How Seasalt is navigating a course of digital expansion amid choppy waters

High-street success stories are increasingly hard to find, but Cornish fashion chain Seasalt has been riding a wave. It now has 70 stores across the UK and Ireland, with 59 opened in the last seven years and is stocked in 400 outlets, including Next and John Lewis. Last year sales rose by £14 million to £66 million.  

But like any retailer it has not escaped the Covid-19 outbreak unscathed, with the company losing about a third of its sales revenue for the year due to lockdown.    

But the pandemic has seen a growth in Seasalt’s online traffic and sales – although the firm had been planning a digital revamp for some time.

“In the middle of last year we sat down as a business, looked at our strategy, and thought if we want to grow at scale in a consolidated way, we need to supercharge our digital transformation,” Will Charnley, omnichannel director at Seasalt, tells Essential Retail. “In terms of Covid that was obviously a really good call – through luck more than anything else.”

In order to get to the next level of growth – both in the UK and internationally – Seasalt decided to not just “lift the bonnet” on its eCommerce platform, but look at the whole web of technologies that surround its website.  

“Our current processes are extremely clunky around manually uploading products to different channels whether it be a catalogue, store cards, or website,” says Charnley. “It’s a big exercise every month.” Not only is it time-consuming, but human error can creep in as the company and product range grows – with item categorisations and descriptions sometimes differing between the website, catalogues, and customer services.

Anchoring growth

Seasalt’s new Product Information Management (PIM) platform, Akeneo, enables the company to centralise all its product data and keep it consistent across all channels.

“It picks up little things like duplications, which is brilliant,” says Charnley. “It enables single internal journeys regardless of what channel you’re firing that product information to, so you don’t have to go back round the houses to do something slightly different for the catalogue, or potential future technologies like chatbots… it’s really scalable and flexible, allowing us to grow at pace.”

It currently takes about three days to launch a product range, but once the PIM platform is launched at the end of the year, he estimates that time will be at least halved. Another advantage of the PIM system easily integrates with its new Magento eCommerce platform

Seasalt’s online growth has occurred organically, inevitably taking centre stage during lockdown. “It’s been a fantastic time for online,” Charnley confirms. “We could have easily gone to the position of ‘let’s just drive discounts and really push the sale messages’ – but we’ve actually maintained a full price strategy and responded to where the customer was at that time.”

As lockdown restrictions lift and Seasalt's stores reopen, customers can book private shopping sessions online at their local store – the ultimate socially distanced shopping experience.

With its roots as a family-run business, Seasalt has enjoyed success in fostering an online community – even more so during lockdown. On social media the marketing team has worked on creating supportive, escapist content that had nothing to do with clothes – such as online book clubs, recipes, soundscapes and posts on lockdown life in Cornwall.

“Lots of new customers really responded to that content,” says Charnley. “We do like to feel we’re a bit of a community. Retail is about experience and people, not just about selling stuff… which is easy to lose sight of during the Covid period.”