Watch: Up-To-Data with Ryan Den Rooijen from Chalhoub Group

April 6, 2021 | By Frankline Dcruz

Data is the new oil, it is the new soil; data is numbers, which when analysed and understood, can help influence everything from an individual’s purchasing decisions to full blown elections; unethical use of data is the biggest vice of the decade, efficient use of data can end up being a gold mine for businesses and governments – there are a zillion polarizing views and opinions on data and its complexities, but one thing is for certain, the ‘data movement’ is only growing.

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In order to keep up with the trends around data and understand how established retailers from the region are using it to their benefit, RetailME has launched a new weekly video series titled Up-To-Data, where the CIOs, CEOs, and the digital and data decision makers of the biggest retail conglomerates share insights on their technology strategy.

Middle East’s leading luxury retailer, Chalhoub Group, which has about 700 stores, more than 12,000 employees, and multiple luxury brands including Dior and Louis Vuitton under its portfolio, has been making strides in digital transformation and data integration even before the pandemic. The company’s chief e-commerce officer, Ryan Den Rooijen, speaks about the key strategies the group adopted to stay afloat, how they used data to reach their customers and the omnichannel challenges they address every day.

Your previous role as Chief Data Officer must have been quite interesting. How did you manage to disperse all the data that your team centrally mined, to the different brands and departments and ensure the chiefs of each team could make sense of all it, considering the scale at which Chalhoub operates?

The first is about aligning ourselves with the business needs. We started by trying to understand the real pain-points of the business so the solutions can actually be adopted. Second, we organized ourselves in a way that we really partnered with our business. From the very beginning, we sat alongside our commercial counterparts so we could help empower them to be users of our products.

Chalhoub Group announced the closure of 60 stores in order to reallocate resources and reinvest in e-commerce and digital stores before the pandemic hit. While it did come as a shock at first, it made sense once the pandemic hit and the lockdown was announced. So did Patrick Chalhoub have a crystal ball to predict what would happen or was it a data-driven decision?

It’s a mix of both actually. Any great CEO must have an instinct and a nose for what happens in the world. And then there’s a commercial, data-driven aspect to our decision. We noticed that the customers were shifting and digital channels were playing a very important part. Therefore we knew that we needed to evolve. Our mission is to delight our customers and that means understanding what channels and experiences to create.

There’s a difference between personalisation and personal connection. While data can facilitate the former, technology seems to be a hindrance when it comes to establishing a personal relationship with customers. Do you agree? And is it more difficult for a luxury retailer?

The pressure is definitely on when it comes to creating these data driven experiences for luxury brands, but I think the reality is this goes for any good data capability. People don’t relate to numbers, they relate to stories. We look at where data could add more value, reduce friction, and provide a more rewarding customer experience. At the end of the day, if we do our job well, we are invisible.

So what kinds of technology was given priority during a cash-crunch and a financial crisis to make sure you were ‘invisible’?

For investment, our conversations were rooted around what drives value now and what would drive value tomorrow. There isn’t one maxim that would apply to every single business. On the inventory front, when all your stores are shut, there is a certain pressure that builds up on inventory that goes unsold. Clearly there is an opportunity there to see how we can drive sales on items with new seasons coming in. So investment in personalization and customer insights in the middle of lockdown last year did not feel like the most pressing problem but now we see that paying a huge dividend because we invested in these capabilities that now allow us to engage and re-engage in these capabilities in a very natural, personal manner. Had we not made those investments at the time, it would’ve been quite difficult for us.

When is omnichannel going to transition from being the cool buzzword to an efficiently implemented strategy? Why are retailers still struggling to get it right?

Omni is definitely the new multi. What people must understand is, omnichannel isn’t so much about deploying a certain technology or putting the processes in place and it really is about being able to meet the customer’s expectation anytime anyplace. And that’s a massive bar. For me it is about listening to the customers and understanding what the key aspects are of the experience they care about the most and ensuring we continue providing those types of services.

Another problem is, there is a disconnect between an in-store and offline experience of the same brand and retailer. Customers can no longer connect and resonate with legacy retailers as it feels like they are forced to go online for the sake of going online. Do you agree?

In terms of the disconnect, between the web experience and the in-store experience, I think this is a data problem. It is also a customer experience problem. In developing these store concepts, there is an ordinate amount of effort and a lot of thinking that goes behind designing the perfect type of experience and making sure everything is laid out perfectly, the lighting is brilliant and in the case of Level Shoes, you are creating this bespoke sense for the store where you have an omnisensory experience.

The reality is, brands taking the love and care in creating the traditional retail experiences and reciprocating the same level of care on their digital channels. Why is think its easy to make these mistakes is – if you walk into a store and the store sucks, you know quite quickly. But with an app, you might not immediately realise it’s a terrible experience until you try and check-out or figure what the return policy is.

Today, data is being used, abused and misused by companies globally. How to ensure data privacy while providing the best retail experience for customers?

I think you raised a very important question of data and security and ensuring that you know if data is made available by consumers to organizations and data is handled with respect. There is another element that matters when you are talking about using data and I think that is about value exchange. It is really easy as a developer to say I want this data from this customer whether they login through an app or the website, and then what ?

We have got all this data and it feels good but from a customer’s standpoint it is very disappointing. Whereas If you are able to be much more considerate in the type of data that you request and say “I am asking for these specific things but I promise you as a customer that you are going to have a really great experience, you are probably going to feel a lot more comfortable when it comes to sharing the data.

We want to be responsible about the customer’s data. The onus is on the organization. Almost nobody reads pop-ups and fine-prints that urge people to ‘allow’ or ‘agree’ so it’s disingenuous to say they’ve clicked a button so that’s consent. We take responsibility for asking for the data and we take responsibility for safeguarding the data.

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