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DSW: Reimagining customer loyalty in Google Cloud

At a glance

A leading footwear and accessories retailer wanted to engage its customers faster, with more personalized offers. We partnered with Google Cloud and DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse to build a flexible, scalable loyalty platform that powers near real-time interaction with 26M DSW VIP loyalty members.

What we did

  • Cloud architecture
  • Data ingestion pipeline
  • Microservices-based platform
  • Google Cloud best practices
  • Team enablement

Loyalty in action

I’ve purchased three pairs of shoes since I began working on this case study, and I couldn't be happier.

In fact, I’m looking forward to visiting my local DSW again this weekend to donate an older pair of shoes that never fit quite right. That’ll earn me another 50 VIP points and a reward credit. I might even indulge in some summer sandals while I’m there, which will bump me up to the next loyalty level for more benefits.

Real time, right time

DSW has more than 500 locations in 44 states, and I’m not the only one who finds the retailer’s loyalty platform irresistible. Since DSW VIP launched, the brand’s new customer rate is up nine percent. Over 90% of all DSW's transactions go through the platform, and both repeat customers and customer spend have increased significantly.

It’s partially the well-designed tiers, generous offers, and robust app, but what’s truly compelling is that rewards, offers, and upgrades arrive in near real-time. With the previous, batch-based system, they could take a full day or more to appear. Now, customers making in-store purchases typically get an email or notification before they hit the front door on their way out: “You earned a $5 award!”

“Do they ever turn right back around and buy something else?” I asked a store employee.

“Oh yes, I’ve seen that,” she nodded.

And that’s the power of the cloud. The Google Cloud in this case, with help from Slalom.

 

28M active loyalty members, 90% of transactions go through loyalty platform

 

A platform for self-expression

DSW leaders knew that faster rewards would result in more brand engagement—more purchases, tweets, and interactions. The decision to rebuild the loyalty platform was based on direct customer feedback. “Customers told us they wanted more, and they wanted it faster,” says Rich Clum, manager of marketing applications for Designer Brands, the company that owns the DSW brand.

Customers told us they wanted more, and they wanted it faster.

No surprise there. Modern retail customers expect to be heard and included. "Collaboration is the new competition," says Benjamin Mokotoff, a managing director at Slalom. "People like to go to DSW because they’re recognized as part of the DSW community. They have opportunities they can’t get online."

That includes personalized experiences. In keeping with DSW's mission to inspire self-expression, the retailer wanted to be able to tailor rewards and offers with a high level of detail, engaging customers as individuals to build emotional loyalty. "Shoes may not be something that people buy every day," says Clum. "But when you can keep them engaged with multiple interactions, it keeps DSW in the forefront of their minds."

With the new platform, Clum's team can build offers based on any combination of customer attributes, products, stores, dates, and loyalty tiers. For example, they could award bonus points to Elite members for coming in to try on a pair of shoes, and add a point multiplier for individuals that purchase the shoes in a store with a DSW credit card.

 

Performance and scalability

This project was DSW’s first significant foray into the cloud. “We didn’t have that skill set in-house,” says Clum. Google Cloud recommended Slalom to support the implementation, and it was a strong partnership right from the beginning.

“Slalom didn’t just take our information and say, ‘Yep, that’s what we’re going to build,’” says Clum. “They provided strategic feedback and best-practice recommendations. They stood with us and truly showed that they had ownership in the solution.”

It really was a three-way partnership—Slalom, DSW, and Google Cloud merged together as one team, working toward a common goal.

DSW, Google Cloud, and Slalom collaborated to make optimal use of the Google Cloud product set and navigate the complexities of DSW’s historical data and legacy processes. “It really was a three-way partnership—Slalom, DSW, and Google Cloud merged together as one team, working toward a common goal,” says Steven Porter, a practice area director focused on custom development at Slalom. “It worked perfectly.”

With a microservices-based architecture running in Google Kubernetes Engine, DSW’s new platform is both flexible and highly scalable. It leans heavily on BigQuery, the “hook” that drew DSW to Google Cloud initially. “Google calls it a ‘no-operations’ data warehouse,” says Porter. “You can get started very quickly, and you don’t have to invest a lot to get a lot back.”

Launching shortly before Black Friday, the platform performed flawlessly through some of DSW’s biggest sales days ever.

Ready for anything

Cam Heightland joined Clum’s team at DSW to help build the new loyalty platform. Even over the phone, it’s immediately apparent that this young developer is more than a little excited about his job. He spent months working closely with Slalom solution principal Hamilton Evans and senior engineer Chad Orwig, soaking up best practices and learning Slalom’s agile methodology.

I remember watching Chad write like 500 lines of Java in half an hour and being just blown away. It’s second nature for them to accomplish some pretty complex things.

“In terms of technical expertise, they’re probably the best developers I’ve worked with in my career,” says Heightland. “I can’t say enough about how much I learned about application development on the cloud, about best practices and how to conduct everyday development."

So, what’s next? Anything the company throws at them. “We’ve been able to react to customers’ needs so much faster than ever before,” says Heightland. “Any request that comes through, we’ve got the tools to figure out a solution.”

Slalom is now working with DSW on a loyalty platform for the retailer’s Canada stores, as well as additional data capabilities to draw rich insights from the treasure trove of data now available in BigQuery. “They want to push the envelope and innovate in ways that nobody else is able to do,” says Porter. “They want to keep going.”

"Loyalty is a way of life at DSW now," says Clum. "We're working to keep our loyalty offerings constantly updated and relevant for the consumer's changing needs. Our cloud-based platform empowers us to do just that!"

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