Waxing lyrical about e-commerce – heritage retail at Barbour expands in a digital world

Waxing lyrical about e-commerce – heritage retail at Barbour expands in a digital world
Stuart Lauchlan
Tue, 07/28/2020 – 03:16

Barbour is a retail brand that dates back to the 19th century and is best known for its iconic waxed jackets. In 2020, the importance of D2C e-commerce is a priority for the firm as Amy-Lee Cowey, Global e-commerce & Digital Head, explains.

Barbour jackets

(Barbour )

When you think of Barbour, one word that comes to mind is heritage. This is a family-run retail brand established in South Shields in the North East of England in 1894 and still based there to this day. Its trademark wax jackets are sold around the world, worn by the likes of Kate Middleton,  and are so iconic in fact that ‘Barbour Jacket’ has become a catch-all descriptor (inaccurately) for similar products from other providers. 

The firm has a retail store presence in over 40 countries, but also operates a success global direct-to-consumer (D2C) e-commerce operation. Being such a heritage brand is a great asset, but also brings its own challenges, as Amy-Lee Cowey, Global e-commerce & Digital Head, explained as part of an online debate on the retail e-commerce sector, organized by Yotpo. 

One such challenge in fact lies with the enduring nature of the firm’s most celebrated product, the waxed jackets themselves, which are designed to be long-term purchases. In the fickle world of fashion retail, what Barbour produces is built to last. Barbour even operates a successful business in re-waxing jackets for clients. 

All of this means delivering fantastic long term customer care, but clearly has implications in identifying where new business comes from. This is a priority at Barbour as well as maintaining strong engagement with existing clients, says Cowey: 

One of our biggest focuses is and will continue to be, how do we ensure we keep our customers with us?  Because a Barbour jacket is not something that you need to buy every single year necessarily. But we sell more than jackets  – we sell, clothing, accessories, dog wear, and we need to focus on attention and thinking about aftercare. 

She adds:

Our jackets truly do last a lifetime. They are incredible, I’ve been to the factory to see how they are made. But what comes with that is that you don’t need one every year. You’re not needing to buy a brand new Barbour jacket every year, which is fine. We need to start moving our penetration further in clothing and other sorts of categories within our product range. We are not just an outerwear brand, we really aren’t . If you go on the website you will see a plethora of different categories and beautiful products. 

The challenge then is how to get customers coming back to explore more of what Barbour has to offer and to expand their purchasing envelope, particularly in light of the fact that Barbour has a higher price point than many of its rivals: 

The benefits are just the fact that we have so much [data and] the data points that we’ve got. We’ve got such a broad spectrum of consumers,  we really have. We have people that are new and come on our site through to customers that we’ve had 30 years. We’re starting to invest heavily in CRM to understand who those people are and build out some archetypes, a  kind of behavioural set of ecosystems and start to market those people in a way that makes their experience effective. It’s not an irritating thing [for customers]; it’s about us aggregating data, and then making it easier for them to buy what they want, because we do have several thousand skews every season. The brand advocacy is so strong. We are about quality. We’re about the brand first, and we’re about caring about our consumer.


Appreciating who that core consumer is is critical, Cowey says, and while Barbour has an expansive range of offerings, it can’t – and won’t – chase after the latest fashionable demographics for the sake of it and certainly not at the expense of the brand’s heritage: 

We still have a huge, huge [audience] in middle-aged consumers. We can’t just change our entire global campaigns to focus on the 18-21 market. It would cannibalise everything else. So actually what we are trying to do is find the sweet spot, which is actually very very difficult… so we can start to create multiple assets, multiple personalized experiences or content…to be able to showcase different categories, copy, content, whatever it may be, to audiences. 

The importance of having good data that has a lifetime value and can help to generate and support such personalized engagements was a major driver behind a recent e-commerce initiative involving the implementation of a real-time identification solution from Wunderkind. This is used to shape and pinpoint the right messages to the right consumers based on their buying intent, using a targeted welcome journey, overlays and pop-ups.

This has allowed Barbour to expand its customer database with some strong early results to validate the deployment decision. Barbour reckons to have increased onsite identification rates by 26% and almost doubled its monthly sign ups as well as delivering an 8x return on investment in the last 60 days. 

And as Cowey has noted in relation to this particularly initiative, that’s all enormously useful at a time of pandemic-driven store closures when the operational efficiency of the e-commerce arm is all the more vital: 

Like most businesses, Coronavirus impacted our trading. Of course, our stores had to close, and as we went into lockdown, our e-commerce sales did take an initial hit. But we were quick to recover thanks to a clear and concise communication strategy.  It was important to us to put our consumers first, not try to sell anything they didn’t need or want at that time. Rather, we wanted to wait until they were ready to shop with us again. The acceleration to digital has been apparent—even as stores are re-opening—and has showcased the importance of e-commerce D2C even more so.

That being so, Cowey can see some clear priorities in terms of e-commerce trends moving forward: 

Search, without doubt, and mobile and m-commerce. It’s said that by the end of 2021, 45% of sales are going to go through mobile websites. We can’t just sit and wait to develop a mobile website. We need to be ahead of the curve and that’s certainly the [sort of] project that we think about in the organization that I’m in.

I think also voice search. By the end of this year again, 50% of searches will not be done by typing into search bar. They’re going to be done through devices such as Alexa and Google Home and Siri. So I think making sure that you’ve got a brilliant kind of schema model or SEO that you’re considering as well as Google [is important]. All the different types of SEO aspects that sit within that are incredibly important and I think it will come up to bite us [all in retail] in the bottom quickly if businesses don’t consider those things now.

Image credit – Barbour

Disclosure – Cowey took part in Yotpo’s Amazing Women in e-commerce debate.

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