Essential Retail: “Joe Browns on meeting customer demand both online and in store”


Lifestyle clothing brand Joe Browns has said that its first ever store has boosted its sales across multiple channels. The previously mail-order-only company is looking to launch more physical sites after the success of its first foray into bricks and mortar. In this article by Essential Retail, you can read about their investments in branding and e-commerce and find out why this company insists that the high street isn’t dead…

As an early adopter of eCommerce at the end of the 1990’s, Joe Browns’ website has always been a significant part of its retail strategy. Launched as a catalogue in October 1998 after a conversation in a beach-side pub in Wales, founder, Simon Brown, describes to Essential Retail how only a few months later its website followed and from the very beginning online was handling just below 20% of retail orders – pretty significant two years ago, never mind 20. Today, Joe Browns sees 90% of its orders placed through its eCommerce site and its catalogue is now used as a marketing tool to drive people online.

The company has had its fair share of eCommerce providers over the years, but it soon realised it needed a strong website which could cope with the ever-demanding online shopper. The company decided on Magento 2, with Manchester-based Maginus overseeing the infrastructure upgrade. A stressful Christmas 2018 reinforced the fact the eCommerce site needed an upgrade, with Brown explaining how 3,500 shoppers were forced into an online queue to purchase items – the website was clearly buckling under the pressure.

“I was in South Africa, and went online to check a few things and even I had to join the queue to get on the website, and then I had to join a queue to the call centre to speak to our financial director – it doesn’t get much more hectic than that.”

eCommerce investment

Despite its website – in the words of Brown – being a bit “clunky and slow”, Joe Browns as a business has been doing well with its autumn/winter 2018 collection reporting a 24% growth in revenue, while sales for January 2019 have grown over 25% year-on-year. The retailer also launched its first store in Meadowhall at the end of 2017, with a few more shops in the pipeline.

It’s this success which has allowed the retailer to invest so significantly in its eCommerce site, which Brown says has been the biggest investment in information technology “by a country mile”.

“It might be the biggest investment the company has ever made,” he adds, noting how the website has undergone four weeks of build, with a live date expected in May 2019. He says while Maginus were not the cheapest provider, he knew the internal team from previous projects and trusted they would deliver the spec perfectly.

And it is safe to say Brown has high expectations from his investment.

“We want a better brand experience,” he says. “We’re quite a spontaneous company – we’ll have an idea on a Monday and it might have taken a few weeks to implement, but with the upgrade we can have it done on a Tuesday.”

Brown has also been promised a significant reduction in bounce rates, higher conversion, speedier loading pages and faster download times, which he says will improve average order values.

“I’m absolutely assured that the pay back on this is about 18 months. It was a huge investment. And we don’t borrow money, so it was shelling out of our own back pocket which is a lot more real. When we get that payback after that the profits will come tumbling in,” he explains.

Simon Weeks, CEO at Maginus, describes how customer expectations are rising and demanding more and more from retailers. “They have more choice and they really expect all serious retailers to have similar functionality to the biggest retailers. Magento has an incredible amount of functionality for a mid-market price bracket. And it is scalable too.”

Is online killing the high street?

For a retailer making a significant investment in online while also in the process of establishing its presence on the high street, is Brown concerned about the future of bricks and mortar?

“I think if you look at shopping centres there’s far less empty shops than on the high street – the high street isn’t dead,” he insists, describing how the decision to launch stores was due to customers crying out for a physical toughpoint. “But people aren’t spending the way they were spending because there are so many different ways to spend money and abroad is so accessible online. UK retail isn’t just competing with people in the UK but around the whole world.”

Brown says this is why the company tries to create a strong brand. “Everyone can sell clothes, but we have a brand behind what we’re doing and we focus on the brand as much as the product.”

Indeed, soon after the launch of the first store, the retailer reported that its physical presence was significantly driving more regional traffic to its website.

“Having a store was the final piece of the jigsaw of being a multi-channel retailer – we’ve crystallised our brand in a physical state.”