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Analysis: Mobile and US key as NBrown group transformation continues

N Brown group, which includes such brands as JD WilliamsSimply Be and Jacamo, delivered a solid, albeit unspectacular, set of numbers this morning.

The retailer was keen to position its full year results against a challenging market backdrop, which is causing major problems for many of its rivals. Group revenue was £922.2 million during the 52 weeks to March 3, compared with £887.7 million the year before. 

Five years ago, N Brown group was a catalogue business with growth largely coming from its consumer credit proposition. It has now reinvented itself as an online fashion venture, striving to make its offering relevant to increasingly fickle, demanding customers. The numbers suggest it is making decent progress. It reported that online revenue rose 10% year-on-year, whilst 76% of all traffic came from mobile devices. 

Simply Be was the standout brand, with revenue rising by 16.3%. “We are now the clear leaders in the plus size fashion market,” claimed CEO, Angela Spindler. Elsewhere, JD Williams revenue was up 3.2% and Jacamo increased sales by 5.1%.

And international expansion is paying off. USA revenue stood at +21% in the second half, and Global Ship Anywhere has now been launched. “The USA is our first priority,” said Spindler, adding that, “Simply Be has relaunched in the country and the initial response has been encouraging.”

Catherine Shuttleworth, CEO at Savvy, commented: “This is positive news coming from N Brown, in particular strong growth in online sales. The announcement that 76% of all traffic came from mobile devices demonstrates with total clarity that sofa shopping is not limited to millennials and that an always on and sharp online shopping experience is critical to growing the top and bottom line for clothing retailers.”

Digital transformation

Evolving from a catalogue to a digital model has not been without its challenges. The company admits it is navigating its way through some complicated legacy issues, including making supply chain processes more flexible.

The focus is on integrated supply chain, logistics and product teams. New faces have been brought in to aid this effort, with Adam Warne and Phil Barnes joining as chief information officer and director of supply chain respectively. 

The former will lead technology innovation and the enhancement of IT services across the group. He spent nine years in the technology team at AO.com and most recently was group IT Director. Barnes, meanwhile, will lead the team to further advance its customer service proposition. He joined from SIG where he was responsible for delivering its transformation programme across Europe. 

There has also been significant investment in technology. This has resulted in new apps, including one for JD Williams, developed in-house, and a 19% improvement in page load speed. N Brown Group has also adopted IBM Cloud, saying that, with a hybrid cloud environment, it could trade with more agility and better serve its four million active customers more seamlessly across multiple digital channels, expanding its reach into new marketplaces and geographies. It implemented IBM Cloud to deliver new Oracle applications in a first of its kind project unifying financial and retail processes. 

The fashion market and the wider economy look set to remain challenging. March was a tough month, bringing, as it did, the Beast from the East. “However, trade is improving through April, and at this early stage in the new financial year our overall expectations are unchanged,” said Spindler.

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