We’re back with another Meet the Client blog – shining a light on our clients and finding out what Datitude means to them. Here’s what Richard Blanchard, CEO of Margin Guardian, had to say when we caught up with him in a park in Liverpool (more on that below!).
Tell us a bit about your career
It started back in the late ‘80s at Littlewoods, then one of the largest private companies in Europe and a pioneer of home shopping and the mail-order catalogue. It’s still going today, several restructures and rebrands later, under The Very Group, a family of multi-category digital retail brands.
I spent the first 20 years of my career in marketing, brand management and ecommerce at Littlewoods and was ultimately responsible for the customer insight and relationship management strategy across all retail channels. I was there at the start of the online shopping revolution and Littlewoods was an early adopter of ecommerce.
In the mid noughties, when my time there ended, it seemed a natural progression for Steve Goodheart (another Littlewoods' veteran) and me to set up an ecommerce consultancy business (Transaction Partnership). There were so many businesses that weren’t online, or doing it well, and wanted our expertise. We’ve since worked with a multitude of retailers, including big names like Matalan, O’Neill Europe and Pets at Home, supporting a wide range of digital transformations.
Which digital transformation stands out the most and why?
They all stand out for different reasons. For example, we built Matalan’s first website. And working with O’Neill Europe involved establishing their first-ever, global, transactional site and gave us the confidence to form Transaction Partnership.
Margin Guardian is another business in your portfolio; co-founded by you, Steve Goodheart & Stew Cox. What brought you together and where did the idea for the Squished App come from?
We all met at Littlewoods, kept in touch, and continued to work together. The idea for the Squished App came from Stew and his love of a Reiss jumper! He spent inordinate amounts of time on the web, keeping an eye on discounts and waiting for the right time to buy the item at the best price. As techies with a wealth of ecommerce expertise, we thought “what if we could launch an app that would do this?”. Squished was born, initially launched as an iOS app and then on Android, and we established Margin Guardian as a business.
Squished is a multi-faceted app that enables consumers to browse, track and monitor high-street fashion items in a single place. App users can choose to add products to a wish-list, “squish” the price to receive a price drop alert and visit the product page to purchase directly from the retailer’s site.
The unique consumer insights, both attitudinal and transactional, generated through the Squished App mean we can offer apparel retailers a more rounded picture of consumer intent and competitive pricing through our retail data insights platform. We can identify real-time trends and consumer intent to inform future, and discount, pricing strategies.
Why did you choose Datitude’s data lakehouse and analytics solution for Margin Guardian’s data insights platform?
Happenstance! We’ve known Sarah and Gavin, the co-founders, for years, having enjoyed a successful working relationship together as Transaction Partnership and (BT) Fresca, their previous ecommerce business. We brought them in on many of our ecommerce projects so knew we liked them and could trust them to deliver.
By chance we were seeing and hearing more about Datitude, its data solutions and what the team were doing as we were developing our insights platform. It made us think we should buy not build the expertise needed to transform the data from the Squished App into sophisticated and interactive visualisations and insights in the platform. So we started to explore the idea with Sarah and Gavin, and glad we did!
Choosing Datitude to build a data lakehouse and advanced analytics solution for us means we’ve been able to elevate the data insights and dashboards within our platform to a totally different level, and more quickly, cost effectively and efficiently than doing it ourselves. Plus, the analytics capabilities are easily expandable, meaning we can overlay other data to extend the metadata and expand our offering.
As a northern institution, many people remember Littlewoods for the “Football Pools”, its iconic art-deco building and being the original mail-order catalogue company. What was it like working there?
I remember it very fondly. Sir John Moores, Littlewoods’ founder, was a true entrepreneur and a real advocate of helping families buy things they needed. He saw the value in mailing lists generated from his Littlewoods Pools business and creating loan funds within local communities. He knew the importance of staying ahead of changes in consumer habits and adopting technology to transform business operations.
I still have friends and family who work at The Very Group and the essence of the original company still exists today. Given the transformations it’s been through over the years and the ever-changing consumer landscape, that’s quite something!
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing retailers and brands today? And what technologies to help retailers navigate these challenges are you excited about?
Understanding consumer intent and value judgements, particularly when there’s no purchase, is a big challenge for many retailers. It’s likely to become increasingly important for apparel retailers given the tough economic environment is driving consumers to trade down, delay purchases and hold onto or divert cash for more essential items.
Naturally, I’m excited about technology like the Squished App given its ability to capture consumer-led data and provide novel data insights such as assimilation-based pricing. It’s incredibly powerful for providing a more intelligent, data-driven approach to markdown decisions, reduce leakage, optimise revenue and protect margins.
More retailers are starting to understand the potential of use case opportunities and the true value of owned consumer data insights.
On the theme of northern institutions and football, are you a blue or red supporter?
Red (as the editor, I should add Richard is from the Liverpool area so he means Liverpool, not Man U!). It’s another interesting topic given the developments in football, the increasing use of data analytics and the current circumstances at both clubs, but we’ll save that for another day.
We interviewed you whilst you were taking a break and writing in a park. Tell us more.
Yes I’m a writer too and self-published my first novel “Snow Blind” to rave reviews in 2014. Carving out time to pursue my writing is important to me and I’m fortunate I can do this.
It was a pleasure talking to Richard and we’re grateful for him taking the time out to speak to us.
If you're a fashion retailer wanting to protect and improve your margins, speak to Richard at Margin Guardian directly on 07977 549318 or via www.marginguardian.com.
Download the Squished Shopping App here.
Find out how Datitude is powering Margin Guardian’s data insights on our client showcase page.