Cox & Cox: the tech toolkit supporting growth

Online homewares retailer Cox & Cox said in August that its second quarter sales had jumped by 59% year-on-year, fuelled by growing demand for products in its specialist category as consumers spent more time at home than usual.

As of the end of the second quarter of its financial year, customer orders were 75% ahead of 2019, while May alone resulted in a 96% sales spike compared to the same month one year before.

Coronavirus-enforced lockdown was seemingly kind to the online retailer in terms of sales and consumer interest in the brand, but the organisation’s eCommerce lead, Aynsley Peet, says success is a culmination of significant tech investment in recent years and a "mobile-first" attitude.

"We benefited because we’re homeware focused and we’re an eCommerce operation, but without us changing our technology three years ago we wouldn’t have been in a position to grow so quickly now,” he tells Essential Retail.

“Equally, over the last few years, we’ve been heavily investing in marketing channels so we knew what was working for us. We could turn those taps on.”

Infrastructure change

In 2016, early in Peet’s career at Cox & Cox, the company opted to upgrade from Magento 1 to the Magento 2 eCommerce platform, also bringing in Netsuite’s ERP technology alongside its warehouse management system (WMS) partner Waer.

Previously, the retailer was using Magento developers to work on its ERP and WMS, which Peet describes as “not cost effective”, while the older version of the eCommerce platform was “problematic” in terms of future growth.

Since going live with the new platform in August 2017, Peet says Cox & Cox has been able to scale as a business.

“Without the tech, I’m not sure we would have been able to support our growth,” he explains.

“Where we would have struggled is distribution. It’s OK taking new orders, but you have to get them out.”

While those investments represent pillars of the eCommerce business, other tech is continually being trialled and used to help improve the experience for consumers coming to its website and interacting with the brand across the web.

Cox & Cox works with Nosto for personalisation, and Ometria for email marketing, building in various customer segmentation techniques using these tools. And although Peet acknowledges the business did not dramatically change its course of direction during lockdown, it did introduce buy now, pay later service Klarna in April.

Between the start of April and the end of August, 3,000 transactions were made via Klarna. The decision to input the payments gateway was in reaction to the brand noticing a younger demographic starting to interact with it on social media, as well as continued growth in sales generated via mobile devices.

More than 60% of Cox & Cox’s users are using mobile devices to visit the brand, and mobile revenue and traffic is up by 93% and 159%, respectively, in the year to date, according to Peet.

Peet, who was promoted from head of eCommerce to director level this week, says there has been more than a 100% uplift in traffic to its website – from all devices – in the year so far, although tablets feature much more infrequently than before and contribute less than 9% of traffic.

Other technology partners include Patchworks for middleware, ShipperHQ for shipping, and Klevu for search functionality.

Eyes open to new tech

Essential Retail spoke to Peet on the day DIY chain Homebase announced a partnership with The Hut Group to effectively outsource its eCommerce platform development, in the latest sign of retailers securing comprehensive tie-ups to support digital growth.

And Cox & Cox’s eCommerce leader recognises the digital retail world is moving quickly, but has no plans for any significant changes in the coming years. The technology from Magento, Netsuite, and Waer underpinning its operation is being renewed.

“We’re very happy with our foundations, so no major changes are expected in terms of eCommerce platforms. I do keep on top of [new] eCommerce platforms [and market changes], but we’re happy with the switch we made three years ago.”

That said, the retailer is exploring the evolution of social media as a space where consumers make transactions – and social commerce is a key area for the business’s next stage of growth, notes Peet.

Augmented reality and creating the capability for customers to see how furniture looks in their home prior to purchase is another avenue being investigated. That has been the case for some time, which arguably highlights the challenge in finding the right partners in this space.

“I don’t think we’re doing anything particularly different to other business, but social media has really taken off for us,” says Peet.

“Instagram has gone crazy for us – we buy products we can use to be ‘Instagrammable’, and when our new paint range went live it was our most engaging post on social media.”

He adds: “Social media is driving and fuelling our growth. We’ll be keen to keep our eye on social commerce and how we connect social media into catalogues and emails.

“If the timing is right and there’s an ability to move quickly, we do so.”