BIG INTERVIEW: Jones Bootmaker boss Andrew White

It's been a busy period for Jones Bootmaker commercial director Andrew White, with his company having just launched a dedicated mobile website in October and a new reserve & collect service on 12 November.

A traditional retailer with classic values in customer service and premium product ranges, Jones is not a company that typically leads the way in complex retail technologies, but the 2011 takeover by Dutch conglomerate Macintosh has brought a step change in its offering.

Earlier in 2013 the company launched a new eCommerce platform, which has helped year-to-date online retail sales grow 30%, and it is now building on this investment to offer new tools and customer options in-store and on the web.

Having experimented with in-store iPads as tools for assisted selling in two of its stores, Jones will next year be introducing the tablets in all of its children's fitting rooms to measure kids' feet and help create an interactive shopping environment for its younger customers. It's an initiative that will be run in conjunction with popular brand Clark's.

"With kids, it's more about being child friendly and making the purchase more enjoyable because it's a much longer process when you're measuring their feet," White commented.

"The ultimate aim of the tool is that it provides the measure but introduces interactive characters for the kids, which can help the child and parent through the purchase process."

In terms of using in-store tablet technology for adults, White sees this as something that won't be widely rolled out for at least 15 months – and when it is, he is keen for it to be used in conjunction with traditional customer interaction methods and to allow each shop to offer a full range.

"We've trialled the webstore on an iPad in two stores this year and found it useful for assisted service, but you can't just let customers use it on their own," he remarked.

"The touchscreen for adults is much more about the cross channel approach, and we've got reserve & collect now which fits in with this strategy."

Other new developments set for 2014 include a standalone website for the Jones sister brand Gordon Scott, which is a classic shoe company with four of its own stores that are marketed at an older audience. The new site is scheduled to arrive in time for the autumn 2014 season.

White explained: "We want to develop a website and sell the relevant brands that fit with Gordon Scott, rather than on the Jones site. The idea would be to make Jones a bit more contemporary and fashionable.

"Generally online you end up discounting too much and end up selling too wide a range, which can confuse the customer. We'd rather sell from two platforms and have a more focused approach on each, rather than potentially putting off our core customers."

In today's retail industry, a company cannot talk about eCommerce development without mentioning a strategy for mobile users at the same time, and Jones' mobile-specific website has recently been launched as part of the business's burgeoning multichannel approach.

"We're finding a lot of people are browsing the mobile site first while they are in town and then going into the store to make a purchase – it's a good conversion tool from that point of view."

The retailer's new web platform – which was developed by Dutch company Aviva – means it can now better analyse email addresses and customer data. From this position, White's team is planning some specific regional online marketing campaigns for next year, particularly centred on its traditional larger stores.

This comes despite the current store opening strategy being focused on smaller units of around 750 sq ft in small but affluent towns such as Dorchester and Cirencester. Jones has opened nine stores this year and is planning opening in ten new locations in 2014 through a mixture of concessions and standalones.

Interestingly, White said that he has pulled the company out of Manchester's Trafford Centre and Arndale Shopping Centre in recent months due to what he perceived as high service charges, and the plan now is to extend the retailer's coverage outside of the main conurbations.

"We're going for regional coverage, but rather than moving into very expensive and overrated shopping centres we're going for high street locations and market towns – not too dissimilar from what Phase Eight and White Stuff have done."

Year-to-date EBIT is currently 8% above last year's figure, but like-for-like sales are slightly down as the business has focused on growing margin and moving away from the discounting culture that has crept into retail over the last few years. According to the commercial director, this phenomenon "hasn't done the industry any favours".

A strong focus for Jones in the coming 12 months will be on stopping this cycle of discounting and trying to convey a message of good customer service and clear product proposition. Arguably more than ever before at the company, this will be driven by new technology and eCommerce tools.

White said that prior to the Macintosh takeover, Jones did not have sufficient money to invest in online and multichannel development. The activity of the last few months proves that things are different now.

"Macintosh is a big organisation, very technology-focused and committed to developing cross channel, and it is not afraid to invest in it," he explained.

"From a Jones' perspective we've not only had the financial backing, which has been great, but we've also now got the group level expertise and have employed some great people in the UK to help us with our plans. From our point of view it's about making online work with the stores, rather than against them – and we're finally starting to crack that now."