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INTERVIEW Andy Harding of House of Fraser on the retailer's new mobile-first website

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INTERVIEW Andy Harding of House of Fraser on the retailer's new mobile-first website
INTERVIEW Andy Harding of House of Fraser on the retailer's new mobile-first website
House of Fraser claimed second mover advantage when it first launched its website, back in 2006. But it has moved ahead of the pack to put mobile first in its site design. InternetRetailing caught up with Andy Harding, executive director, multichannel at House of Fraser, in the wake of the launch of its new mobile-first site.

Putting customers first means responding to the way that they want to buy, and House of Fraser has had its eyes firmly trained on the way more people used mobile devices to access its site for some time.

Last Christmas the company saw mobile traffic to its website overtake desktop traffic for the first time. By the spring that shift was confirmed and House of Fraser took the bold decision to design a mobile-first website, unveiled for the first time last week.

In practice that means a slimmed down site built on responsive design, featuring fewer but better quality images, with mobile-friendly features such as super zoom and a simplified shopping bag.

“One core part of our strategy is to differentiate ourselves through our proposition and service,” says Andy Harding, executive director, multichannel, at House of Fraser. “We’re doing things that try to be different but at the same time not doing something for the sake of being different. It’s got to add value, have a purpose. I think in this instance, with regards to the design philosophy, this is born out of customer need and demand rather than our desire to do something different from everybody else.”

That focus on meeting customer need means that House of Fraser’s multichannel team has examined its analytics, listened customer feedback through insight metrics, and tapped into customer satisfaction feedback, learning how their behaviour has changed and is changing to inform the task of shaping the new website.

The result, says Harding, is a “cleaner, less cluttered” website that is easier to use on a desktop as well as on a touchscreen, thanks to its responsive design elements.

But while it may be simpler to use, it’s been far from simple to design, he says. And the job looks to get still more complex as the number of devices available to use responsive design on widens.

“We’re not at responsive site design yet,” says Harding, “but it’s our ambition to get there. I don’t think you can design a site that is fully responsive from a smartphone to an interactive TV that’s 40 inches wide.” Rather, he envisages a series of adaptive, responsive templates, with different ones operating on different sized devices.

Support from the top has been important for a job of this complex nature. “The great thing about our business,” said Harding, “is that we have a very supportive board for multichannel. Our chief executive supports what we’re trying to achieve. That means we are able to be innovative, do things differently and have the backing of the board.”

Looking to the future, work on the mobile site will continue: so far phase one has been released and will be evolved over time. The release of new devices, such as the long-awaited Google Glass, will mean the site keeps changing. “As new devices come into the market this year we will be working on how to develop and evolve interfaces even further to take advantage of evolving consumer behaviour and contextual usage,” says Harding.

Are there more multichannel innovations to come? Harding remains tightllipped. “Lots,” he says. “As and when they come I’ll let you know.” We’ll be watching with interest.

Watch Andy Harding talk through their mobile-first strategy in our video interview below.

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Sarah Baillie, head of multichannel business development at House of Fraser, will speak at IRX 2014. Her retail case study, Driving profit through refocusing your stores strategy around the multichannel customer will be in the Internet Retailing In-Store Conference at 11.10am on Wednesday March 26. For more information about the Expo, visit internetretailingexpo.com.
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