Outfitting a fashion retailer with the right people and right platform
UK fashion retailer New Look partnered with Slalom Build to modernize their ecommerce platform. Rather than making minor alterations, they upgraded to a headless microservices architecture while also constructing a new in-house engineering capability and DevOps culture.
Product Strategy, Software Engineering, Quality Engineering, Solution Ownership, Platform Engineering, Site Reliability Engineering, Experience Design, Data Engineering, Product Operating Model, Change Management, Team Effectiveness
Microsoft Azure, React, commercetools, Attraqt, Gigya, Contentstack, Tealium, Promotions
How New Look built a faster future
Raise your hand if you enjoy the experience of buying clothes in person. It can be great fun to browse the racks, try things on, and chat with a friendly staff person. Before the pandemic, many New Look customers would have raised their hands.
But when lockdown sent everyone online, the brand’s ecommerce revenue was suddenly their only revenue. Given the opportunity (aka, the imperative) to make over their digital platform, New Look had two objectives:
- Deliver a virtual shopping experience that matched the store experience they are so proud of.
- Build up their internal development team to be faster and more cutting-edge.
CTO Ed Alford looked to digital leaders in the retail fashion space for inspiration. Could New Look revamp their ecommerce offering and their engineering organization from the inside out? Could they prioritize speed and innovation to keep up with customer needs and desires? The answer to all was an emphatic yes!
Changing the patterns of ecommerce
The implementation of the existing website was holding New Look back. Small changes took time, bigger initiatives like loyalty programs seemed out of reach. Improvements were costly, and there was no way to guarantee they’d succeed, because the back end didn’t support testing and validation with customers.
Looking beyond lockdown, the goal was to give shoppers a modern omnichannel experience that included customization and personalization. So, the retailer needed a tech stack that would allow them to quickly adapt to changes in demand, on demand. New Look and their vendors had started planning and evaluation for the upgrade project, but they were hampered by repeated delays, so much so that it just started to feel like stagnation.
To help move things along, Slalom Build was engaged to transition the storefront from an outdated version of Angular to React.
The thinking was that switching to React would help New Look attract talent and become self-sufficient, since React developers are more available in the market. Building engineering capability within New Look would give the organization more autonomy to evolve their product quickly.
Restructuring for agility
However, during the Discovery phase, our team determined that the move to React wasn’t going to go far enough. The website was designed with a monolithic architecture built on a single platform, and it couldn’t accommodate the pace of innovation.
Instead, we recommended a complete refresh, moving the website into a modern microservice-based architecture. The switch gives New Look the flexibility to swap in the best vendors for their needs and budget. For example, commercetools was the right strategic choice for core commerce services, even though it was a bigger financial investment than alternatives. Telium handles customer data orchestration and promotions, and Gigya provides identity services.
The need to choose microservices also led to some process improvements. There was important existing governance in place to approve vendors and technology decisions, but the timelines could stretch out. As we built trust, the Slalom Build team was able to develop an expedited approach, and decisions could now be made in weeks, not months.
During the build process, we also worked to clarify the role of product owner in creating a backlog and gathering requirements. To this point, business analysts had often been filling that role, writing and getting approval of user stories. So, recognizing what needed to be done and who was doing it well led to some business analysts being promoted to product owner. Now they’re prioritizing and partnering more effectively with engineering teams.
As part of the mandate to bring development in-house, Slalom Build collaborated with New Look on talent acquisition, leveraged job profiles and hiring processes, helped interview candidates, and trained junior engineers. This DevOps leadership has been key for building and growing a self-sustaining capability that will continue to add value after our engagement is complete.
New Look wanted to be self-sufficient. They really wanted to have the autonomy within the organization to be able to drive a product which they could be proud of and evolve with time.
— SUSAN CUFFE, DIRECTOR, CLIENT SERVICES LEAD, SLALOM
I liked the model of Slalom helping set up an engineering function and define standards, coding principles, and frameworks, so that when we hire people, they are coming into a discipline that is already established, and they can pick up those ways of working as well as bringing in their expertise from the outside.
— Ed Alford, CTO, New Look
A platform and delivery model for the future
Together, New Look and Slalom Build have succeeded in building a modern, robust ecommerce platform with a flexible composable architecture. As vendor agreements progress, and as needs and technology change, we’ve proven the ability to swap in the best services. And with the new online store built on modern technology, shoppers can buy easily no matter where they are, years into the future. Plus, automation and security are incorporated into the heart of the platform for efficiency and safety.“As a technology partner, Slalom Build has been instrumental in helping us build out our ways of working, framework, and environment required to grow our own internal engineering function,” says Alford. Slalom Build helped recruit engineers, contributed hiring materials, and conducted interviews. We’ve been alongside to dismantle silos and set up the Agile culture. Both the product and engineering teams are more empowered to make decisions and move ahead together.
“Recruiting is a big job when you don't have a team of skilled engineers to interview other engineers. So, it was great to be able to get the support of some of the key Slalom folks in the DevOps and the engineering spaces to help us make sure we're bringing in people of top quality,” says Ian Mahoney, Director of Engineering Platforms at New Look.
The ecommerce platform, appropriately named Fabric, will roll out after a process of testing, iterating, and gathering user feedback—first from in-store employees and then from customers. With a newly flexible digital platform and a nimble development team, New Look is taking a bold step toward a fully omnichannel customer experience.