CIO50 2020 #8 Shane Lenton, Cue Clothing
Of all the industries pushed to the wall by COVID-19, retail is among those hardest hit. And within retail, fashion not only became less of a priority as people left the house less, it also became virtually impossible as lockdowns took hold here in Australia and abroad.
But for Shane Lenton, CIO with iconic Australian fashion house Cue Clothing, while the pandemic was poised to split the company’s very seams, he managed to completely flip the challenge and find entirely new and now bursting pockets of opportunity.
“COVID-19 has accelerated inevitable shifts in retail that were already underway, and led to permanent changes in consumer preferences, shopper behaviours and regulations,” he tells CIO Australia.
“However, Cue was already focused on disruptive innovations designed to introduce new value, accelerate business agility and competitive advantage."
Key to this was completely redesigning the retail experience, which was no mean feat for a company half a century old.
“Cue is leading the renaissance of retail,” Lenton says. “Now in our 52nd year, we’ve adopted a start-up mindset to transform into a true omnichannel business delivering new capabilities at speed and scale.”
Cue claims to be the first company to give customers a multichannel wishlist. When a customer visiting a store is undecided about a favourite item, staff can now add the item to their wishlist. It gives customers a convenient collection that acts as a reminder and can be easily shared with family and friends.
With this data, Cue now provides customers with the same personalised marketing experiences they previously only enjoyed with their digital wishlist, such as popups or emails to let them know a wishlist item is on sale, low-in-stock or restocked.
This capability is a game changer for Cue, resulting in deeper omnichannel experiences for customers.
Virtual Stylist went live in March, with customers flocking to meet their stylists online during lockdown. For each session, Cue team members are armed with the customer’s history and AI-driven recommendations, so they can make it a truly personalised experience. Stylists will process any transactions within the appointment, and add favourite items to wishlists.
“Customers valued the opportunity to meet their stylists online (or in stores when they reopened),” Lenton explains.
“While it’s still early days, we’re seeing great results and highly engaged customers.”
Cue has deployed AI throughout many parts of the customer experience and supply chain, all amounting to what it describes as ‘Unified Commerce’ strategy. The results have been spectacular, with Cue establishing itself as a true innovator in transforming the retail experience at a time when most companies in the sector were on their knees if they hadn’t yet closed their doors.
The company now boasts an impressive online shopping conversion rate of over 50 per cent, with average transaction values now five-times higher.
Proving the worth of Cue’s AI-driven systems, website sessions from tracking notifications jumped a whopping 900 per cent, while an expansion of the company’s ‘endless-aisle’ to 80,000 items increased conversions, contributing to a 130 per cent increase in online sales across the board.
International revenue grew too, up 100 per cent, while across the ditch in New Zealand shoppers spent 300 per cent more.
Meanwhile, part Cue-owned fashion house Dion Lee saw its online sales grow 419 per cent, to make up 20 percent of total sales.
Lenton explains that for Cue to develop a genuine ‘innovation culture, the company needed to stitch innovation into the fabric of the organisation: its people.
“We knew that great customer experiences had to start with great employee experiences”
Key to this was the development of ‘digital communications programs’ to coach and train employees on Cue’s new services, along with regular national roadshows bringing staff together for briefings, virtual and – when possible – physical networking events.
“Using gamification, we run monthly competitions to measure and recognise achievements.”
Lenton was also on the front foot when it came to addressing operational barriers and cultural behaviours that would discourage the uptake of new services. He cites as an example Cue’s ‘buy anywhere, fulfill anywhere’ initiative.
“Prior to launch, we developed SLAs and dashboards to manage the end-to-end process and eliminate channel conflict so that in-store staff could see the benefits of ecommerce click-and-collect sales.
“This ensures a consistent and high-quality customer experience, without any additional staff or overheads.”
Technology by design
In an industry many saw as embarking on its digital transformation journey somewhat late, technology is now a critical factor for success in retail, especially throughout this year’s pandemic-driven disruption.
“Every aspect of our IT strategy supports the business strategy,” Lenton affirms.
“With a deep understanding of the structures and processes that make our business tick, and the ability to evaluate these frameworks critically to decide what can be improved, I challenge the status quo to build competitive advantage.”
He describes his leadership style as a blend of “strategic, collaborator and mentor.”
A member of the executive team, Lenton enjoys direct lines of communication to the managing director, board and the entire management team.
Now more than ever they need to trust that he and the IT team are delivering, and with the runs thrown up on the board this year it’s fair to say they do.
“I’ve earned their trust by improving productivity and operational efficiency, while at the same time making IT the source of innovation to deliver revenue growth and market differentiation,” Lenton explains.
“I work closely with them to shape the retail strategy, find and assess potential opportunities for growth, and prioritise the ventures that are most commercially viable.”
Lenton has also made a point of developing a broad and valuable external network by fostering relationships with retail industry leaders and innovators, and is member of the advisory boards for Australia Post, Shippit, Insider, Parcelpoint, Brauz, NORA, Online Retailer Conference, iMedia Online Retail and Brand Summits.
“They provide independent and expert viewpoints to help shape my ideas, and I have insights and practical advice to help them achieve their business goals."
Ensuring the entire IT team – and their many achievements – are visible throughout the organisation has been critical for maintaining engagement and support for the various digital solutions helping steer Cue through COVID-19.
“I share our digital goals and success both internally and externally so that our people understand our mission and strategy.
“They are incredibly proud of how our IT and digital teams are creating new levels of innovation and creativity to provide the seamless experiences our customers now demand.”
Key is maintaining a sharp focus on agility and delivering value both for internal users and customers.
“It’s been an important way to extend our internal team, build deep collaboration between our IT team, technology partners and the people responsible for customer experience.”
Lenton’s commitment to fostering broad collaboration and developing the best culture is reflected in his unusually diverse team, 65 per cent of whom are women, with five different ethnicity represented across ages ranging from teens through to people in their mid-40s.