Remixing Fashion at Asda George with APIs

by Ben Mann and Joshua Carr

George at Asda is a force to be reckoned with in the UK’s fashion industry, recently moving into the number 2 spot as Britain’s second biggest clothing retailer by volume. As described in our pre-Hackathon post, George are exploring how to increase the pace of retail innovation, by inviting London’s most creative developers to imagine and create a fresh set of apps.

To inspire creativity Asda partnered with Rewired State – an exciting UK company focused on bringing hackers together to rapidly prototype fresh ideas.

To provide developers with the tools and data to make their ideas a reality Asda partnered with IBM. The IBM team helped integrate Asda’s backend IT systems and present developers with a ready-made “wardrobe” of APIs that can be quickly mixed, matched and combined to create the next breed of retail apps.

Through a clean API portal – powered by IBM API Management – developers were quickly and easily able to tap into a wide range of George’s product data. The APIs provided details about George’s inventory of thousands of lines of clothes – including colours and variations, sizes and stock levels across hundreds of stores nationwide.

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Asda’s brief for the developers was simple yet challenging: discover ways to enhance the value of the George brand by creating new ways to engage with consumers. Oh – and be ready to showcase a working prototype of the idea by the following afternoon!

Day one kicked off with Asda George’s executive team briefing the developers on their goals and target market. They discussed the typical customer base for George – the Asda Mum who buys for her entire family – combined with a breakdown of how purchases are made and what goals Asda have for expanding their position while retaining their core values.

Next the IBM team introduced the developers to the APIs which provided the data sets about George’s clothing and stores for them to use in creating a new way to engage with the target shoppers. We also introduced the developers to the CloudFoundry-based cloud development platform Bluemix and a team of IBMers joined the hackers to build an exhibition app showcasing the Bluemix environment.

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Before long the developers had formed themselves into 11 teams, exploring the APIs and exploring imaginative ways to use these to create new solutions for shoppers. The teams experimented with a range of approaches – from helping shoppers create outfits and to trying on clothes virtually. Developers used a wide variety of technologies to build apps to tap into the apps including node.js, Ruby, PHP, Azure, Kinect, Twilio and Bluemix.

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Following a flurry of post-it-notes, gesticulating and the loud chatter of ideation, the teams had quickly produced mockups of the apps, which continued to be tweaked and enhanced while the serious coding got underway. One team even supplied an Internet of Things count down timer to measure the pressure of the deadline. The atmosphere was electric, and driven – not by a competitive spirit – but the desire to learn, to challenge themselves and to build skills.

As the teams worked away at their creations we managed to find out more about their plans and progress. However we didn’t anticipate how loud the sound of innovation can be – so apologies for the difficulty you may have in hearing the interview of the “music” of hacking!

Later that afternoon the IBM team spend some time reflecting on the reasons why progressive companies like Asda are exploring how Hackathons with APIs can stimulate more innovation and experiment rapidly and tap into the creativity of the broader developer community.

Simon Dickerson (API Management Technical Sales) and Charlie Cawood (UKI Sales leader for API Management) join me to discuss why an increasing number of pioneering companies are exploring the power of APIs to stimulate more creativity and experimentation as they look for fresh new ways to engage with their customers.

Many of the developers worked into the evening on their prototypes and the following morning the progress was impressive. Many of the apps already had working interfaces.

Developers were combining the Asda George APIs provided by IBM API Management platform with a variety of open data sources, external libraries and even bespoke hardware.

An IBM Team comprised of Allan Stockdill-Mander, Tina Selenge, and Joshua Carr used Bluemix to build a Mobile and Web app – dubbed getUP – that combined outfit creation with gamification. Aimed at the “Asda mum” the prototype app enabled them to create, show-off, and rate outfits created from George’s clothing range. It enables users to reward the outfits that looked great and were on trend and informing the rest of what’s currently a good look.

The prototype also enabled Asda Mums to create outfits for not just herself, but her whole family, letting them get in on the fun too. With suggested rewards of having trending outfits be made up on a mannequin in-store, potential discounts on trending outfits, as well as celebrities also getting involved. The idea of driving a buzz around a game that could be imported into Facebook was well received.

Later that afternoon the IBM team spend some time reflecting on the reasons why progressive companies like Asda are exploring how Hackathons with APIs can stimulate more innovation and experiment rapidly and tap into the creativity of the broader developer community. Simon Dickerson (API Management Technical Sales) and Charlie Cawood (UKI Sales leader for API Management) join me to discuss why an increasing number of pioneering companies are exploring the power of APIs to stimulate more creativity and experimentation as they look for fresh new ways to engage with their customers.

Mid-afternoon the count-down finished and the Hacks uploaded their prototypes to the code repo ready to present their ideas and creations to the judges.

Each of the 11 team presented a wide variety of tools that would engage, enable, and inspire their customers. These included apps that would process natural language, send SMS messages, a new breed of innovative mobile applications, in-store engagement opportunities, and apps that added a gamification experience.

The judges were very excited with the ideas and saw great potential to take many forward.

“This was an exciting opportunity for us and a first step in engaging the development community and it had a great turn out. The location was the perfect location to bridge between fashion and tech innovation and having a stable API environment helped the developers who attended focus on the actual development itself. In total twelve ideas were presented back to us many of which we could take forward to support our digital marketing efforts on the George brand.”

— Chris Chalmers, Digital Advertising, Performance Media Manager, Asda.

Check out the upcoming October edition of Wired UK for more information of the event and keep your eyes peeled on the George website over the coming months to be the one of the first to see innovation from an API hack taken into production!

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Congratulations to the winning prototypes that most captured the judges’ attention developed by @alexerax, @BenNunney and @carboia.

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If you’re interested in exploring how you can stimulate innovation through a similar event please get in touch.

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