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INTERVIEW Bruce MacInnes of BrandAlley on the importance of meeting customer expectations

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Retailers must focus on the customer, delivering an experience that meets their expectations at every point, says Bruce MacInnes, chairman of BrandAlley UK.

It’s important, he says, that shoppers’ experiences on the designer discount site, and their experience of the brands that they sell, stays consistent from the website to the point of delivery. “Delivering a customer-centric experience is about a whole mindset for a business from everything that it does, its culture and its values, through to the detail of the way that it operates,” said MacInnes, speaking to InternetRetailing at IRX 2018. “It’s about finding ways in which to serve a customer better, to deliver the experience where the customer feels really valued, and the different points in the journey that that can involve.”

MacInnes joined forces five years ago with BrandAlley UK chief executive Rob Feldmann to buy out the business from its previous owners, the French BrandAlley group and News International. Since then the strategy has been about improving the way that the website meets customers expectations. “I’m not sure that customers’ demands have necessarily changed that significantly,” says MacInnes. “I think the way we’ve served them has probably been better in terms of meeting what they want. I think that what customers want is really very simple. First of all, the most important thing is they want to buy what they’re expecting to buy. To be able to find it easily and when they see the product they really like, they want it to be as the image and the product description conveys it will be.”

Meeting the delivery promise

If the most important thing is to get the product right – and that’s all about working with great brands – then the second most important thing is to ensure that the customer gets it when they expect it, says MacInnes. “We have a business model that makes it harder for us to fulfil a customer’s expectation than many other businesses because of the way we operate,” he says. “We reserve stock with our brands, run a sale that lasts between four and eight days, and then place an order with the brand at the end of that sale, have them deliver to our warehouse and then ship out to our customer. There’s an inherent delay in that process.”

BrandAlley approaches that problem both by having more products stocked in the warehouse up front – between 60% and 70% of products shipped now come direct from the warehouse – and by being very transparent about when an item will be delivered. “When you’re on our home page, underneath each sale you’ll have the discount level for that particular brand, which might be up to 70% off. Immediately below that you’ll have a little van and the delivery dates for that.”

The mobile effect

BrandAlley doesn’t release its figures, but MacInnes says sales are growing at more than 100%, year-on-year, boosted by factors including its recent acquisition of homewares sale site Achica. Now the business is working across sales channels to improve the customer experience still further. Most of its traffic – more than 85% during the day at still more at night – comes via mobile devices, along with more than 70% of sales. As yet that comes via a responsive website, but the retailer is now developing a mobile app, with a focus on increasing site speed through faster product recall.

“Site speed is something I’m obsessed about improving,” says MacInnes. “We have OK site speed currently, it’s the thing that drives conversion more than anything else. We’re upgrading our core software platform in the next few months and we expect to see very significant improvements to our site speed off the back of that.”

It’s also looking to improve search, in order to help customers more effectively narrow down their hunt for the right item. Another possible future channel may lie in opening the first BrandAlley shop. “We are considering opening a store, we’ve been approached by a developer for an outlet shopping mall where they are keen to have us as a flagship within that centre, and we think it is potentially a really interesting opportunity for us,” says MacInnes. One approach could be as a way to enable the brands it works with to show off their own products. Another could be a physical showcasing of products only available online. But the important thing in any store, he says, will be to focus on the value of the brands it sells – and that’s something that runs across BrandAlley.

The brand relationship

When he’s asked to describe BrandAlley, says MacInnes, he says it’s like Bicester Village online. It’s important, he says, that being on BrandAlley makes a brand more, rather than less attractive. “When you buy Mulberry from BrandAlley you think: ‘Wow, I’ve got an amazing deal, what a fabulous brand. [That’s because] you shop with that range of products that makes it attractive to shop there, you’ve been exposed to our marketing images in terms of lifestyle imagery, brand imagery that reinforce the premium quality of the brands that we’re presenting.”

That focus on the brand and curating the brand is something the business will concentrate on as it looks to expand. “We see this as being still a young market with a huge opportunity for us to go after,” says MacInnes. “We’re growing extremely fast now, it’s taken us a while to get all of the pieces alive, to deliver the quality of customer experience to make that happen. We’re very excited about the future. I see no reason why we can’t be as big a business in the UK as Vente Privée is in France. I also think in the medium to longer term there are opportuniies for us to do things overseas.”

Image: InternetRetaiing Media

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