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Talking Shop: Information is power

Fiona Coe is manager of womenswear at department store Coes, which has six stores in East Anglia, and a member of the Fashion Association of Britain (FAB)

Fiona Coe, manager of womenswear in department store chain Coes and member of The Fashion Association of Britain (FAB)

Fiona Coe: “We were careful to strike the balance between fresh and sterile – somewhere in the middle”

When we set about the refurbishment of the womenswear floor last August, it was with more than aesthetics in mind. Although the department had performed well for 12 years, we felt we weren’t making the best of our stock. On several occasions I would ask myself: “Would I shop here?” We felt it was time for an update and a modernisation of the space without alienating our core customer.

Overall, we were careful to strike a balance between fresh and sterile – somewhere in the middle. We are about evolution, not revolution. We used the opportunity to introduce new offerings for emerging customers. We now serve women who used to require suits for work but have now retired and are seeking more casual clothing. NYDJ, Ralph Lauren and Gant work well for them. Then there are the busy mothers who dash in to visit the schoolwear department. They are often looking for pick-up items that don’t require too much consideration. We have introduced Hunkydory, Marie Sixtine, Selected Femme and Vilagallo, all of which maintain the quality level our customers expect from us but deliver at a lower price point. It’s really important to have this mix. The flexible layout of the floor has helped us to keep things simple and move stock around, especially as one collection thins during the season.

Predictably, some of our older customers took some adjusting to the refurbishment. They feared that the visual change reflected a change in direction and possibly the loss of the essence of the department. We reminded them that we are still the same team, that we carry the same brands and provide the same service.

Service is something in which we feel we’ll be able to invest even more time after having installed the Epos system. It was a horrendous task to undertake and took months of planning. However, a few weeks in and I can honestly say that we are getting to grips with it and beginning to see the benefits.

It’s been surprising to see which styles and brands are performing best. What you judge on the shop floor and what you can gauge from paper are two very different things! After a few weeks, we’ve noticed trends in the performance of brands and the profit we make on them in ways we would not have done previously. Even more exciting is the prospect of being armed with this data for the buying season. As they say, information is power. Hopefully.

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