Chris Poad, Head of Ecommerce, OTTO UK, was in a bind. The mail-order company’s products were not for sale until the print catalogs were produced and mailed to consumers. But creating those catalogs took several months of time-consuming work.
Since the production process had to begin long before the catalog actually got mailed, a new product might sit in a warehouse for months before being unveiled to customers. When Poad joined the company four years ago, he knew the system needed to change for some of their brands. “The offline world is always looking, I guess, sort of six, 12, 18 months into the future, where, on the Web, we’re looking into next week or the week after.”
Despite the availability of the inventory, Poad’s team was forced to wait for the printing process to end before adding products to the website of one of OTTO UK’s business units, which includes such brands as Kaleidoscope and Freemans. They also postponed advertising so they could first apply the catalog’s look and feel to the website.
Poad says this process had numerous flaws, including:
- It was slow (they could not respond to fashion trends promptly).
- It was expensive (falling behind in one step delayed dozens of products getting to market).
Here are the five strategies Poad and his team followed to get new products to market faster with an online strategy that has created greater flexibility, increased sales and cut production costs:
-> Strategy #1. Assess current operations
OTTO UK’s traditional print catalog production cycle starts nine to 12 months before catalogs are mailed to consumers.
That process involves:
o Product selection
o Product modeling in exotic locations
o Image selection and retouching
o Catalog page layout and copy
o Catalog printing
Once those five steps are completed, the catalogs are mailed and the products are posted to the website. “It’s a very kind of batch -- one process after another process,” Poad says. “The retouching doesn’t happen until the selection is done. The selection doesn’t happen until the shoots are finished. The shoots don’t start until all the briefs are completed and, of course, the buying of the products themselves. It’s a very longwinded and sequential process.”
-> Strategy #2. Do photography work in-house
First, Poad eliminated a major impediment: the exotic onsite photography sessions for all products. He realized that images of famous models on the beach were not essential to selling clothes online for some of their brands.
“Instead of having this shoot in Rio, you’d have a shoot actually in our warehouse. You’d open the stock and you take out an item, you put it on a model, and she walks up and down, she takes it off and you give it to a guy who creates the copy and creates the attributes, does the quality control, presses a button, and it’s live [on the website],” Poad says. “The whole process takes half an hour, and you’re doing it from the moment the stock arrives at the warehouse.”
The in-house photo process is faster and cheaper, although it sacrifices some quality because it’s hard to make a warehouse setting look exotic. But Poad is willing to compromise on image quality in exchange for increasing the pace of sales.
-> Strategy #3. Gradually endorse new strategy
Poad and his team found most of the new system was adapting well, “but the last step of getting [the content] to the ecommerce team before we were able to publish it to the Web was still quite a process. What I think tends to happen is you kind of publish one product or 10 products and learn a lot through that process and then publishing the next 10,000 products is a lot easier.”
Poad is seeing the following advantages of implementing innovations across the catalogs:
- Offering more products online earlier is helping OTTO UK compete better.
- Marketing is easier to test and optimize as more products go online first.
- Customers are happier. “The key benefit is an increase in customer value, which of course is in combination with increased sales.”
- Warehousing is now more efficient. Products no longer sit in warehouses for months at a time.
-> Strategy #4. Don’t follow one approach for all
For multi-brand catalogers, Poad suggests refraining from implementing changes in all catalogs; the new molds might not fit the iconic brands that cater to an established clientele. For instance, some of OTTO UK’s brands have been in catalogs for almost 100 years and are very traditional. Poad believes some customers might not respond well to change, so he’s keeping the expensive photo sessions for these products.
“One of our brands, Kaleidoscope, is a brand that appeals to a 55+ sort of upper mid-market female customer. It’s [partially] about embellishments, beaded dresses and ball gowns,” he says. “With that kind of proposition, you really have to put those products into a kind of setting, [like] an Old English country house or a cruise line. Those are the typical locations that we use for the brand. I think with a more modern brand you can get away with a more stylized, sparse presentation.”
-> Strategy #5. Assign responsibility
Catalog publishing is an old business. Long-term employees may not be keen to the new procedures. Poad noticed that some workers are reluctant to implement the agreed-upon changes and decided to combat their passive-aggressive resistance.
“It’s so easy to just go back to a desk and continue the way they have done it for the last 25 years,” he says. “There’s kind of a subconscious inertia rather than an overt resistance. I found myself many times in meetings where I thought we all agreed on a series of action and we came back two weeks later and nothing had happened.”
Poad saw the lack of ownership to be the main problem. He solved it by putting one person in charge of implementing the new marketing approach. “You really need someone who is of a particular mindset who is going to follow up and follow up and follow up, making sure that things are really changing.”
Because of the new marketing strategy, Poad and his team are now able to sell a product in a matter of days, if not hours, once it’s in their system. That timeliness is turning out to be quite an advantage, especially since 60% of the company’s sales are apparel. “We’re looking at real trends, retail events and what celebrities are wearing.” Chris Poad will speak at eTail in Washington, DC, in August. For details on upcoming conferences, go to http://wbresearch.com/etail/ Useful links related to this article
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