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Drapers Digital Forum: Do you multichannel?

Drapers Digital Forum is a must-attend for anyone interested in the changing face of retail.

Drapers digital forum

Drapers has revamped its Digital Forum in 2014 to bring you the biggest digital event dedicated to the fashion industry. The one-day forum will discuss the latest developments in the online fashion business. Our expert panel of speakers will debate topics including how to build a mobile strategy, future technological innovations and internationalisation.

If last Christmas taught us anything, it’s that to build a successful business you need to have a strong digital strategy in place.

Almost every festive winner - think John Lewis, Next and Burberry - identified online sales as having powered overall results, in some cases turning around what would have otherwise been a disappointing trading period.

Ramming this point home, we have seen swathes of data showing just how weak the high street was. Springboard/British Retail Consortium figures show footfall across the UK was down 2.4% in December, while in the same month sales at physical stores for mid-size fashion retailers dropped 4.6% according to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker. Meanwhile, online spend in clothing rose 17%, with total online spend in December reaching £11bn.

As British Retail Consortium director general Helen Dickinson said, all this shows just how much multichannel retail is “changing the face of shopping, particularly at Christmas”.

Even within multichannel, the goalposts are moving. Businesses that are built around ecommerce are already spotting key trends for the future, with Shop Direct saying it expects mobile to play a part in every single customer journey that leads to a transaction by next year.

The home shopping group’s head of user experience Sam Barton, who is speaking at the Drapers Digital Forum in London on February 25, says although mobile conversion rates are still around half those of desktop and tablets, mobile’s overall value is critical to a multichannel operator.

“There are challenges - we know conversion isn’t that high, and there are some products it doesn’t work well for, but the fact that our products are in someone’s pocket all the time means they have access to them 24 hours a day now,” he says. “That is a huge opportunity.”

Mobile also allows Shop Direct - which has no physical stores across its brand portfolio, including Very, Isme and Littlewoods - to compete with the high street by using geolocation to communicate with shoppers and allow them to compare goods online with those in front of them. “We couldn’t compete with the high street before but now customers can compare products, so we are thinking about how we could steal market share,” says Barton.

So big are the opportunities, he believes, that Shop Direct has “significantly shifted” its team accordingly and now focuses its marketing around peak times - commuter hours for mobile devices, evenings in front of the TV for tablets, and lunchtime for desktops.

But with digital channels becoming more dominant, the challenges of retailing in this brave new world are on the increase.

Returns - the bane of every retailer, whether a one-man band or multi-billion pound major - are particularly tricky to manage when selling over the internet. A good example is etailer Asos, widely regarded as having one of the best online customer service propositions in the business. It has previously spoken about how a 1% reduction in returns would add £10m to its bottom line - just under a fifth of its most recent financial year’s pre-tax profits.

Shop Direct is another business that has gone public over the extent to which it is affected by rejected stock, with head of returns James Harper telling Drapers last year (November 2) that his team handles more than £500m-worth of returned items every year.

“That makes returns the largest single supplier to our business,” he said at the time.

Another speaker at the forum, the founder and chief executive of virtual fitting room business, Heikki Haldre, says on average in the UK, up to 50% of fitted items such as dresses are returned. Rates in other countries, like Germany, where consumers only pay for an item after they have received it, can be double that.

“It’s not just a big issue, it’s the biggest one for the industry,” he says. “When returns are so high - five times higher than from bricks-and-mortar stores - and online is growing so rapidly, brands need to deal with them in a serious fashion.”

He argues this is at heart a customer service issue, noting that if a physical store developed such problems “you would go to the store and find out why the customer isn’t happy”.

Size charts, catwalks and virtual fitting rooms such as and competitor Metail - where consumers can enter their vital statistics to see how an item would look when worn - are all options, and Haldre believes it is possible to turn this problem into a cash generator if consumers are encouraged to come into a store to return an item, since many simply exchange it for something else. He also believes there is a free solution to the problem - one which he won’t reveal until he speaks at the Drapers Digital Forum.

Haldre believes fraud is behind a relatively small percentage of returns and that charging, or making it difficult to send an item back, will just alienate customers.

“When UK retailers sell clothing online, knowing that one in four items will not fit the customer, and charge for returns, as 70% do, they are effectively charging people to try something on,” he says. “There is EU legislation in the works that says this anti-consumer behaviour has to stop, but at the moment, many consumers are paying for trying something on.”

But before taking on the challenges of building your strategy, first you have to build your team. Hackett’s newly hired ecommerce director Kristine Kirby, who will be speaking at the forum, believes the best way to approach hiring is with a short-term view.

“You have to think about what you want in the next 12 to 18 months - never hire further ahead than that,” she says. “You can say in three years you want to have a £25m business, but if you hire thinking you’re already there you will get someone who becomes bored and frustrated, or you’ll end up spending money on a platform you don’t need. You can hire someone more junior and they can grow with you.”

This is also because there are fewer ecommerce experts than roles, resulting in a recruitment “musical chairs. Companies are just grabbing people as fast as they can”, says Kirby.


Drapers has attracted expert speakers from across the globe to address its revamped Drapers Digital Forum. These include:

  • Tanya Lawler Senior vice president UK Trading, eBay
  • Sam Barton Head of user experience, Shop Direct
  • Brent Hoberman Co-founder,;; PROfounders Capital; Founders Forum
  • Henry Lane Fox Co-founder,
  • Will Young Director, Zappos Labs
  • Rosanna Falconer Head of digital, Matthew Williamson
  • Julian Paul Art director/head of content, Zalando
  • Damon Mannion Chief operating officer, Venda
  • Jan Mehmet Global ecommerce director, Jack Wills
  • David Williams Director of online EMEA, Deckers Corporation (Ugg Australia)
  • Ian Harris Chief executive, Search Laboratory
  • Dave Elston Head of ecommerce Europe, Clarks
  • Heikki Haldre Chief executive,
  • Kristine Kirby Ecommerce director, Hackett
  • Mel Exon Chief digital officer, Bartle Bogle Hegarty
  • Rebecca Glenapp Co-founder, Lux Fix

Book now

Drapers Digital Forum will take place on February 25, 2014 at 30 Euston Square, London.

To attend (prices start at £499), call George Thornton on 020 7391 4530 or email

For sponsorship enquiries, call Julia Jones Collins on 020 3033 2952 or email

For further information visit

Twitter: @Drapers #DrapersDigital14

Readers' comments (1)

  • Customer service starts with any form of brand engagement and then exists for the lifetime of the brand or customer.

    Neither is it all about price. Loyalty is not about price. Neither is quality. Price is important when customer service is lacking.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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