C&A Builds a Data-Driven Fashion Empire on Snowflake’s Data Cloud

See how C&A uses Snowflake’s Data Cloud to accelerate reporting, democratize data access, and gain the insights needed to keep pace with the fast-moving world of fashion. 

With over 1,300 stores in 17 European countries and more than 27,000 employees, C&A is one of Europe’s leading fashion retailers. Every day, C&A welcomes millions of visitors to its stores in Europe and to its online shop. C&A offers quality and long-lasting fashion at affordable prices for all.

Over the last few years the company has been on a modernization journey. This has seen C&A grow its online business, scaling its efforts on marketplaces such as Amazon, creating an exclusive membership for its most loyal consumers, and digitizing its supply chains.

The company has even developed a set of focus areas—its One C&A Growth Plan—to guide its future growth and profitability. With the consumer centered at the heart of this initiative, C&A hopes to transform what and how it serves its customers, including how the company meets and engages them. 

“Becoming digital creates data, which in turn feeds more digitalization, so we’re starting to see that flywheel at work,” said Mark Stevens, Chief Technology Officer at C&A. “That’s really driving the need for high scalability, agility and speed in how we access our data and use it to create value.”

The company’s existing infrastructure, built on Teradata, struggled to keep up with C&A’s ambitions. It would regularly miss reporting SLAs during crunch times, which limited productivity and restricted insight. But there were other issues, too.

“The cost was intensive, and because it was an on-premises machine it wasn’t extendable or flexible,” said Rembert Schuster, C&A’s Domain Lead for Data and Analytics. “Plus, all the administrative stuff was very heavy. We had to do a lot in terms of maintenance and updating.”

A wholesale migration delivered in months

In 2020, C&A explored Gartner’s Magic Quadrant in search of a data platform that would allow it to reduce costs and complexity, scale with growth, and put data to work in a more meaningful way. 

The company originally considered SAP HANA, but a recommendation from a business associate led Lutz Bauer, C&A’s Domain Architect for Data Analytics, to download the architecture papers for Snowflake.

“Snowflake fit our ERP strategy, so we prepared a POC that would compare several different cloud offerings,” he said. “While some could simply not match our reporting and analytical demands, Snowflake easily did—and the seamless scalability was the deal clincher.”

Snowflake also offered cost performance advantages over the other platforms which Bauer described as “outstanding,” allowing C&A to measure the consumption of individual departments.

With the help of Snowflake and tech partner Target Reply, the company managed to migrate its full enterprise data warehouse and thousands of lines of code to Snowflake in just 10 months, using inbuilt converters to automate a lot of the process.

Today, the company uses Snowflake as its central data warehouse and as a foundation for all of its analytics activities, rapidly ingesting all of its data from ERP systems, lifecycle management systems, customer activities and finance applications.

Thousands of reports delivered on time, all of the time

Snowflake has brought new cost efficiencies and speed to C&A’s data processes, making it far cheaper and faster to conduct reporting. And the scalability of the platform means it no longer fails to meet its SLAs.

“Because of the elasticity of the system, we can always finalize reports by nine o’clock in the morning,” said Bauer. “We run thousands of reports. Before, we would fall short of SLAs by several hours, but with Snowflake we have insight into what we need, exactly when we need it.”

“We love that we can scale up a warehouse and scale it down again after these tasks to save costs,” added Schuster. “That’s a huge benefit for us.”

The platform’s simplicity and ease of use is also providing several benefits, making day-to-day activities far less labor intensive. Using Teradata, users would have to switch to Linux to use some programs on its system, but now they can do everything in one place. And fully managed maintenance and upgrades have led to significant time savings and performance advantages.

“When we wanted to run an update before, we went offline, which meant nobody could run reports during those periods,” said Andrea Zur Linden, Manager of C&A’s Service Operations Team. “With Snowflake, we don’t need any downtime, which is a huge advantage for our business users.”

“There’s a lot less firefighting now,” Bauer added. “This has freed our ops team to focus on more valuable work. We would have had to enlarge our team significantly to work as we do now with our old system.”

Test environments created in hours, not weeks

Snowflake has also helped accelerate quality control (QC) and experimentation within C&A. The company can now automatically spin up data environments, which previously would have taken days, in a matter of hours. This allows business users to experiment with live product and production data, and carry out QC testing and feasibility projects with greater accuracy—all without impacting wider business activities.

“Our business can now test-drive new developments in environments that are based on up-to-date product data,” says Bauer. “In a market that moves quickly, it’s so important to conduct tests on today’s data, and that was something we simply couldn’t do before.”

As a result, C&A now conducts regular testing activities, resulting in fewer QC issues and more opportunities for the future. For example, C&A’s new membership program was a result of this experimentation. 

“All the necessary data for our loyalty program was made available in record time,” said Bauer. “With the support of Snowflake Professional Services we just ingested the raw data, gave some quick training on how to work with it, and let people go.”

A truly digital fashion empire

Ultimately, Snowflake has provided C&A with the foundation it needs to be a truly versatile and digital business, as Stevens explained:

“If we want to win, we have to be digital. There’s no other option,” he said. “Having a platform that enables people to be empowered and work quickly is a huge advantage. It’s now just down to us to use it the right way.”

Snowflake is seen across the company as a starting point for data democratization. The platform provides a single source of truth for users across the business to experiment with data without the need for advanced skills, while still effortlessly ensuring security through Snowflake’s built-in governance tools.

And, by having all of its data in a single environment, productivity across the organization has skyrocketed.

“We now have the capability to meet SLAs, and the flexibility, performance, power and scale that is needed to support the business going forward,” said Schuster. “It’s an exciting time for us as a company.”