Arnie Leap wants to create the perfect gifting experience

By | 4 minute read | November 13, 2018

This story is part of Big Thinkers, a series of profiles on business leaders transforming industries with bold ideas.

Once a single flower shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. is now a gifting leader with more than a dozen iconic brands serving the United States and international markets, including Harry & David and Cheryl’s Cookies. According to Arnie Leap, the company’s CIO, the transformation isn’t done.

At a moment of profound change in the retail industry inspired by technological change, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. knows it must continue to innovate to deliver world-class customer experiences. Today, Leap said, consumers expect more and more every day; they expect retailers to fit and adjust with their life and routines, and to give them personalized experiences. As CIO, Leap’s challenge is to deliver on those expectations at a massive scale.

“For us on the tech side, the question is: how do we facilitate and guarantee the delivery of that smile?” he told IBM.

Transforming an organization to support rapid change, Leap said, meant business and technology groups at 1-800 -FLOWERS.COM, Inc. could no longer function on traditional, sometimes siloed paths. Before hiring Leap, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. had introduced an IT-led initiative to implement agile methodologies, which business groups struggled to understand.

“Everybody knows how to spell ‘agile,’” Leap said. “But none of that is useable unless there is a certain amount of maturity and buy-in.”

With Leap at the helm, the company tried again, this time with a different direction.

“This is no longer business feeding requirements to tech,” he said. “It’s about the team being empowered to solve the business problems that are right in front of them.”

Today, each team or “pod” at 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. is comprised of a business leader, a technology leader and a series of analysts and software developers focusing on a topical area such as customer acquisition or checkout. With shared goals and resources, these pods can collaborate more easily.

Recently, for example, the company needed a solution for dealing with the volume of customer calls for order status and modifications. Leap empowered his team and brought members of the 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. e-commerce, call center, and logistics teams together with IBM facilitators for design-thinking sessions to solve the challenge of customer order modification. These facilitated sessions used various brainstorming and empathy mapping techniques to identify core consumer issues around the process. Armed with an understanding and empathy for the consumers’ need, the team began agile sprints to produce prototype solutions, then tested and iterated on those solutions.

After seven weeks, the 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. team, along with IBM designers and developers, co-developed a cloud solution that enables customers to modify their orders online after they’re submitted. The solution Leap’s team deployed used cloud-native technologies including micro-services to segment the customer’s edits to shipping, quantities or even personal messages in their orders, and allowed these changes to be made via web or text. Just two weeks after deployment, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. had already received great customer feedback about the improved experience.

“Culturally, the business and technology groups started to trust that together they could help develop solutions to make it easier for customers to shop,” Leap said.

With the right technology and internal structure in place, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc, has continued to look at more ways to innovate its business.

“We’re embracing new channels to better communicate and connect with our customers,” Leap said.

Today, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. brands support voice ordering from the most popular home assistant devices, and Facebook messenger is enabled for order status checks, too. Customers on the site can also chat with Gwyn® (Gifts When You Need), an online gift concierge powered by IBM Watson.

The company continues to expand its family of brands, which now includes recently-launched Goodsey, a marketplace designed to help shoppers find the perfect gift—or something amazing to spoil themselves. And last year, the company launched two new brands: Simply Chocolate, for chocolate lovers, and Personalization Universe, which offers a carefully curated assortment of customizable gifts and keepsakes.

Looking ahead, Leap sees commerce coming nearly full circle to the conversations people once had in the company’s original Upper East Side flower shop. The difference is that they could soon have thousands of those conversations happening at once across text and voice.

“I think we’re going to get really good at voice again, it just won’t be a human on the other side in most cases,” Leap said.

Rest assured, there will still be helpful human voices on the other end of the phone for those who want it, but as shoppers demand more personalization, convenience and choice, Leap and his team are ensuring technology empowers shoppers to gift the way they want. A smile depends on it.