UK clothing retailer Crew Clothing is using Couchbase’s open source distributed ‘NoSQL’ database to offer shoppers a checkout-free experience.
The software is the technology foundation for a new Android tablet-based fully mobile sales solution that now allows staff to serve customers from anywhere in the shop. More than 100 of its stores are using the technology, with (as of August 2022) 56,000 transactions successfully processed this way.
Initially, the project only supported ‘pop-up’ and one-off events, but it has been so successful, says the company’s IT chief, Richard Surman, that it is now a central part of the retailer’s shopping experience.
Surman, who has extensive UK retail experience at Oasis, Warehouse and Paperchase, sees the use of NoSQL as an important part of what he has come on board to achieve: a complete overhaul of the entire IT infrastructure and operations at the company. He says:
Crew wanted someone they could trust to come in, ensuring we could operate effectively, had the right systems in place to support the planned sales growth of the business, and all the additional partners we planned to bring on.
His first challenge once in the role, he says, was to revive the brand’s appearance outside of traditional physical stores, which had been suspended during the first waves of the COVID-19 closures. He explains:
It needed to help us bolster our websites, but we also wanted to get the brand back on track – we went to tennis events and events like the Henley Regatta.
The idea was that we were going to put some pop-up stores in these spaces so we could sell our products, but obviously we needed to do it quickly and efficiently. Additionally, we knew we might need to continue to enforce social distancing.
Given that he was given this business need in February 2021, but was also told that the first roadshows needed to be ready by May, time was obviously tight. However, Crew worked with implementation partner Paul Mason Consultancy to meet their deadline.
The solution being implemented was a mobile sales platform that didn’t need to have as much functionality as Crew’s existing electronic POS systems.
Retail stores typically use checkouts that have a physical network attached to them, and as a result, they tend to take up a lot of space. As Surman sums it up, the idea would be to be able to implement something mobile that customers or sales agents could use easily and effectively, and that the team could pick up and put on another event a couple of days later.
At the same time, all sales data would need to be reported securely and accurately to Crew Clothing’s core systems, and ideally also integrated with its existing point of sale (PoS) environment for future readiness.
Surman says he reached out to a number of existing vendors and partners for help with such a system, but the only one that was able to meet this deadline was the chosen service partner, which used NoSQL technology. He says:
We sat down together and in 12 weeks we designed and installed a mobile sales platform from scratch that is not only perfect for us to sell at events, but could also hold all of our products and promotional activity to ensure we can sell effectively on the day. .
The system combines the functionality of the tablet and the database. On the hardware side, crew personnel use a variety of functions, ranging from scanning clothing or shoe barcodes with the onboard camera, to a Wi-Fi PDQ card terminal to receive payment from the customer. Payments can be made via Chip and PIN, or contactless through a variety of popular consumer payment apps, such as Apple and Google Pay.
All of that is supplemented on the back end, Surman says, by its non-traditional database’s high processing speed, which he says makes “old-fashioned databases” look “a little clunky” by comparison. and gives the retailer much more real time. ability.
What sealed the deal for the business, however, was that sales agents needed almost no training in this new form of digital selling, and Crew’s customer base also adapted very quickly. He explains:
All the managers and senior staff who attended the events to see the tablets in action were really impressed with both the solution and how quickly we were able to sell to people – it was a product that really cut the queues.
Surman was also able to quickly demonstrate that on the back end, field event sales reports could also be generated much faster than before, when overnight had been standard. He says:
With the new solution it’s real time, so we know what we’re selling within a few minutes of putting it in a customer’s basket, which is really positive for us as a company, because now we know we’re running out of stock. this article, so we have to get more out tomorrow.
A wider deployment
Having proved its worth so quickly down the road, Crew Clothing’s management decided to adopt the tablet-NoSQL combination as part of a broader “store of the future” approach within its existing store processes.
That took work, Surman emphasizes, as it was one thing to get it right in three or four popups, and another to make sure it could work consistently across 100-plus branches.
Security was a key consideration of this expansion work, he adds, but all targets were met and the new store-wide cash register system was ready by September 2021. He says:
At the end of that month, it was live in a store, but now 85% of our transactions are done through the mobile shipping solution, the other 15% through the teller system, which is still in place for cash and gift cards.
As things stand now, a year later, Surman is now moving to be able to support cash payments with the devices, as well as gift cards. The company is aiming to sell only devices before Crew and the rest of the retail market enter the Black Friday trading peak in November.
That will help the company on several fronts, he says, from being able to increase the amount of physical space in the store for more products, to reducing what was previously allocated to checkouts. The hope is to introduce new payment features as well, which could include customer self-service.
This approach also benefits Crew’s IT function, as storage support has been effectively eliminated. Issues that once required a visit from an engineer to work on a physical kit now just mean building a replacement tablet and shipping it out.
The next steps for this use of NoSQL, he concludes, will be to integrate the new sales system with the company’s website, as well as link back-end customer data to provide sales assistants with customer history on the web. site, which should help improve the Crew customer experience. .
Summing up, Surman says:
I believe we have delivered an effective, state-of-the-art mobile sales platform that provides a robust and forward-thinking solution for our business, and also showcases the innovation that Crew prides itself on.