John James Fenwick opened his store as JJFenwick, Mantle Maker and Furrier in Newcastle back in 1882. Today Fenwick is the largest family-owned group of department stores in the United Kingdom, with nine outlets around the country offering what the firm pitches as “finest selection of luxury from around the world across fashion, beauty and lifestyle, curated into a sophisticated shopping space”.
In recent years, the firm has been on what Digital Director Kate Smyth refers to as its “digital journey”, a journey that has this year been on the receiving end of considerable acceleration as a result of COVID-19. She took up her role around three years ago and inherited the ‘story so far’ at the retailer:
We had an existing team who'd done a great job designing the website and had already selected Salesforce as the e-commerce partner. So we then worked through all of the other components required to launch and, really early on, made the decision to design something that tried to complement the existing Fenwick retail business. So over the last few years we've been working to set up a transactional website. We've also been focused on introducing technologies which layer digital on both the shopping experience for our customers and provide digital tools for our colleagues.
This started with a pretty blank sheet to write on, she adds:
We were in a fairly unique position, which there won't be many other people in, where we were starting from very little to no digital tech, but that single [Salesforce] technology stack has really enabled us to introduce new processes and adapt to new situations really quickly and easily. So in two years we've gone from a basic content-only website to an e-commerce platform, CRM, [digital] marketing, we've put in a customer services team with customer service systems, warehouse management, customer WiFi…it’s an enormous amount that we've put in in a really short period of time.
A major objective in all this was to ensure a high degree of personalisation, an e-commerce Holy Grail for so many, but for Fenwick this was particularly important for cultural reasons. Smyth explains:
We're really proud of being a retailer that has a strong connection with our local communities and in our stores we try to champion local brands and artisans and work with the local community. The offer in each store is quite tailored to the local audience. So when we first started looking at developing the online proposition, we wanted to bring that sort of level of customization and an equality of service. We made sure that when we designed the site, we designed it so that everyone could almost customize the site to be their own version of Fenwick.
So we have content all over the site that promotes each of the stores services and events and the brands that those stores sell. Across the site, this content is tagged with the store, the brand and the division that they belong to. And then we've built widgets on the site that serve these. So the customer can then set these widgets, using a drop down, to the local store and then search departments that match their preference. So, if Newcastle is your local store, you can select Newcastle as your preference and your homepage will show the events and services and content relevant to your local store. That preference to your local store is captured and stored in the CRM and used to shape the marketing if you've signed up to marketing, and to remember next time you come back to site. Our stores are all quite different, so to be able to reflect that online was was massively important.
The outbreak of the pandemic has meant some strategic adjustments to the long term plan. Smyth recalls:
We closed all our stores just before lockdown and we briefly closed online. We then focused on making our environment safe for our customers and our colleagues. At the time of lockdown we were selling from three of our stores. To re-open online we started with one of our biggest stores, in Kingston, and completely reworked the space and the layout, and then went out to everybody in the business to ask for help. So many people needed to isolate and so many people couldn't travel safely, but a really small, but brilliant group of people offered to help from every department in the business. They rolled up their sleeves and joined me in the Kingston store to start fulfilling online orders.
We then took that model and worked through each of the stores back-of-house to get them operating safely and then worked with teams of people who could get trained on the pick, pack and dispatch processes and get the website back up and running. During that period online became a real source of income. Because the volumes were so big, we needed more staff. So we looked to our biggest store, which is based on Newcastle, and an amazing team of colleagues there set up packing benches, installed tech, trained teams, got packing and delivering, absolutely everything - and we were up and running in just two weeks. So it's been really tough, but I'm really proud of how Fenwick faced into the changes and how everyone worked to get the website and then the stores open and trading safely.
One of the trickier aspects of using the stores as online fulfilment centers is balancing out inventory and availability of product. For this, Fenwick has used Salesforce’s Order Management System (OMS) offering, says Smyth:
The OMS adds a buffer to the inventory If one store, for example, is unable to sell an item., the OMS relocates it to the next store for them to fulfil for the customer. So it's been an absolutely fantastic way to get live. It's given us online access to a huge range of products available across all stores. The other benefit is that the pick, pack and dispatch is also run by our store teams, so it keeps that relationship between retail and digital really close. Everyone's part of that online journey.
Having those multiple fulfilment locations around the country is massively helpful as we go through periods where potentially regions could go into lockdown. But the other thing that we've done over the last six months is that during lockdown, it became really clear that online growth meant that the online orders would actually get too high for the stores to handle the real peaks when they got back up and running. So we took the decision to add a third party warehouse for distribution and that went live in August. This not only sets us up for peak, because we can put our big volume, fast moving products into it, but it also allows us to work with our concession partners online. So we've been able to extend our range by working with some really brilliant partners and have have new brands launching every week.
The key to that is the Salesforce OMS with fulfilment from five locations, and the OMS orchestrating our order allocation across those locations. Really key is how that orchestration happens and how we control it and how we can change it quickly, depending on what's going on. So if an area goes into lockdown, we can get it turned off very quickly and allocate the order to someone else. This increased capacity and the flexibility we have now that we're back up and running in store and online, it's really opening up opportunities to grow.
Overall, it’s been a sharp, enforced learning curve for Fenwick as for so many retailers. For others in the same position as future lockdowns loom, Smyth advises:
Two thoughts have been really key in the last three years, especially this year with what's going on. The first is to prioritize your company and your situation because there's just so much now to choose from. The Salesforce platform has loads of functionality and with the sheer number of partners offering really innovative products, you can end up feeling like a bit of a kid in the sweet shop, there's so much that you could do. But prioritizing what your customers need and want from you, being really thorough with the business cases and don't do [something] because everyone else is doing it, that's what's really worked for us and for our business.
And then the second one is the collaboration piece, both across your own business and across all of your tech partners. We would have never got live in the first place or got back up and running up after lockdown if it wasn't for a huge joint effort across Fenwick and then with loads of help from our partners.