Fenwick’s lockdown journey to eCommerce growth

When the UK descended into lockdown in the spring many retailers immediately switched their efforts to eCommerce, fulfilling orders from their warehouses to keep up with the increasing online demand when stores were forced to close their doors.

While some retailers temporarily shut their warehouses while they tightened up their safety measures, a few were left with more significant challenges and had to pivot their businesses significantly to keep trading.

Fairly new to the world of online retailing, 140-year-old department chain Fenwick, picks its online orders by hand from store and struggled to operate this model at the beginning of lockdown. Shortly after the enforced government restrictions, Fenwick’s website informed customers:

“We are a family owned business and we work a bit differently to some online retailers. We have tried to keep our online business running to serve you – but we don’t have huge warehouses and automated systems, instead a group of dedicated workers hand pick the items you purchase from one of our designated stores, carefully wrap and pack them, ready for delivery.”

And it was down to the digital director of Fenwick, Kate Smyth, and her team to think quickly on their feet and make a plan to get sales up and running again.

Adapting its eCommerce picking model

“Particularly at the start of lockdown, things were changing so quickly, we were trying to make the best decisions for colleagues and customers with the information that we had.”

Speaking at Salesforce Live’s virtual conference this week, Smyth describes how the first couple of weeks of lockdown were focused on making three stores safe to be able to reopen its online operations as quickly as possible. Starting with its Kingston store, the team re-worked the space and layout and asked colleagues in the wider business if they could step in and help. “So many people were isolated or couldn’t travel safely, but people helped from all parts of the business.”

With social distancing measures in place, and staff trained in pick, pack and dispatch, Fenwick reopened online a mere three weeks after informing customers it would be unable to fulfil any more orders. The three stores it used to pick online orders prior to lockdown were turned into dark stores, while shortly later it added its Newcastle flagship to its lockdown fleet of what Smyth called “mini distribution centres”.

Fenwick used its Salesforce Order Management System to manage the changed way of working. The software took multiple feeds from the four store locations informing the website of available stock, while staff used handheld devices – similar to that used in a warehouse management system – to provide the information on what they need to pick and pack. “It’s very light touch in store,” says Smyth.

Online + stores

Now that stores are open again, customers are back walking around the stores, moving products and trying on items in the changing room, which adds another layer of complexity to the pick from store method. But Smyth explains how the order management system provides a buffer and if an item is low in stock it relocates the pick to the next store to locate the item for the online sale.

Smyth says that while lockdown posed real challenges to the retailer, Fenwick was able to grow its online offer during the period by keeping an eye on trends and adapting quickly. For example, it could see a lot of shoppers searching for garden furniture during the sunny lockdown period when customers were confined to their gardens, but the department store didn’t offer large goods online as it did not have a two-man delivery proposition. Working with its logistics provider it was able to quickly add garden furniture to its website and work on a local level to fulfil those orders in a safe way.

Fenwick’s website orders have now grown enough to justify a third-party warehouse which went live in August and prepares the retailer for the upcoming Christmas peak. Smyth says by using the order management software it is also prepared for further local lockdowns, with the ability to turn off one of its five DCs and allocate that order to a safer area without restrictions.

Huge digital strides

“Because it’s run by our store teams, it keeps that relationship between store and digital really close because everyone is part of the online journey,” she says. “And now we’re operating in-store and online it’s opening opportunities for future growth

Over a period of around two years, the retailer has made “huge strides in digital across the business in a small space of time,” from a simple content website to functioning eCommerce channel as well as implementing CRM, email marketing and in-store customer Wi-Fi and digital receipts.

She says: “We were starting from very little or no digital technology, but that [Salesforce] single stack enables us to implement new processes really easily.”