Customer Story

Bluebell Group: Transforming the way luxury brands do business in Asia

Bluebell enabled its global offices to work together in real time, freed up its IT team to work on core tasks—not support tickets—and launched an AI chatbot that automates HR tasks for 2,500 staff.

Google Cloud results

3.5K staff in 10 countries work side by side on Google Workspace

• Enables important sales presentations to be updated with the latest information minutes before delivery
• AI-powered chatbot increases workflow efficiency by 50% across the human resources team in Korea by automating repetitive tasks
• Delivers an easy-to-use platform that enables the IT team to spend 15% less time handling basic troubleshooting queries

"Idea sharing is so much easier now. With our previous email solution, we could get lost in endless threads while discussing a project. Now everybody's on Google Workspace. And everybody's on the same page." —Jacky Leung, CIO, Bluebell Group

Known as the “brand behind the brands,” Bluebell Group has been a hidden force in Asia's luxury industry since 1954. The Group connects labels from around the world with the local Asian retail scene, curates product ranges to suit Asian tastes and trends, and operates its own brick-and-mortar and online shops. More than 150 luxury brands, from Moschino to Manolo Blahnik, trust Bluebell Group to get their collections in front of Asian customers.

As an omnichannel retail group with 3,500 employees, managing brands from Europe, Asia, and North America across more than 600 stores in 10 Asian countries, just keeping all of Bluebell Group's stakeholders on the same page can be (in the words of CIO Jacky Leung) “a nightmare.” On top of managing day-to-day updates, Bluebell also needs to move swiftly to stay ahead of the curve in the highly competitive world of luxury retail. The Group realized that smooth collaboration was the key to all this: it needed to foster more idea sharing and innovation by enabling real-time collaboration between teams and global partners, whether they be in Milan, New York, or Shanghai. It needed to start working in the cloud, and chose Google Workspace as the ideal partner for its digital transformation.

Sharing key information via Google Workspace, to the world’s fashion capitals

With Slides, we have a real game changer. The team in Asia is fine-tuning our reports right up to the moment the presenter in Europe starts the presentation. The information is literally up to the minute." —Jacky Leung, CIO, Bluebell Group

In 2018, Bluebell Group employees were finding it hard to access the files they needed in the moment. If a Bluebell executive landed in London, for example, retrieving the latest email briefing from Bluebell’s servers, often 500 MB or more and embedded with rich multimedia, could be a challenge. On top of that, team members across Asia had trouble connecting to the network drive on Bluebell’s on-premises system since they were all using different VPN solutions.

Meanwhile, when it came to sharing important files with partner brands, media outlets, boutiques, PR offices, and celebrity bloggers, the process became even more complicated. Some of these stakeholders communicated by email, others on mobile messaging platforms, yet others via file-hosting services. "Information was all over the place," recalls Jacky. "There was no team collaboration platform that brought everything together under one roof, so we just weren’t working in sync."

Fast forward to today with Google Workspace, and the picture has changed. With all 3,500 staff on a single platform, Bluebell simply created a shared Drive for relevant files, even gigabyte-sized videos, and stakeholders around the globe were suddenly creating together, as if sitting in the same room. Imagine being in Milan for fashion week and punching in styles and prices in real time for leadership back home. Bluebell’s team does this using Sheets. Or updating a crucial London presentation, with new information from Hong Kong, and last minute innovative ideas, just before showtime. The Bluebell team makes it possible using Slides. "Now with Google Workspace, the second a Bluebell executive lands in New York, London, or Milan," says Jacky. "She has everything she needs at her fingertips."

"Idea sharing is so much easier now,” he adds. “With our previous email solution, we could get lost in endless threads while discussing a project. Now everybody's on Google Workspace. And everybody's on the same page."

Another big advantage of moving to Google Workspace, according to Jacky: the IT team is now free to focus on core tasks such as cybersecurity and system enhancements, not support tickets. So far, Google Workspace is yielding 15% time savings for the Bluebell IT team, who don’t need to teach staff how to use Google Workspace. Jacky expects that number to rise to 25% as team members become even more familiar with the platform.

Google Workspace has also enabled rock-solid security for sharing sensitive documents with stakeholders, a must-have in fast-moving, high-stakes retail. "Google Workspace has been liberating on the tech side," says Jacky. "We’re no longer getting requests to fix basic email problems, server, or storage issues, so we can focus on exciting things, like how to use AI and machine learning solutions to make our processes smoother and move the business forward.”

