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IR 2012 SHOW REPORT: House of Fraser on its dotcom store, and more

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In our final report from Internet Retailing 2012, we took the opportunity of House of Fraser ecommerce director Andy Harding’s address to the conference to find out just how the innovative stores have worked out so far. We also report on some of the other presentations that packed the three-stream agenda over the course of the day.

It’s almost a year since House of Fraser brought the store and the internet together into the format, which Speaking to Internet Retailing at IR2012, Andy Harding , ecommerce director at House of Fraser, said the .com stores had been “a great success”. Key to that success, he said, had been the concierge service that helps people as they browse. “The fact we have trained staff able to help with finding outfits and trying on clothes, that’s the key,” he said.

Harding said decisions on the next phase of development would be made in the New Year, after the full year of operation has been completed and the peak season passed. “It’s just coming up to one year,” he said, “then we’ll start thinking about rolling it out elsewhere.”

“As part of next year’s budgeting process there’ll be decisions about what we do in terms of more of them,” he said. But, he added, “the evolution of them is clear”. As well as potentially featuring in more stores, the user experience will be developed for use in existing stores.

“We’ve learnt so much from customers telling us how they enjoy engaging with a brand and enjoy the interfaces on screens in the stores as well as the concierge service,” said Harding. “All these elements we know we can improve on. I think as we start to do more digital fitting and outfit building, enabling the user experience on the screen to be much more browse capable, we will see those stores come into their own much more.”

Many customers are still making the step change to the “different type of retail,” he said. “But once we get things like outfit building on avatars on screen in the store, and trying on different clothes virtually, that I think we will be interesting and we’ll see again a step change in how customers use and engage with the store.”

Earlier, in his presentation to the conference, Harding said that 35% of House of Fraser’s online orders were now Buy and Collect orders, a service for which the .com stores are a focus. And, he said, a quarter of those collecting online orders in store go on to buy something else when they come in. stores, he told the audience, are an opportunity to spread the brand presence in areas where it has strong internet sales, and to which that Buy and Collect service is critical.

In terms of return on investment, he said, a 2,000 sq ft .com store need only “move the needle on internet sales very, very slightly and you are talking payback.” was developed with ecommerce partner eCommera.

Other priority areas for House of Fraser include mobile commerce, which, said Harding would present a “whole new set of contexts for people to understand customer behaviour.” In this area cracking both crosschannel attribution of sales, and digital payments would be key to the way the sector developed, he said. Once NFC is included in the iPhone, and Harding predicted that will come with the iPhone 5S, customer point of sale in stores would have to be equipped with the technology, he said.

Elsewhere in the conference, Jody Goodall, head of solutions architecture at Kiddicare and Morrisons, teamed up with HookLogic’s chief executive Jonathan Opdyke for a presentation that showed how Kiddicare is using paid-for advertising to monetise its ecommerce site. “If it’s done right, in the right context and not in an obtrusive way, it can provide inspiration, information, decision tools and value,” he said. “Good advertising provides these things.”

Speaking in the Towards the cross-channel store environment panel discussion, Sean McKee, head of ecommerce and customer services at Schuh, said the challenge was to deal with an “always on” customer who had a pretty low attention span and was very much in charge of the way that the retailer interacted with customers. “We see the smartphone as the most important thing that has happened in retailing since the advent of the internet 10-15 years ago,” he said. “It is fundamentally changing the way we interact with our customers.” While the retailer had tried technology including in-store kiosks, ultimately it had decided that the best way forward was to enable the technology the customer brought with them – the smartphone.

In the same discussion, Mark Cody, senior marketing manager – mobile at, said its move to offer free wi-fi in its stores meant it now had 0.5m connected shoppers in its stores. The connection is free for 15 minutes, or for an unlimited time to Clubcard holders. “I think we can’t stop customers using the phone in store so I think we should be encouraging it and making it easy for shoppers,” he said. “The in-store opportunity is really important, but mobile is part of the glue to help unlock that.”

Finally, Nikos Karaoulanis, user experience design lead at Marks and Spencer, told the audience that its in-store digital experience included a mobile website and mobile app. “We’re designing the e-store,” he said. “It ranges from small applications all the way to big screens. But I guess that the challenge is how do you design across all these things and keep it consistent? How do you make sure our customers make sure they know what to expect. The other challenge is who do you design for. My feeling, from the research I’ve seen, is that sometimes we underestimate our customers. They use mobile elsewhere in their lives and bring their expectations in store.”

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