Inside one fashion retailer’s creative cloud collaboration

Retail brands and stores have challenges most other business never have to deal with, not least of which is a massively diverse customer base with fickle tastes and a penchant for ‘I want it now’ consumerism. Here’s how one company is using the cloud to stay a step ahead of its demanding clientele.

cloud collaboration ts
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We may be nearing the holiday shopping season, but that 20-something with a smartphone needs some cabana wear for the spontaneous Caribbean cruise her boyfriend just surprised her with -- and she needs it now, or she’s walking out the door (or at least ordering it online from a competitor). 

Atlanta-based Oxford Industries, a global retail apparel company with a diverse portfolio of brands — including Tommy Bahama, Lilly Pulitzer, and Lanier Clothes (which manufactures garments for private labels such as Kenneth Cole and Dockers) — was struggling to improve its day-to-day business processes behind the scenes. iPhone-toting customers now demand a seamless, consistent brand experience throughout their shopping journey, whether in-store or online; millennial-aged retail industry buyers and merchandisers want easy-access to virtual lookbooks and rich-media assets; and internal operating units around the globe need ways to improve standardization and efficiencies with a centralized, intuitive workspace. 

“The speed at which we have to move in retail today means we have to learn to be more nimble and agile in our support functions, and manage inventory, in ways that remain seamless to the customer,” says Cindy Taylor, vice president of Information Systems at Oxford Industries. “We had a lot of data sitting in places and no idea where that information was and how it was being protected and managed.” 

Retail’s challenging conundrum 

Oxford Industries, of course, is no different than most other brands and retailers in today’s fast-paced landscape. Retail’s broad, diverse customer base and lack of predictability means it faces challenges most other businesses don’t have to deal with, says Karen Appleton, senior vice president of Industry Alliances at Box, which offers online file sharing and personal cloud content management to a variety of verticals. 

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“Retail has products that change more frequently than any other industry I could name, as well as dramatic changes in consumer behavior and expectations,” she says. “Brands also have the challenge of their own stores or other distribution model, as well as ecommerce and selling through other retailers, so you have to manage the growth of all those different streams of data and offer consistency to the consumer at the same time.” 

Taylor and the heads of IT at the various Oxford brands realized they needed a unifying platform to remove departmental silos and help the company be more effective and efficient, particularly with multiple operating units grown through acquisition. “It was an ‘a-ha’ moment for us,” says Taylor. They turned to Box to serve as a key part of their IT strategy, supporting global collaboration for business operations, visual merchandising and product design. The platform serves as the underpinning of a transformation towards centralized workflow, bringing products to market faster and offering opportunities to collaborate more quickly and efficiently. 

Creative collaboration in the cloud 

Several specific use cases led to the use of Box, Taylor explains: First and foremost, there were large files that had to be shared across different company entities without dealing with email attachment size limits or the use of non-sanctioned solutions. For example, one of Oxford’s brands has its own manufacturing facility in Mexico. The brand now uses Box to store information around the work orders sent from the product design team in the US to a product development team at the manufacturing facility. When something is put into Box, a notification is sent to the team that needs the information. “No one needs to worry about anyone missing anything,” says Taylor. 

Brands can also share the most current visual merchandising assets and videos with global stores, vendors and supply-chain partners, which had always been a conundrum. “If we couldn’t email them, would we give offer access to our shared drive?” says Taylor. “Now, it’s all loaded onto the platform.” For example, in the past, if an Oxford brand wanted a new European storefront display to look a certain way, getting that information out had been cumbersome — and flying someone across the pond to share in person was not an option. Now, videos and photos are stored in Box and made available to the stores, while an employee can follow up with a couple of phone calls. 

Within IT, cloud collaboration has also been useful. The department started putting all collateral into Box for lifecycle projects.  “People used to have fears and anxieties about not always being included,” she says. “Now everyone doesn’t have to go to every meeting because sharing is happening in a productive way.” 

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Use of the collaboration platform has grown organically, almost by word of mouth, according to Taylor, who says that IT facilitates a Box group intended for business users so the company could hear the creative ways brands are using the system.  “For example, Tommy Bahama might use it in a slightly different way than Lanier or corporate finance,” she says. Hearing different use cases can trigger new ways to adapt and makes sure the executive team understands how the platform is driving value, she adds. 

Leadership driving transformation 

As stakes rise ever higher in every corner of the retail business, the industry finds itself in the midst of a revolution and evolution in terms of technological capabilities, with everything from mobile payments and marketing automation moving center stage. Consulting firm Accenture predicted cloud investments to soar to $15 billion this year, while Appleton says brands and retailers who have leadership focused on transformation will be the ones driving these changes. 

“We’ve seen this in multiple cases, where someone is so committed to providing their employees, and ultimately customers, with the most streamlined access to information that they’re willing to jump in early,” she says. “Right now, it’s those early adopters that are looking like they have their act together.” 

For Oxford, it’s the consumer that’s ultimately driving the impetus to leverage cloud collaboration and a centralized workflow. “We are very much a consumer-focused organization and we have to deliver services, even behind the scenes, which keep up with consumer demand,” says Taylor.

This story, "Inside one fashion retailer’s creative cloud collaboration" was originally published by CIO.