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INTERVIEW Liberty: set for growth

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Eric Fergusson, director of ecommerce at luxury department store Liberty London , looks ahead to a time in the near future when the company has a much greater ecommerce presence

Liberty wants its online business to be “10 times bigger” than it is today. “Ecommerce has huge potential at Liberty, in that it’s not the share of revenue you would expect,” says the department store’s recently appointed director of ecommerce, Eric Fergusson, speaking to InternetRetailing.net at the recent Salesforce XChange EMEA event in Copenhagen.

In trying to maximize this potential, says Fergusson, Liberty has huge advantages. At a time when luxury retail has been holding up well, the company’s West End store has been “going gangbusters”. Moreover, its ethos, rooted in its associations with the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau, chimes with customers who want items more unusual than the international brands that are a staple at Harrods or Selfridges. “[Liberty] talks to language around curation, it talks about discovery. It’s about bringing to people things that they may not have seen elsewhere,” says Fergusson.

Liberty wants to – and indeed already does – build on this in its ecommerce offering. “It is about driving engagement, it’s about driving content, it’s about storytelling, it’s about beautiful products and experience, and joining that up with the store where it’s relevant, and delivering [this] more than reliably against customer expectation,” says Fergusson.

But this enviable heritage presents challenges too. As a premium, single-site department store that may have only one or two units of certain items, inventory will always be an issue because Liberty doesn’t have as much room for error as multi-site retailers. “The mechanics mean you have a much wider range that you have much shallower cover on,” says Fergusson.

This “can make traditional ecommerce quite difficult”. Photography, for example, can become much more expensive per unit. Against this, the company owns many designs, which represent a portfolio it’s already successfully promoting via the “product verticals” of its Liberty London brand.

Other challenges will be familiar to retailers across the board. “We want one view of stock, we want one view of customer and it all sounds dreadfully easy,” Fergusson says, “but the process of getting there tends to be technology, people, process and customer understanding of it. On our part, we’ve got more on people and process to work on, and for no bad reason, it’s just because 95% of what we do is in store and we’ve been doing it extremely well.”

Fergusson acknowledges a tension between the need to drive growth and potentially damaging the brand but, highlighting the digital work of the company’s “wonderful creative editorial team”, he adds, “I think at the moment we’ve probably got more opportunity to make more of that transparently shoppable and we’ve got a long way to go before anyone would ever be concerned about us being overly commercial. But there are more people in the business who are going to keep me honest about that than the other way around.”
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