From showroom to front room: DFS delivers smarter retail experiences with Google Cloud

Delivering smarter retail journeys that marry the personal service of a store visit with the wealth of choice available online has become a key ambition in the consumer goods industry. While we’ve come to expect digitally integrated shopping experiences when buying electronics or groceries, even shoppers of made-to-order products can benefit from the use of public cloud to enhance customer touchpoints across digital and physical channels.

This is what DFS, the UK’s leading upholstery retailer, is now doing with Google Cloud’s support. A household name, with a 50-year pedigree and more than 5,500 employees, DFS is highly regarded for the quality of its handmade-to-order sofas and soft furnishings, and for the service customers receive when visiting its showrooms. The company operates its own distribution network, with the support of 20 distribution centers, nearly 300 delivery vehicles and over 600 delivery specialists.

We’re working with DFS across its sales and distribution network, helping it to prepare for the future of retail via an unparalleled combination of cloud services, collaboration tools and digital devices.

Our relationship came about due to DFS’ acquisition of Sofology in 2017. The company had some decisions to make around how it should integrate IT infrastructure and applications as a group, DFS looked at what it could learn from its new brand’s technology approach. As part of this exploration, conducted with Google Premier partner NetPremacy, it also reviewed its existing environment in light of the traffic demands during the Christmas holiday.

DFS first followed Sofology’s example by trialing G Suite for employee communications, looking to effect broader culture change towards more seamless collaboration. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, prompting adoption and roll out across its network over a six-month period in 2019. The success of G Suite led DFS to investigate further Google products, resulting in the decision to adopt two additional solutions.

Firstly, DFS embraced Chrome devices to improve in-store systems and augment the customer experience.  The company rolled out 1,200 Chromebooks to its retail stores in late 2019, enabling salespeople to access key information in a convenient and secure way, while interacting with customers. Technical colleagues found that the tablets could be set up in a matter of seconds, with secure login and individual accounts for each member of staff on the showroom floor.

Secondly, DFS has made the decision to transition its web platform from a  private cloud environment to Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Once implemented, this will allow the technology team to deploy a number of new applications, and will result in a series of benefits, including:

  • Improved functionality and performance of DFS’ e-commerce platform. The site will have far greater capacity, providing a more responsive user experience and scalable resources to easily handle seasonal spikes in traffic.

  • E-commerce back-end improvements, including greater flexibility and the ability to deploy major upgrades seamlessly.

  • A commercial benefit in lowering hosting costs, compared with the previous approach. 

The transition to GCP took place in November 2019 and is expected to deliver a positive revenue impact over the busy Christmas season.

Russell Harte, Group Technology Director at DFS, said, “Our business relies on a lot of moving parts all working in harmony. Whether a customer visits us digitally or in person–or both–there needs to be a congruence in the offers they see and the service they receive. The work we’re doing with Google Cloud will ensure the best possible experience for end users, while also bringing efficiencies to our logistical capabilities.” 

“As we migrate to GCP and access the range of applications available, we’re gaining a better understanding of what’s possible with the platform and how we can use it to seize the opportunity to react better to new challenges.”

DFS is now looking at a range of other capabilities made possible by its new cloud environment. These include the adoption of containerization through Kubernetes for faster application development, and the use of Apigee as an integration layer to bring together supply chains from across the group and improve last-mile logistics for deliveries. The company is also putting more resources into leveraging data science capabilities within GCP infrastructure, to gain insights from large volumes of data. It’s anticipated that harnessing this data will enable DFS to predict demand and footfall more accurately, and to gain greater visibility over logistical data to improve the efficiency of customer deliveries.

“The relationship with Google Cloud has been excellent,” says Russell. “It’s also setting our business up for where the retail industry is going, enabling a smarter, more customer-centric approach. They understand our business challenges and have the unique expertise to help us drive forward. We’re excited about how the partnership will grow from here.”