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Shop Direct Contributes 328,000 People Hours Per Year Back to the Business: RPA Success at One of U.K’s Largest Digital Retailers

By Shail Khiyara

Lindsay Harrison is Shop Direct Group’s Agility Manager and a true veteran of the RPA industry who has been running automation at the company for more than a decade. Many organizations measure the ROI of their RPA implementations on metrics such as cost savings, productivity increases, error rate reductions, regulatory compliance enhancements, and revenue generation. Shop Direct, one of U.K’s largest pure-play digital retailers, certainly views these as vital quantifiers of business value delivered.

Shop Direct straddles the retail and the financial services environment. That’s what makes them a bit unique in terms of how they look at RPA usage. They use RPA, not only in a retail space but in financial services as well within the same business. Lindsay joined us at the peak of their trading season, the golden quarter leading up to Christmas, and they just came off a fantastic Black Friday event.  

Lindsay shared that her company’s core metric has always been returning hours back to the business, so its’ employees can utilize the time in more valuable ways. Shop Direct has automated 130 processes to date, continues to return 328,000 hours annually (and rising) back to the business, with a very low footprint and total cost of ownership to operate the Blue Prism Digital Workforce Operating System.

A single process alone generated over £16 million of incremental revenue.

Enhancing Customer Satisfaction

One example she provided was in the all-critical area of customer satisfaction. Customer surveys showed extreme dissatisfaction with how long it took for accounts to be credited for returned items, thus impacting customers’ “open-to-buy” status i.e. store credit. Shop Direct automated the process, so the moment the company is notified that a customer is returning a product, the value of that item is immediately credited back to the customer’s open-to-buy limit. Within a month of implementing this process, their customer satisfaction jumped up three points and continued to go up after that. Initially, they applied this to goods in the 100 GBP to 1000 GBP range, but subsequently opened it up to every single return, regardless of value. This has led to Shop Direct automating the entire customer journey from purchase to return including exception handling, for example, in the case where they have to take steps to handle non-returned items. A prime example of starting with a portion of the process and then automating the entire value chain.

Easing the Pain of Fraudulent Activity

Shop Direct has a fantastic fraud protection team, though unfortunately at times, customers fall victim to identity theft.  Fraud advisors handle phone calls from distressed customers identifying and verifying fraudulent and genuine purchasing activity, and, establish which is the real true genuine customer activity, look at the details of any movements and payments and transactions on the account and then set up a new account for the customer with all the right details, with the right items, at the right spaces, with the right payments and everything. Needless to say, it’s quite a lengthy process.

The company introduced a blended process with manual interventions, where the customer is still calling in and speaking to a person. The RPA-enabled process, robots take care of all the administrative verification box-ticking and new customer account establishment, significantly accelerating time to solution. And the time saved allows the now upskilled fraud analysts to have a more customer-centric conversation with fraud impacted customers, to better empathize with their distress, ease their concerns, and ensure a positive experience even in a very emotional situation. Shop Direct solved the business problem by injecting the much-needed empathy required in a human + robot process. This enables the company to look at the training they were giving to the fraud advisors and to up-skill them with more customer-focused language and ensuring a very positive customer experience.

“We have developed as a business, and RPA has delivered so many benefits for us, we have brought people together. They’ve all had overviews of Blue Prism. They’ve all been through some training that we developed so that they could understand the art of the possible with RPA.”

Eliminating Audit Concerns

In the back-office, Shop Direct has automated numerous of its financial processes. Lindsay explained that, understandably, its compliance and governance teams were anxious about using a digital workforce to handle the manual portions of its reporting requirements. But because of the way that Blue Prism is so well structured, the governance, the credentials, the auditability of everything, the compliance teams at Shop Direct were delighted (really, really delighted per Lindsay) to see that we could not only automate the process and improve the efficiency, but actually that in terms of control, offer a complete audit trail. And the software robots are faster and more efficient, and provided an immediately available audit trail, enabling team members to spend their new-found time on data analysis that informs critical business decisions.

 “We have never gone directly to head count reduction through RPA, but we’ve absolutely seen where we have automated processes, the people who were at one time responsible for doing those manual processes have gone on to further their careers.”

Q&A

One of the more than 600+ webinar participants asked Lindsay Harrison whether IT or business should own an RPA implementation. Lindsay’s opinion? It should be business-led computing, which allows the business to be more agile and respond more quickly to customer demands and expectations. To a question on whether it’s better to establish an RPA Center of Excellence (CoE) or hold RPA as another tool in a process improvement center, she believes it depends on what your business model is and what your business is trying to achieve.

When asked about how to manage the cultural adoption of RPA, Harrison stated that Shop Direct approached it in multiple stages. She and her team started by showcasing the results achieved through automation. More recently, the company instituted an, “All Ideas Matter” program via which anyone in the business can present an opportunity or pain point for automation consideration.

To learn more about Shop Direct’s now 10-year-short RPA journey, please download and listen to the webinar replay of “Measuring RPA Success: Digital Transformation at Shop Direct.”