InternetRetailing caught up with James Le Brocq of pureplay Studio to find out about how the business, which started out as a catalogue retailer, has changed its business, and how it is now serving its customers.
InternetRetailing: Can you tell us what prompted Studio’s digital transformation?
James Le Brocq, transformation and operations director at Studio: We have come a long way from our traditional catalogue heritage and have listened closely to what customers want. As consumer shopping habits have evolved, Studio has adapted to move with them, to ensure the customer experience evolves accordingly. In recent years, it has become more apparent than ever that businesses need to keep abreast with customer habits such as extensive smartphone penetration, and this is exactly what we have been doing at Studio. The digital transformation that Studio has been ongoing since 2018 has taken us from our legacy catalogue business to digital first.
The introduction of the Studio app in 2019, which we worked with Poq Commerce to launch, has been a significant contributor to the success of the business during the financial year ending March 26 2021, with over one million customers having now downloaded the app. As well as accounting for over 20% of product sales in FY21, the app allows us to communicate with our customers via push notifications which have been enabled by around two-thirds of app users.
The nationwide lockdown and change in customer behaviour over the past 18 months have accelerated this digital transformation, resulting in the business achieving its longer-term ambition in a much shorter time frame.
IR: What has been most challenging about the process - and how did you deal with that?
JLB: The most challenging part of our digital transformation has been the analogue to digital journey. The process is very underestimated; as much as the business has had to up its digital capabilities from a customer-facing perspective, to go from the catalogue business model to a digital first version, there is as much, if not more, to do behind the scenes. Whether that be upskilling colleagues or modernising the business processes, we’ve had to update systems to propel them towards a 24/7 type of operation in which we can constantly upgrade product, offers and continually look for ways to improve our fulfilment service.
The partnerships which we have developed with businesses such as Cynozure, Poq and Hexaware have allowed us to take the business in the right direction to offer our customers what they need, when they need it. For example, back in 2019, we worked with Poq Commerce to launch the Studio mobile app which allows our customers to shop on the go. What’s more, our partnership with Cynozure has allowed us to use data in a smarter way to make the shopping experience even more enjoyable for customers.
IR: What opportunities has it created and how will you make the most of those?
JLB: Along our digital transformation journey, we partnered with data and analytics strategy consultancy, Cynozure to expand and improve our use of data across the board. Together we have used AI to champion the most relevant products to our customers on the Studio website, as well as using AI technology behind the scenes in areas such as fraud prevention. We’ve also been able to develop a vision for advanced retail analytics, to help the business evolve its capability towards predictive analytics, optimisation, and automation.
The technological advancements which we have made as a business have allowed us to operate more efficiently – both internally and from a customer facing point of view – and have allowed us to extend the range of financial services products which we offer our customers. The use of data has allowed us to understand more about our clients, including what they see as affordable, which has helped to underpin our responsible lending credentials.
IR: Tell us about Studio customers and how they buy from you – and how much that has changed.
JLB: By using data insights and the latest and best-in-breed technologies, Studio has been able to create a better customer experience, whilst growing the business. At Studio.co.uk we have a diverse customer base of over 2.5 million people and sell a vast array of products, from fashion and toys to homeware and garden furniture. Over the past ten years the business has seen consumers expanding their use of digital technologies and becoming more digitally savvy.
Over 90% of our sales are now online, which is up from 50% in 2016 and we are continuing to see this number increase. What’s more, almost all (98%) of our new customers place orders online.
Here at Studio, we have an extremely loyal and strong core customer base and it’s great to see that we’re welcoming a raft of new younger customers as a result of our digital transformation and our new Social Media Strategy that’s supporting to drive engagement/brand interaction.
IR: How has your digital transformation changed their experience, in practice?
JLB: Through our investment in Artificial Intelligence-enabled technology, we have been able to give customers a personalised shopping experience on both our app and website. From learning about their shopping habits to understanding what content they find the most engaging; AI, search and capitalising on micro-trends has allowed us to put the right products in front of customers at the right time, every time. We can now offer an accessible and enjoyable experience to all customers.
IR: Where do you go from here - and what tools will you use in the process?
JLB: The business has a clear growth strategy, fuelled by its digital capabilities which are as a result of the digital transformation which we’ve been going through. We’ve made great progress in our journey to become digital first, transforming from a legacy catalogue to a near pureplay online value retailer; and have substantially completed investment in the technology that supports our financial services operation
As we pursue our £1bn turnover goal, we will focus on our cultural transformation to become an even higher performing business. The completion of the renaissance of our retailing systems, the continued investment in really strong in-house data capabilities and the migration from our legacy systems and infrastructure will allows us to continue serving our customers in the best way possible and make the business more efficient.