How Country Road transformed into an omni-channel business

Transforming a retail empire isn’t an easy task.

There’s been a lot of talk in the past year about how large companies like David Jones, Myer, JB Hi-Fi, Target, Kmart and various others are having to transform themselves into much more nimble, technologically-adept companies.

This is harder than it appears. As much as the online pundits cry for innovation, simply switching an entire method of delivery isn’t done overnight.

But it can be done. Recently at the eCommerce expo in Melbourne, Country Road chief technology officer Steve Binns outlined in significant detail how his iconic retail chain has transformed into an “omni-channel business”.

Make no mistake – Country Road isn’t just flicking on a website and calling it a day. The chain has gone so far as to create an entirely new digital algorithm for making sure inventory is available any way a customer wants it.

According to the company’s chief technology officer, Steve Binns, the business has undergone a huge change in the way it does business – spurred on by the fact so many international businesses are beginning to call Australia home.

“We began a couple of years ago, when Country Road already had an online presence. We were at the point where we had a lot of digital touch points, but we didn’t have a strategy for combining them.”

“Then we had all the international players arriving at our doorstep. It was an important time for any business to have a digital strategy.”

Karson Stimson, the head of agency WeAreDigital, which helped Country Road develop that strategy, says any business wanting to adopt a similar plan needs to understand the benefits of both physical and digital storefronts – not one over the other.

“The benefits you see are increased foot traffic for businesses that have a physical retail store, customer retention and engagement, and opening up new opportunities.”

Country Road may be a large business, but there are plenty of lessons for any business wanting to transform into a new way of thinking.

Both Binns and Stimson distilled the company’s strategy into several key lessons – and there’s plenty for any type of company to take away.

Create a strategy

Country Road had plenty of ways for people to buy digitally and connect with the company online, including email, catalogues, social media and a website.

But Binns says the company simply wasn’t able to come up with a strategy which tied them all together. So Country Road hired Stinson’s firm in order to explore how the business could better deal with integrating everything.

“Multi-channel is being active in a number of different channels, and that might mean having a retail store, and then a printed catalogue. Giving customers multiple ways to access your services.”

“But the next solution is omni-channel. It’s a bit of a buzzword, but what it really means is the seamless delivery of your products and services.”

“From a customers’ point of view, it’s about giving access to products any time, any place and any way they want. It’s about choice.”

While having a variety of channels available for use is a good step forward, Stinson argues creating a strategy is what takes that plan to the next level.

Maintain consistency across all channels

Maintaining several different channels is a hard task. And as Stinson says, becoming an omni-channel entity meant having a “consistent representation of the brand”.

This means Country Road needed to make sure all of its channels were running from the same strategic foothold. Any sales in bricks and mortar stores needed to be reflected online.

In some multi-channel companies, this can be a problem, as the channels are run by different departments. An omni-channel business requires more effort in maintaining consistency.

“We wanted to keep our pricing consistent, and we wanted to be aligned with any big sale events,” he says. “This was a big challenge, and required us to use real-time information sharing.”

Such a strategy relies on improving communications between channels, says Stinson. If different managerial departments aren’t under control or being informed about sales or offers, the entire experience falls apart.

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