Big Interview: Liberty on growing eCommerce

Six weeks into his role as director of eCommerce at Liberty, Eric Fergusson has a lot to tick off his to-do list. While the luxury department store has been trading online for nearly a decade, it still sells 90% of its goods through its iconic store on Great Marlborough Street in the West End of London.

“We’ve got a fantastic business based around one store which has operated for over 100 years and performed extremely well, but it’s finite in its space,” explains Fergusson, who recently joined Liberty from retail services company, eCommera.

One obvious way it can grow is by improving its online capabilities, where it can create endless aisles for its luxury items. But it is these beautiful, and quite often, unique products which makes online a little tricky for the department store retailer.

“The challenge as a luxury retailer is that thin stock on a good proportion of your range makes the importance of inventory very high,” says Fergusson, during an interview at Salesforce’s Xchange conference in Copenhagen this week.

Even uploading a luxury item online can be a lot of effort if you’re only going to sell one or two items – in the store Liberty has an oriental carpet range with 1,000 unique designs, which is clearly not practical to upload one-by-one to the website.

Ensuring accurate inventory and deciding exactly how to balance fulfilment from its DC or from store is one of the first challenges Fergusson must address. But it is definitely not the only challenge.

“We have lots of wonderful things we can do: make more of our range available online, increase awareness abroad, we don’t shout about ourselves much through digital marketing, and we don’t do much with user-generated content even though we have over 100,000 interaction on Instagram.”

He adds: “What keeps me awake isn’t a burning fear, it’s the to-do list, it’s committing and working through this.”

Agile working

Luckily for Fergusson, the business believes in agile ways of working and using data to drive ongoing change.

“It’s about nimbler, smaller, engagements, rather than large commitments,” he says. “We are encouraged to try things more frequently and, oddly in certain circumstances, to stop obsessing over [perfection].”

Fergusson says this agile mentality means the retailer has to stop and think about the technology its deploying and make changes if it isn’t working – learning all the time.

There are only a handful of Zuckerburgs that exist and we’re not likely to hire him at Liberty,” he says. “So we have to learn and improve rather than thinking one person has the answer.”

Content and commerce

One of Liberty’s big strengths is its commitment to editorial, with a team of 15 responsible for online and in-store content, as well as marketing and photo retouches.

“Having that passion and love and interest is great and they spend a lot of time writing wonderful things.”

This content ranges from detailed product descriptions for online products so customers can really see the item in their homes, to an in-depth interview with an interior designer. “It’s so rich and very engaging.”

Using the Salesforce Commerce Cloud platform, Liberty is able to ensure this valuable content is placed in prominent position on the homepage, and read on associated product pages. The retailer also works with Amplience to make content curation easier across the site.

“We’ve got some great examples where edits have sold out online,” adds Fergusson. “We know that a compelling story with a shoppable product sells out, there’s no debate on that."