Chico's FAS: The Digital Future is Happening Now

Chico’s FAS is in the midst of a digital revolution. The apparel retailer is reimagining the in-store environment with a host of new technology designed to provide an engaging, digitally inspired experience.

The retailer’s three distinct brands Chico’s, White House Black Market, and Soma are all being infused with new solutions that are blurring the line between digital and physical and building on the retailer’s stated goal of providing amazing personal service.

Chico’s shoppers have grown accustomed to personalized, charismatic interaction with sales associates, and the retailer’s new initiatives are designed to enhance the traditional Chico’s experience, not replace it.

The innovators at Chico’s FAS are constantly experimenting with the latest technology, to discover what works and what doesn’t, as they strive to provide old-school service with the help of a little new-school tech.

Today’s Sale, Tomorrow’s Insight
Chico’s sales model is built on creating lasting relationships between associates and customers. Frequent Chico’s shoppers are regularly recognized when they enter their local store and associates are encouraged to provide a personalized, memorable experience based on previous interaction with clients.  
Rather than rely solely on associates’ memories, it has been a long-standing tradition at Chico’s for sales staff to keep paper-based customer books. Associates record notes on customer purchases, style preferences, and anecdotal information on the reason behind a shopper’s visit, and leverage those notes to increase sales and create a tailored, engaging experience on return visits.

While capturing shopper preferences based on unstructured data gleamed from one-to-one interaction with clients has helped Chico’s provide amazing personal service, the paper-based model certainly had its drawbacks. Each associate kept his/her own book, meaning that all of those customer insights were not available across the enterprise, greatly reducing its potential impact. In addition, if a customer shopped in multiple stores she could potentially be in more than one customer book. And of course, as with any paper-based solution, the chance of loss or damage to the book was always a possibility.

To solve this problem Chico’s technology division developed a mobile app for use in all Chico’s FAS brands that took the traditional customer book into the 21st century. The iOS based application retained the unstructured data and mixed it with the large amounts of CRM information the brands are constantly collecting to provide associates with an even more powerful selling and customer engagement tool.

“One of the components of the customer book app is what we call notes,” Robert Gras,? VP, technology, stores and applications, Chico’s FAS?says. “It allows the store associate to do the same thing that she did before with paper, but instead of writing it by hand she inputs in into the app. Since it is digital and cloud-based it is available to every sales associate in every Chico’s store. The information is accessible to every salesperson whether it is the same store or a store across the country.”

The first version of the customer book app was launched in early 2014. And like most innovations at Chico’s it was piloted at a small subset of stores before being rolled out chain-wide. While the application is constantly being upgraded and enhanced, three key versions of the solution have been introduced. Version one blended CRM information with associate inputted data, giving the sales staff a real-time view of individual shopper’s preferences. Version two added the ability for associates to look up past transactions. And the soon-to-be-released version three will offer a robust dashboard and enhanced filtering capabilities.

One of the most powerful features of the customer book app is the ability for associates to filter their personal list of clients, or Love List, to supercharge their communication with shoppers. For example, every loyal Chico’s shopper receives a promotional offer for her birthday. Thanks to the app’s filtering ability associates can now sort their Love List by birth date and instantly uncover which of their loyal clients are celebrating a birthday that month and remind them to come on in and claim their reward.

“The filtering feature allows associates to sort customers by any of the data elements that we have collected,” Gras says. “This allows the associate to create a list of customers to contact to see if those customers are interested in certain products, promotions or in scheduling an appointment with a salesperson.”
The customer book development team is currently working on some advanced features to increase associate/shopper communication and is adding additional administrative functions. Among the back-end features being developed is the ability for store managers to reassign associates’ Love Lists if an associate leaves the company, ensuring shoppers continue to receive the personalized interactions to which they have grown accustomed.

