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CIO50 2018 #16: Christian McGilloway, Retail Zoo

  • 2017 Rank 25
  • Name Christian McGilloway
  • Title Chief technical innovation officer
  • Company Retail Zoo
  • Commenced role 2013
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 9 direct reports
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    Since returning from technology conference and music festival SXSW in Austin, Texas two years ago Christian McGilloway has been talking up the benefits of blockchain and crypto-currencies at his company Retail Zoo.

    “We observed that bitcoin, a global phenomenon that hailed a whole new era of digital currency, was particularly popular amongst our target demographic due to its truly disruptive technological innovation,” McGilloway says.

    Initially, the company decided to start accepting Bitcoin at its more than 260 Boost Juice stores in Australia. However, just before the planned launch, mining fees became ‘astronomical’ (a high of $37 for a $7 transaction) with processing times simply unacceptable for frequent, low cost transactions.

    So McGilloway and his team failed fast and pivoted, establishing a futures markets game in which customers were given the chance to guess the price of Bitcoin to the cent a week into the future.

    “Once they had lodged their guess no one else could guess that value, whoever was closest to the price won a whole bitcoin. We give away four bitcoins to four customers over a month period, a potentially life changing prize never before offered by an Australian retailer,” he says.

    “From its inception, the value of Bitcoin skyrocketed so significantly that the purchase was out of reach for many Australians. Boost Juice wanted to change this and give every Aussie a chance to be a part of the potentially life changing phenomenon,” McGilloway adds.

    The game drove traffic into the Boost Juice app and stores – to enter the ‘Bitcoin Boom or Bust’ competition consumers had to buy a drink to receive a unique code they entered into the app to make their guess – and increased the frequency of purchases.

    “The rollercoaster that is Bitcoin has been very well documented in the media, however it doesn’t make that fascination with the currency any less appealing which is why we are excited to be giving our customers a chance to get involved and potentially walk away with a strong investment,” McGilloway says.

    However, part of the games appeal – the potential for Bitcoin value to soar – was a problem for the company as “we literally would not know how much we would be giving way from one week to the next”.

    In response, the team partnered with Melbourne based crypto-exchange CoinJar.

    “Coinjar allowed us to bulk purchase the crypto currency and also provided us with some in return for using their price API,” McGilloway explains.

    The campaign was a huge success. Some 64,626 customers entered, and there was a significant spike in app downloads and re-engagement of dormant app accounts. Customer app usage increased by 70 per cent, from 10,000 to 17,000 per day during the campaign. There was also a 21 per cent increase in sales volume through the app on the previous month. It “exceeded all of our expectations,” McGilloway adds.

    “It was like a flux capacitor in a cup,” he says.

    Despite this, and the current ‘blockchain mania’, McGilloway remains sober to the potential of the technology and crypto-currency within Retail Zoo.

    “In January of this year there was a rush on every company wanting to be the first to offer cryptocurrency at their store and I admit we were caught up in the hysteria. It had always been on our roadmap but the rise in crypto thrust it to the fore. But what benefit does it bring for today’s customer? This is a question that I am still wrestling with as we are currently looking at placing our loyalty system on blockchain. Does it need to be on the blockchain?” McGilloway says.

    This year has also seen the launch of Pokemon Go style augmented reality game – Find the Fruit.

    The game involves users tracking down ‘fruigitives’ which can be traded for vouchers and prizes at stores.

    “By introducing the augmented surroundings feature to the Find the Fruit app, we encouraged players to get off the couch and enjoy the game outside,” McGilloway says.

    The rewards linked to the game were dynamically and manually controlled to both test customer sentiment of their captured fruit being worth $2 off one moment and a Free Boost next. If a particular store had more users redeeming their prizes, the amount of ‘fruit’ needed to receive an offer increased.

    As Retail Zoo founder and executive director Janine Allis puts it: “It is in our nature to want to be at the leading edge of technology in the QSR sector”.

    No fear

    Team culture is paramount for McGilloway. His department is diverse and ‘one of the loudest’ having fostered “an amazing fun work ethic”. Its agile ways of working have spread to other parts of the company “making the business fast, cross-functional, experimental, and self-directed”.

    Having been promoted from head of digital to CTIO (chief technical innovation officer) last year, McGilloway supports the leadership team and all staff in reshaping the company around new approaches to doing business.   

    “We have to innovate, take chances and not be afraid of failure,” he says.

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