Lilly Pulitzer: The challenges and opportunity of mobile

PHILADELPHIA—Technology is solving many problems for retailers by providing real-time information and the ability to quickly push through changes both on the website and to stores. But it's also true that retail has many problems looking for a solution.

One of the greatest challenges, according to Michelle Kelly, president of Lilly Pulitzer, is keeping up with consumers. Technology today moves fast, and retailers are moving quickly along with it. Unfortunately, shoppers are moving faster, particularly when it comes to mobile adoption.

Kelly discussed the opportunities and challenges for Lilly Pulitzer arising from the rapid rise of mobile commerce.

When Lilly Pulitzer released an app, the results were fairly predictable as traffic and sales spiked. And just as quickly, the predictable behavior gave way to some less predictable activity.

"Her habits have started to change in really interesting ways," said Kelly. "We are now seeing her behaviors going in more unpredictable ways. The speed and mobility we were ready for, but how she's using and connecting the dots is really challenging."

Shoppers are ordering clothes online and going into stores to see if they fit, before it arrives. They're looking up signature prints and arriving with a picture on their phone, and when the sales associate can't immediately react and find the item, there's a disconnect.  

"We have to go to the service desk or in back," said Kelly. "She expects in the store to be as mobile and real time as she is." 

Real-time inventory is a big problem waiting to be solved, not just for Lilly Pulitzer but most retailers large and small. The trends of buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) and ship-from-store mean retailers must know where merchandise is at all times.

For Lilly Pulitzer, it's an issue still to be addressed.The company is working on making the enterprise more digital-ready, with tablets in stores and back-end systems that will keep up with consumer adoption and expectations.

"The challenge becomes how to you be excellent in all of these challenges," said Kelly. "We keep our eyes on how she shops, which is a much better perspective than how we define it from a P&L perceptive."

See all FierceRetail's 2015 coverage.

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