J. Crew - Retail Strategy
RETAIL STRATEGY – SCORE 10/25
International has been a hot topic of conversations in retail in 2013 – featuring in industry press and 3-year plans up and down the country. It is recognised as an opportunity to reach new customers and markets, often using digital channels as the advance party before committing firstly to a retail store operation, followed much later by a local logistics and distribution operation. Most UK retailers with an international offer still fulfil from the UK, often on a single order basis, even when the product originated on the continent it is being sent back to.
The focus this month is on J. Crew ; a US retailer looking at the UK retail market as prime territory to expand into, gain new customers and carve out market share. Reiss , Whistles and Banana Republic beware because at J. Crew the normal rules of retail do not necessarily apply. So, what makes this launch different.
The approach to opening the stores has been unique, focusing on experience and PR over straight forward brand recognition. The approach is portrayed as opportunistic, but it has been executed with precision, planning and a clear understanding of both the brand and PR impact the openings seek to have. The genius and innovation of the approach is refreshingly simple and close to my heart as being customer-centred in its inception. Rather than grabbing PR inches through short-lived events or campaigns, the innovation is built into the heart of the store location strategy.
The launch was preceded in May by the opening of a pop-up shop in King’s Cross and the provision of an annual scholarship for one student at Central Saint Martins College of Arts & Design.
The full store openings in October broke the chain-store mould of opening 3 identi-kit stores, by launching 3 different stores specific to the location and target market in that area. The flagship more traditional store in Regents Street is supported by a well placed womenswear boutique in Chelsea and a menswear-only brand in Lambs Conduit which carry’s the name of the street rather than the J.Crew brand. The whole approach shows a confidence in the product and the brand and an understanding of the target customer and market opportunity.
The launch into the UK has been store led, not digital first. To be clear – there is a UK web and mobile site which support both pricing in GBP and shipping to the UK. These have been live and testing the market since 2011. However, the focus of the brand launch has been almost exclusively on the physical locations, with the digital channel lagging behind in terms of both hype and experience. The web and mobile sites are functional, and allow orders to be processed, but maintain a very clear feeling of a US-based company shipping from US with US terminology not adapted to the UK market (shipping & duties in place of delivery & taxes). There is only a small flash on the homepage mentioning the store openings, with an inoperable link to find out more.
The launch strategy has clearly been thought through and executed very deliberately. However it is a arguably a missed opportunity to not reinvigorate the digital experience in-line with the retail store openings, and create a point of differentiation online from other US retailers such as Macys and Bloomingdales who have a UK shipping option with no physical presence. In its current incarnation, the digital experience for J. Crew is of a remote not local retailer. Unfortunately for J. Crew the attention the website has attracted is in the differential pricing across the UK & US sites, with the UK paying an average of 40% more after currency conversion, although prices do include tax and delivery to a UK address.
More crucially, when compared to the UK competition, the multichannel experience is lacking, with the delivery proposition of 4-8 days failing to take advantage of either delivery from store or collection from store as a way of competing with next day or check & reserve propositions.
However, J. Crew is an innovative brand, and in the US market uses digital creatively and extensively – ranging from previews of the Autumn collection on Pinterest through to personalised emails with stylist advice and embracing the blogosphere of “crewaholics”. The launch of the stores in London has been exciting and innovative. I look forward to seeing the same from J. Crew in the digital space.Scoring
The simple scoring from Transform is based on whether or not five services are offered by the retailer in the UK with a score of 0 for no and 5 for yes. On this basis, J. Crew scores 10/25.
Collection in-store: No
Mobile app: No
Mobile web: Yes
iPad app: No
In-store tech: Yes