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Science and instinct behind Very's own-label strategy

Shop Direct has said that zeroing in on its target customers was crucial in shaping its flagship own-label business, V by Very.

Speaking at the Drapers Fashion Forum at London’s County Hall, Shop Direct fashion director Zoe Matthews said three factors shaped Very’s own-brand strategy: creativity; control over how structures change and “newness” is dropped; and the customer, who is “telling you what you want”.

Don’t “dumb down” own labels

Matthews said a key driver behind its own-label offering was to leverage Shop Direct’s format as part-bank part-retailer, and the notion its customers rely on credit to purchase goods.

She explained: “As an aspiring individual who wants to do better for themselves, our customer wants to wear the best gear.

“At the time we were dumbing down the own-label as opposed to realising actually, they can use the credit to get something they would be super-proud to wear every single day. So we knew we needed to do something quite different with our own label.”

Matthews said the business’s branded offer comprises 1,800 labels ranging from River Island and Mango to Marc Jacobs and Paul Smith, so it faced pressure to make its own label “special”.

Rethinking the customer

She added that the own-label offering, which launched in September 2016, was shaped after Very quickly determined its customer profile, a 32-year-old “aspiring” female shopper who is likely to have a child.

“Two years ago, we had a smattering of labels [in our catalogues], but we were targeting everybody, from a teenager to somebody possibly right at the end of their lives. And I looked at some of their stuff and realised it wasn’t we needed, or what our consumers demand.

“No one knew what our own labels were, and there was limited awareness of them, at less than 10%. At the same time our business was seeing nearly 70% of purchases on mobile phones, with 1.4 million users.”

Consequently, the business reduced its labels from 13 to one and reduced its suppliers by 50%.

She said: “When you’re phasing out a range of complex products like footwear and lingerie, I did have to think I was absolutely mad. But we did it. We did V by Very because we knew the customer had changed dramatically from [who they were] and is changing so frequently. We had the data at our fingertips.”

The importance of purists

Matthews said the business is now “investing heavily in artificial intelligence”: “The future is changing so rapidly that the data piece, the science piece is incredibly important.

“Disruptive technology is the buzzword but disruption with focus is key. You can have all the data in the world but you still need to have gut instinct to do what we do. The fashion piece is moving faster and faster, driven by a hunger for newness.”

She emphasised that, although the “customer piece and data surrounding it” is integral to strategy, there are instances where the business will “go against data” to best balance data learnings with fashion and trends.

She maintained having “some purists” is important to decision-making: “We have some superb designers that have never looked at data in their lives.”

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