The average Fat Face customer – female, forty-something, relatively affluent, probably a mother – doesn’t shop with the UK retailer for so-called ‘fast fashion’, with its focus on taking catwalk concepts and making them available on high-street racks in as short a time as possible. She’s not looking for bang-on-trend clothes that she’ll wear once or twice, then discard, as new trends come along.
Instead, she turns to Fat Face for relaxed, casual clothes that fit a busy lifestyle, where a good chunk of family time is spent outdoors. Whether she’s buying for herself, her partner, or her kids, she’s looking for quality and she’s looking for convenience, which makes mobile shopping and a ‘click and collect’ service an essential part of the Fat Face offering.
The growing importance of mobile hit a “tipping point” back on Boxing Day (26 December) 2013, when traffic from smartphones and tablets to Fat Face’s online store went over the 50 percent mark for the first time, says Paul Wright, head of e-commerce and marketing at Fat Face.
And Fat Face’s click and collect service, first launched in 2011, is a big hit with customers, he adds: more than one in four online sales are collected by customers from one of the chain’s 200 UK & Ireland stores. Those located at major London railway stations and in weekend holiday destinations such as Padstow and Salcombe do particularly well as collection points, he says – and around one in five customers using click and collect make add-on purchases when they visit.
But the quest for greater customer convenience left Wright and his team facing a big challenge in developing separate shopping platforms for desktops, smartphones and tablets. While they’d undertaken a complete makeover of the desktop website in 2013, the experience they were able to offer on mobile devices just wasn’t as good, he says:
We were thrilled with the desktop experience we’d achieved: it mimicked the very best aspects of browsing and shopping in one of our [bricks and mortar] stores and translated it for the online shopper. It was like visiting a shop that had been refitted and remodelled very recently and customers responded to that really positively.”
But on mobile, it was a different story. The experience didn’t convert particularly well and maintaining a separate mobile platform was hard work for us. For customers, it was like visiting a store that hadn’t been refreshed in a while. The two experiences [desktop and mobile] were massively different, and as customers started turning up in their droves on mobile devices, we knew we had to do something about that.
Fat Face’s answer was to implement NetSuite’s responsive design platform, which the software vendor acquired in its July 2014 purchase of Venda. This enables websites to adapt the presentation of content according to the device on which it’s being viewed, from full-screen desktop monitors to tiny smartphone screens.
The project took place in September and October 2014 – in time for the 2014 Christmas period, but with little room to accommodate hitches or delays. Says Wright:
We worked right up against the wire on this one, but it’s really paid off for us. We’ve extended our desktop experience to other devices and the efficiencies we’ve already achieved internally are huge. We’re now able to redeploy resources that were previously dedicated to maintaining separate platforms to making a single online experience even better for customers.
And we are continuing to work on this. We still need, for example, to fine-tune the experience for certain types of mobile device. But what we’ve ended up with is a site that addresses the customer experience across the devices that customers use most when they’re shopping with us.
The results from Fat Face’s Christmas 2014 results speak for themselves. Over the five-week period from 1 December 2014 to 3 January 2015, overall sales were up 13 percent on the corresponding 2013 period, with e-commerce sales powering much of that growth. These rose 25 percent year-on-year, and mobile accounted for 65 percent of online sales, up from 55 percent over Christmas 2013.
Click and collect, meanwhile, peaked at 42 percent of total online orders, up 119 percent year-on-year.
The NetSuite responsive web design platform is also proving a big help to Fat Face’s ambitions around international expansion. (Its chief executive Anthony Thompson previously led the clothing line at Walmart-owned supermarket chain Asda, while its chairman is former Marks & Spencer chief executive Lord (Stuart) Rose.) A new online store for the US market went into ‘soft launch’ mode just last week, taking Fat Face into dangerous territory that other UK retailers (most famously, Tesco) have failed to crack. Says Wright:
Creating a seamless multi-channel experience is about to get much more challenging for us, certainly, but despite content tweaks and changes for US sales tax calculations and so on, we’ve got the same core platform as a strong foundation on which we can build.
Disclosure: NetSuite is a diginomica premier partner.