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Online department store Very has invested heavily in automation in areas from its warehouse to the digital customer experience – enabling fast delivery, relevant recommendations and, in the Very app, chatbot-based customer service.

The privately owned Very Group reported flagship Very brand revenues of £1.8bn in its latest financial year, the 52 weeks to July 2 2022, down 4% on the previous year. Its retail sales came in at £1.4bn (-7.7%), compared with record pandemic sales. The wider Very Group reported group revenues of £2.1bn (-7.3%) over the same period, and pre-tax profits of £63.9bn (+2.2%).

At the time, Very Group chief financial officer Ben Fletcher said its “robust performance” was “driven by ongoing structural growth in the Very brand, our integrated business model – and, of course, our amazing people” which “continues to prove resilient as we adapt to changing customer behaviour”.

The roots of the Very Group go back to mail order catalogues in the 1860s. The Very brand launched in 2009 to serve online shoppers. The Very website is easy to navigate, whether through search or primary categories from designer brands and toys to electricals. Filters to narrow the choice include product, activity, colour, fit, price range, delivery speed and customer ratings.

Products are illustrated through zoomable images, while information includes delivery times, reviews and star ratings, plus a fit checker for clothing. Shoppers can save items for later, or share them via email, Google Plus, or social media channels. Recommendations include other items from the same brand, as well as ‘people who bought this’. From the landing page, shoppers can download mobile or Android apps, or click through to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube.

The retailer, whose fully automated Skygate warehouse opened in March 2020, offers one-day delivery as standard for orders placed by 10pm, Sunday to Friday, at a cost of £3.99. Premium delivery services include nominated day, direct from supplier and larger item services. Click and collect – from one of “thousands” of stores, including Post Offices and Yodel network collection points – costs £3, or is free for orders of £30 or more. Returns can be made for up to 28 days, through a Yodel or Post Office collection point, free of charge using a pre-paid label.

This case study originally appeared the RetailX UK Top500 2023 report. Download the report in full to discover: