When you’re a VP of IT or a VP of omnichannel or occupy any one of many other roles whose job it is to make processes and technology run smoothly so that everyone else in an apparel business can focus on their core responsibilities, you’re often at the mercy of the C-suite to get the funding and approval for hardware or software or adopting a specific philosophy or approach to a project. I can see a lot of nodding heads out there.
This is an age-old problem that I’m sure dates back to long before today’s modern technology. No matter your business, there are certain to be budget constraints, and different opinions about how best to use available funds.
This topic came up — and not for the first time — at our annual Editorial Advisory Board meeting, held last month at Apparel’s Executive Forum in New Orleans. Given unlimited funds, there are many projects an IT exec would pursue. But there aren’t. So how do you make a business case for what to work on? What are the things you must do vs. the things you deem really important but are more difficult to get buy-in for?
There are clear ‘must-haves’ such as security, ERP and PLM, said board members, but it can be more difficult to make a persuasive argument for, say, a 3D printer, even though that type of technology can really help to spark or build upon creative thinking, which can grow your business in ways that you may not be able to anticipate. A stamp of approval for even some ‘must-have’ basics can be difficult to obtain. Often, something such as a network switch will get built into the cost of a larger project. “You can try to educate higher ups. Or you can bury technology in a big project,” one board member quipped.
Sometimes a ‘must have’ can be combined with a new business opportunity. One board member shared how his company’s need to install new card swipe terminals in stores grew into a marketing opportunity; with their new user interfaces, the terminals allowed customers to enter contact information, a boon to the retailer.
Likewise, technology is permitting companies to combine functions of what were previously disparate departments. This is allowing IT investments to be leveraged across a greater swath of the apparel supply chain, said one board member, who noted that his company was “trying to smush design and merchandising together.” That makes sense. Consider how tools such as 3D virtual design can lend themselves to creating solutions to meet the needs of both of those departments.
As part of his presentation, “Why Stores Will Lead Digital Sales,” at the Forum, John Hazen, vice president of omnichannel commerce and digital innovation at True Religion Brand Jeans, discussed how his company replatformed its e-commerce site after bringing it back in house. Because mobile has taken a leading role in omnichannel — currently, 70 percent of the company’s traffic and 60 percent of online sales now come from mobile — Hazen wanted to pursue a mobile-first design. But it’s “a lot more difficult to get buy-in” to start with mobile, he said. The designs and capabilities, by virtue of their smaller-screen constrictions, are just not as compelling. First iterations were met with comments such as, “What else does it do?”
That’s when Hazen got creative. He set up a 42-inch TV hooked up to a Mac mini in a shared public space at corporate HQ and started running Google Analytics live so that everyone could view online traffic and where it was coming from. Google Analytics moves up and down like a ticker symbol, and soon “everyone in the company was focused on those numbers,” from the patternmakers to the executive suite, he says. “On Cyber Monday it was a spectator sport,” said Hazen.
That’s when the execs got it, he said.
I remember when gasoline spiked above $4.00 and everyone was outraged. An article at the time opined that the reason people were so focused on the rising price of gas was because they stood at the pump and watched the numbers tick by. Were we, the writer suggested, to attach such a counter to our washing machines or dryers or dishwashers, we would be equally horrified. But we don’t.
Psychology is not just for marketing and merchandising. It works everywhere. Sometimes it’s best to hide numbers in a larger project, but sometimes it’s best to reveal them in all their glory.
So if you think it will help, it might be time to hook up those analytics to a big screen to make your case. Don’t let another moment tick by.
Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel.
She can be reached at email@example.com.