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Interviews

Interview with Marc Kermisch, CIO & VP of Red Wing Shoes, on the latest technologies implemented in retail

Wednesday 20 March 2019 | 08:12 AM CET

We interviewed Marc Kermisch, CIO and VP of Innovation at Red Wing Shoes, to learn more about the latest technologies implemented in retail

Can you share with us the story behind Red Wing Shoes? Which categories of consumers love your brand most?

Red Wing is a 115-year-old company, with a focus on footwear, workwear and accessories. We sell our products directly through our retail stores (over 500 in North America) and internationally to around 110 countries through a series of distributors, partners and dealers.

Our brands consist of Red Wing Shoes, Red Wing Heritage, Irish Setter, Vasque, and Worx. Each brand can be found at our over 500 Red Wing Shoe Stores and retail partners in North America and in Europe, Asia and the Middle East through our dealers, distributors and partners. We also sell our Red Wing Heritage, Irish Setter and Vasque boots through their own distinct ecommerce web sites.

Over the 115-year journey, we've tried to keep pace with how consumer trends are changing, whether it’s about creating a lightweight boot, a water-resistant boot or about keeping track of how customers want to buy, something that has radically shifted for us and for most major retailers for the past decade.

You have been at the forefront of the company’s transition from an in-store to an ecommerce experience. What are the main challenges when implementing an ecommerce strategy?

I think the biggest challenge we faced was related to the way in which we managed the different conflicts in our channels, physical retail and online. Our physical stores are partly owned by Red Wing Corporate, partly owned by independent dealers. With a dealer model in place, we need to be thoughtful on entering the omnichannel space to ensure our stores (company or dealer) remain central to our consumer experience.

We aim for a unified consumer experience, which I think is the number one challenge on well. The last experience you want for a consumer is to order a product online and find out it is not available for pick-p at their store. Or for a store to miss a shipping deadline and the consumer experience a late delivery. To ensure a quality experience, we have to tackle inventory accuracy, the pick and reserve process, returns across channels, and other standard operating procedures. One of our biggest differentiators at our stores is the ability for our Store Associates to fit a consumer to the right boot. We have built tools to assist a consumer to discover the right family and style of footwear for their job, but we can’t replicate the fitting experience of our store associates online. We encourage our consumers to come into the store for that fitting to ensure the footwear is comfortable and will perform as it is intended.

What are your company’s strategies for acquiring new customers and converting them into returning ones?

The average consumer that we used to target was in their mid to late 40s, early 60s or even older. We had to focus on how we defined our consumer by broadening our message to resonate with the millennial generation to the boomer generation. Our marketing team has done a fabulous job centering our strategy around our diverse consumers. This helps us deliver the remarkable products, experiences and services we expect of ourselves and our consumers demand of us. The way we acquire new consumers today is through our digital channels. We rely heavily on social media such as Google, Facebook and other channels. We are testing different ways to engage our consumers through their mobile devices. Presenting relevant offers at the right time or place, with a goal to drive them to our physical stores. As mobile advertising technology advances, we are able to gain valuable insights, similar to what we are able to gather from our ecommerce web sites, where we can track traffic to conversion.

A rough statistic for the return rate of shoes purchased over the internet is often quoted as between 20% and 35%, meaning that one pair of shoes is returned for every three to five sales. What strategy/technology can be used to decrease returns rate?

We're right in the middle of this number, which is definitely a challenge in the footwear industry. What we often see is that people buy shoes of a half size up and down, as well as their normal size. They, of course, keep the size that fits and return the other two. Our hand-made products are also unique and because they are purpose built, someone who may wear a size 9 athletic shoe may actually be a size 8 in our work or fashion boots. These adventures in miss sizing is what leads to our return rate.

There are several things we're looking at: provide content ratings and reviews - does the shoe fit true to size, does it fit wide or narrow – and help the consumer with more context around how they think about fit. Additionally, we're also exploring online technologies that try to emulate an in-store fitting experience via being able to take a picture of the foot with the phone to get relative sizing, 3D scanning of the inside of the boot so customers can physically see how their feet would fit in that boot. The challenge we see in this case is that some consumers don’t want to take off their sock, even at home, spend 30-60 seconds trying to capture a 360 degree video of their foot, upload it and wait for the technology to process.

The technologies aimed to ensure a proper fitting are rapidly emerging and we are tracking them closely. A few of the more prevalent offerings are Surefeet, Aetrex, and Volumental.

You will be a speaker at IRCE @ Retail X in June. What topics do you plan to tackle while being there and what panels are you most interested in?

I will be speaking about how you can drive growth in the omnichanel. The topic that we're focusing on is how can growth be driven through the ecommerce channel. There are some key benefits here, mainly related to connecting directly with the consumers themselves, which often leads to higher margin product that we're selling. There's also a cost of trying to be innovative and disruptive in our space and we have to be very thoughtful on how we think about rolling up products or new capabilities online and trying something similar in store.

When looking at the overall agenda of the event, I think the biggest challenge is that there are so many exciting things coming up at the same time, which we have to keep up with. Obviously, things around the evolution of technology and how we're able to align tools, new technologies and processes to activate our consumers where and when they want to is really important for us.

When we think about how omnichannel continues to converge and what other customers or retailers do the create unique experiences, it is of great importance to us. Additionally, we’re interested in things related to the future of retail and emerging technologies impacting us. We're very curious about what people are doing with technologies like blockchain, VR, AI, leveraging data science capabilities to be able to provide a unique consumer experience.

Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE) brings together all facets of ecommerce to give you a 360-degree view of what it takes to win hearts, minds and dollars online right now. In addition, just as retail is transforming, so is IRCE. This year, IRCE is co-located with GlobalShop and RFID Journal LIVE! Retail to form RetailX, so you’ll see the “other side” of the business, gain a broader understanding and expand your professional network throughout the show.

About Marc Kermisch

Marc Kermisch is Chief Information Officer and Vice President, The Garage, for the Red Wing Shoe Company. As CIO, Marc is responsible for all aspects of technology from the retail experience through to manufacturing. The Garage is Red Wing Shoe’s Innovation Center, focused on developing products, manufacturing capabilities, consumer experiences and business models of the future.

About Red Wing Shoes

Red Wing Shoe Company is a 115-year old company that manufactures and sells footwear, workwear, and accessories. Its brands include Red Wing Shoes, Red Wing Heritage, Irish Setter, Vasque and Worx. Red Wing Shoe Company has over 500 retail stores in North America and does business in over 110 countries.

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