Jewellery retailer Pandora has placed digital capability and transformation at the core of its business in an attempt to serve customers in new and innovative ways.
It’s a process that’s been in gestation for the past two years, says David Walmsley, Chief Digital and Omni-channel Officer, who joined the firm in April 2019. Walmsley has spent his time at the firm leading a business transformation initiative, known as Programme NOW, which aims to tap into digital tech to improve customer engagement.
That program has proven its worth during the past 12 months as COVID-19 created new challenges for the enterprise. When lockdown came, Pandora had to shake off its reliance on the face-to-face relationships it traditionally built with customers in-store in favor of replicating similarly strong experiences across a range of other channels.
Progress around business transformation, which has included the establishment of a 120-strong digital hub in Copenhagen, has meant the business has been able to benefit from strong technology foundations and specialist capability that could generate innovative solutions quickly and effectively. Walmsley says:
The digital hub is really about insourcing and creating a hybrid model where we have engineers and data scientists at the heart of the global business in Copenhagen. We still work very much with some phenomenal partners, particularly Adobe, Accenture and Sapient in the digital space, but it's about creating a hybrid model and getting talent into the heart of the business.
Walmsley says that, like many organizations, Pandora had traditionally outsourced much of its development processes to third parties. Building in-house talent at the firm’s digital hub - which includes people from more than 20 nations as part of a diverse community, most of whom have had to login remotely and work away from the hub during the past year – means that the firm finds it easier to cope with the fast pace of modern business change:
It's good for tech, it's good for digital, because we get sustainable knowledge and build the experience in the business, but it also affects the broader enterprise. They know what an engineer looks like, they know what they do and it creates a sense that code is an asset, along with the brand and the product and everything else that people typically think of as core assets of the business. The code is an asset – and that's the piece that I think is at the heart of our mission.
COVID represented “a curveball” for the business, admits Walmsley. When lockdown came, Pandora shifted to e-commerce operations, with online sales growing by 176% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2020 alone.
Walmsley says the hard work by his digital team during the previous 12 months supported this switch, underpinned by Adobe, using tech such as Experience Manager and Adobe Campaign. But like every other digital leader in spring 2020, he was presented with the same question - how can we use technology to help the company deal with the new challenges it faces? In the case of Pandora, Walmsley says the digital team received many requests and suggestions from around the organization:
What we did was step back and take a genuinely agile approach to understanding the fundamental customer challenges and needs, things like fear about coming into store, anxiety about social spacing in-store, worries about queuing outside our stores. We broke these down into a set of psychological profiles and understood the needs of our customers.
Out of that profiling process, Walmsley and his team built a total of 11 different initiatives that were piloted in different markets around the world through August and September 2020. Every one of Pandora’s major markets had at least one pilot running in order to understand the potential impact of these initiatives.
Video chat was launched on the corporate websites so that socially distanced customers could chat online with staff members and receive advice. When stores have been able to re-open, Pandora provided virtual queuing, so customers didn’t have to wait outside the stores and could instead scan a QR code to receive a timed slot. The company also pushed out virtual try-on, which allowed customers to see how jewellery looked online prior to purchase. Walmsley explains:
So we didn't just pick one solution. We dealt with the fundamental customer need using proper customer-centred design principles and agile methods to drive very rapid iteration of each one of these pilots. This meant we were able to land all this work in parallel, rather than doing one project and then four months later coming back with another project. I think maintaining that discipline has been one of the most exciting things that happened in 2020 and that's now going to propel us through 2021.
Walmsley says he’s always taken a balanced approach to business transformation, keeping one foot in the commercial camp and one foot in the technology department. As Pandora looks forward and attempts to grow successfully in the Vaccine Economy, he believes it's “super-important” that the digital team relates everything in technology back to the commercial outcomes of the broader business:
I think the danger can be when a business decides to ramp up its digital strategy presence, they hire someone like me, I build a team and then it can be sometimes, ‘Well, job done, we've got those digital guys in the corner’. I think the big transformational step – for me, the team around me, the management board and my boss – is actually how do we transform the organization?
Walmsley, who is a member of Pandora’s executive board, says he has a close working relationship with the firm’s CIO, Peter Cabello Holmberg. He expects this relationship to be key as the firm continues to find new ways to serve its customers in the future:
We're really doubling down on consumer data and working on our CRM piece and finding partners like Adobe to work with, who are really going to help us drive consumer experience and engagement, and then a transformative approach to some of the tech foundations in the business and its integration layers and so on. So we've got a lot of work to do in that space.