Interview: Figleaves on mobile-first and bra fitting online

Established in the late '80s, Figleaves was a very early adopter of eCommerce technology. Using dotcom money spent on developing its own systems and infrastructure, the founders created a pureplay lingerie retailer. But pushing 30 years later, the in-house systems which enabled the retailer to trade in 100 countries across the globe have become dated in a mobile-first retailing industry.

Tom Fitzgibbons, head of web and IT at Figleaves, describes to Essential Retail how up until recently, all the e-tailer's systems, platforms and applications were custom built in-house, supported by an IT team of 16 in its Hertfordshire HQ.

"But over time, people left and some of that knowledge was lost within the business," he explains. "The upgrades were not as forthcoming as we wanted, they were very difficult to support, maintain and improve and the situation was more and more costly."

Fitzgibbons says it became difficult to keep pace with the market and deliver the digital customer experience expected today, by its 1.2 million monthly visitors.

"It was a strategic decision to focus Figleaves as an online retailer first and an IT company second, by procuring the right technology and configuring on top of that, even if in-house development is slightly more bespoke in the end."

It is a situation many early online adopters have found themselves in, as their once-leading technology stack lags behind new digital enhancements available in the industry. Charles Tyrwhitt suffered from the same problem, as its legacy systems prevented the retailer from scaling its business.

So it may be unsurprising that both Charles Tyrwhitt and Figleaves decided on Demandware as the vendor of choice. Beginning work in January, Figleaves expects to be live with its new responsive web platform in August – three and a half years after launching an site for mobile customers.

"Mobile penetration is up and up and tablet is falling as mobiles are getting bigger," explains Fitzgibbons. "Our initial mobile site was a relatively slimmed down version of the website and more of a purchasing website on a separate domain."

From next month, mobile customers will be presented with a responsive website on the same website. "One of the key decisions we've made is to make sure the content works for a mobile customer first, and then render that back up to desktop and tablet customers."

Customers will also begin to experience a personalisation when they arrive at the site. "We're tying to make the website a lot simpler for customers, and a big thing with the Demandware platform is the ability to personalise the website, giving customers the right content at the right time – if a man who only buys Calvin Klein boxers visits the site, he doesn't want a billboard advert about bras and swimwear."

The personalisation technology works for logged-in customers, but Fitzgibbons says the retailer is experimenting with cookies and looking at how anonymous visitors travel around the website, in order to deliver relevant products.


As well as product content, imagery and descriptions, the new website is going to push more editorial content to customers. "We really recognise our customers are looking for more," he adds. "Such as information on how to put on a bra as well as inspirational blog content, which we hope will get customers to come back and read without needing to purchase, making the new website a destination."

Figleaves MD, Fiona Holmes, tells Essential Retail the retailer takes fitting very seriously, despite being a pureplay.

"Everything we sell is worn close to the skin, so the fit is absolutely critical," she says, noting how Figleaves has employees in the call centre who are expert at fitting bras over the phone by learning the sizing of different brands customers already wear and how they relate to Figleaves bras. The retailer also produces videos and tutorials, which give information like where straps fit on the shoulders and how the bra should sit.

"Lots of our customers know what they want because bras are a replacement purchase – they buy the same product in the same size two or three times a year, so it's about making sure we have those sizes available for them and we're constantly tweaking our size algorithm."

Selling lingerie, swimwear, nightwear and menswear, Figleaves offers a range of sizes from AA-K cup and sells over 200 brands, as well as its own collections.

Holmes also points out that online is the perfect place to buy lingerie because it is an intimate purchase. "You don't have to get undressed in a public changing room," she explains. "You have the experience in your own home and you can see how your own clothes fit on top. And we have free returns – we would never change that."

She says despite the multiple different sizes of bras, Figleaves' returns are consistent with the industry average and are significantly less than clothing. "We see our new customers buying multiple items and not keeping them all, but when they return, they send less back."

Back in 2010, Figleaves was bought by N Brown for £11.5 million and six years later, along with the website replatform, the e-tailer is also launching a new look for the brand, which Holmes says is clean and modern, reflected in the new website. Figleaves is also choosing to strip its parcel packaging of all branding, to encourage more deliveries to people's work. 

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