eTail Europe 2021

London, UK

River Island Is Partnering with Amazon Web for Its Digital Transformation

The death knell of the high street has been sounding for some time now, forcing retailers to adapt in order to survive.

It seems not a day goes by when we don't read about a major high street brand experiencing record losses, downturns in business, staff redundancies, location closures, or even bankruptcies. Of course, one of the major culprits for the decimation of the high street comes from the introduction and proliferation of ecommerce.

Ecommerce has changed the way consumers interact with brands and forever altered what those consumers expect from the companies they choose to spend money with. In fact, choice is an excellent word to use here, as choice is one of the biggest advantages the world of ecommerce offers to consumers. If someone wishes to buy a TV, they are no longer limited to their local Currys or Argos but instead have the whole world in which to shop.

The situation may seem bleak for the high street, but British fashion retailer River Island is looking to compensate for its own recent poor performance by partnering with Amazon Web Services.

River Island

River Island is the latest in a long line of retailers to start taking its digital transformation seriously by establishing and expanding its ecommerce presence.

"The whole proposition of retail is under scrutiny," said River Island Chief Information Officer, Doug Gardner. "As part of our transformation, the business is really looking at what River Island stands for in a modern digital world. We do need to do something different to engage customers in-store, but I don't think anyone right now has completely figured it out. The big thing we've done is to provide agility to the business, to do whatever comes up, and that's something we didn't have before - with monolithic systems, data centres and all the traditional systems, everything was painful to do, time-consuming and cost a fortune."

River Island had been using a different cloud hosting service for its ecommerce operations but had found it to be fraught with issues around reliability, scale, and stability.

To truly become a competitive force in this new marketplace, River Island needed a platform which was reliable and could scale up or down as was required. And what better provider for hosting an online retail platform than the undisputed kings of ecommerce - Amazon.

With Amazon Web Services powering its online infrastructure, River Island knew it had the platform it needed, backed up with decades of ecommerce expertise.

Amazon Web Services

Some retailers, such as Marks and Spencer, have shied away from Amazon Web Services. The most popular theory is that this is because of Amazon's status as a general retailer. As such, some brands see the ecommerce giant as a competitor and are concerned that, by using its hosting service, they are disclosing their data for Amazon to access and learn from.

However, River Island is getting around this fear by not using Amazon Web Services as a full-service hosting platform.

"They could probably see a lot of the tracking coming off of the M&S website, but the stuff we've got is in a secure place and I'm pretty sure Amazon has no access or interest in it," said Gardner. "We've got space, tin and tooling off them, but we're not using them as a managed platform. We weren't like a start-up that already had digital capabilities inside us, and the fact they were willing to work with us on our transformation when we had almost zero percent of the skill set needed internally was a big influence in going for them. They were the keenest partner, really interested in our business, and really engrossed themselves into it."

The next stage for River Island, now that the main infrastructure of its ecommerce platform is in place, is to begin the process of converting old legacy systems into modern ecommerce tools built for the modern digital marketplace.

Final Thoughts

River Island has come a long way already in its digital transformation journey, but still has some miles to go. However, by using the best bits of Amazon Web Services and taking steps to avoid some of the concerns felt by other brands such as Marks and Spencer, it has a good chance of continuing to serve modern consumers far into the future.

"In the last five years, a lot of retailers were entrenched in trying to ignore what's going on and didn't invest like we had - and now we're coming out of the other side with maturity and acceleration," concluded Gardner.

You can hear River Island's Head of Delivery and Transformation, Faye Roth, speak at eTail Europe 2019, taking place in June at the QEII Centre, Westminster, London.

Download the agenda today for more information and insights.

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