We asked Paul Kendrick, managing director of Studio.co.uk, which recently changed its name from Express Gifts, to tell us about the retailer, its customers, and how it will be approaching peak trading
InternetRetailing: Tell us about Studio and who its customers typically are.
Paul Kendrick, managing director of Studio: A value online retailer, Studio was historically a catalogue business before it transitioned into an online retailer. We have recently undertaken a digital transformation, resulting in over 80% of our sales generated online which has helped contribute to its £424m turnover and operating profit of £39.5m – a growth of almost 40% in the last three years. A true value retailer, we sell a broad range of products across a wide variety of categories including fashion, homewares, electricals and gifts. What’s more, we specialise in personalisation, offering our customers a free personalisation service on an extensive range of products.
Our customers are savvy, value-seeking shoppers that cover a broad age spectrum, but we do have an especially strong affinity with families.
IR: How do you think those customers now want to buy – and how does that change in the run up to Christmas?
PK: Today over 80% of our orders come through the website but our catalogue heritage is still important to us, with our catalogues having adapted as time has moved on and becoming an essential part of our marketing toolkit. They showcase to our customers the breadth and depth of our offering and encourage online purchasing.
This desire to buy online increases further during the run up to Christmas, as our digital channels take an even higher share of sales. Mobile is continuing to grow and now accounts for 50% of our sales and, we expect our new app to increase online traffic as customers find it another convenient way to shop.
The major change around the run up to Christmas isn’t how our customers buy, but what they buy. Although our toys and gifts are very successful, it is our personalised product ranges that have really grown in popularity. We have family options such as personalised robes for all ages, starting at £8 for children and £10 for adults, and our personalised wooden toys are great value – they truly are the perfect gifts.
During Black Friday week last year, we sold 67,000 robes and 42,000 personalised Christmas decorations. This year, with ongoing uncertainty around Brexit, we will continue to focus on the great value and extensive range we can offer our customers this Christmas.
IR: How has the Studio offer evolved in order to give customers that kind of service?
PK: Studio has evolved as it has moved through the decades, having come from a catalogue business to an online retailer. We recently re-branded from Express Gifts to Studio.co.uk. because this allowed us to be more in line with the brand our customers know us for, but also more digitally focused.
We have strengthened our skills in digital development, online marketing and data analytics, as well as introducing AI based tools to improve our online search and add value within our Financial Service business. For example, we have implemented a fraud tool which protects customers as well as providing benefits to the business.
Our transformation is by no means complete and we have many exciting developments planned, including the launch of our first app, which is expected later this year.
IR: Tell us about one or two big challenges that you see coming up – how will you deal with those?
One challenge we all face is Brexit, mainly due to the uncertainty it creates for customers and businesses. Our biggest concerns here are how exchange rates will cause prices to rise and how the customers’ uncertainty will impact their buying confidence. We are continuing to work behind the scenes to manage these changes and impacts as best we can, so that we continue to offer exceptional value and give our customers a reason to continue to choose Studio.
As we continue to grow as a business, we need to be able to recruit and retain the best talent. Being a business based in Accrington has its challenges. Despite being a major local employer, we haven’t been seen as a digital retailer. As part of our re brand we have been doing a lot of work around Studio’s culture, values, behaviours and the individual growth of our employees. These changes will hopefully allow us to attract new talent, as well as train and develop our current employees’ skillset.
IR: What opportunities do you see in the future?
PK: Our future is looking bright as a digital online retailer. Our customers are drawn in by our value and keep coming back thanks to our great quality and prices and we hope to continue to wow our customers with our range and value.
IR: How do you want to see Studio’s strategy for the future develop?
PK: We aim to continue to drive our digital transformation, enhancing our data capabilities and using this to better target customers with personalised offers. Combining this with ongoing product development, we will hunt for the best value so that our customers don’t have to. Our future is as a destination shop for those seeking out fantastic value.
Image courtesy of Studio Retail