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Posted Date: 10/12/2011

With iPad App, GUESS? Isn't Guessing on Planning and Allocating

What if a buyer could walk into one of her brick-and-mortar stores and have all of that location’s product and assortment data at her fingertips? What if there was an easy way to access and view (and even create) insightful reports on the fly?
 
That “what if” scenario has become a reality for GUESS?, the iconic American fashion brand headquartered in Los Angeles. The apparel manufacturer and retailer developed a mobile business intelligence application that its buyers and assortment planners access via company-issued iPads.
 
“We felt the iPad was going to be a game-changer from a business intelligence standpoint,” says Bruce Yen, director of business intelligence, GUESS?. “It allows users to have an intuitive way of accessing data in a mobile fashion.”
 
Maximizing MicroStrategy
GUESS? worked with business intelligence (BI) software provider MicroStrategy to develop and customize the BI app, which has been in use in the United States since March 2011. The apparel firm used the content from 12 product information dashboards and photographs from its e-commerce site to populate the application. “We created the business flow in the app such that it primarily targeted our buyers and planners, but if you’re an executive, you can use the app to see not only bestselling products, but investigate trends in how a product is moving,” says Yen.
 
When GUESS? piloted the application with a small group of planners, buyers and allocators, the BI team discovered that users wanted more information — but “they wanted to be eased into the greater amount of detail,” explains Yen. “From a BI standpoint, we’re into details and data, so the challenge was to make the app something our employees would want to use.
 
“Our staff tells me they wake up on weekends and love using the app to see what’s selling,” Yen continues.
 
Getting executives to use the app wasn’t much of a challenge, says Yen, because most already have an iPad. “We’re working to make the iPad app more easy to use from an access standpoint,” adds Yen. “At our corporate offices, network security is built in so the platform is easy to use. When they’re traveling, our employees have to connect via VPN and use a key fob. But the more we get them to use the app, the more they understand how powerful it is.”
 
What’s more, the business intelligence team’s aim is for everything in the app to load within three seconds, which may be a lofty goal when employees are traveling and connecting to slower cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
 
Technical details
GUESS? partnered with AirWatch to manage its fleet of mobile devices to “figure out exactly how employees can use this app on their personal devices so that it’s easily accessible,” explains Yen. “Employees don’t like the password requirements. There’s the convenience factor [of making this app available] but we want to be good stewards of our corporate data and protect data from outsiders who shouldn’t access it.
 
“We’re trying to find the right balance between risk and usability,” he adds. “We lost a couple of people when we switched them over to these devices. They just don’t want to use a password.”
 
iPads and the catch-22
The current device landscape poses a catch-22 to corporate IT departments, says Yen. Some workers want to use the app on their personal iPads but the company needs to ensure the device complies with corporate data security policies. But then there are people who don’t want to add a corporate app to their personal devices — so they ask for a GUESS?-issued iPad instead.
 
“Two years ago you didn’t have this problem,” Yen explains. “People didn’t have their own devices. In some ways, to dovetail on the iPad’s popularity we could leverage personal devices because we could get those users to test the app for us.
 
“It’s a new paradigm that you have to face when a consumer device becomes that popular,” Yen continues. “The question is: ‘Why can’t I just have the app?’ From an IT standpoint, my peers see it as a big headache: cross-mingling of personal with corporate devices.”
 
Getting users on board
Yen says he knew user adoption would be higher if the app was designed specifically for the iPad. So far, GUESS? hasn’t set up a formal training process for new users; BI staff simply give employees the app-equipped iPads and let them play around with devices.
 
“We might spend 10 to 15 minutes working with employees, but that’s usually it. Users get word-of-mouth from other users,” says Yen. “We probably could make them more powerful with the app if we spend more time training them. But we don’t want to have an app that ‘requires’ training. It should be easy enough so that someone can open the app and start clicking away. They don’t need training to be productive.”
 
GUESS? has wrestled with some of the nuances surrounding the app. “How long do you keep information on the device?” Yen wonders. “Do you let it expire automatically? Do you let it persist? If you set up too many barriers — especially in a fashion company — people aren’t going to use the app.”
 
Yen’s team designed the app to have very little persistence of data. “From a security standpoint, we don’t want to have lots of data persistence,” explains Yen. “This does, however, rely on the app to be able to connect to the information source all the time. It’s a tradeoff that I think is necessary now until the technology and the security infrastructure around it matures.”
 
Getting the app right
GUESS? reports that the very first draft of the app had some usability issues. Yen’s team met with MicroStrategy to work on developing some key features. “In the first release, they didn’t really create the application to be an Apple-style app,” explains Yen. “They didn’t allow us to link multiple dashboards or documents together. There was limited interaction with pop-up windows. We couldn’t put the business workflow in there without that. But MicroStrategy accepted feedback to create a better platform.”
 
According to Yen, the BI team developed the application in two eight-week cycles. “We waited for the new release of their app to see what else it could do,” he says. About 70 percent to 80 percent of the content in the current application was created during the first cycle. Together, MicroStrategy and the BI team improved the app’s cache, which initially wasn’t robust enough to handle large amounts of data and would regularly crash.
 
The business impact
Yen says it’s difficult to empirically measure how the app is helping buyers, planners and allocators. “I’ve heard anecdotally that planners and buyers have been able to realize different trends that weren’t apparent and pinpoint what’s happening at a certain store,” he explains. “In terms of business value, we want them to have actionable data to make decisions.”
 
GUESS? piloted the app in the winter of 2010/2011 and app users noticed that some stores had more product returns than sales in what was an unusually cold and snowy season. “There probably were some items that weren’t as sturdy or thick, and from the app, you could see that maybe our product isn’t made for sub-zero temperatures,” Yen says. “From just a paper report, you couldn’t get that insight. You take what you see in the application, do some investigation and then make changes.”
 
Trina Gagliano, general merchandise manager for G by GUESS?, says having such a breadth of real-time information at her fingertips is invaluable, whether in a meeting or in stores. “We can see which region is selling best with certain styles,” she explains. “If you’re in a store and see that a certain size of a particular style is sold out, you can check the app, see that there’s more available in the warehouse, and have an allocator allocate more product out to that location.”
 
Seeing e-commerce activity relative to brick-and-mortar stores is also helpful, says Gagliano. She pulls total company and total store selling reports to see how a particular location is performing relative to the entire chain.
 
In the end, it’s the ability to dive deep into business performance that really matters. “Being an allocator is a very important role,” Gagliano says. “You can buy something that’s absolutely perfect, but if you don’t allocate the right amount, it’s useless.”
 
Jessica Binns is associate editor of Apparel. She can be reached at jbinns@apparelmag.com. 

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