New Look has been a fixture of the retail landscape for half a century. Founded in 1969 a single store in Taunton, the fashion brand now has 519 across its fleet. The firm also has a strong online presence, with 800 products a week uploaded onto its website. A fifth of total turnover comes from online with the e-commerce platform serving 66 countries.
In today’s turbulent retail market, there are fresh challenges as the firm moves into its next half century. Speaking at search specialist Yext’s EXPLORE19 event in London, Paul Rasmussen, New Look’s Head of Digital, said that the store network remains a major asset in an omni-channel world:
New Look as a retailer has changed. We have quite a lot of pressures. We're a multi-channel business. We have over 500 stores, we have a website and an app. We are really looking at the close integration of how these things come together. We have obviously competitors that are also multi-channel, but also that are pureplay. And we see the successes of pureplay in the thing that they're doing.
But also we're starting to look at the successes of other retailers on the high street and the things that really create our USP, which is we have stores. So there are new [customer] journeys that are being created and that really is about how do we start to connect that starting point, which is online, and ending up in a store and the other way round - if you're in a store, how do you actually end up online for these reasons?
This is where Yext’s search technology comes into play with its focus on delivering ‘answers’ rather than links. Rasmussen explains:
When you're searching and getting the right answers to the actual products that you want, we're seeing a big theme around immediacy and localness. That sort of touches on some of the conversation around context. That's one of the things that we're really looking at. People want product now. I think we've all been trained to look at our phones far too much, watches far too much. How do you start to get to that product as soon as possible?
So we have a store stock look up where you can go onto the site and look at availability in stores. That's sort of just the first step. We look a lot around some of our app behavior and what we're really starting to drive towards is, how do we have the app be the glue to our store because that is the glue we have to the relationship that we have of our customer.? We have our stores and we have our app and it's about how did you start to bring those two worlds together?
We’re starting to look at in store app mode, where you're starting to think about things that are in your favorites and your wish-list. And then how does that actually get surfaced about how far away that is from you? So instead of you going to find the answers, it's actually bringing them to you. So on the product page, how can we actually start to surface that? ‘ It's this far away. It's in stock in your size’.
All of this is about getting the customer to engage more, he adds, with the stores again seen as an asset and not just chasing the latest tech innovation for the sake of it:
How do you make that journey frictionless, but make that technology not be front and foremost and be gimmicky? It's about how do you actually just make that valuable to the customer but also efficient for our store advisors. One of the big things that we've got is that we have our busy times. Saturdays are the busiest time in our stores. You can imagine how full they are and how frustrating it is when you have that many people in there just queuing up. So just things like, you know, queue busting — how can we make that become easier?
Again, thinking about our app as the glue, how do we make that journey all be in the app? So how do you allow people to just pay within the app and walk out? The biggest challenges we have [there] is around security, but that's something that you can overcome in a number of different ways. So it's about how do we start that journey of bringing that touchpoint from being in your own home into a store and then back again. And it's the handing off between those two.
New Look boasts on its website:
We put our customers at the heart of everything we do; this helps us to understand how they feel when searching for products and ultimately, making sure they feel great when wearing them, whatever the occasion. By reacting quickly to the latest trends and interpreting them in a way that’s wearable for our customers, we can help them find a look that fits their personal style.
To support that goal, the firm is also looking to tap into its large arsenal of customer data to anticipate trends and demand. Rasmussen says:
One of the things that we're starting to get to is how do we ask the right questions? We have a database and customer data that is extremely full. It's massive. But actually we need to make sure we're asking the right questions. And some of those questions we are talking about is, is how do we start to forecast trends? How do we start to see trends and when do trends die off, so that we can actually act on that and start to see what are the signs there are actually changing these things. Because if we start to see those signs, we can respond to that. You can see how that ripple effect can happen across the whole business.