C&A goes on omnichannel offensive
C&A talks omnichannel strategy with RTIH, including a new e-commerce store, the importance of mobile and ramping up investment in physical stores
C&A’s recently launched ‘EU Shop’ will see it deliver to customers in Croatia, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, where the retailer has branches. It also serves Denmark, Finland, Greece and Sweden, where it is not represented. The move extends the reach of C&A’s online activities from 9 to 20 countries.
This is a standardised English platform, with all prices quoted in Euros. English language but no UK presence, we hear you cry. We are, after all, talking about a whole lotta history here. In 2000, C&A, for so long a major player in the British market, announced its intention to withdraw and its last stores here closed in 2001.
“The UK is definitely an interesting market for us and has a big potential for the brand and not just because of our history in the market,” says Dr. Andreas Hammer, Director E-Commerce Europe. “Having said that, there are certain special requirements for an online shop activation, which makes it a bit trickier to enter into the country. We are looking into it.” He declined to comment further, but Brexit is an obvious roadblock.
Hammer adds that the EU Shop is part of C&A’s main objective “to give our customers the best user experience possible”. This means continuing to work on optimising and extending certain functionalities, including the 'my account' functionality which “we know plays an important role for customers who prefer to use online shopping”.
“Our main focus is to give them choice and let them shop till their heart’s content without a worry about the ‘how’. So we are extending their options when it comes to payment and carrier methods, such as adding Express delivery,” says Hammer. “And, of course, we are continuously trying to make our online shops available to more customers by expanding our e-commerce business to other markets, hence our new EU Shop and individual country shops.”
Like all traditional fashion retailers, C&A is facing tough competition from pureplays and discounters. As Select struggles to stay afloat, New Look plans to take an axe to its UK store estate and cut rental costs and Next labels 2017 the most challenging period it has faced for 25 years, how best to fight back against these challengers and remain relevant in what can be a brutally unforgiving sector?
“We closed the 2017/18 business year (1st March to 28th February), with like-for-like sales up 4% across the board,” says Thorsten Rolfes, Head of Corporate Communications, C&A. “We will continue this year by going on the offensive on several fronts. For example, we will continue to enhance our fashion collections, sharpen our prices in specific product categories and expand our product ranges, with an introductory pilot of a ‘Home’ category that includes bed linen, pillows and accessories just to give you a few examples.”
Mobile, meanwhile, is “a very important channel for us, as more than 50% of traffic is being generated via mobile devices. Therefore our new shops deliver a responsive design to ensure the best user experience for our customers,” adds Hammer.
And the importance and impact of social media channels are also increasing. “We are present on all relevant platforms. Social media enables us to receive real-time feedback and insights from our customers. Through community management we can interact, listen and learn a lot from them. This in turn helps us to immediately channel the input and insights to the relevant teams in our organisation – all in an effort to quickly adapt, improve or continue what we are doing to better meet our customers’ needs.”
At the same time, Rolfes stresses, physical stores remain a key part of the omnichannel strategy. It might have packed its bags and left the UK High Street, but C&A still has more than 1,500 stores in 18 European countries, making it one of the world's largest fashion apparel retailers, with around 35,000 employees. The retailer also has a presence in Brazil, Mexico and China. In terms of the latter, German magazine Der Spiegel has reported that C&A, owned by the one of the wealthiest families in Europe, the Brenninkmeijers, might be sold to a Chinese investor.
The rumours have not been confirmed, but also not flatly denied. The implications of this are intriguing. But in the here and now the focus is on Europe and investing in e-commerce and bricks and mortar. By the end of 2018, more than 10% of the European stores will have been refurbished. “In 2018 we will double our investments and the largest share will go into our physical stores,” Rolfes concludes.