UK clothing firm plays software rivals off against each other to improve service

JD Williams hopes to boost lifetime value of its customers with CRM.

JD Williams hopes to boost lifetime value of its customers with CRM.

UK users were on hand to give an honest account of the ups and downs of a datawarehousing projects, at last week's annual Teradata user conference.

JD Williams, the UK's largest clothing catalogue retailer, has been a Teradata user since 1990, when it installed a 10Gbyte datawarehouse, initially to support marketing campaigns. At the time, the company's former chief executive called the rollout, the best IT decision the company had ever made.

However, chief information officer at JD Williams, Graham Green, revealed that the relationship with Teradata went slightly sour after 1999, when he oversaw the purchase of the latest version of the company's datawarehouse.

"The perfect irony with NCR [Teradata's parent company] was that it attempted to sell CRM software to its customers when it did not have relationships with them," he said. "It did not have one with me at the time - they stopped calling after I bought the latest 'box'."

As a result of this lack of communication, Green decided to investigate other datawarehouse offerings from rival technology firms when the system was approaching the end of the its three-year cycle in 2002.

"We produced a shortlist of Teradata, IBM, Oracle and Sybase before deciding on a full tender from Teradata and IBM," he said. "IBM offered a fully-funded conversion study into replacing Teradata that was worth about $75,000 (£48,000), so we gave Teradata three months to get their act together."

At the end of the three-month period, the IT department at JD Williams concluded that IBM could probably do the conversion, but that the cost would be "horrendous" at around £1m. Green said, "We would have possibly gone with IBM in a 'greenfield' situation [where prior no system existed] but it was too much".

The result of putting the contract out to tender was that Teradata finally woke up, Green said. "Teradata raised its game, with our help. It provided a complete roadmap of Teradata CRM with TouchPoint Server [business intelligence technology], which will allow us to realise our vision of where we want to be."

That vision involves JD Williams being able to ask the best and most applicable question every time a customer contacts the company, Green explained.

"We have 60 million minutes' worth of contact with our customers every year," he said. "If we knew what particular question to ask that customer at that time, we could really move the business on.

"For example, if we can ask customers why they are not buying shoes, we could suggest some shoe offers which, if they take them up, would increase the lifetime value of that customer. An average customer spends £360 every year with us and, if we can get that to £450, the impact on our profits will be massive."

For much of the conference, Teradata highlighted its own vision of "active datawarehousing" - the facility to access relevant business information from company databases as and when it is needed.

This concept is already proving beneficial to JD Williams, Green said. "When we receive returned goods in the wrong size, we put a query into the system to find out when they were purchased and by who. We then call the customer and offer an alternative size - 67% buy the item, which is remarkably high."

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