One Device to Rule Them All
While the retailer is providing associates with iPad Minis in all Chico’s FAS locations to access the customer book app, it is not the only use for the tablet technology inside Chico’s four walls. Units are equipped with sleds that feature scanning technology, allowing associates to perform inventory, and coming soon, checkout functions.
Chico’s newly released store inventory application is designed to run on both mobile and desktop devices, allowing store associates and managers to manage inventory anywhere, anytime. Thanks to the scanning capabilities of their mobile units, Chico’s associates are able to process inventory as it flows in and out of the store, inputting crucial information from anywhere.

Another key capability of Chico’s mobility initiative that has the potential to be a game changer in the all-important realm of customer service is the introduction of mobile POS. Embedded in the iPad Mini sled is a mag stripe for credit card acceptance as well as EMV capabilities, that have yet to be enabled, to accept and process smartcard payment. Currently in the pilot stage, the retailer is testing the technology and perfecting the in-store procedure before rolling out the solution chain-wide.

While the addition of mPOS seems like a no-brainer, Chico’s isn’t rushing in with a wide-scale rollout, preferring to introduce the technology slowly to its associates and shoppers. “We are always interested in our customer’s input,” Gras says. “With everything we do we take a calculated approach in terms of development and deployment of features and functions and in our rollout strategy. We will get feedback from associates and customers and that will help us to figure out how best to proceed.”

The goal of the initiative is for store associates to be able to walk through the entire boutique with the customer or bring the iPad back to the fitting room area and complete a transaction anywhere in the store. Chico’s plans to use mPOS to heighten the customer experience and for line busting duties during peak business hours to ensure shoppers final impression of the brand is not a long wait at the cash wrap.

Creating an Immersive Experience
While Chico’s FAS is arming its associates with the necessary tools to provide a superior customer experience, the retailer has begun stocking its stores with customer-facing technology that is blending the line between digital and physical.
“We have designed, developed, and begun to deploy a number of different formats for the general category of interactive touch displays,” Gras says. “This includes what we call the tech table or trend table, which allows shoppers to access a variety of different digital content with a fun, interactive experience.”

The trend tables are large format, horizontally mounted digital displays that are built into a waist-high table. The intuitive digital experience allows shoppers to browse all of the brand’s available merchandise, view marketing collateral, and experience shoppable multi-media content designed to build a greater connection with the brand.

The tables not only allow shoppers to experience and discover the brand at their own pace independent of sales associates, but also serve as a congregation place for shoppers and associates alike. Trend tables are placed in highly visible locations, and the interactive technology naturally draws a crowd acting as the unofficial heartbeat of the store.
“Wherever the tables are located is usually a focal point of the store with customers and associates gathered around it,” Gras says. “The tables are a social way to look at digital content. They are big enough for multiple people to stand around. It is a place where people can be side by side or across the table from each other looking at all this different content. It is an extension of the store with a very physical, social presence.”

Chico’s is utilizing a mix of interactive and passive digital technology to redefine the shopping experience for its customers. In addition to the trend tables, the retailer is utilizing digital signage to provide brand imagery, videos, promotions, and to set the theme for the store. The signage is being utilized both in the store and in outward-facing windows in a variety of format sizes.

The screens give Chico’s a way to provide a variety of content in a limited space, and change the look of the store both inside and out in seconds to accommodate promotions, sales and special events. While the digital signage helps portray a hip, cool image it also provides the added benefit of eliminating the time and expense of creating printed signs, banners and promotional material for the stores.

Never Stop Innovating
The Chico’s technology team has been busy the past few years developing, testing and deploying new solutions designed to keep the retailer on the leading edge and enhance the shopping experience, but they are not resting on their laurels.

“We constantly talk about what is next” Gras says. “Everyday we have discussions about emerging technology and its place in our brands. Some of these we have already implemented and some we are just thinking about.”
Whatever the innovators over at Chico’s FAS decide to focus on next, you can rest assured it will be developed with the end user in mind and help further the personalized service shoppers have come to expect.