Altar’d State: customer-focused digital transformation

Ty Tastepe, Chief Information and Digital Officer at fashion retailer Altar’d State, on digital transformation and its response to COVID-19

Ty Tastepe is Chief Information and Digital Officer at Altar’d State, a fast-growing women’s fashion retailer, which sees him leading its technology and digital teams. “We have three brands,” explains Tastepe. “We have A’Beautiful Soul, our plus size brand and Vow’d, our recently launched weddings brand, as well as the flagship Altar’d State brand.” Tastepe emphasizes the fact that the company likes to do things differently from its competitors. “We’re very focused on giving back to the community, exceeding our guest expectations at every touch point, doing the right thing and being willing to challenge established notions in the retail industry.”

Tastepe came to the role as an experienced technology leader having worked at Universal, Hilton and Disney to deliver innovative technologies around the globe. “Altar’d State gave me the opportunity to make an impact in the digital transformation of the organisation, as we focused on balancing our physical and digital portfolio and providing our guests the choice of platforms to engage with us.”

His approach to leadership has been solidified by the challenging times caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which he believes made it necessary to move more quickly on all fronts. “I believe that to be an effective leader one needs to be able to paint a picture of the destination and really communicate the role of each team member on that journey,” says Tastepe. “Seeking a diversity of ideas and experiences, listening to input from partners both inside and outside the organization, staying positive and maintaining a can-do attitude, learning from failures, moving forward quickly and celebrating successes are really essential in achieving the company’s goals.”

The company’s approach to implementing new technology is guided by a clear strategy. “We have looked at the digital transformation in two ways. One is a set of technologies to enable our associates to reduce friction in their lives and to help them serve our guests better. And the second is another set of technologies that help us know our guests better and enable them to engage with us anytime and anywhere.”

One such group of technologies is artificial intelligence, as Tastepe explains. “We are starting to leverage AI in some places. For instance, we use technologies on our website to recommend products based on our customer history and choices. We are continuing to identify many more opportunities to leverage tools that help us make better decisions, AI being one of them.”

It is data that is at the heart of the company’s decision making. “Frankly the better we know our guests and the more we are informed about what is happening in our business, the better we can make adjustments and improve our business,” says Tastepe. “We look at hourly, daily and weekly metrics across many fronts to help our leaders make decisions as quickly as possible.”

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Tastepe is clear that such technologies cannot be implemented without first being aware of how changes in technology might impact associates and customers. “It’s important to provide the right tools to our associates so that they welcome the change and can help our guests. This is an area we can always do better in and it's something I think about a lot. But I am impressed with how our associates have responded to the introduction of new technologies. Although we’ve seen that can-do attitude in every corner of our business, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t focus on change management, communication and training.”

Altar’d State’s transformation has been enabled with the support of a number of key technology and service providers, both large household names and emerging companies. One such partner is Exponea. “We selected Exponea as our customer data platform provider after an extensive evaluation process. The things we liked about them include their ability to combine customer data management, segmentation, orchestration, and analytics. We recently deployed the solution into production and we are continuing to learn and evolve our use of the technology. That'll teach us a lot more about our customers and how we engage with them.”

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to changes in customer behaviour which Altar’d State is responding to. “We’re emphasizing our digital investments but we're continuing to invest in our stores as well. We care very much about the experience we provide to our guests in our stores, and that will continue to be a key component of our strategy. So it's a balancing act between our digital and physical presence.” That balancing act dovetails with the company’s strategy to be present wherever its guests shop, to provide a seamless experience across all touchpoints. “That includes both our direct channels and third party channels. We're deploying technologies to provide single visibility to our inventory in a near real-time mode and manage orders across the ecosystem, both direct and indirect channels. That enables us to offer capabilities like buy online, pickup in store.”

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Such innovations stand the company in good stead to thrive in the new normal, leaving Tastepe to conclude that the future is bright for Altar’d State. “We weathered the storm as well as can be expected and even launched our wedding brand in the middle of the year during the pandemic. We will continue to listen to our guests and constantly adjust to shifting purchase patterns and evolving conditions. The keys to success in such an environment are resilience, persistence, responsiveness, and ultimately taking care of our guests and associates. With those pillars in mind, we will continue to grow our business into the future.”

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