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Digital transformation

House of Fraser has topped our list of Elite retailers in the Mobile and Cross-channel Dimension of the IRUK500 for 2016 – so what is the retailer doing right and what can others learn from HoF? Paul Skeldon talks to Sarah Stagg, the retailer’s director of digital product, about the work behind its success and where the business is going next

House of Fraser has long been noted for its innovative approach to mobile – and indeed to selling across different channels. As Martin Shaw, head of research for InternetRetailing, notes, the retailer is “especially strong in multichannel, bringing ecommerce in-store by adding digital information and value to physical goods – and its app even has a store-specific mode”.

This approach has not only won HoF top billing in the IRUK 500 for Mobile and Cross-channel, it has also been delighting customers – and the company is on course to boost sales too.

“Multichannel customers spend some six times more than ‘normal’ customers,” explains Sarah Stagg, director of digital product at the retailer. “Every time you add a channel they become more loyal, and app users are the most loyal and spend the most, as much as eight times more. So with that in mind and with more than 50% of our ecommerce traffic now coming from mobile – with desktop in steady decline for us – it makes sense to focus our efforts of creating the best multichannel offering we can.”

House of Fraser has long championed a move to mobile first, redesigning all its online properties as early as 2014, with the aim that they all had to work seamlessly on mobile. The retailer has also always had some of the market-leading apps too.

Last year, it rolled out augmented reality-enabled interactive catalogues for mobile. In Christmas 2015, it pioneered the installation of shoppable windows at high street stores, leveraging the relatively underutilised power of beacons to make the store part of the company’s overall digital portfolio.

This move has been part of what makes House of Fraser so successful in digital. Strategically, the move to beacon-enabled stores is another step in making the retailer a real leader in multichannel.

“Mobile drives smart shoppers and we have increasingly seen showrooming blossom over the past two years,” says Stagg. “But increasingly we are seeing ‘reverse showrooming’, where shoppers are coming to the store, touching and trying the goods then buying them online. This is an important move and we are determined that our digital strategy will aid this.”

As well as it clearly being what shoppers want, there are other business benefits to the retailer digitising its stores and embracing this reverse showrooming idea. “Shoppers are three times more likely to buy if they can self-fulfil,” says Stagg. “And 21% of people who try on an item go on to buy it – we have to drive digital in-store to take full advantage of this. It’s a cliché, but mobile really does bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds.”

House of Fraser is also linking the real and digital worlds through the use of interactive recipes in its real-world and online catalogues. This embraces the ‘lifestyle’ element of the brand, and also encourages a link between the real and virtual worlds.

This is consistent with how consumers are now shopping. Consumers are doing some shopping online, some on mobile and some in-store. The important thing to notice is the way consumers are using each channel to inspire them, and then deciding to make purchases wherever and however is most convenient. This is true multichannel retail and House of Fraser is one of the few true proponents of it.

What is particularly interesting is that Stagg sees the stores as vital to converting ‘occasional’ mobile website users into much more loyal – and high-spending – app users. “The stores are the ideal place to push the app through signage and advertising as well as leveraging our store associates to also encourage customers to use the app,” she says. “They are ideally placed to explain and show the customers the benefits of what the app can do – there and then.”

So what’s next on the agenda for House of Fraser? “Like everyone we are looking at how to build on the contextual approach we already take, towards a personal experience for each user and one-to-one journey technology,” says Stagg. “There is also going to be more going on with social and mobile around retail as it too can help with this personal experience, but you have to be so careful with social, and you have to protect your brand, while constantly and personally engaging with customers.

“Mobile is also driving international business, since shoppers are coming in from their mobiles from all over the world, which is also going to be challenging,” she adds. “We also want to do more to mobile enable our store associates and close that circle. The main trend, however, is that we won’t be thinking in terms of channels, it’s just about retail and it will involve all the channels working in harmony.”

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