A guest blog by Matt Claydon, UK Brand Director at True Religion.
I am the UK Brand Director for a premium denim line. We have a handful of retail stores in London, work with the best wholesale accounts in the country and have double-digit growth on our recently localised E-Com.
Life in the rag trade seems to be increasingly challenging. I often find myself wishing for the simple life. Wishing retail would go “back to normal”. However, I am not entirely sure what ‘normal’ is anymore. Probably something like 10 years ago, when margins were high and consistent, where you could trade full price for every month of the year aside from January and August and that Black Friday was just a description of an overcast day at the end of the week.
This is not going to happen.
Growth online is booming, the consumer has so much choice, probably too much, margin is no longer guaranteed and being able to trade on the high street with spiralling costs is more and more challenging and please do get me started on the FX effect.
But what else would I do?
So we keep going – great product is always key to a great business and what I want to touch on is how the consumer gets to experience that great product.
We sell excellent jeans. Light blue jeans, mid blue jeans, dark blue jeans, black jeans, ripped jeans, stretchy jeans- a lot of stretchy jeans. Wide fit jeans, slim fit jeans and skinny jeans.
We sell very nice quality T-shirts and fleece. Branded, non-branded, entry level and expensive, bright colours, metallics and, of course, a lot of navy.
50% of this business would be considered seasonal fashion. On-trend product with a life span, if it’s hot it sells itself, if it’s one of those very rare buying errors we make then it ends up a bargain somewhere. The other 50% is basics, never out of stock, continuity the core of your business. The aim is a good margin, a high weekly rate of sale and longevity. I would expect it to trade for at least 18 months. This is your safe pair of hands.
Now here is the problem. I find it very difficult to display core in the store.
Online it is easy, it sits there snuggly amongst the fashion lines, maybe a note that it is a best seller, merchandised together to support multiple sales, anytime a big delivery comes in or we add a new colour-way it hits your “new in” section. During markdown periods or in-between seasonal deliveries, it protects your margin online and sells to those who can’t find their size in a seasonal sale or who do not want the old stuff.
This does not quite work in bricks and mortar and, ironically, E-com is partly to blame for this. As now physical stores are there for “experience” to be treated to a beautifully laid out shop-floor, intriguing to peruse and full of fashion. “New-In” gets pride of place, even though it may not be the biggest cash driver and the windows have to entice hard to please shoppers in.
This is no bad thing, our high streets need to have personality but what about my basics!
Old school would have merchandised them all together in store cubby-holes of basics, a rack of logo black, navy, white fleece and tees, very easy to shop very functional but New school do not like this. It looks too boring.
‘I like logical, I like functional I know what I want (kind of) so it is easier to buy the basics I need online’ This is me thinking out aloud.
I buy 20 tees in the fit I like and in a couple of colours, 20 pairs of H&M boxers and 20 pairs of black ribbed socks. They arrive in a few days, last me 6 months and I have spent not a penny more than I needed too and guess what? I managed to do it all on my commute, just a search bar and a couple of filters to negotiate and I’m in.
This is why I like to shop basics online.
As someone keen to drive additional trade in our stores, I hate myself a little. As to where the opportunity for the up-sell. I know that if we can get a customer into the store looking for one pair of black jeans, we can sell him a blue pair in the same fit and a soft to handle tee at the same time.
So the problems I feel that need to be solved are:
- How can the functionality of Online be replicated in-store without it dominating the aesthetic needs of the brand?
- How can I quicken the process of finding something in-store without wasting time looking at what I do not need?
- How can I simplify the staff members lives by giving them the tools to service the consumer quickly and effectively?
- How can my staff members up-sell to a time-conscious customer?
I believe that more smart information could be offered up as soon as the customer steps through the front door, smarter algorithms that are shared between the seller and the potential buyer.
Existing customers of our brand who have either bought online or in-store have their buys, their average spends their favourite colours pushed to the salespersons’ smartphone.
The sales person does not have to worry about where in the store these articles and sizes are as the data is all at hand-mapped out on the in-store system. They can then focus on offering the best customer service possible and actually build some human interaction to see if their customer might want to try something new or buy something additional.
How about the customer who hasn’t bought in store before? They come in asking about a pair of light blue jeans for their holiday? How about if we could immediately learn from their previous purchases from other brands? If they buy the tapered fit from Diesel and spend on average £150 then you immediately have a starting point to serve efficiently.
If it was a high footfall store then the location of the items they are looking for could be mapped out on their phones, if they are looking for more buffet style service!
As a consumer in 2017, my need for speed is met, I get the opportunity to try on before buying and also to touch the goods (and get out of the office for a moment).Yes, I have shared some information but it is information that helps my needs get met.
As a salesperson, I have been given the incredible tool of knowledge. I have a better idea of what this person wants, I know the exact whereabouts in store so I can better focus on great service.
As a brand I can merchandise my basics spread between my seasonal fashion as a smart piece of tech is going to highlight exactly where those articles are on the shop-floor when needed, whether it is by fit, colour or price.
I do not know whether this exact piece of kit exists yet and how plausible it is right now, I will leave that challenge to somebody techier than me!
UK Brand Director, True Religion
(PS these are my personal challenges and dreams and not necessarily the opinion of the brand)