Culture change spurs lingerie retailer's growth

European lingerie retailer, Hunkemöller, admits it has had to undergo something of an internal culture change to become a true omnichannel retailer.

The company insists it is now seeing the results of fine-tuning its buying and merchandising policies after initially struggling to keep pace with the demands of omnichannel retailing.

Ben Hawksley, director of merchandise and planning at Hunkemöller, said the company had made a series of technical and attitude changes to its business, leading to improved customer experience both in store and online.

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According to trade website Essential Retail, Hawksley told the Buying & Merchandising Summit in London last week that its buying and merchandising department had learned a number of lessons as it adopted an omnichannel strategy.

He said staff agility had been key to the turnaround. “We used to treat online as another store,” he said. “We had flagship stores in Amsterdam taking more money than online only three years ago. How that has changed now.”

Hunkemöller operates more than 200 stores in the Netherlands, 100 in Belgium and around 240 in Germany. It also has a presence in Scandinavia and a web shop in the UK.

Essential Retail reported that Hawksley described how difficult it is for buyers and merchandisers to adapt to the fast pace of digital. “We strongly believe in in-house design, but to add further complexity, there is a one-year lead time for a bra – how on earth do we react to omnichannel challenges?”

Hawksley explained how a significant swimwear launch had taken place this summer, kicking off with a TV campaign on a Saturday evening and a soft launch on Facebook and Twitter the Tuesday before.

He said by the lunchtime of the Tuesday, the retailer had already sold 5% of its stock online. “We only planned to do that online in eight weeks – we hadn’t even launched the main primetime advert. Our merchandisers in swimwear had a tough week because we sold product through the night – this was all new to us.”

Hawksley also revealed that the company’s investments in ecommerce was partly driven by a decline in store sales, but since upping its web presence its business has become “more joined up” and it is continuing to open stores.

One challenge for the business was the speed with which the ‘click & collect’ model picked up pace, putting pressure on stores to handle the demand. Hunkemöller anticipated that this would only be about 3%-5% of store efforts, but within six months, a third of all web transactions were fulfilled this way.

According to the website, he said: “Merchandisers like time to build up a picture – this is scary stuff. Never be fooled that you’ve cracked it in omnichannel retail.”

The report went on to say that Hunkemöller made the decision to invest in its people, including the merchandising department, so the retailer could react quicker to launches and cope with online-only orders. It has 3,200 fashion ranges of lingerie and an increased number of online options.

“When I first joined in 2009, eCommerce was seen as a dirty word, as an irritation to do things outside the normal process. But the culture changed in the business from a senior level,” said Hawksley. “If anyone is to have success in omnichannel there needs to be real focus from the CEO-down to make sure everyone sees its importance in their everyday lives.”

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