Clarks kicks off store-wide IT upgrade

Old-school shoe favourite Clarks has embarked on a store-wide technology upgrade that will enhance customer service, speed up transaction times and make the business much more adaptable to future IT and business requirements.

The aim is to roll out the new software across Clarks' 670 stores by the beginning of 2008.

A proof of concept project was carried out towards the end of last year and the company is currently fine-tuning design and implementation plans.

The aim is then to trial the new technology, BT Expedite's Connected Retailer Store solution, in one store this summer, followed by an extended pilot focused on up to 10 stores, according to Alistair Smith, Retail IT services manager at Clarks.

"That's the ideal timescale but if we can go more quickly we will. However, if we need to go more slowly we will too. In other words we need to get it right," he said.

"This [roll-out] is very strategic for us as it is part of our IT plan, but it's also a project in its own right."

Clarks' current store-based infrastructure is based on a previous version of the Expedite solution, but the upgrade, which makes use of Microsoft .NET, will help to transform the way the company works.

"Transaction times will come down," said Smith.

"For example, it will be marginally quicker to perform a sale. If you multiply that by 10,000 staff and hundreds of stores, even a small improvement will have a far reaching impact for the business."

Smith added: "The new platform will also be more robust and reliable and available more of the time. That will go some way to ensuring that all stores can be more focused on the customer directly rather than the till that's broken."

Once fully implemented, the upgraded solution will enable Clarks to add new functionality or alter an individual store's configuration in a much easier and more controlled way, claims Smith.

While adding new functionality isn't something the company plans on doing straight away, Smith is confident that the technology will enable it to be much more flexible to changing demands.

"There will be the opportunity to streamline some transactions and processes that store teams have to do to fit the business better or remove ones that are irrelevant to the way we work," he said.

"We had to maintain [those processes] up until now because there were limits as to what the previous version [of the BT solution] could do and how configurable to change it was."

Smith says he is confident there will be many more intangible benefits once the system is live.

Going forward, the new store infrastructure will help support future initiatives.

"We're looking at handhelds for queue busting of stock information and that's clearly an area the new software supports very well," said Smith.

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.