it may concern

I am writing to complain about an incident during a recent visit to the Waitrose store in South Woodford, London. As a regular customer that has received many years of quality customer service from the Partnership, I was dismayed to see the following incident occur.

My heavily pregnant wife, my three-year-old daughter and myself parked in a family bay and shopped as normal in the store. We completed our shop and, on returning to our vehicle, found a £25 parking ticket because our car had been parked in the same place for more than two hours.

First, and as can be seen by the included receipt, we completed quite a large shop. Buying food during a busy weekend is always a time-consuming process and is likely to take a considerable period of time.

Second, your web site refers to the friendliness of the Partnership experience. We met three groups of friends and spent time talking to your affable till attendant. We would not, however, have opted for the friendly experience if we knew there was a chance it would cost us £25.

Third, my three-year-old daughter had to be changed in the toilet. Again, this incident took a considerable period of time. My daughter also likes to look at the children’s books and magazines. While we appreciate the distraction, we would not have dallied if we had known it would cost us money.

In short, I can understand that your company might find a requirement to charge people that chose to stay in your car park and not shop in the store. But when a family spends £100, I think it is reasonable to expect that they will not be charged £25 for the experience.

Best regards

Mark Samuels

So, that letter was sent a few weeks ago. What do you think happened? Well, they wrote back quickly – which was nice. And was there a big apology? Er, not exactly:

Dear Mr Samuels

I was sorry to learn that you were unhappy with the car park charges at our South Woodford branch and would like to take this opportunity to explain our reasoning for these changes.

OK. Apology – good start. But look closely; they’re sorry that I am unhappy – not sorry the incident occured. Not looking so good now, especially when they say they’re going to explain their reasoning for the charges (also worth noting that there’s an extra space before South Woodford on my copy of the letter. The more cynical might suggest that the name ‘South Woodford’ has been simply copied and pasted into a standard letter; that’s what the more cynical might suggest…).

Whenever it can Waitrose is keen to provide unlimited free parking. Unfortunately, this is not always possible especially in areas where we must conform with local restrictions or the car park is under the control of the local authority.

Fair enough, they have limited spaces and I guess some people park and don’t buy stuff in the shop. But what’s this…?

At South Woodford there is a very high demand for the number of spaces, and to ensure there is a continual turnover of spaces so all of our customers can find a space during peak periods, Britannia Parking Limited control the car park by introducing a charge after a reasonable period of time. You would therefore need to contact Britania direct.

Woah! So to ensure shoppers can find a space, they fine you after a couple of hours. What? I spent £100 in your store – what on earth has ‘reasonable period of time’ got to do with justifying a turnover of spaces when you’re actually spending cash? If they want to keep spaces free for customers, fine – but surely not by charging people that are in the store shopping. And while I’m on the matter, what is ‘reasonable’? Does it not include spending cash, looking after your kid and having a chat with people? Clearly not.

I would like to thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to attention.

Fine, it’s given me an opportunity to moan and some free content for my blog. So, thanks to you, too.

I appreciate that whilst what I have written will not have been what you wanted to learn, I am glad to have had an opportunity to clarify our position.

Good for you. And you’re right; it isn’t what I wanted to hear – or, more importantly, what I expected.

I can assure you of our continued commitment to providing you with the service and merchandise you espect when shopping at Waitrose and hope this unfortunate incident will not deter you from shopping with us again in the future.

You’ve already failed to meet my expectations regarding service, Waitrose. But why would it deter me from shopping with you again? I’m not going to cut off my nose to spite my face; I like your shops. But I tell you what it will do – it will make me angry and push me to write a load of stuff on my blog about how disappointed I am. And I’ll tell everyone I know about how you left me feeling rubbish. Shame, really. I expected better.

Moral of the story? Don’t park in a mother and baby spot, and spend too long spending £100 in a Waitrose store. If you do, you’ll be charged an extra £25 for the experience.

Wanstead, Tesco and the changing High Street

I live in a place called Wanstead. If you live in London, it’s on the Central Line loop; if you don’t, it’s to the east. Wanstead is nice. My Dad is always saying: “What I don’t get about this London is that even when a place is nice, there’s something really grim just round the corner.”

He’s right, of course, but he lives in Warwick. And that is basically the posh Midlands. So, he’s a bit spoilt. But Wanstead – when it comes to London and it’s rather frustrating mix of nice and grim – is fairly grand. That sense of grandness is provided by the wide, tree-lined streets, some splendid period architecture and some lovely open spaces, such as the green on the High Street and Wanstead Park.

The village – if you can call Wanstead a village when it’s five minutes from the M11 and served by two Underground stations – has managed to retain a strong identity, particularly as the rest of east London is either being smashed for the Olympics or going to the dogs (or not, in the case of the former dog track at Walthamstow Stadium).

Then last week, a Tesco opened on the Wanstead High Street. It’s been a source of conjecture, debate and protestation. The store takes the place of a former Woolworth’s (RIP, you good retail friend). The protests against the store have been long and loud (hence the delay in the store opening). A particularly vocal compaigner has been a chap called Ashley Gunstock, who admitted using the Leytonstone Tesco branch after being ‘outed’ by a local newspaper. It’s been that sort of debate.

People objecting to the store say Tesco will kill shops on the High Street. Like elsewhere in the UK, shops are always opening and closing in Wanstead – and I guess the presence of a retail giant is hardly likely to help the independents. And the community of Wanstead – and it does have a nice community; we know all our lovely neighbours – seem keen to ensure the shop is empty.

Which is why I was surprised to see people virtually fighting to get into the Tesco earlier this week, while the local Co-op – which is normally packed – was the retail equivalent of the Mary Celeste: “It’s always like this now,” said one of the workers to me at the Co-op.

Change, eh? Who needs it? Virtually everyone, it would seem.