Schuh: Innovating for added value

Hello from Schuh.  If you don’t know us, we’re a full-price, mid-market fashion retailer selling well-known footwear brands in volume to the young (and the youthful) of Britain and Ireland.

You may have seen one of our stores, or indeed our re-platformed (and responsive), which has been performing well since September.  Despite a strong cross-channel proposition, it  would be fair to say we operate in a mature, highly competitive market, and even as we expand and improve penetration through store openings and acquisition of new web traffic, we ask ourselves largely one question:  in our game, where is our point of difference?

In continually seeking to put that “best foot forward”, well, we innovate.  Of course, all businesses like to think of themselves as “innovative” and we are hardly an exception to that – and we have the wins, and the scars, of plenty of efforts to dynamise and refresh the offer.  While there’s much industry talk at the moment of innovation labs, heads of innovation, transformation budgets and neat acronyms to badge up the whole effort, innovation in our business is always going to be a mind-set, an MO, a way things are done round here, rather than a tactile “thing”.  And that’s okay.  What is key has to be the realpolitik of everyday measurement, of getting things done in a way which is most likely to stick.  Because innovation needs to deliver.

And here’s the rub, friends –  innovating is inherently risky, even for those with the deepest pockets.  Think Google Glass.  If you’re similar to our size at Schuh, a bit of failure is understandable.  Too much of it just isn’t.

The answer, of course, is mitigation of risk through:

  • Thinking about the core of the  business we have – where sales volume resides, how profitability is managed, maintaining a quality relationship with our branded suppliers, tight control of resources
  • Remembering the objective (it’s not innovation per se, it’s sales and profit)
  • And of course, sticking tightly to where the customer is

While that requires some trade-offs, because you can’t/shouldn’t elect to do everything, you do quickly arrive at the broad areas where “playing” makes sense:


Where do we do we have a right to play + Is there a likely sales/cost benefit? = GO INNOVATE!





Lead on service

Accurate, live inventory

Mobile/touch interfaces

Local fluency

Digital marketing mix

“Pull” messaging


Social media


Enable customer’s own tech




New payments methods

Dynamic pricing

Tech for tech’s sake in stores

“Push” messaging



Put simply, our improvement imperatives are about one thing – beating any obstacles which get in the way of a purchase.  The moniker:  REDUCING FRICTION IN THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY.

In practice, that means a close focus on:


It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that mobile has been the single biggest agent of change in retailing since the arrival of internet shopping, and with almost 50% of web traffic coming from smartphone, we see mobile fluency as our key focus.  This means getting the UX right, of course (and the responsive site is the latest, logical iteration in a journey which has involved an app, a mobile site, a tablet site along the way) as growth becomes all about smartphone, the resulting basket sizes and conversion rates, and the “get more from less” challenge mobile presents.  But it’s also about adopting mobile first thinking, as well understanding and designing for on the go behaviours.


Put simply, know what you have, where you have it, do this in real time, and make it available.  From a DC perspective, we’ve invested in satellite warehousing to get closer to key geographies for consumption of next day delivery on  When we cannot get the product we need from the DC, we in any case operate a single stock pool, which means we can fulfil  from any store  – we pick 25% of online orders from Schuh branches, we can handle store reservations in 20 minutes and click and collect in under an hour.  Need it closer to you, and fast? We’ve got Shutl too.


It’s about working to be convenient in the context of increasingly mobile, and local internet searches.  That means, for example,  sharing a product feed with Google to support initiatives like Local inventory Adverts from Google.  And it’s about inside the stores too – having an environment which delivers service quickly for that always on, connected customer.  At Schuh we have rolled out MPOS in two thirds of stores, inventory-scanning on iScan (iPod Touch worn by staff in 12 other stores), extending the provision of e-receipts and giving the customer transparent access to self-medicated stock levels on their own device with

And so, the challenge is not so much innovation – it’s the right kind of innovation, enhancing the game rather than attempting to change it.  For us that’s about core strategic alignment, a focus on the customer, targeting and removing friction in the basic journey.  Ours is a sustainable approach to innovation, I’d argue, capable of winning internal support because it makes sense – that means actually getting things done and when get it right, perhaps selling a few more shoes along the way.  At least here’s hoping!

Sean McKee

Head of Ecommerce and Customer Services, Schuh


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