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DIGITAL INNOVATION IN RETAIL

Interview of Patrick DAMBRINE

Patrick DAMBRINE, has held for many years the positions of purchasing director, offer director and general manager with the major groups of RETAIL: PIMKIE, CAMAIEU, OKAIDI…. Today, Mr Dambrine is a consultant working alongside brands to share and pass on his experience in their new strategic orientations. We have met him to better understand the stakes of RETAIL and the levers of growth in this very difficult current context.

In Hindsight, what is your analysis of the current state of retail in France?

I am particularly familiar with organised retail, i.e. the large chains of stores that were real success stories in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, bringing a new approach to the construction of the offer and its marketing. From the years 2010 retail has oriented its purchases more and more towards the big import with purchases in dollars, at that time very favourable in exchange rates. But this unbridled race to increase the margin rate on purchases took companies away from the meaning they gave to their collections, their values and their raison d’être.
Currently faced with a market in decline in terms of volumes and turnover, the big players in retail are reworking their strategies to adapt to today’s market.

What are retail’s priority issues?

The first challenge is to restore meaning to the company and to reconnect with the customer. It is necessary to ask the right questions and hold on to its values: Which customer do we want to dress? What are their characteristics? What is the brand’s needs? What is the meaning we give to the business we want to do?

It is the responsibility of management to provide the vision of the company. Then it is up to the employees to chart the course and make the right decisions. This makes employees much more autonomous and responsible.

In this quest for “the right product, in the right place, in the right quantities and at the right time”, what is your advice?

Having clarified the vision, it is also necessary to consider a new economic equation that incorporates the current trend of less but better.

Accepting the idea that “it will never happen as we have planned” It is essential to develop the capacity to react. Recovering these qualities of agility and simplicity to give teams the right to make mistakes and the energy to go to the rescue of victory. Removing internal constraints, directing all departments towards the only key to success, which is customer satisfaction. To support them in this demand for agility, the company must equip itself with modern decision support systems.

What tools do you think retailers can use to save time?

Retail has developed thanks to new technologies. The development of IT capabilities in the 70’s and 80’s made it possible to have reliable information on sales and inventories. When I worked at PIMKIE back then, every day we had the checkout lifts at night. We knew what the stores had sold. And my job, at the time as a buyer, was to buy back what was selling well, very quickly. Then in the 90’s/2000, retail started to relocate and create its own collections. At that time, the integration of product design support systems (2D CAD) from GERBER or LECTRA was essential to have well-designed products, with a good fit, a good fall, good gradations, material quality and the expected level of finish.

Today, the new 3D CAD tools, allowing digital visualization of collections in 3D, are essential in design offices to accelerate validation and decision making, reduce physical prototyping costs and gain efficiency. The arrival of big data is also changing our business, and mastering this data is a challenge for tomorrow’s retailer. How can we use this data to get to know our customers and their expectations better? For example Instagram where hundreds of thousands of products are listed is a real source of creativity and ideas for creative teams. But this stylistic information only makes sense if we react immediately and not in 6 months or a year, it will no longer be of interest. Yes, today there are new technologies with increasingly powerful customer data capture tools and analysis systems that calculate faster and faster. But this will never replace a stylist, a product manager, a buyer, who are capable of analyzing, translating and making sure that we have the right product at the right time in the right quantities, that’s what’s essential.

Is product customization a solution for retail?

I think that if we talk about personalization: it means adapting your product to each customer and for the specialized retailer, this will be complicated. I think that there are companies that are better adapted than chain stores to be able to do this.
On the other hand, if we talk about personalization in the sense of better segmentation of the offer, obviously this is an obligation for organised retail. The market offer is overabundant in an environment of falling consumption. After 30 years of unbridled consumption, customers are looking for more meaning in their purchases, which is what I call less but better. By capturing data better, by knowing your customer better, you are able to better adapt your offer and production. This is the challenge for the Marketing, Products and Purchasing teams to adapt their orders to the expectations and needs of their customers. I believe that the essential thing is to focus on this to succeed.

What do you think of this trend of on-demand production with delivery times of up to 4 weeks?

My le definition of marketing is producing what the customer wants, not trying to sell what you’ve produced. Yes, the closer you can get production to what the customer wants and needs, the better. Retail suffers from this today, its inability to adapt its offer generates a loss of turnover, overstocks, a significant loss of profitability. The world is crazy, now we need a law on unsold goods so that the players question themselves. Any retailer who does his job well minimises unsold stock and develops his social and environmental responsibility.
For me, producing on demand means trying to optimise the risks by knowing your customers and then, obviously, if the product pleases, you have to adapt the volumes very quickly and if not, you have to know how to stop very quickly. There is obviously some technique to the success of this strategy. The key to the control of its production will always remain the control of the material. You have to know how to anticipate in order to be reactive. Thinking of stocking unbleached materials and dyeing on demand are possible solutions to improve and accelerate production times and thus shorten delivery times.

How do you see the evolution of retail professions: data scientist, 3D virtualization?

A lot of new jobs will appear and many existing jobs will disappear. Knowing how to make organizations evolve is also a key to success, unfortunately our old companies are not always the best placed to integrate this reality. Remember what happened with mail order selling companies that were thought to be the best placed to succeed on the internet, they lost the battle against start-ups. Obviously these new emerging professions such as data scientists are a new resource, we will be able to analyze the numbers and use them. But for whom, for what, how and when?

What are the major obstacles that can slow down the implementation of new business models?

These are the usual obstacles for people: their ability to question themselves, to accept change (we’ve always done it this way!!!) and for the company: having an ambitious human resources policy through training and development of people.

Taking up the keys to success, making them evolve thanks to the new means that technology offers and adapting its organisations and operating methods requires giving meaning, recalling its ambitions and encouraging multi-business exchanges. The role of management is essential to succeed in this challenge by eliminating internal constraints and encouraging individual and collective questioning.

A centre such as CETI is a resource for these companies in search of innovation. It is up to CETI to be pragmatic enough to be close to the markets and to propose them to integrate solutions adapted to their needs. The CETI teams will be able to enable brands and companies to imagine their business differently and to experiment with solutions to unblock their apprehensions with the integration of new technologies.


CETI supports you in your evolution and your transformation towards digital innovation, a source of competitiveness and new business expertise. For more information, please contact Fabienne Hindré, head of the textile & fashion 4.0 offer – fabienne.hindre@ceti.com

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