Four Retailers That Kicked Butt in 2011

Joe Skorupa
Editor at Large
Joe Skorupa profile picture
 By Joe Skorupa

What do you get when you execute a kick-butt project that helps drive your company to category leadership, delivers high-performance business results, and pushes the envelope of technology innovation? Hopefully, more than just a hearty pat on the back. Four retailers were honored with 2011 Fusion Awards for kicking butt in cross-channel operations that successfully fused business strategies with outstanding IT execution. Here is a look at the winners and also highlights from the just completed Cross-Channel Retail Executive Summit.
The 2011 RIS Fusion Awards, now in their 8th year, are the result of a year-long process that involves reaching out to select retailers, RIS Editorial Advisory Board members, analysts and technology vendors. The award process this year was managed by RIS Executive Editor Adam Blair.
More than 30 nominations were evaluated, and after finalists were selected the winners were chosen by the editors of RIS and a distinguished panel of judges that included the following experts:
Vicki Cantrell, former CIO for Tory Burch
Don Courtney, former CIO and president of e-commerce at The Finish Line
Lynn Olsen, president of The Innovation Group and former VP and CIO at SuperValu
Deborah Weinswig, a financial analyst for Citi Investment Research covering Retailing/Broadlines, Food & Drug, and Home Improvement
The four winners of this year’s Fusion Awards are: Chico’s FAS and Starbucks in the Cross-Channel Innovation category (tied), Urban Outfitters for Cross-Channel Customer Experience, and Von Maur’s for Cross-Channel SMB.
Chico’s FAS: Cross-Channel Innovation
Often, it's not a single project that has a significant impact on moving the needle for a modern, tier-one cross-channel retailer. It often takes a bundle of projects to pack some wallop. So, Chico's decided to pull together a massive, $30 million project to take its cross-channel operations to the next level.
This project included upgrading its e-commerce platform to add new functionalities and flexibility to create a more compelling shopping experience. It also tightly coupled its customer loyalty database with on-demand marketing automation to create e-mail promotions that target customers making online purchases.
It also shifted the sale of slow-moving products from brick-and-mortar stores to online channels – holding items in DCs versus stores' back rooms – and reduced the number of marked-down and liquidated items.
Today, brick-and-mortar stores are now broadband-enabled so associates can track shipments to consumers on large touchscreens, which can also be used for processing home deliveries, merchandise location, labor scheduling and staff training.
And a big part of the project involved moving the centralized data warehouse from the headquarters in Fort Myers, Florida, (a potential target for hurricanes) to a new facility in Atlanta, Georgia. On hand to accept the award for Chico’s was Kenneth Silay, director, store technology.
Starbucks Coffee Co.: Cross-Channel Innovation
Starbucks recognized that the digital channel represented a huge opportunity to create a successful eGifting program, and so launched the program in January. Right from the start the program began taking advantage of innovative cross-channel marketing opportunities. Examples include celebrating Starbucks’ 40th anniversary by giving the first 600 customers to “check-in” via Foursquare to a Starbucks’ location an instantly redeemable mobile gift card. This effort energized its customers across mobile, social, online and in-store channels.
For Administrative Professionals Day (Wednesday, April 27, 2011), Starbucks conducted Facebook and Twitter marketing campaigns, in conjunction with e-mail marketing efforts, to promote the eGifts. As a result, Starbucks realized a 113% lift in Starbucks Card eGift sales compared to the prior three Wednesdays.
Recently, Starbucks expanded customers’ options for purchasing eGifts to social media channels with the launches of eGifting on Facebook and iPhone. The overall effect of these cross-channel efforts boosted overall sales and provided more avenues to drive customers into Starbucks stores. Lisa Ferguson, senior functional analyst for Starbucks, accepted the award.
Urban Outfitters: Cross-Channel Customer Experience
Urban Outfitters is well known throughout retailing as an innovator in customer marketing and in-store technology, and it has long sought to bring the same interactivity, speed and convenience of the online experience to its brick-and-mortar stores. To deliver a more connected, relevant shopping experience, Urban Outfitters rolled out Apple iPod Touches to serve as selling assistants and POS checkout,
The goal of the mobile POS roll out was to reduce transaction time and costs, and increase floor efficiency while delivering more personalized customer service from point-of-interest to point-of-sale, and giving store associates cross-channel transaction capabilities anywhere in the store.
While it seems like the entire retail industry is exploring the possibility of mobile POS rollouts, only a handful of retailers have actually met all the challenges and figured out how to make it work. Urban Outfitters is one of the true innovators in this fast-moving trend. Accepting the award was Demo Lymberopoulos, executive director of operations for the Anthropologie division of Urban Outfitters.
Von Maur: Cross-Channel SMB
Von Maur is one of the oldest continuously run retail chains in the country, having been founded in 1872, which places it 7th on the oldest retailer list. Today, it operates 25 department stores (soon to be 26) in 10 states.  
In April 2010 Von Maur recognized it needed to change its fulfillment procedures in order to keep up with multi-channel holiday demand, As a result, it invested in a major undertaking to create a new and innovative fulfillment center using mobile-robotics. Since deploying the mobile-robotics system, Von Maur no longer has to take 35 employees away from other tasks during the holiday shopping season to navigate warehouse aisles and climb ladders in the scramble to pick and pack items customers purchase online.
Instead, robots that look like brightly colored orange boxes on wheels lift and move pods full of items, and bring them to pick stations, where the products are picked, scanned and handled by one or two human workers who remain stationary. Von Maur’s roll out of a mobile-robotic fulfillment system has proven to be a strategic advantage that has optimized its fulfillment center and transformed it into a competitive asset. Wayne Varilek,director of IT for Von Maur, accepted the award.
2011 CCRES Highlights
This year’s CCRES event brought 130 retailers, analysts and technology vendors together to the Four Seasons Troon North Resort on September 28 to 30. This has been the site of three CCRES events and ranks as an attendee favorite due to the level of service and magnificent desert setting, which are second to none. Proof of its popularity is the fact that there were zero last-minute cancellations, which is a rarity for conferences.
The summit kicked off with a hotly contested (pun intended to reflect the desert heat) golf tournament on the Monument Course at Troon North. For the first time in roughly 30 RIS events, the team I was on won the tournament primarily due to my team mates: Roger Underwood of the Finish Line, John Luaderbach of Roche Bros. supermarkets, and Dave Ricketts of Hybris.
Content and sessions were especially strong at the event and a few highlights include:
  • Mike Relich, EVP and CIO for Guess, who spearheads a multi-brand and multi-channel tier-one retail operation that is doing some amazing CRM things with Facebook and social media data.
  • Todd Michaud, VP of IT for Focus Brands, explored best practices in how to use social media for personalized marketing.
  • Melissa Chin, Chief Information Security Officer for VF Corp., explained that it was not possible to completely lock down the mobile channel for m-commerce, but new security tools are evolving rapidly.
  • Nikki Baird, managing partner for RSR Research, did double duty as both the moderator of an eye-opening panel featuring gen Y students and alumni from the University of Arizona, and as the chief research analyst exploring findings from the 2011 RIS/RSR Cross-Channel Tech Trends Study.
  • Mark Ryski, author of “Conversion: The Last Great Retail Metric,” laid out a compelling methodology to help retailers identify opportunities in store traffic counting, and showed how when used correctly it offers the same potential for growth that we currently associate with website analytics. Ryski gave a copy of his book to all attendees.
The site and date for next year’s CCRES is still to be determined.

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