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Stores, Brands Take to Tech Tack at ICR

Executives see innovations playing role from supply chain to point of sale.

Retailers and brands addressing the 16th annual ICR XChange in Orlando this week have had plenty of prescriptions for the flulike symptoms of excessive promotions and depleted margins experienced during the holiday season.

The need to expand globally and through e-commerce was a nearly universal goal among the executives participating. Yet a number cited better use of technology to accelerate their supply chains and better address the desires of customers with a wider range of options, whether they be those presented by mobile devices or fast-fashion retailers.

With numerous firms presenting at the conference having disclosed revised — usually in a downward direction — guidance in advance of the event, some were inclined to wax philosophical as they spoke to the assembled analysts.

 

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” stated John Currie, chief financial officer of Lululemon Athletica Inc., which brought down fourth-quarter guidance in advance of the session. “I’m joking, but not really. We’re coming out of 2013 a much stronger company than we were a year ago.”

Having owned up to fourth-quarter challenges on Monday, Currie pointed out a number of factors that were working in Lululemon’s favor. “There are a number of wins that are kind of overshadowed,” he said, “including our men’s business, which even in Q4 comped in the midteens, [and] the Ivivva young girls’ business comping in the teens. We’re looking to accelerate store growth on that concept in 2014.”

He also cited a series of technological advances made by the company, including the use of mobile devices in stores to accelerate checkout for customers buying, as an example, gift cards.

“We have a tremendous brand, and it’s incumbent on us to do everything we can to turn the conversation around to be more positive again,” he concluded.

Among others putting their best spin on a difficult fourth quarter and preparing to employ technology to enhance speed and agility during what’s expected to be a challenging year ahead:

Robert Hanson, chief executive officer, American Eagle Outfitters Inc.
• “We’re not putting our head in the sand about the need for the ability to compete against a new set of competitors. The fast-fashion competitors are out there. They’re fast and they put out a great product at a low price. But I think our view is to compete on our terms, which is increasing our speed, keeping more open [to buy] and looking at…product cost opportunities.”

Frank Conforti, chief financial officer, Urban Outfitters Inc.
• “We’re going to test larger stores with a more diversified offering.…We’re not going to shrink our apparel offering, but we do believe that we can expand into other categories in a more meaningful way for those customers that we know very well.”
• “The most meaningful priority that we have [for 2014]…is to regain momentum at the Urban Outfitters brand.”

Michael Relich, chief operating officer, Guess Inc.
• “We’re one of the very few fashion brands that have two almost equally sized operations in North America and Europe, and that goes to the strength of our brand. Our Asia business has also grown significantly, to almost $300 million in annual sales.”

Matthew Appel, chief administrative officer, Zale Corp.
• “Our stores are in the middle of an aggressive preventative maintenance program and a technology upgrade in our fine jewelry business that will bring new POS systems, hardware, software and broadband across over 1,000 fine jewelry stores by September of this year.”