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Harrods has improved customer experience for shoppers at its famous London department store after deploying Informatica’s product information management (PIM) software.

The retail firm - which is nearly 200 years old - introduces more than a million products to its high-end Knightsbridge store each year, across a wide range of categories from food to technology and jewellery.

While managing data for all of its goods is significant challenge for Harrods, it has become increasingly central to improving experience for customers.

“We recognised that revolutionising the way we manage product data is going to be key in delivering a revolutionary customer experience programme,” said Peter Rush, Harrods’ lead PIM consultant, speaking at Informatica’s EMEA summit last week.

The company chose to deploy PIM software in 2013, going live at the end of last year. This allowed Harrods to connect a variety of data across its operations more easily, as well as enhancing the quality of data, and improving the availability of information to all staff members.

This had a direct impact on customer experience in a variety of ways. One example is that, with access to more detailed product information on the shop floor staff are now able to quickly direct customers to relevant brands throughout Harrods – a frequent challenge given the 12 acres of shop floor space.

“We were able to use the PIM to record information about a brands location within the store, and serve that up via the standard PIM APIs with a simple web or mobile front-end," said Rush.

“We have given the tool to every user on the shop floor and made it easier for customers to find brands wherever they might be. We are now helping a thousands customers find the brand they are looking for, where previously they were not able to.”

He added that the next phase of this initiative will be to add a greater depth of data, with information on individual products. “So if I am looking for a particular product or product category within a brand I can get down to that level as well and that will be embedded.” 

Struggling with in-store data

Managing product information data has not always been so seamless for the retailer. Even after enhancing data for its online sales platform – a process which was previously been very manual and spreadsheet-intensive – successfully connecting information across its organisation had remained a challenge.

“Time had been put in to getting [online sales] data ready so that it is good enough to go onto the Harrrods.com website, and the only people who got access to that information are the ecommerce channel themselves,” said Rush.

“No-one in the enterprise would be able to see that information, and no-one would be able to make use of it.”

The deployment of Informatica was aimed at bringing together data from a wide range of sources, as opposed to its website only.

“Ecommerce is very important to us, but we can’t forget the rest of the business. We needed a solution that will work for everyone. And that very much dictated how we wanted the PIM to fit into the overall architecture.” 

Vendor selection

Harrods had previously relied on its SAP ERP system for managing product data. However – while the ERP platform was a good fit much of Harrods’ operation – it was not suitable for this task, he explained.

“One of the reasons we kicked off the [product information strategy] is that we recognised that SAP isn't the best place to manage that data,” said Rush.

“SAP does a lot of great things very - it is brilliant for the logistics side, brilliant for the warehouse management. But it was never designed to manage rich customer facing product information. So why use that as your product data entry tool?

“We went and found a PIM solution that is obviously designed to manage customer-facing product information.”

At that time SAP, a long time Harrods partner, did not have a relevant product management service to meet Harrods’ requirements so it looked further afield.

“SAP said no, they don't have a solution at that point. Maybe now they have Hybris I would change that story, but at the time they didn’t have a solution so they actually recommended we go with Informatica,” he said.

“IBM didn't seem to understand their own product set, let alone be able to explain it to us. It all looked very complicated and difficult to understand, and very expensive.

“This left us with Stibo and Informatica, and they both have powerful solid solutions, and our decision was to go with Informatica was largely based on the quality of the people. Technically the solutions can both do the job but we had greater confidence in Informatica to deliver.” 

Data management benefits

The Informatica tool has also made the management of product information much easier for staff often tasked with inputting the product data into its enterprise systems, mainly buyers.

“We wanted to keep that speed and efficiency of data right up front. If we gave people a data entry screen with 300 attributes they would just laugh in your face. So the buying teams had to have a very simple straight forward data entry tool that allowed them to give the key dozen attributes to get their products created,” he said.

The PIM software has also reduced the time taken to generate product information, says Rush. This means getting from the initial data creation through to creation on SAP and the completion of the production creation cycle in “less than an hour”.

“That is critical too because our buying teams do sometimes key things at the last minute - they want this product created, they need that purchase order ready and out to the supplier today, they can't be waiting around,” he said.

The ultimate aim for Harrods however has been use the data within the organisation to improve the experience for customers, but it is also reducing expenditure. For instance, easier access to data is allowing product pricing information to be displayed on electronic shelf labels. This has allowed significant cost savings by digitising the paper process.

“We stick paper labels on a large volume of products. It is expensive, takes a long time, it slows down the whole process of getting the products from the warehouse to the shop floor,” says Rush.

“We looked at electronic shelf face labelling: they are dynamic and RF based, product information and price changes are distributed to them over the air and they have an incredibly long battery life, which lasts around two years.

“All the data that supports those is coming from PIM, it is just another outbound integration that allows us to save literally of hundreds of thousands of pounds on ticketing.”

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