Until six months ago, The Original Factory Shop's website was an embarrassment, according to CEO, Tony Page.

"I'm embarrassed to say how our website used to work, it was incredibly slow and cumbersome," he tells Essential Retail. "Apparently our customers loved using our website, but it wasn't great in terms of just about everything to do with it, quite frankly."

Despite a poor online experience, The Original Factory Shop (TOFS) customers were still keen to transact online. "Our biggest problem was we made the buying part quite hard and I was gobsmacked anyone bought anything from us at all," adds Page, who notes that along with a clunky eCommerce experience, the IT was also poor and would cost "an arm and a leg" if the retailer wanted to change anything.

Magento replatform

Last year, the discount department store chose to replatform onto Magento, using a Yorkshire-based eCommerce partner called Onstate. Following an intense tender process, and nearly seven months of development work, the retailer launched its new fully optimised website. "It was pretty quick and went live in October last year," says Page.

The retailer completely redesigned the look and feel of the site, while also improving its transactional capabilities. Page says the retailer also plans to unveil a completely new design across the business in the coming months, including a new brand name, which will be seen online before being rolled out across the physical estate. "That's the beauty of the website, which is it can change relatively quickly when you have the right platform."

The upgrade was part of a 2-3 year transformation project across the business. While the retailer concentrated on its store proposition to begin with, it soon realised online would be a critical part of the project. "That's not to say online is down the pecking order, but in terms of the money we generate and customers we touch, the vast majority is in store."

Bargain hunters

But online brings a new set of customers to TOFS. While its 213 stores are based across the UK, they tend to be located in smaller towns and local communities, while eCommerce brings big-city bargain hunters to the brand who would not normally come in contact with a TOFS store.

"Apparently we used to get a lot of traffic coming from people just out for a bargain, which is great. Now we've got more of everything, more general bargain hunters from the big cities and those from local communities – and it's the latter we think we can grow."

TOFS is also using Amazon's marketplace to attract a new cohort of customers who may not have heard of the brand. "We chose to launch on Amazon based on how many shoppers they get to their website."

Page says Amazon could help TOFS launch internationally in the future, but this is not in the pipeline right now because there is still "tonne" left to do in the UK. "We're not touching so many parts of the UK physically or virtually, and giving that so many existing customers love us so much and rate us so high on customer satisfaction, we have so many customers in the UK that have yet to feel that effect."

Page is referring to the UK Customers Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), where TOFS scored 86.9%, 4.9 points higher than the national average for non-food retailers, while its website scored 87.6%.  Meanwhile TOFS's Net Promotor Score improved by ten points over the last 12 months and is 27 points higher than average.

Customer service

With over 200 stores in small towns across the UK, Page believes in thinking local and talking to customers as much as possible. Even its Click & Collect fulfilment method, which will be offered later this year, will be called 'Chat & Collect'.

"What you find in our stores is the service we give, they're small places and they know a lot of the customers by name and know what they like. We're really good in store at influencing the purchase decisions," he says. "A lot of what we're about is personal service, even eCommerce, somewhere along the line we want to talk to our customers."

Page acknowledges how his average 6,000 sq ft shop is small compared to most department stores. "We're compact and therefore to get a wider range, our store staff encourage customers to go online."

Thanks to the UK's sunny May, it is unsurprising to hear from Page the Lay-Z Spa was the website's best-selling item last week. "The average transaction in store is relatively small and online it can be more. We sell an extraordinary amount of furniture online, and if you're going to get a bargain it doesn't matter what size the product is."

Page says his customers get a buzz from shopping with TOFS. "They love the feeling of dopamine when they get a bargain."

Technology investments

Apart from a couple of small bugs, Page was very happy with the replatforming experience, which he says was a relatively small investment. And now TOFS's new site has been up and running for over six months, he says he only loses sleep over Google Analytics. "I love looking at it – it physically keeps me up," he says. "I love watching the way the sales are going and who's online and why they're online – it's like watching your baby google and gurgle."

Page says the increase in mobile consumers surprised him following the relaunch. "I traditionally thought of customers as less interested in the faff of technology, but an awful lot of people are on the hoof wanting to get bargains right now. You just can't miss out on the deal."

While developing a single view of stock is on the roadmap for TOFS thanks to two major investments in supply chain over the last two years, right now, Page feels acquiring a single view of the customer is not as important. "We call ourselves brilliantly simple and we need to be lean and low cost, obviously we tread very carefully and it would be lovely to see a single view of customers, but we have a team of five people who manage the website and that team is managing to double and treble our multichannel sales as it is," explains Page.

"Right now [single customer view] feels too complicated, and there are so many things we can do which are quite simple to improve everything, and it's retail best practice to make the shopping environment as exciting, comfortable and chatty as you possibly can."

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