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Tom Chapman

Multichannel with a personalised approach is the name of the game for Matches founder Tom Chapman, as the designer mini-chain aims to double its online business in two years

It’s a beast. It takes everything out of you and it’s a shed-load of money,” says Matches founder and managing director Tom Chapman of his mini-chain’s online store.

But despite all that, online will now receive Chapman’s undivided attention, driving growth for his 14-store London empire, which also includes franchise stores for MaxMara and Diane von Furstenberg. “Trade is strong and [we’re having] a very good summer. Year on year, our Marylebone store is up 25% and no stores have fallen below 7% up year on year. On average, they were up about 12%,” he says.

“[But] our concentration is now on our online business and the key challenge is to make Matches a seamless multi-channel business.”

Practically, this focus will translate into the development of a third-party online platform from September, which will give the mini-chain greater flexibility in the merchandising - among others - of its online offer. Staggeringly for a mini-chain, Chapman plans for the online business to make up between 70% and 80% of total sales within the next two years. It currently does impressive business at 40%.

But this figure will come with an even bigger price tag - a £2m investment in Matches’ IT infrastructure over the next 12 months. The online store, with a new platform, is the main focus of this. Chapman admits that, until now, online had not been his focus and it is only in the past 12 months that he has realised the sales potential of this channel.

“We were managing an online business that was actually a bit of a pain. Our IT limitations and the inability to make quick changes on the site resulted in us leaving it to stagnate,” he explains.

Matches’ transactional website was launched more than four-and-a-half years ago onto a third-party platform package with the aim of building the customer database. Naively, Chapman did not see it as a sales tool back then. “We started our in-store mailing list more than 20 years ago and I saw online as an opportunity to build on this,” he says. “It was never planned to be a channel to drive revenue, more of a tool to reach and research our customers.”

But as the online business grew, Chapman found he had to keep adding extra bolt-ons to the IT systems to fulfil the site’s needs. “As great as our platform package [currently] is, it has limitations and our IT infrastructure became a spaghetti junction of information that was only opening ourselves to failure - one change on a single part of the structure would result in each component having to be altered.”

Chapman explains his new focus in a simple sentence: “I want a single view of the customer and the business, and any changes made across the business cannot be limited by functionality.” The new platform will allow Matches to make simple changes that are not currently available, such as the ability to move product around the site depending on trend, performance or even the weather. Currently, all product appears by upload date and Chapman is frustrated by the lack of flexibility online compared with in store.

But as much as Chapman believes in Matches’ ability to drive sales via its website, he - surprisingly - cautions other indies about following his example. “It takes a long time, a lot of investment and is constantly evolving and changing. If you don’t have the resource in any sense, don’t make the site transactional; just keep online as a customer service tool,” he says.

Out on its own

Is he scared of encouraging the competition, perhaps? But when Drapers asks him about his competitors, Chapman confidently says he does not have any.

Deryane Tadd, owner of womenswear indie The Dressing Room in St Albans, which also has a transactional website, says Chapman is largely right to say that. “I agree with Tom in principle - smaller retailers don’t need to invest as much as Matches, but a transactional site does take a lot of resource in terms of time, money and staff,” she says.

“I made the decision 18 months ago to invest in online rather than open a new store, and over the past two years have put about £150,000 into it. Currently, online generates about 20% of our total sales and my aim is to increase this to 35% to 40% over the next 12 months. The long-term goal is for online to make as much as the store in five years’ time, so I don’t see Tom’s ambitions of 80% online sales as unrealistic.”

Tadd also advises indies to focus on the details of operating an online business. “Many retailers assume they are going to make millions once they go online but online shopping means people will shop around and retailers need to invest in things such as Google AdWords and affiliates to ensure they are seen by customers. It’s not just about making a pretty site,” she says.

“A rubbish website will give a bad impression of the business so if retailers don’t have the resource to invest, they should still have an online presence but keep it to a postcard site that says who they are and what they do.”

It’s a difficult balance. And it doesn’t stop with the back-end system. For Chapman, this is just the start. Once the platform has launched in September, Chapman will move on to phase two of his plan. “The biggest thing for us is personalisation. It’s not about blanket messaging, but personalised communication to our customers showing we understand not only their shopping patterns but also their lifestyle.” The site will become mobile optimised from September, with iPhone and iPad apps, and the use of GPS, as part of a multi-channel focus, to follow.

The Matches editorial team will also grow in the next 12 months. Chapman plans to grow this team from 12 to 20 and give the site a personalised feel through editorial and video content.

The personal touch

He also wants to improve the checkout process online, opening it up to international customers. “If a customer lives in the UK but wants to pay in euros then I want to let them. I want to allow the customer to shop in whatever way they want to.”

This message of personalisation goes beyond the online business. Within the next month, Chapman’s new venture, Matches No. 23, on Welbeck Street in London, will be open for business. This is a private shopping division that will allow customers privacy to shop and also experience a personalised edit of product before they arrive, all with the aim of increasing the customer experience. Dinners and events will also be held in the townhouse.

“Customers will be able to phone to book an appointment and know that a tailored selection of product will be available when they arrive,” Chapman explains. “Matches is all about London eccentricity and the townhouse will emulate that brand ethos.”

Matches will document the progress of its online platform launch in a Webwatch series in Drapers, starting later this month.

For a Q&A with Tom Chapman, visit drapersonline.com/independents

CV

2011 Launches new online platform and Matches No. 23
2008 Matches in Marylebone opens
2007 Launch of Matchesfashion.com
2006 First Diane von Furstenberg franchise opens
2001 Matches in Notting Hill opens
2000 Second men’s store and Matches Spy open in Wimbledon
1997 Matches opens in Richmond
1992 First MaxMara franchise opens
1989 First Matches menswear store opens in Wimbledon
1987 Matches debuts in Wimbledon

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