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INTERVIEW Laura Ashley

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As Laura Ashley takes forward its multichannel strategy, Sean Anglim, chief operating officer and Gail Cayuela, head of direct business at the fashion-to-furnishings retailer told Internet Retailing about developments – and of plans for the future.

It’s a matter of weeks since Laura Ashley launched its mobile site, and already many are using it to browse and buy furniture from sofas to beds and more via their smartphones. Some 8% of Laura Ashley’s ecommerce traffic now comes via its mobile site, based on Venda‘s mobile platform, while single orders have been worth as much as £1,500.

The company already has Android and iPhone apps, as well as an iPad app, but up to now had held off launching its mobile site until it was able to use it to showcase all its online range. Now smartphone users can see any one of 70 sofa shapes in any of 130 fabrics, and then buy over their phone. So, does anyone look at sofas on small smartphone screens? “They look and they buy, which is really encouraging for us,” said Gail Cayuela, head of direct business at Laura Ashley. “Sofas, beds, cabinet furniture, console tables – they’re all being bought on mobile, which is really fantastic news.”

The launch of the mobile site is the latest development in the rollout of Laura Ashley’s multichannel strategy. Laura Ashley has 200 stores in the UK and also sells through a gradually-slowing mail order business and a growing online presence. Currently around 15% of Laura Ashley’s sales take place online, and the expectation, said Sean Anglim, chief operating officer at the retailer, was that some of that trade will migrate to mobile. It also expected that mobile commerce would follow the trends set in its online business, where furniture is the largest part of its sales.

Future developments now include the launch of click and collect, expected within the next six months, as well as two international sites. Laura Ashley has delivered to France, Germany and Austria for the last two years, and says it will launch a dedicated French site within the next year. A German site is likely to follow. The brand is well-known in both markets, said Anglim, since Laura Ashley had around 20 stores in both France and Germany until 2002. Then it closed its German stores and cut the French estate back to about six stores. “But,” said Anglim, “the brand is well-known.”

At the heart of the strategy, said Anglim, is the drive to reach out to new customers, while also improving the quality of the shopper experience. The website is “incredibly important for us,” said Anglim. “It’s a part of our business that we do take a lot of time and care over.” Meanwhile click and collect will help to integrate the stores and online. This, said Anglim, “is something we can’t ignore. Quite frankly we have to offer it. It’s a key part of any multichannel strategy at the moment.” He added: “We have to make it as easy as possible for customers.” He says the company remains “open-minded” about how the stores and online will work together at a time when many are right-sizing their estates in the light of online. “I don’t think hand on heart any of us know exactly how much of their presence is going to migrate from stores to online.”

The longer-term future is likely to bring new developments again. Laura Ashley is looking at interactive TV, for example. “That’s very much in the embryonic stages,” said Anglim. “It’s something we’ll look at and if it’s right and cost effective we’ll definitely have a close look but probably too early to say.”

In the meantime, though, the focus will remain where it always is, says Anglim, and that’s on showing Laura Ashley’s products in their best light.”Our brand and company is all about the quality of our products,” he said. “We can use online, fixed line, app, mobile site, to showcase the quality of our product. It’s been seen very much as a key part of our strategy over the last decade but particularly over the last five years.

“We’ve really pushed it in terms of quality of our site. We’ve done something every year to improve the quality, the navigation, ease of use, the whole look and feel of the site. We never feel truly satisfied that it’s 100% right, always trying to improve it.”

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