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The Very Group puts data at its heart to build a customer-centric organization

Gary Flood Profile picture for user gflood October 27, 2022
With roots stretching back to the 19th Century, one of the UK’s best-known consumer brands, Very, has gone ‘back to the future’ to refresh its entire approach to data

An image of people in the Very Group offices
(Image sourced via the Very Group)

A combination of decades-old customer data and a new attitude to unleashing its potential is being framed as the driver of ongoing successful digital transformation at one of the UK’s most durable consumer brands, Very (formerly Littlewoods).

That re-orientation has led to a complete overhaul of its underlying business model, more empowered employees, and an overall improvement in CX (customer experience).

Commenting on the success of the data revolution at the company, Chief Data Officer, Steve Pimblett, said:

We knew that if we wanted this project to succeed, we would need to make sure we got high levels of engagement from everyone. We thought this might take a bit of time, so I don’t think any of us were ready for how fast everyone picked it up - which in turn, allowed us to accelerate the project timeline.

‘We are putting data at the heart of everything we do’

With roots going back to 1890 and becoming The Very Group in 2020, Very was originally a catalog shopping company.

It then also became a brick and mortar retailer before its final evolution into a 100%  online brand in 2009. It is now used by 2.5 million shoppers and financial services customers. 

A big part of this transformation has been use of Alation, says Pimblett, a bespoke data catalog data company used by he and his team to transform and digitize operations. Pimblett said:

Our mission at Very is to make good things more easily accessible to more people. We do this by delivering leading brands and products to our customers, providing flexible payment plans and financial services, and enabling high levels of personalization and ease of use.

Making that customer promise a reality, he added, has meant putting data at the heart of everything Very does.

It turns out there was quite a lot of data to work with: a huge historical accumulation of many years of customer, financial services, payments, and delivery record information. He said:

When I joined in 2020, I found a rich collection of data assets, including information on over 2.2 million daily website visits, 4.8 million active customers, and 49 million items delivered annually.

The business problem he faced with this potentially useful resource, however, was that it was all scattered in silos across 11 business domains.

There was also very limited automation, many different glossaries defining what information was being held, and highly complex lineage and stewardship.

That made exploiting the dataset both hard to govern, let alone start to exploit, he said.

In addition, Very’s data and analytics specialists were spread across the Group, with no individual team responsible for supporting underlying standards or mandating a central approach.

That meant that every business domain in the Group was doing things differently. He said:

The whole approach was incredibly fragmented, and my job was to bring it all together.

Holistic and 360-degree view

Pimblett started that unification journey by a decision to adopt a ‘hub-and-spoke’ data model which would enable Very to design once but deploy anywhere, while maintaining a product focus. 

That could only be done if there was a single clear and unified approach to data that got everyone across the Group working together to understand the value of the brand’s data. He said:

Getting real value out of data is difficult if it cannot be collected, categorized, and interpreted in a meaningful way. This is why we have actually come full circle as a business.

What he means by that is a ‘qualified return to catalog thinking’. Specifically, the vendor he chose has a data catalog and governance platform that allows Very to organize, index, and understand data assets, while also getting access to tools to help govern and maintain stewardship and regulatory compliance.

Pimblett said he tested out this concept by a pilot that took a subset of data in an old Very-owned Teradata database. 

He said it took only just over two months to set up infrastructure, connect to the database, and then index and understand the metadata. 

That proof of concept convinced the business, he said, that a new holistic, 360-degree of Very customers could be achieved. Now, the mission to use the same platform to catalog all Very’s data has started - but the initial work has already started to drive value for the brand by highlighting individual customer needs along the entire Very online shopping journey. 

He explained why this is important:

When you think about a customer’s website visit experience - things like their basket experience, their order experience, delivery experience, the monthly payment statements they receive and so on - all of this ties together in an asset that can be leveraged to create experiences and services that delight customers.

The creation of that new Very data asset is also being enriched, he added, with predictive modelling, but for now, what his users see is a ‘Google-style’ search engine that makes it easy for his 3,500 colleagues to more quickly and access the data they need. 

That means, he said, that they can confidently make better decisions, while what he sees as the ‘context and collaboration’ the new service provides when searching for and discovering data has driven much higher engagement levels.

That allows Very team members, he claimed, to build a clearer picture of all the data it has, rather than being in their own silos creating their own ‘ring-fenced datasets’.

A particularly welcome early win for the approach has been in the organization’s inventory and stock operations. He said:

Previously, we would often experience inefficient stock levels that were either too high or too low relative to demand, based on seasonal spending patterns. Now, our internal catalog enables us to make better and more informed decisions on inventory, as well as allowing us to be more agile.

An even better Very customer experience

As stated, the next steps are to complete use of all the data stored across Very to create a single customer view. He predicted:

This will help us build value for departments across the Group by highlighting what an individual customer needs at what point in their online shopping journey.

It will also mean we can start to get much more predictive when it comes to customer forecasting, pricing, and promotions. Ultimately, everything to do with a customer’s overall experience can be tied together in an asset that can be used to create even better Very customer experience.

He concluded:

We’re not just building a data warehouse or moving data around the company.

We’re fully transforming into a customer-centric organization that puts technology and the heart of everything it does.

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