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DFS Embraces Rackspace, Cloud And Virtualisation To Drive Digital Transformation And Suck-Up Sales

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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INTERVIEW: DFS discusses how Rackspace partnership helps it cope with sale demand and how mobile, VR and AR are the future of sofa buying

There’s a well-rehearsed joke about the DFS sale never ending because of its persistent marketing on television, radio, and in print that detail its latest sofa offers. It’s clearly successful: not in perpetuating the joke but also increasing revenue.

The Yorkshire-based retailer is embarking on a digital transformation programme that has seen it overhaul its website, launch mobile services and introduce digital signage into some of its stores.

Sofas are not something you buy on a whim or while intoxicated on the tube home. They occupy a prominent place in the house and are used virtually every day. They’re also a significant investment and customers spend a lot of time researching their purchases.

DFS Sofa 1

DFS digital transformation journey

To expand its online presence, DFS said it needed its digital channels to be easy to use, reliable and offer as much information as could be found in a store. Russell Harte, group technology director at DFS, was appointed five years ago to oversee this transition.

With the help of Rackspace, DFS moved from a bespoke site to one powered by IBM WebSphere’s e-commerce platform, and last year migrated to version 8. Harte says DFS was the first UK retailer to do so.

“The business benefit means we can move from a few big releases a year to be much more agile,” he tells Silicon. “We implemented automated testing, [and] reduced the number of testing environments we have.”

This allows DFS to react better to customers, rollout new services and ensure its site is always online.

Coping with demand

Harte says the average customer spends up to three months deciding on their new living room centrepiece and when making such a large investment, they need to have confidence in the retailer.

While they might forgive Amazon for a bit of downtime, they might not be so merciful with a ‘low frequency’ retailer like DFS, Harte suggests.

“Retail at the end of the day is about giving customers what they want. When you’re spending significant amounts of money it’s about making that connection.”

Russel Harte DFS

DFS busiest times of the year are in the leadup to Christmas and its Winter Sale between Boxing Day and the New Year. Traffic increased by 68 percent during these periods and if DFS cannot provide a satisfactory experience and process sales, it can miss out on huge amounts of revenue.

Through its partnership with Rackspace, DFS uses VMWare Managed Virtualisation platform and CloudFlare to help it scale up and secure its website during exceptional times – whether anticipated or otherwise.

“I think the peaks are fairly predictable,” continues Harte, adding that historical data can help identify periods where traffic is likely to increase. “We’ll start performance testing in June and July but now we’ve moved to a more frequent release cycle we have a better understanding of our code quality.”

Channel enhancement

On the front-end of the site, much of the focus has been on imagery, allowing customers to play with colours and help visualise their new piece of furniture.

“We’ve spent a lot of money, time and effort on imagery,” says Harte. “We take photograph things in the highest possible resolution we can.”

Mobile, limitations and lessons from the auto industry on Page 2…