River Island has been a core part of the British high street for the last 30 years. And yet its roots date back even further than that; to the 1940s, when founder Bernard Lewis decided to start selling more than just fruit, veg and knitting wool from a bombed-out site in the east end of London.
From Lewis Separates to Chelsea Girl to River Island, the fashion brand, in all its iterations has survived for eight decades in an ever-changing retail landscape.
But as the UK retail sector undergoes one of its most dramatic transformations to date – from the rise of ecommerce and fast fashion, to rapidly evolving technology, changing consumer needs and inflated business rates – River Island’s future, like most British retailers, will depend on whether it can create a solid customer experience that keeps people coming through its doors.
So when you take on the role as the first ever head of customer experience for a “billion-pound business” that has more than 350 stores, six websites and ships to 100 countries worldwide, where do you begin?
“You kind of take a big gulp and go, ‘I’m not entirely sure where to start’,” says Tim MacIvor, who joined River Island in May 2017 after stints at Tesco Bank, EE and thetrainline.com.
To break the job down into more manageable chunks, MacIvor and his team divided the customer journey into eight core areas. “Rather than this behemoth of change, we were able to chunk that down in a way that was a little bit more manageable,” MacIvor explains. “But there was still quite a task there.”
One of the bigger tasks that will resonate with many retailers that started out on the high street, is creating a digital infrastructure that matches the demands of consumers in 2018. And for River Island, the need for a slick, mobile-optimised ecommerce business is growing, with online and mobile sales up 21% year on year in 2016, when it last reported its results.
“We had legacy platforms we were trying to stitch and in come cases weld together, which when you’re trying to be nimble and quick doesn’t really work,” MacIvor says. “It’s absolutely about being more agile in that space.”
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