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J.Crew hires new CIO in bid to revitalize fading brand

Clint Boulton | April 7, 2016
J.Crew hires Michelle Garvey from Ann Inc. as its new CIO as the struggling apparel retailers attempts to jumpstart sluggish sales and declining profits.

Improving IT helps but isn't a panacea

Given the weaknesses in its namesake brand's products and financials, it isn't clear what Garvey and J.Crew can do from a technology perspective to help bolster results, says Sucharita Mulpuru, a Forrester Research analyst who covers retail. "IT can help and maybe there are some costs that can be optimized with IT but there's a product and brand problem that's much bigger than its IT issues," Mulpuru says.

For example, she notes that like many retailers J.Crew missed the "athleisure" brand sparked by Lululemon and others a few years ago. "Who thought it would be cool to wear yoga pants all day?" Mulpuru says.

It's also unclear what IT assets J.Crew holds that could be considered a competitive advantage as, like most retailers, it is notoriously tight-lipped about its technology.

This 2013 Metis Strategy podcast featuring former CIO Saffer offers some clues to J.Crew's technology focus, which aren't far removed from the goals most retailers are pursuing. Speaking to Metis President Peter High, Saffer said that a crucial task was ensuring that J.Crew's all-important catalog, or "style guide," was available to consumers who want to browse and shop for goods on any computer, tablet or smartphone. The ultimate goal? To ensure that the experience customers have with the paper catalog is at least as good as it is in digital format.

"We have to translate that to online," said Saffer, adding that the catalog design was carefully pieced out using agile development methodologies.

Yet in a fickle retail fashion market where trends turn on a seasonal dime, it can be hard to shake financial and product weaknesses. As Mulpuru notes, "IT isn't going to save the ship."



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