River Island is going tech-heavy following the opening of a new Shoreditch, London, office this month. The high street fashion brand has opened a centre that’s both office and “digital collaboration space” that will house 70 staffers.
Not that it’s given us much detail about exactly what will happen there. CEO Ben Lewis said: “River Island has placed technology at the core of our strategy, implementing ground up investment and ensuring everyone within the company thinks and operates in a digital first way.
“This will be our digital collaboration. We are expanding our tech function as a whole. We are plugging into something new as we move forward, positioning our thinking and development against the very best in the tech sector. We want to be renowned in the industry as pioneers, seeking out the best people and nurturing talent.”
And the detail? Thin on the ground at the moment. But let’s not be cynical because this is potentially a huge step forward.
Privately-owned River Island is one of the most successful of the high street chains in Britain and also operates globally with over 350 stores in total, several online sites serving its domestic and international customers and a giant design team of around 90 who create all its product in-house. It has also been involved in a number of designer collaborations with higher-end labels such as Christopher Shannon and Sibling.
Last year, when River Island announced that it would open the new tech hub, CIO, Doug Gardner said it was partly about attracting the most talented people to the firm but also that he didn’t want it to be a place where tech projects are worked on it secret without full collaboration with the wider business.
At the time he suggested that different teams would work there on rotation with designers as well as techies. And Gardner also said a lot of store projects would be run from Shoreditch with the retail and marketing teams on-site.
This determination to embrace technology is a reflection of the way m-commerce has grown to be a crucial channel for retailers in just a short period of time and how the industry expects tech to shake up retail and the marketing of retail even more in the future from chat bot customer service to augmented reality and even to robots in-store.