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Responding to customer demand

The InternetRetailing Brand Index

The InternetRetailing Brand Index

Barbour puts the customer first in its approach to direct retailing 

Upmarket clothing brand Barbour, best known for its waxed jackets, says its ecommerce business is as much about marketing the brand as boosting profits. Most of the brand’s £160m turnover comes from wholesale. It supports both independent retailers and its key wholesale partners in the UK and 19 international markets in Europe, Asia and North America by marketing and managing the brand through non-transactional websites. It sells direct where there is customer demand and adapts the range that it offers in order to meet the demands of different countries.

In the US, for example, where it’s better known for its motorcycle brand and has high sales in sunny Florida, the brand projects a far different image from the luxury country clothing provider we know in the UK.

Until two years ago, its ecommerce function was run by a multibrand partner but Barbour took this in house in order to develop and manage its relationship and communication with the customer. Today, says Paul Johnson-Barnett, head of distribution at Barbour, it is designed as “an enjoyable journey that represents the brand” rather than an operation designed to compete with the retailers it supplies. “We’re definitely not early innovators, and we’re definitely not fast followers,” he said. “We’re probably interested observers. We’re not driven by the need to be the best but we try to work with the best, both our partners and the customers we work with. What we do is try and make sure we do the job they need us to do.”

When Barbour introduced next-day delivery in the UK, it discovered there wasn’t much demand for the service.

“A Barbour jacket doesn’t tend to be a distress purchase,” noted Johnson-Barnett, speaking at eDelivery Conference 2016. “Black Friday is a huge wave disrupting most retailers. For us, it is a smooth wave lapping on the shore. We don’t want to be the leading online retailer of our brand, although we have some great trade partners who are.”

Rather, he says, ecommerce is as much a marketing activity as a way of generating profits. Non-transactional websites build the brand and control the brand message, while also acting as a useful source of data. When the retailer got 1.5m hits on its website from the US, it decided it was time to respond to those customers by launching a transactional website, which will go live in 2017 and be fulfilled from the UK until Barbour establishes how much of a demand there is for America to buy its products directly.

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