Bluebell cites proactive springboard programs as the reason for a smooth and easy transition to Google Workspace. Google teams worked with Bluebell to hold springboard programs in Hong Kong and then Korea, helping staff learn how to make use of different Google Workspace tools by accomplishing specific tasks. The programs turned learning into a game, making it easier and more interesting for staff to take part. Staff formed teams and completed tasks together, making the springboard program a real test of Google Workspace as a collaboration tool. More springboard programs are planned for Singapore, Malaysia, and further ahead, in Japan and Taiwan as well.

Slides, Sheets, and real-time fashion solutions

Jacky remembers a not-too-distant past when Bluebell buyers at Milan fashion week visited showrooms armed with a pencil and a notepad. They would jot down prices and product notes. Then they would work into the night from their hotel rooms, punching data into a spreadsheet. They would then hammer out a procurement strategy with their local team, but before that work could start, buyers needed to fly back home to Hong Kong or Tokyo first.

Today, the process is being transformed. Bluebell's buyers are starting to enter product data, from the catwalk and in showrooms, into Sheets for team leaders in Hong Kong to analyze in real time. While this process is still in early stages, Jacky says, it promises to transform the speed with which Bluebell can make procurement decisions. It's a critical advantage in an industry where fashion is fast.

"With Sheets, it's exciting to see our team increasingly using the tool to communicate back to their teams in Asian countries in real time," says Jacky. "The information is shared not after the event but in the middle of it all."

Slides delivers a similar transformative effect for Bluebell representatives sent overseas to deliver client presentations. In the past, presentations were prepared in Asia, saved as a PDF, and beamed to conference rooms in other countries. Today, Jacky says: "With Slides, we have a real game changer. The team in Asia is fine-tuning our reports right up to the moment the presenter in Europe starts the presentation. The information is literally up to the minute."

Automating HR tasks to help employees on both sides

"Today we can literally work anywhere, anytime, and on any device. In this global pandemic, Google Workspace proves how quickly we can respond and launch a work-from-home initiative." —Jacky Leung, CIO, Bluebell Group

With Google Workspace as a foundation for encouraging innovative ideas throughout the organization, Bluebell turned its attention to Google Cloud AI/ML solutions, and natural language processing (NLP).

In 2019, the Group developed an AI-powered chatbot to automate HR queries for 2,500 sales staff in its South Korea branch. The solution used Dialogflow, part of Contact Center AI, as the backend engine and a popular social messaging app as the interface. The chatbot freed up Bluebell's HR team to focus on core tasks such as career development, retirement funding, and workforce well-being, instead of being distracted by repetitive tasks such as fetching vacation forms. The chatbot fields staff requests in conversational Korean and comes back instantly with answers.

"We've seen about a 50% improvement in workflow efficiency across our HR staff," says Jacky. "This is a major advance because now they don't have to work on the basic stuff and can concentrate on finding, developing, and retaining our best talent."

Transitioning seamlessly to a work-from-home culture

As the Covid-19 crisis forces millions around the world to work from home, companies are finding workflows disrupted with employees unable to access files on office drives. However, Bluebell has been able to transition seamlessly with Google Workspace, experiencing minimal interruption to its work patterns and using Meet to have face-to-face meetings no matter the physical distance. For Jacky, this was the ultimate proof of concept that Google Workspace enables freedom and flexibility in the connected workplace. "A lot of our peers in Asia are suffering from the challenge of keeping operations staffed from home,” he explains. “For us, we just did it. Just like that. It was so simple.”

He adds: "We made a decision two years ago to move to Google Workspace. Today we can literally work anywhere, anytime, and on any device. In this global pandemic, Google Workspace proves how quickly we can respond and launch a work-from-home initiative."

Rolling out the red carpet for more innovation across the business

Looking ahead, Jacky envisions Bluebell adopting Currents as its internal communications portal, as well as Google Cloud data analysis and machine learning solutions such as BigQuery, Cloud SQL, and AI Platform. First on its list? Plans to develop an AI-powered tool that will give floor staff the ideal information to help them recommend shoes, dresses, and more to in-store customers, based on what they see visitors browsing. The idea is to combine digital CRM with a warm personal touch, as Jacky says: "We believe that Google AI solutions can help our sales staff give customers a tailored and more human shopping experience. At the end of the day, that’s what we need to focus on as an omnichannel business: enhancing both the online and offline experience to better place our brands’ beautiful products into the hands of their customers.”

*Google Workspace was formerly known as G Suite prior to Oct. 6, 2020.