© IDG UK
© IDG UK

Chily Fachler has been promoted to Chief Digitial and Information Officer at Steinhoff UK, the furniture retailer behind Bensons for Beds and Harveys.

His new role combines the responsibilities of a CDO with those of a CIO, the position in which Fachler previously served for 18 months at the company.

The addition of the full digital portfolio to his role makes Fachler accountable for profit and loss for ecommerce and the digital strategy for the entire business. The move adds what was previously part of the marketing function to the CIO's responsibilities.

"The thinking was that we had to build a digital capability that enabled us to move forward in an omnichannel world and the crossover between the technology and strategy side and the digital side was actually stronger than it was in marketing. And therefore it did make sense.

"I've always been a very commercial CIO, so it was the next natural step for me as well. For me, it's an opportunity to have more of the P&L and commercial responsibility, and for the business, they know my experience and knowledge of multichannels and omnichannels throughout retail over the last 15 years."

Changing strategies

Fachler's first major task in his new role will be consolating the company's digital foundations. His second is the digital transformation of the business and the migration to a new ecommerce platform that will replace Magento One, which will soon lose support.

"We're now completing the three-year strategy for the business, which coincides with the new IT strategy to enable omnichannel," says Fachler, who will report to the newly-appointed Steinhoff UK CEO, Mark Jackson.

"The strategy that we've completed now is the basics: bringing all the systems together and removing a lot of the legacy one version of the truth database, BI, standardised operating systems and an ESB [enterprise service bus]. And so the next bit of our strategy is all about omnichannel, is all about customer order management, CRMs and our new web platform.

"It coincides with that and it brings the two main functions responsible for digital transformation together: the technology function and the online digital function. So it makes it seamless for it to all be sitting under me. I won't be bringing the departments together but IT will be responsible for both IT and technology and process as well as the strategy.

Fachler believes that the role of CDIO is becoming more common in the retail sector but that it doesn't suit the talents of every IT business leader.

"There are different types of CIOs," he says. "There are CIOs that are more strategic and more commercial. There are CIOs that are more technical. Some move more to the CTO element, and some are moving more to the operations side of a COO.

"The CIOs in retail have to be really on top of multichannel and omnichannel and therefore in the retail industry, I think the  CDIO is becoming more and more common. I know more and more people who take on that responsibility and the other way around, where Chief Digital Officers or Multi-Channel Directors are taking on enterprise IT, because it just makes sense to converge."

Improving online shopping

The rise of online shopping has already transformed the business of Steinhoff UK, where 80% of customers start their journey online. The company tracks their behaviour across channels to understand their actions, conversion rates, and footfall into stores.

Fachler wants to step this up to gain granular insights into consumer behaviour and how online drives traffic into stores. He also wants to give customers improved order management across different channels.

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"The furniture industry's very old fashioned," he says. "There's very few players who are truly digitally enabled. There's one or two exceptions, of course, but our competitors are either pure players or they're old fashioned retailers. There's very few players who are truly digitally enabled omnichannel retailers.

"Our idea of digital transformation is not just around better technology, both in-store and online. It's also about that crossover between online and in-store, and changing the hearts and minds in the business to understand and appreciate the value of digital."

Future plans

Fachler is also excited about the potential of AR to give customers the chance to see how new furniture would look like in their homes.

"You can pick a bed or a sofa and you can paste it into your living room and zoom right up to it and see what it looks like in the actual space," he says. That's something that we've already got, but we are looking at stepping that up to the next level.

"That's part of the digital transformation - understanding how we can use that better. It's one thing having a technology out there, but it's another thing allowing that technology to solve a problem."

The company also recently relaunched its SleepPRO technology, a free-to-use sleep system is designed to help people find the best mattress for their needs by building a personalised sleep profile for each individual customer.

All these experiments will be used to achieve his principal objective: to drive the digital transformation of the business and maximise the return of online investments.

"It's the online turnover and sales, but it's also driving performance goals," he says. "We've got a long way to go. Our website is very good and very successful, but we believe there is still a big opportunity for utilising our websites, number one to drive footfalls to the store, but also as a business strategy to take on our competitors."