Athletic apparel retailer Lululemon has established a permanent presence in Seattle, as it looks to take advantage of the region’s tech talent to beef up its digital offerings.
The retailer’s Seattle presence dates back about a year, when it hired Julie Averill away from REI to be its executive vice president and chief technology officer. Averill was Lululemon’s first Seattle employee and helped establish a small temporary office space.
Last month, Lululemon leased a full floor at 2nd & Seneca in downtown Seattle, a space with room for up to 300 people. Averill tells GeekWire that the office has about 50 folks now, with a goal of doubling up to 100 by the end of the year.
The Seattle office works with HQ in Vancouver B.C. to serve as the backbone of its technology development. Most of its technology leadership is in Seattle, including Averill and Chief Digital Officer Justin Richmond, a former Expedia and Zulily executive who recently joined Lululemon.
“We’re becoming a healthy, balanced top tier tech organizations in two sister cities across the border from each other,” Averill said.
The majority of Lululemon’s digital team is based in Seattle, as well as cloud engineering. The company is moving more of its work into the cloud, and right now it uses both Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure.
Lululemon redid its website last year — and saw a traffic spike as a result — and has implemented RFID tags on items to better track inventory. Lululemon customers will be able to buy items online and pick them up in stores starting later this year, and the company is rolling out the concept of “endless aisle,” backfilling in-store demand with its online retail inventory in a push to further blend its digital and physical shopping experiences.
“We work a lot in this omni-channel space because we know our guests value both the physical connection and the ease and immediacy of digital, so we are working on linking the online and the offline journeys,” Averill said.
Lululemon aims to turn its digital operation into a $1 billion business as part of a broader goal of achieving $4 billion in revenue by 2020. In 2017, Lululemon posted $2.6 billion in revenue.
Lululemon’s next big tech push is a global data and analytics platform that will create a common place for all of its transaction and inventory information. Averill said the company can layer guest data on top of that to build personalized experiences for customers.
Tech companies have come under fire recently for failing to protect customer data, something Averill is keenly aware of. She said Lululemon doesn’t keep any customer payment information in its system and is very stingy with personal data.
“The ultimate goal is to make yourself less of a target by not storing any of the credit card data in the system, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure it is encrypted and tokenized and passed directly to the processor,” Averill said.
Out-of-town retailers have increasingly been setting up new engineering and technology development centers in the region. Sears, Staples and Best Buy all have established engineering outposts in recent years. Not only does Seattle offer access to top tech talent, it boasts a deep pool of e-commerce personnel working at home-grown companies like Amazon as well as out-of-town companies like Alibaba and eBay.
Lululemon took advantage of that talent pool in landing Averill, the former CIO of Seattle outdoor retailer REI who also spent a decade leading IT teams and developing technology strategy for Nordstrom. At REI, Averill said she learned how to build a strong team and the importance of technology to the business’ overall success.
“Technology is so key; every strategy that a business has today is predicated on successful technology,” Averill said. “There’s endless choices that could be made around technology. There’s all sorts of things we could do; how do we focus on the biggest things?”