Over the last 15 years, Shop Direct has transformed from a catalogue-led business with high street stores into one of the UK’s largest pureplay digital retailers.

We now operate at the intersection of the dynamic retail, financial services and tech industries, helping to make good things easily accessible to more people by offering customers the brands they love and flexible ways to pay.

That’s an exciting place to be. It also requires nerves of steel and an unceasing desire to iterate and improve what we do.

“We’re replacing the traditional organisational structure of siloed tech, marketing and commercial functions by embedding technologists in other teams”

To achieve our ambition of being the number one destination for shoppers who want to spread the cost, we need to put tech and data at the heart of our business and keep reinventing ourselves as we have done for almost 100 years. It’s more important than ever that we’re agile and responsive to change.

Becoming an agile retailer starts with fostering an agile mindset and culture across the business, from tech and data teams to marketing, HR, finance and compliance.

We’ve replaced multi-year programmes with a phased approach focused on incremental, iterative delivery of change. An example is the recent implementation of our new contact centre systems, which have helped to deliver continued improvements in customer outcomes. We now set our priorities for tech investment based on creating value faster, with more regular reprioritisation of delivery backlogs 

Collaboration culture

Being agile means taking a scientific, data-driven approach to making decisions about the software products we want to build or improve for our customers, such as the Very app. Automating every part of our software life-cycle means we can test, learn and adapt at speed, and we’ve replaced annual plans for tech investment and delivery with a more flexible, short-term focus that allows us to react quickly to market trends and changing customer needs.

A vital part of building an agile culture is the creation of collaborative, cross-functional teams. We’re replacing the traditional organisational structure of siloed tech, marketing and commercial functions by embedding technologists in other teams, such as retail and financial services. This creates greater ownership, maximises communication and speeds up decision making.

We’ve also created small, autonomous digital customer experience (DCX) teams focused on specific stages of the customer journey, like onboarding, product discovery or checkout. They analyse data to identify the changes to user experience (UX) that our customers would value most and prioritise those first.

We build minimum viable products – essentially software products with just enough features to enable customer testing – allowing us to fast-track feedback and speed up future development. All of this means we’ll be able to deliver multiple software releases on the Very app and website every day, improving customer experience more rapidly while maintaining high levels of stability.

Best-ever Black Friday

The way in which we’ve planned and prepared for Black Friday 2019 is a great example of our agile way of working. We formed a dedicated squad, led by the ‘discovery’ product owner from our DCX team, with other colleagues specialising in UX research, UX design, development, testing and analytics. Over several months, they’ve worked closely with other teams across the business, like retail and marketing, to understand their key goals for Black Friday and how tech can support them.

The squad began by analysing data on performance and customer behaviour from our best ever Black Friday campaign in 2018 to identify improvement opportunities, then dug deeper to come up with solutions. This created a roadmap of strategic initiatives to improve both customer experience and business performance this year. We tested the solutions with real customers and used the findings to develop our final Black Friday priorities for tech updates.

“Becoming agile is ultimately about breaking down traditional barriers to bring people from different parts of the business much closer together”

For example, the squad recognised an opportunity to help customers better identify products with a Black Friday deal no matter where they land on the Very site and throughout all stages of the customer journey. As a result, we’re improving the way we’ll present Black Friday deals to customers and promoting deals in additional places, such as within their saved items.

For retailers, becoming agile is ultimately about breaking down traditional barriers to bring people from different parts of the business – like tech, marketing and retail – much closer together.

That’s a great platform from which to deliver the very best customer experience. In today’s highly competitive marketplace – where market share is increasingly hard to gain – that’s more important than ever

Tech. 2019

Andy Burton is one of the speakers at this year’s Tech. festival.

He will be speaking about Shop Direct’s plans to rebuild the customer journey by putting technology and data at the heart of the business.

Andy will also explain how his technology skills and expertise are being leveraged into Shop Direct’s digital strategy. This is Andy’s first speaking engagement since joining Shop Direct.

To see who else is on the packed programme and reserve your place and the festival, visit tech-festival.com.