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Constructive criticism

Highlights from Drapers’ latest Customer Insight Report were presented to a group of retailers for their thoughts at our breakfast event in London.

Understanding your customers well enough to cater to their demands is one of the oldest problems in retail. And while new technologies such as the internet have given rise to opportunities for retailers to engage their customers, they also allow shoppers to compare and contrast their products much more easily too.

Providing insight into some of the challenges that Allders Croydon has faced prior to being placed in administration, finance director Max Menon said trading in the fashion segment has been particularly cut-throat. “We compete against House of Fraser and Debenhams, and sell a lot of the same product. Customers are not very loyal, and will jump between the three shops to get the best bargains.”

However, the highlights of Drapers’ latest Customer Insight Report do show that many customers favour certain fashion retailers for reasons other than purely price. And several participants in the debate were able to talk through some of the experiences of their own businesses. They discussed how much of an impact customer recommendations and word of mouth have on the customer base.

Etailer A Suit That Fits’ marketing executive Helen Buckle says her customers are encouraged to provide feedback and the retailer also has a customer referral programme to help build trust. “A lot of customers are trading up from the high street, and are maybe a bit intimidated,” she said.

There is an operational aspect to this too. Oasis ecommerce manager Valerie Shorten pointed out that even a neutral online review of a product helps purchase rates, and is also likely to reduce returns too.

The dynamics of online word of mouth trends are quickly changing as different social networking platforms gain profile. John Lewis own brand buyer Julie Colpitts explained that for menswear, Pinterest is performing better than Facebook and Twitter for the retailer.

Dune Group head of PR and marketing Rachael Slaney added that while one set of the footwear retailers’ customers are focused on price, another are increasing loyal to the brand as they have built trust in it. She said: “Quality doesn’t just mean the product, but the brand and the customer experience.”

She said Dune is planning to capture customer data in its stores, adding that in order to improve the poor take-up rates that retailers have experienced, the company will engage its store staff so they are trained and understand why it’s important to gather the data.

One of the ways fashion retailers are becoming more expert in using data is for email marketing. But our research shows that most consumers are signed up to receive only a handful of fashion retailers’ regular email updates – 42% are signed up for one to three, and 22% for four to six retailers’ emails. Once they’ve worked hard to get them onto the list, how do retailers make sure they stay there?

Shorten at Oasis said it’s crucial to send enough emails to stay front of mind. However, Oasis has reduced mailings from three times a week to two, and now leads the emails with a trends piece (rather than the hard sell). She says this has reduced the unsubscribe rate.

Others pointed out that the timing of emails is becoming particularly crucial, as while most consumers don’t receive that many emails from fashion retailers, their inboxes are becoming increasingly packed in general. Vintage retailer Beyond Retro’s ecommerce business manager Marc Tapping says his business has played around with the timing of emails as it “doesn’t want to be caught up in the 7am to 8am Groupon and Living Social-type deal emails”.

Personalisation was another hot topic, after 18% of respondents in our survey said personalised special offers would make them shop more with particular fashion retailers, and 34% said if retailers are going to personalise their offer they would like personalised emails. A further 34% said they would also like personalised special offers and discounts based on what they buy and how much they spend with particular retailers.

For Dune Group, personalisation means “bringing a boutique experience back to the high street”, according to Slaney.

Tapping at Beyond Retro said one of the developments his business is interested in is to allow customers on the website to be able to save details of their measurements, so they can search for the vintage garments that are likely to fit more easily when they visit the site.

And Buckle at A Suit That Fits added that the bespoke nature of its product range means customers expect the company to know everything about them whether they are using the website, visiting a showroom or ringing the customer service line.

Andrew Blatherwick, president of technology firm Manthan Systems Europe, concluded that collecting the right customer data and having the ability to analyse and use it is the crucial first step to being able to develop personalisation across all touchpoints. But in addition, he warned: “The personalisation achieved must be meaningful to your customers, and they must really benefit from it, otherwise it will be hard to achieve a return on investment.”


Helen Buckle A Suit That Fits

Mighel Critten A Suit That Fits 

Max Menon Allders

Charlotte Chibani Amanda Wakeley

Amy Sillince Amanda Wakeley

Marc Tapping Beyond Retro

Kate Peters Beyond Retro

Toon Clerckx Boots Health & Beauty

Cathy McCabe Burberry

Keely Stocker Drapers

Rachael Slaney Dune Group

Julie Colpitts John Lewis

Andrew Blatherwick Manthan Systems Europe

Jagan Mohan Manthan Systems

Valerie Shorten Oasis

  • Click here to download the free Drapers Customer Insight report

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