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How Cloud Tech Lends Burberry ‘Channel Agnostic’ Agility

Despite its historic heritage roots, Burberry has focused on coming up with new shopping experiences for consumers in recent years, experimenting with technologies such as augmented reality, opening a “social retail store” in China and launching limited-edition products on WeChat.

Rajeev Aikkara, vice president of digital technology at Burberry, attributes this obsession to the company’s agility even in the face of unpredictability. At January’s virtual NRF Big Show, Aikkara said the “one thing you can be sure of is you can’t predict the future, and you just can’t know where things are going to go.”

But Burberry is committed to ensuring that team members across the supply chain, stores and the website have the right tools to adapt to even the most unforeseen situations, Aikkara said in conversation with Tom Litchford, global lead for retail at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

“All of our engineering expertise goes into building integration with out of the box tools that we can bring from various SaaS vendors, so we have this approach of ‘cloud-fest’ or ‘API-fest’ that goes toward picking these vendors, and we make sure they are integrated well by us to provide a unique differentiated experience to customers, which then is localized depending upon the market, whether it’s China, the U.S., the U.K. and others,” Aikkara said.

Burberry has been able to take a more strategic approach to building out these technologies due to the SaaS capabilities of partners such as AWS. Now, instead of having lengthy, costly contracts with tech providers that can last between three and five years at a time, the subscription renewal model enables the luxury retailer to have shorter, more productive conversations on a more frequent basis.

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“That means that you are allowed to take a bit more risks, because none of them are going to kill you,” Aikkara said. “You’re going to make small mistakes, you’re not going to make tens or hundreds of mistakes. You’re changing the magnitude of failures, allowing them to learn from it.”

Aikkara noted that within the strategic approach, the retailer must observe and determine where it is and is not acceptable to take more of these risks. For example, testing in the checkout funnel would be a major risk that could cause problems with the customer experience if payments aren’t going through. But on the other hand, retailers have more leeway in optimizing the UX behind the story of a particular product by testing out different images and videos, according to Aikkara.

Retailers still powered by legacy technologies must determine how they can balance their existing platforms, which can be “monolithic,” with newer technologies so they can split the work between these solutions, Aikkara said.

Burberry’s balancing act is now focused on answering one question: “How micro will we go?” The luxury retailer leverages numerous APIs that it deploys in the AWS platform, such as Commercetools, to power its e-commerce presence. These APIs serve as “Lambda functions” within the AWS layer, in that the cloud service enables the retailer to run code without provisioning or managing its server. This code is run only when needed and scales automatically, and enables Burberry to pay only for the compute time consumed—there is no charge when the code is not running.

The pivot toward a more microservices-driven approach is pushing Burberry further toward its goal of being a more channel-agnostic retail experience for the consumer. This even helped the luxury fashion icon hop on board of one the most anticipated social commerce launches.

“When Instagram commerce was launching, they chose us as a launch partner because we were one of the few retailers that were able to switch that quickly, because we have these APIs to be able to integrate effortlessly in a matter of weeks rather than months or years,” Aikkara said.

All of the remote clienteling capabilities that have been rolled out during the Covid-19 pandemic in response to store closures have been easier to spin out due to the agility provided by the cloud platform, he added.

But Aikkara noted that it’s “certainly not easy” to switch to a new architecture in a retail ecosystem. “You can only do this when this is a collective mission,” he said, noting that doing so is a continuous journey sans traditional beginning or end.

“You want to be able to do this forever,” Aikkara said. “If you don’t, your competitors will. If your competitors don’t, some startup will. Some other company will eat your piece if you’re not on top of it.”