Cox & Cox launched back in 2001 after its founder, Fiona Cox, appeared as a stylist and presenter on the BBC's home makeover show Home Front. After making a unique wall decoration on the show, Cox found herself overwhelmed with requests for the piece - and saw an opportunity.
Fast forward almost 20 years and Cox & Cox has grown to become a multi-million pound online business, specialising in offering a highly curated collection of homeware products. Based in Somerset in the UK, the company is making use of cloud-based technologies to support ongoing demand for its products and services, which include everything from furniture pieces, to mirrors, to lighting, and even Christmas decorations.
We got the chance to speak with Cox & Cox e-commerce director, Aynsley Peet, about how in recent years the business has completely replatformed its underlying technology in order to support future growth. This foresight proved to be particularly helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the company has experienced a huge surge in demand in recent months, with people spending more time at home and continuing to invest in redecorating.
Back in 2016 Cox & Cox began to look at its underlying systems, including its ERP, e-commerce and warehouse management system (WMS), and decided to rip and replace the whole lot and go-live with a new end-to-end platform to future proof the business.
At the time the organisation was using Magento 1 for its front-end, as well as its ERP and WMS, which Peet explainers wasn't cost effective. He said:
We decided to rip out all the technology and essentially go live with all systems - the new website, which was Magento 2, a new ERP system (NetSuite) and a new WMS. We started looking at that back in August 2016 and we went live in August 2017.
In terms of the build of this we did it in 9 months and all of the systems had to go live on the same day. It was quite a challenge for us but I think we embraced it and we realised that once we had that technology in place, we had a firm base which has enabled us to continue to grow.
Peet said that his team landed on NetSuite because of its ease of use as a core system, which it is responsible for stock control, purchase orders, sale orders, etc. - acting as a single point of entry for Cox & Cox teams. The company has just renewed with NetSuite for another three years.
Commenting on the ambitions for the new platform, Peet said:
What having NetSuite and Magento has allowed us to do is it has enabled the business to grow. This year, we were growing 40% before COVID-19 came along. January and February we were up 40% year on year, so we were doing a lot of work in terms of marketing.
Having that technology in place, and being a pure play e-commerce store, traffic to our website was up 100-200% year on year. We've been able to handle 60% more orders and we've only been able to do that because of the technology we have in place.
As noted above, one of the sections of the economy that has done relatively well out of the national COVID-19 lockdown is retailers specialising in homeware improvements. With people spending more time at home and not necessarily having typical holiday expenses, opportunities to spruce up home environments became obvious. Cox & Cox has definitely seen evidence of this and the unprecedented growth has been enabled by its decision to replatform in 2017. Peet said:
In May and June we were up 100% year on year in terms of orders. We did slow down because of stock demands - we sold out of all of our outdoor furniture by June, for example, whereas previously we would still be selling it in July and August. But we are continuing to see that trend continue, we are seeing a 60% uplift in terms of revenue in August. And some of our Christmas products are already up 200% year on year.
We didn't make any changes and we were able to handle that in a relatively straightforward way. We didn't really have any pains or issues in terms of getting these orders out of the warehouse and meeting customer demand. It was just business as usual.
But whilst the COVID-19 pandemic wasn't anticipated, the need to ‘future proof' Cox & Cox from a technology standpoint was still necessary. Peet explained:
We are a lean business, we only have 60 staff full time. This year we will generate £23 million in revenue. Using NetSuite just makes it very, very efficient for us. We have a team of four or five merchandisers, a team of three or four buying staff, we have the warehouse team, our customer service agents - all of these users are using NetSuite.
We are just trying to make it as efficient as possible and have all the information in one point of entry, where our teams can just go in and find stock and trace it in terms of product movement. By doing this we have brought in a lot of best procedures, best practices, and it has just enabled us to stay lean as a business.
In terms of future development plans, Cox & Cox is thinking about how it can make use of 3D modelling for products and augmented reality on its website. Peet said that the company is selling a lot more furniture pieces, so he wants to allow customers to be able to see how a sofa would look in their home, which may in turn reduce returns. He added:
We've also recently gone live with more automated returns using ZigZag as a returns portal, where we want to self service customers. That just links in nicely with NetSuite, is very easy to use and reduces calls into the contact centre.
We will also be looking to do more automation in terms of communicating to our customers via the website front end, using things like chatbots, automated FAQs, and also using NetSuite to drive messaging to our customers around delivery or delays. We are trying to be more proactive using NetSuite to trigger automated updates.
In terms of what advice Peet would give to other online retailers when considering their e-commerce options, he said that they should not be daunted by taking the Big Bang approach, ripping out all underlying systems and going live with something completely new, as it can have its benefits. He explained:
I think it focused the business, it focused the merchandising team, it focused the buying team, the finance team, the warehouse team, the e-commerce team. Everyone knew we had to deliver this and I think it empowered them to take ownership. It also reduced testing time because we were going in with a whole new system, so we were testing end-to-end - we wouldn't be repeating testing in terms of putting in NetSuite one year and then putting in a new e-commerce platform the next year.
It allowed us to focus and get this done in nine months. It was painful, it was hard work. We had to go live with a few things that weren't quite right, but there was a lot more benefit on the back of just going live and taking the plunge.