Interview: John Hazen, senior vice-president of direct to customer, True Religion

True Religion’s senior vice-president of direct to customer, John Hazen, discusses the US clothing retailer’s plans for loyalty, simplicity and the pursuit of a single customer record

In January 2016, luxury brand True Religion announced plans to provide its store associates with Apple Watches equipped with an app to help them better cater to individual customers.

In fact, John Hazen, the company’s senior vice-president of direct to consumer, says he delayed the appearance of the application to make sure it was absolutely ready, releasing it at Demandware Xchange 2016, a week after the proposed launch date.

“We wanted the app to be perfect. There were a couple of things that just inherently didn’t feel right to me,” he says.

Hazen refused to release the application “into the wild” until it matched all of his criteria – it had to be easy to use and it had to be, well, “gorgeous”.

Providing the right tools

As with many retailers, True Religion experiences a high turnover of store staff, so it’s important that any technology used in-store is easy to use and understand.

“You don’t have a manual for anything on your iPhone. If you’re going to download an app, you’re going to intuitively figure out how to use it,” says Hazen. “Why would you need a manual for the applications you’re going to use in our store?

“Retailers expect store associates to read a 30-page booklet and go through four hours of training to use an app – they earn $14 an hour, it’s a part-time job, they’re just not going to do it. We can’t make it that hard.”

Hazen claims there’s a disconnect between software developed for use within organisations and software intended to be customer facing, which is why True Religion provides internal software designed to make the employee experience just as good as the customer experience.

“I want it to be gorgeous. If there’s a difference between something that looks like an enterprise piece of software and something that looks gorgeous, it’s that you just want to use it more”
John Hazen, True Religion

“I want it to be gorgeous. If there’s a difference between something that looks like an enterprise piece of software and something that looks gorgeous, it’s that you just want to use it more,” says Hazen.

“I’m sure there’s software you use for work where you say to yourself, ‘I hate using this’. That’s what I want to get away from. I want to build something which the staff love to use,” he says.

Hazen has a team member who works on e-commerce and also on ensuring both the customer and employee experience is second to none, including functions such as click and collect, store fulfilment and the tools for store associates.

“I’m putting a lot of effort into taking great background software from both Demandware and Aptos, then building out great experiences on top of it, really cleaning up the way it works,” he says.

The increasingly mobile consumer

True Religion recently launched an outlet store online to allow members to buy reduced-price garments straight from the wholesale facility. Since the site’s launch, 92% of its traffic has been through mobile. Its standard website sees 70% mobile traffic.

“In the new outlet site it stands to reason that a customer who is seeking a deal may have a lower household income and, by virtue of that, probably a lot of people only have phones,” says Hazen.

Although millennials are part of the mobile push, people on lower incomes are also likely to have smartphones rather than laptops and computers, says Hazen. This is leading to an application-based approach for many retailers.

Any company just starting out will need to decide whether a website is necessary at all, or whether to take a mobile only approach, says Hazen. Having said that, this will not be the case for True Religion.

 “We’re not going to go mobile-only, as we’re a traditional retailer,” says Hazen. “But it is going to be mobile first.

Cleansing customer data

As the use of customer data is becoming more and more important, True Religion is working on combining in-store and online data in an attempt to produce a single view of each customer, reflecting one customer across all channels.

“If you buy from us online, you buy from us on the Demandware platform, and the order immediately goes to our order management system, from Aptos,” says Hazen.

“Then it flows all the way through all the other Aptos systems, so you exist on our customer relationship management [CRM] system within Aptos,” he adds. “If you walk in to our store and buy in our store, it goes from point of sale [POS] straight into CRM.”

Occasionally, this has led to the same customer existing twice in the system, and although some of the cleansing processes (to combine these two records) can be automated, human team members still need to “mop up” outliers too complex for a computer to handle.

This may include situations where a customer has registered a home address in-store and a work address online, or where two records are completely different other than the customer name.

“In about 70% of the transactions the computer can decide if it’s the same, or not. About 30% need to be looked at by a human,” says Hazen.

Once True Religion’s customer data has been cleansed, Hazen reveals loyalty is something the retailer plans to work on. “The amount of money my top 20 customers spend is absolutely mind boggling, and we’re putting together gifts for them, just to thank them, as at the moment we don’t have a loyalty programme,” says Hazen.

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