How DSW transforms the customer experience through innovation

DSW has been disrupting itself to adapt to changing consumer behavior and a rapidly evolving industry. The company’s CEO Roger Rawlins spoke at NRF’s conference in 2017 about how DSW stays relevant amidst the upheaval; its new brand mission includes updating stores to reflect new concepts.

Brian Seewald of DSW Inc.
Brian Seewald

As senior vice president of customer experience and operations at DSW, Brian Seewald has the opportunity to drive a lot of change at the organization and execute on a fresh vision. Ahead of his appearance at the Future Stores Conference 2019, Seewald provides a glimpse into the thinking behind the transformation.

Tell us a little bit about the transformation of DSW and the milestones you’ve hit in the past year. 

The past year has been incredibly busy. We have continued to maximize our omnichannel capabilities, with approximately half of our online demand shipping from (or being picked up in) our stores. We have also continued to evolve our innovation lab stores with a focus on testing new layouts, fixtures, services and merchandising. We have even started to leverage data from our digital business to better merchandise our stores, a new practice that we find creates a more seamless, consistent experience for the customer and that we look forward to maximizing in 2019.

Last, but definitely not least, we rolled out an entirely new operating model that streamlines work in our stores by creating role clarity for our warehouse and sales floor teams, and also provides coverage on the floor during peak traffic.

What are your team’s top priorities as we head into 2019?  

In 2019, our top priority is to continue connecting emotionally to our customers by offering engaging experiences in store and online. We'll continue to innovate and iterate our new store layouts and determine how we want to scale the services that we have been testing (nail bars, shoe repair, custom insoles, etc.) and better leverage real-time data to drive conversion in our stores.

What’s been your biggest learning or insight on leading a team to innovate? 

I think the most important thing is that you have to identify the right talent, empower them and then get out of their way.

As a leadership team, you have to get comfortable giving up a certain amount of control. This was a significant cultural change for us and it makes all the difference for the innovation team and store teams to know that we trust them and that they can go fast.

Rapid fire

I’m reading: Current book is “The Fifth Risk” by Michael Lewis.

The app I can’t live without: It has to be Twitter or Flipboard. It’s how I have some idea of what is happening in the world.

I geek out about: I’m a geek in general, but really geek out about developing new customer experiences. Also, music and baseball.

Retail is: All about meeting our customer’s expectations, no matter how fast they change and evolve.

What companies, brands or people inspire your work, and what do you do to stay current in such a fast-changing industry? 

I am always inspired by brands that have been able to establish an identity and make their mark on the consumer very quickly, like Allbirds, Warby Parker or Wayfair. I am also always tracking store experience and who is trying to innovate and try new things, so we are always watching to see what test concepts are out there. In that area, we always watch Restoration Hardware, Lululemon and Sephora, companies that do a great job of blending a great store experience with their digital experience and the integration of entertainment and community.

We get out in the field constantly, always in our stores and those of our competitors, and my team also has responsibility for the digital business, so that keeps me on the cutting edge of what is happening in that part of retail. It is impossible to stay 100 percent caught up in today’s always-changing environment, but we do our best!

What trend or technology excites you most for the future of the retail industry?

I am most passionate about how we deliver personalized and relevant experiences to each and every customer. Our DSW VIP loyalty program, with its 26 million member database gives us a unique engine to power this kind of experience. Again, it's about creating an engaging experience that stirs inspiration for the customer. This means we will need to achieve a seamless customer experience between stores and digital, with mobile as the bridge for our customer.

Catch Seewald at the Future Stores Conference, Feb. 5-7, 2019, in Miami, where he will discuss DSW’s transformation and adapting to new ways of doing business. NRF members save 25 percent when they register with code FSM19NRF.

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