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Etail roundtable: Digital direction

Ecommerce experts gathered to discuss the latest developments in etail.

Fashion companies have moved beyond simply taking their businesses in a multichannel direction and are now in a period of refinement, measuring the success of one initiative over another and how they can further tailor their offer to the end consumer.

This was the consensus among the ecommerce directors at Drapers’ Etail Report 2013 roundtable, held at The Groucho Club in Soho in April, in association with online marketing, ecommerce and consulting specialist Summit. Delegates from the likes of Topshop, Wallis, Shop Direct and House of Fraser discussed how consumers browse and shop online, the uptake and development of mobile and tablet devices, and the importance of a sound supply chain to offer a strong, competitive and consistent fulfilment service.

James Davey, director of direct at lifestyle retailer Joules, argued that retailers need to move away from the term multichannel, and instead concentrate on the fundamentals of what retail is about. “The customer chooses
the channel they shop through. You can influence that behaviour but you can’t change it. How we react to it, we just have to be there with a single consistent message of ‘we’re here for you, this is our customer service, this is our proposition, this is the product we sell, enjoy it’.”

This sentiment was echoed by attendees, who said consumers don’t think in terms of channel. Julie Walker, ecommerce manager at womenswear retailer Phase Eight, said retailers instead need to focus on the relevancy of their brands. “At the end of the day fundamentally we sell dresses, but if you can sell a dress for a wedding or a party dress, you can actually engage with her on a slightly more emotional level to stand out in the market. I think when there’s so much discounting going on it’s really key that we’re doing that.”

One of the hot topics of the morning, and an area where attendees agreed it is important to invest in, was social media.

Zoe Sloma, head of ecommerce at Topshop, described social as a “huge part of what we do”.

She added: “We know that’s where our customers are, we know they’re very engaged, we’ve got big fan bases in those channels, but tracking it back to direct traffic to the site and sales is incredibly difficult.”

As a result, she said it can be difficult to look for marketing funds internally when it can’t be tied back to a direct ROI (return-on-investment).

Drapers’ survey found that while 44% of respondents said marketing emails and social media posts never prompt them to take any action, a significant minority of 16% of consumers have made a purchase online from a retailer who emailed or posted a message.

Simone Williams, ecommerce manager at womenswear chain East, said due to the slightly older demographic of its customers, getting them involved in social media has been difficult but that email marketing has been highly effective. “It drives a significant portion of our traffic and what I’m working on this year is trying to use our data much more cleverly, to segment our emails in new ways and just try to understand how our customer base and prospects are using online and offline.”

This was backed up by Drapers’ survey, which found that the older the consumer, the less likely they were to purchase items online: 31% of participants over 55 years old do not buy items online, compared with 11% of 25 to 34-year-olds and 9% of 18 to 24-year-olds.

The challenge of engaging older people online was echoed by Catherine Hall, head of ecommerce at Jaeger and Aquascutum, who said Jaeger and Aquascutum’s loyal customers love the in-store experience and are reluctant to purchase online.

However, she added that they do want to browse online before visiting a store: “The key is understanding that online has a role to play in that, and we look at the shoppers that visit the website and go into store and they are our most profitable customers. So although we’re not directly getting the sales, we’re offering a service that’s getting the sales through another channel.”

Williams agreed and added that at East, 30% to 35% of online orders are delivered to a store. “We see that as a huge opportunity to possibly grow further for us, because we want our online shoppers to visit our stores and build that relationship with our store staff.”

When it comes to barriers to online purchasing, Drapers’ survey found that for most consumers (28%) it depends whether the item will be less expensive online, while 16% need to consider how familiar they are with the brand’s sizing.

Rob Feldmann, chief executive of BrandAlley, said price is key for the discount etailer’s customers: “What we’ve seen is that when we put footwear brands like Hunter and Ugg on Sale, for example, the discounts only have to be 25% to 30%, but because they’re not generally marked down on the high street they just fly online. If we get 1,000 classic Uggs, we’ll sell them in three days, every single one,” he said.

However, the roundtable attendees argued that convenience is king, not price. Sloma said price is a challenge for Topshop, which she added doesn’t tend to discount: “It’s a vicious cycle because then you get customers who think ‘oh, I’m not going to buy that pair of shoes today because I know in two days’ time I’ll get 40% off’. So they wait for that email trigger, or that message on Twitter, and that’s how they shop.”

With the upwards trend in smartphone adoption, the retailers in attendance were keen to discuss mobile sales, with both East and Phase Eight set to launch mobile sites within weeks. “Mobile and tablet have just become such a vast part of our traffic overall. I think it’s not necessarily that our customers are shopping for fashion online, but things like store locator are incredibly key,” said Walker.

BrandAlley launched its mobile-optimised and tablet site 18 months ago, and today around 25% of its daily sales come from across mobile and tablet devices. “What we’ve found is that with tablet devices in particular the users spend about an extra 10 minutes on there. So the average length of time on the site is about 25 minutes, and the basket size is £15 higher, so they’re spending about £100 there versus £85 for the rest of users,” said Feldmann.

Martin Francis, head of online trading at department store chain House of Fraser, added: “That’s totally what multichannel is about. That’s exactly where you need to be. They’re using multiple devices for multiple reasons and you need to be able to facilitate that throughout the whole buying process, from the people that are watching TV at night, [while using] the iPad, and then they’ll use desktop to finish off the journey. However, you’ve got to be able to track and see that going on, otherwise you’re not going to be able to facilitate future [cross-channel] behaviour.”

Offering a suite of fast and convenient delivery options to the end-consumer is of course essential. Drapers’ survey found that a 70% majority would buy more fashion online if there was free delivery, while 58% of consumers cited free returns and 29% pointed to next-day delivery.

“When customers come to expect free delivery as the norm, it can no longer be used as a sale-driver,” said Chris Rushe, client director at Summit.

This was backed up by Kelly Murphy, website manager at Wallis, who said 15% of the womenswear chain’s customers who are eligible for free delivery via a special code don’t use it, and also by Feldmann, who said that while offering a code for free delivery above £80 incentivises customers to browse, as many as 85% of customers who are eligible don’t use it.

With so much competition both on the high street and in the digital etail space, the attendees agreed it will be those that best identify the needs of their customers and then serve them that will prosper.

Hedley Aylott, Summit, sponsor of the Drapers Etail Report Breakfast 2013

Aalish Yorke-Long, Sweaty Betty, at the Drapers Etail Report Breakfast 2013

Martin Francis, House of Fraser, at the Drapers Etail Report Breakfast 2013

Julie Walker, Phase Eight, at the Drapers Etail Report Breakfast 2013

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