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A new approach at New Look – The Strategy and Innovation Report 2015

Jack Smith explains how New Look, a Leading retailer in the Strategy and Innovation Dimension, drives change by keeping things simple. Chloe Rigby listens in

ACCORDING TO JACK Smith, New Look’s group digital director, innovation isn’t primarily about shiny new technology. Rather, Smith suggests, it’s about straightforward changes that make it easier for the customer to buy.

Just such a straightforward change might mean putting a piece of cardboard around the store till to flag up New Look’s click-and-collect service. If that improves the customer experience, then that’s innovation. “I think innovation’s getting to be a dirty word,” says Smith, interviewed at the Internet Retailing Conference (IRC) 2015, “because people are innovating for the sake of innovation. Innovation for me is quite often very simple stuff that can improve the experience.”

He adds: “Work out who your customer is, where their challenges are, even the things they don’t realise are challenges, then see how you can improve it through new technology, new processes – and new bits of cardboard.”

It’s tempting to think the typical New Look customer is a millennial, with her smartphone or tablet computer permanently to hand. But people of all ages buy from the brand. The New Look target customer has a youthful outlook, but not necessarily a fascination with technology. “Part of what we need to do,” says Smith, “is not ‘over-technologise’ the experience, but make it reasonably straightforward. Innovation and digital are all about enabling, and the reality is there’s a very simple journey that people want to go on. They want to find what they want, and they want to have it.”

Clear road ahead

By concentrating on clearing the obstacles in that journey, New Look found that many online hold-ups came at the checkout. As a result, New Look has redesigned its virtual till. Today, it has a single checkout across mobile and desktop, enabling customers to move freely from one channel to another during the buying purchase. Existing shoppers can use one-click payment, while new customers can check out in two pages.

The company has taken an active decision to forgo the data collection many retailers do at the checkout. “We’ve taken a very different view and said, “Let’s make it work for the customer and not capture information that’s not absolutely critical to complete that transaction,’” says Smith. “We’ve had huge success on the back of that – our conversion rate has improved massively across desktop and mobile as a result.”

Such in-depth focus on a single moment where difficulties occur, has clearly paid dividends. “There are certain moments when people have to think about something, and so checkout is always one: you have to get your card out, pay for something and people don’t want to pay for something if they can help it,” Smith says. Identifying other points where difficulties occur, he adds: “In a store environment, trying something on is also a big point of friction.”

Continuing to smooth out these areas will be important as commerce, and technologies such as mobile and social, continue to develop. Already, more than 30% of New Look’s online revenue comes via mobile devices, and Smith recognises the importance of social media within his customers’ use of the devices.

Self-regarding change

Selfies, for example, are having an impact on the way shoppers buy. Why? Customers don’t want to look the same in the selfies they broadcast, says Smith, so they tend to opt for more easily interchangeable separates rather than buying a dress.

Meanwhile, the fact that 10m units of the latest iPhone 6 model, which contains the Touch ID technology that underpins Apple Pay, sold in three days means, Smith suggests, that mobile payments will now take off. In addition, the use of location-based services, after the Uber model, is also developing fast. “The only way you can really respond to this constant change in the environment is to follow the customer, truly take a customer-centric approach,” says Smith.

In order to do that, he argues, retailers must constantly build and develop an understanding of how customers use different devices, and how they behave before and after buying. That will allow retailers to attribute sales more consistently – and better target marketing. It will also mean retailers understand and respond to the fact that the customer will more than likely share information about a purchase online.

But it’s important that the strategy remains focused, since responding to every customer need is impractical. “If we had all the money in the world, we could do research and development on every new thing that’s coming out, but no retailer has pockets that deep,” Smith says. “You do have to narrow it down slightly. It’s working out what to focus on.” It’s in finding that focus, arguably, that the art of strategic innovation lies.

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