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IRX 2012: PREVIEW Interview with John Bovill of Jacques Vert

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In our latest preview of one of our major events of the year, Internet Retailing Expo (IRX 2012), we asked speaker John Bovill, commercial director at the Jacques Vert Group, whose brands include Planet, Precis, Jacques Vert and Windsmoor, just how the retailer is going about transforming itself from a multichannel retailer into a crosschannel trader.

Under the guidance of ecommerce veteran John Bovill, the Jacques Vert Group, which includes the Planet, Precis, Jacques Vert and Windsmoor brands, is making the transition from multichannel to crosschannel trader.

Currently Jacques Vert sells across a network of stores and through an ecommerce website, which some customers access from their mobile devices. “By definition,” said Bovill, “we are already multichannel but we’re not crosschannel. What the customer will have now is a fairly consistent experience of our customer service teams. In reality they are interacting with a channel rather than having a consistent brand experience across all our channels.”

That is set to change. Bovill’s vision of a crosschannel future is that “whenever the customer touches our brand they get a consistent, seamless and positive experience.”

Key to achieving that, he says, is stock. “At the moment,” said Bovill, “when the customer is shopping online they will only be able to view and purchase stock that sits within our ecommerce site. They won’t be able to view or purchase items that sit within our stores, which is ideally where we’d like to get to.”

To reach this point, Jacques Vert is investing in its infrastructure. The only constant part of its infrastructure in the transition from multichannel to crosschannel will be its IBM Websphere ecommerce platform. New planning, merchandising, finance, retail and warehousing systems are currently being put in place that will mean changes such as updates on stock every 15 minutes. The new supply chain system will go live in about a month’s time, and then the company will focus on new technologies such as mobile. The question then will be, said Bovill: “How, once we have stock management tools in place, could we be more reactive around the needs of our customer? We’d be disappointed if we don’t see some big changes in that area over the next 18 months.”

But how important is this change for a retailer that sells to a demographic perhaps typified by the mother of the bride or groom? Very, says Bovill, who has been at the retailer for about six months and was previously at Aurora Fashions, an innovator in crosschannel retailing through brands including Oasis and Warehouse. The Jacques Vert customer, says Bovill, is both “a little more unforgiving,” perhaps because they are spending more on clothes for a special occasion, and is also very aware of technology such as mobile phones and tablet computers that is currently transforming retail.

In the future, predicts Bovill, all shopping will be more interactive and more personalised, both in store and online. “I think technology has such an incredibly positive role to play in the customer experience,” he said. “It’s a really fascinating time to work in this space. We’re all adapting in different ways – in one way for one brand’s customer and another way for another brand’s customers. It’s not ‘one size fits all.’”

But what does “fit all”, he says, is the need for investment and innovation. Retail in the UK is, he says, at a “funny stage”. “It’s been a tough trading environment,” he said. “People have held off from significant investment, particularly in supply chain systems. We’ve seen the need to invest early in infrastructure. We fundamentally believe you have to get stock management systems in place before you start adding on more customer-facing technologies.”

Ultimately it’s important to stay in the game. “If you don’t innovate you lose market share,” says Bovill, “and no one can afford to do that in this market – it’s just too tough.”

Hear John Bovill’s presentation, A 360 degree view for anytime, anywhere commerce, firsthand at Internet Retailing Expo 2012. He will be speaking in the Enterprise Conference on March 21 at 2pm.

Entrance to IRX 2012, which will be held at the NEC in Birmingham on March 21 and 22, is free. More than 4,000 visitors are expected at the event, which features an exhibition of 150 suppliers to the ecommerce and multichannel industries alongside a two-day learning programme, Selling in the Digital Age.

The programme features four conferences, dedicated to Mobile and Social Commerce, Fast Track, Enterprise and Customer Experience, as well as a series of workshops, learning sessions and demonstrations of the latest technology.

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