N Brown bringing digital solutions in-store

Retailer N Brown Group is expanding its physical store portfolio with technology in mind, as it looks to provide a truly multichannel experience for its growing customer base.

The company, which owns online lingerie specialist Figleaves.com and fashion retailers such as Simply Be and Jacabo, plans to add two stores to its existing network of seven shops before the end of 2013. Ultimately, the group's senior management is looking to run up to 25 outlets.

Whereas many retailers are coming from a traditional background and expanding into the eCommerce world, N Brown is moving in the other direction. With a history in mail order and online retail, the company is using its strong digital platform to help create what it hopes will effectively be multichannel hubs in a store environment.

In a statement on 9 October detailing the company's half-year results, which showed that group revenue increased 8% and profit before tax rose by 7.1% year on year, N Brown said that it will open dual fascia Simply Be-Jacabo stores in the build-up to Christmas.

The stores – in Derby and Leeds – will showcase a plethora of modern-day in-store technology systems, including staff iPad terminals trialled for the first time. Other innovative solutions, which are displayed in the retailer's existing stores, include magic mirror style changing room facilities and touch-point systems, allowing customers to access the full range of products while shopping.

Commenting on the in-store technology being used in N Brown's stores, Group Marketing Director Paul Kendrick told Essential Retail: "Stores are a retail channel in their own right but they are also a showroom for the wider internet business.

"In-store, we have touch-point kiosks to make the wider product range available to customers. We spent a lot of time and effort investing in the changing room areas in all stores, with magic mirror style technology allowing customers to take photos of themselves wearing the items, email them or post them on Facebook."

Kendrick said that N Brown is using this technology to generate social media followers, which can boost engagement with customers, but also to build up its list of email contacts. Like shirt maker Charles Tyrwhitt, customers are also encouraged to provide email addresses at the point of sale in-store which opens up further channels of digital communication.

Other new areas of development currently being explored by N Brown centre around delivery and fulfilment.

The company has offered a pick-up in-store option and has been working alongside Hermes to operate a home delivery network for some time. Following a successful trial with Figleaves, the group has rolled out the ByBox service across its core brands, too, allowing customers to pick up products from lockers situated all over the UK.

The next stage for the business is to implement the myHermes ParcelShop system in time for the coming peak Christmas trading period, giving its customers an opportunity to pick up their deliveries from around 3,000 local convenience stores across the country.

"It will take time for consumers to get comfortable with this type of delivery but we see it as a really big opportunity," explained Kendrick.

"It's probably a really good opportunity for customers who historically didn't want to shop online. Often delivery to built-up areas like city centres can be quite difficult, so this potentially opens up a new customer market for us."

Total group revenue for the 26 weeks to 31 August was £409.6 million, while profit before tax totalled £45 million. ECommerce sales during the period were up 13% year on year, with mobile devices accounting for 36% of web traffic.

Like-for-like sales for the five weeks to 5 October were up 8% year-on-year, showing that the second half of the year has started in much in the same manner as the first half ended.

Former Original Factory Shop boss Angela Spindler joined as Group CEO earlier this year and has said she is confident about building on these solid figures in the months ahead, with a multichannel strategy seemingly set to drive development.

"I have spent my first three months looking at the business in detail and I am extremely excited by what I have seen," she noted.

"As these results demonstrate, the business is performing well, with significant opportunity for growth in the future based around our products, delivery channels and international development."