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Analysis: Online is key to capturing grey pound in 2017

The mixed performance of N Brown Group and Bonmarché over Christmas underlined the importance of investing in attracting the “grey pound” online.

jd williams

jd williams

N Brown Group, which targets the 50-plus fashion-conscious womenswear market with its JD Williams brand, has been successfully migrating more of its customers from catalogues to online over the past few years, and this paid off in the run-up to Christmas.

Sales across the group, which includes plus-size brands Simply Be and Jacamo, rose 4.1% in the 18 weeks to 31 December. Online sales were up 12% and now represent 70% of the total – 72% of which is via mobile.

Chief executive Angela Spindler told Drapers its 50-plus customers are “transacting happily and increasingly on mobile”, disproving any assumptions about a lack of digital savviness among older shoppers.

N Brown is investing in improving its online performance further. It is in the early stages of replatforming its websites on to a new platform, Hybrid, which will allow it to offer a more personalised experience.

Hybrid was tested on N Brown’s relatively new US site last year and is “working well”, Spindler said. The technology will be launched with one of its smaller UK brands, Fashion World, in the third quarter of 2017, before it is rolled out to the “power brands” – JD Williams, Simply Be and Jacamo.

Meanwhile, value retailer Bonmarché continued to struggle during its third quarter, including the Christmas period. The retailer also targets a 50-plus customer, but through a network of 327 stores and concessions, as well as an online business, which represents around 7% of its total sales.

Sales rose 3.3% during the quarter, the 13 weeks to 24 December. Online sales were down 3.8% and store sales edged up 0.8%.

N brown and bonmarche christmas trading

N brown and bonmarche christmas trading

During the five weeks to 24 December, total sales dipped 1.5%. Online sales fell 14.3% and like-for-like store sales were down 3.4%.

“The online performance was poor, and this continues to be a key area of focus,” said Bonmarché chief executive Helen Connolly.

Honor Strachan, lead analyst at Verdict Retail, said: “[Bonmarché] has a lot on its plate to restore its trading performance and market value, but investment and focus on the online channel is imperative as the over-50s continue to shift spend online and browse more on their smartphones – a trend JD Williams is successfully tapping into.”

However, independent retail analyst Richard Hyman warned against reading too much into the online performance of the two retail groups.

“Bonmarché’s customers are older, less fashionable and affluent,” he pointed out. “It is also a relative newcomer online, whereas N Brown is more mature in that area and has a catalogue heritage, which has structural similarities to trading online.”

It comes as new research by financial advisory firm KPMG shows “baby boomers” – or those aged 50 to 70 – matched the digital-first millennial generation in making on average 15 online transactions a year in 2016, but spent on average £24 more per transaction.


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