Part two of a new series, where Essential Retail puts itself in shoppers' shoes and explores the ways in which UK retailers are merging their digital and physical assets as they strive to create the fabled 'seamless customer journey'.

Located in east London's Old Truman Brewery just a short walk from the bustling streets of Shoreditch's creative community and retail centre is the fashion store, Number Six.

With a predominantly men's casualwear aesthetic, the independent retailer and its owner Jake Hardy are looking to new technologies to enhance the shopping experience for customers. For an independent operator with one store, Number Six appears sophisticated in its deployment of retail systems and digital marketing platforms.

Essential Retail was given a private tour of the store, an hour before its doors opened to the public on a rainy morning in late October, and Hardy had an opportunity to offer up his retailing philosophy, which combines traditional retailing practices with a distinct digital edge. There are not too many UK indies that can boast more than 10,000 followers on Instagram, for example, but Number Six has embraced new shopping habits and wants to find new customers and please existing ones wherever they choose to engage with the brand.

How-to videos and social selling

Hardy says Number Six has a presence on nine social platforms, including the mainstream sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as the less widely known Depop and Trouva.

Hardy, who started his career on the IT helpdesk at Aquascutum before becoming an integral part of the retailer's eCommerce team and then starting his own web design and development company, Thames Collective, acknowledges that customer journeys can start anywhere so it is important to cover all bases.

"Instagram is really important to us in terms of new people finding us and the way we style our products," he explained.

"It's a revenue driver – I can prove it. I put a post out and I can sell a garment. We're also testing Vouchercodes to see if they perform better than using our traditional mailing list. We'll start Instagram ads too, which we've never done before, to see if that channel can work even better."

Jake Hardy, owner of fashion retailer Number Six

The week this publication caught up with the Number Six team, the best traffic driver to the retailer's website had been social news site, Reddit, where an article about the company had been posted.

Whether it is via pay-per-click advertising, AdRoll retargeting, social media or a presence on forums, the business is always looking to attract new shoppers. One new venture in the pipeline will see Number Six take a leaf out of DIY retail's book, and launch some how-to videos on YouTube to provide a new service to its customers and to strengthen the company's fashion credentials.

The videos will be made in house and they are expected to feature tips such as how best to tie shoe laces, what makes a good turn-up and how to clean certain garments.

"The videos are to make people feel comfortable and get people to try something different," Hardy noted.

"Maybe they've seen a friend do something. It could be cleaning a garment, or re-lacing shoes or what makes wearing a loud belt with a smart suit look good. It's about making the person feel comfortable in the garment they are wearing."

Once the videos have been produced, they will undoubtedly be shared on the Number Six website and across its social platforms, but it appears a way of replicating the service customers can get in-store online. And that is a central theme to all the new initiatives Hardy and his small team are working on.

App-y days or selling a dream?

The desire to merge the physical and the digital, which so many retailers talk about but so few can successfully claim to have achieved, is a fundamental reason behind Number Six's plans to launch a mobile app in the coming months.

Number Six seeks to reflect its in-store merchandising style online

Hardy argues that mobile apps are a growth channel for driving sales, and developing one for his company will present an opportunity to implement the use of beacons "in a nice way". Apps, he said, will also help the business develop targeted messaging services and aid the customer segmentation process in terms of communicating relevant messages to shoppers.

But as many retailers are finding, searching for new technologies and tech service providers has not been easy for Number Six. Conversations with cloud-based app firm, Poq, which works with large retailers such as House of Fraser and Boohoo.com, have progressed well for the compay, but Hardy admits the hunt for partners is a "minefield".

"Introducing mobile apps is our next thing. We're looking at Poq but it's about being able to justify the spend – you need to make sure the investment is stable.

"Some of the new start-ups are deluded to that fact. They try and sell you the dream or try to take too large a percentage of the revenue."

The store owner had few positive words to say about affiliate marketing firms, which Number Six has now stopped using. He commented: "We've stopped doing affiliates. I know you can fudge a sale on networks and it's giving away such a margin that our time and effort is better spent elsewhere."

One tech company he has developed a positive relationship with is New Zealand-headquartered point of sale software provider, Vend, which as well as storing sales and transaction data is used for customer relationship management (CRM). All sales made online or in store are displayed in real time within the software – and can be accessed on mobile devices – while staff in the store can also take personal details from customers, such as email address and specific notes, which can then be used for after-sales marketing or customer relationship development.

Software from PoS solutions provider Vend is used by the team at Number Six

The system is also used to collect shoppers' birthdays, allowing for special offers to be distributed as part of their celebrations. Hardy argues that luxury retail brands are doing this form of CRM badly, but he feels Vend is helping his team foster strong relations with their demographic.

Pierre-Emmanuel Perruchot de La Bussière, general manager at Vend, told Essential Retail: "One of the challenges for retailers is being able to build an amazing experience with consumers while competing with other brands and big retailers that are discounting or have more staff on the shopfloor. When you have an interaction with a customer you can get their details and can build a database.

"That's maybe what you can coin as 'seamless', making it less obvious that you are pushing something down a customer's throat and making them feel that they want to give you their details because they have received a great service – that's what tech platforms should enable."

Perruchot de La Bussière says that Number Six is growing its business partly due to Hardy's willingness to experiment with different pieces of technology. Indeed, the fabled 'test and learn' approach that retailers are increasingly starting to adopt is alive and well in east London.

Hardy's mantra is "stand still and rot". He added: "You always need to be doing something new, always be pushing things forward.

"We are open to everything. A lot of indies are shutting their online business, but for us it's a massive growth channel. Someone could like a picture on Instagram having never been in our store before and come in the next day and buy something – that's a great thing to have."

Where is Number Six headed?

Although the new mobile app is a key priority for Number Six and the how-to videos are clearly in the pipeline as a new method for increasing the retailer's following, the next year is not all centred solely on enhancing the digital experience for customers.

Hardy is targeting new premises in London Waterloo, which he believes will be able to help the company attract new heritage clothing suppliers and broaden the mix of garments sold in store. The opening of a new shop is an "immediate aim" but, as a proud Londoner, the owner has no plans to open shops outside the capital city.

Since taking charge of the business in 2012, Hardy has overseen annual sales growth of approximately 20% each year. Through combining physical and digital retailing in the 12 months ahead, and adding new services to complement its core fashion offering, he is confident of growing the business further by staying close to his customers.

Could a new Number Six store be opening next year?

"For us, a seamless customer journey can start anywhere – it depends on where they find us, whether it's online, walking into a store or a via friend's recommendation," he explained.

"Seamless isn't one specific thing, for us it's customer service. It's making sure that when customers do find us they get the best service and get all the info they are looking for, whether that be product or sizing details, product descriptions online or advice in-store. Seamless for us is making sure the customer is happy the whole way through the journey."

Click below for more information:

Vend

Poq

Trouva