Mix and Match

Accessorize’s website aims to match the success of its bricks-and-mortar stores with online sales. But to attract customers, it has introduced a new way of presenting its products.

One of the pleasures of browsing around an Accessorize store – even if you have no intention of buying anything – is the experience of it. Well-planned store design and an understanding of how textures and colours work together mean that customers can’t help but be drawn into mixing and matching accessories.

The ability to see matching accessories ranged together in different styles and colours makes one wonder how this distinctive style is translated to the store’s website, www.accessorize.co.uk.

The Accessorize website was launched unofficially in December and is gearing up for its official launch later this month.

Accessorize managing director Nick Schwefel says the company was clear from the start “that the site had to represent the fun, fashionable and affordable values of the brand”.

He admits, however, that replicating the unique store layout was never going to be possible online.

“The difficulty with websites is that they have to be more logically laid out. So goods on the site are grouped by product type rather than colour type, as in the stores. We know that going into a store is a fun shopping experience so we have had to do that in different ways on the site,” says Schwefel.

Schwefel says Accessorize started thinking about developing a website about three years ago. “At that stage, we decided to wait and see how the Internet developed in the UK.

“Then 18 months ago we made a decision to develop a site for both Accessorize and Monsoon (which owns Accessorize). Our main aim was to sell accessories, provide customer information, reinforce the brand and recruit staff from the site.”

Accessorize linked with website developers Oyster Partners and, says Schwefel, they developed the site together through focus and discussion groups.

Schwefel explains: “This was an essential move for us. All retailers have to be on the Internet and Accessorize wants the site to make money. We don’t want it to be an information-driven site – we want it to generate sales. Our aim is to become the number one accessories retailer on the Internet.”

In terms of marketing, this is a radical move for Accessorize. Given the chain’s success and high profile, it is sobering to realise that it employs no advertising, apart from promotional material in store. The chain opened its first store in Covent Garden in 1984. Expansion began in the early Nineties and there are now 125 outlets.

As with any site, there is the potential to find out exactly who Accessorize customers are. In store, Schwefel believes the mainly female group ranges from teenagers to 60- or 70-year-old women, with the bulk of shoppers in the 20 to 35 age group.

The website has been deliberately pitched at a young market. For example, the “You’ve Got Male” option means online shoppers can pick one of three “Accessorize hunks”.

The choice includes a football fan, a DJ and a model – each of which will e-mail customers the latest news from the website. This feature would not appeal to anyone aged over 25.

More functional is the “Wish List”, which enables shoppers to e-mail friends details of items they want for birthdays, Christmas and other occasions. Accessorize predicts that gifts will be the major purchase function on the site.

So far, the average sale conducted online is worth &£35.

Anil Pillai, strategy and business development director at Oyster Partners, says one of the most interesting things about the Accessorize site has been the different audience it has attracted. “To date, 35 per cent of purchases on the site have been made by men. This is much higher than in the shops.

“I know when I go into an Accessorize store, I feel intimidated and don’t have the time or patience to look at all the goods. The site makes Accessorize much more accessible to men,” says Pillai.

Customer communication

“Accessorize will find out a lot more about its customers than it used to. The Internet invites communication,” says Pillai. He says the Monsoon site, also developed by Oyster Partners, had only been up for a short while when it was flooded with communication from customers. “People ask things that they don’t necessarily do when they are in store,” he says.

Pillai agrees that the site can’t replicate the visual appeal of the store. One of the reasons is that in most stores there are up to 5,000 product lines, of which only 150 are available on the site. Products have been chosen because they are “replenishable, shipable or replaceable”, says Pillai. “In future, gifting and loyalty will be significant characteristics of this site and we have chosen products with that in mind.”

Complementary products

There is a function on the site that goes some way towards replicating the mix-and-match style of the stores. Once you get down to product level on the site, if you choose a specific hat for example, another product matching it will come up alongside.

A drawback of shopping online is that customers can be disappointed with the actual product when it is delivered. The site smoothes out this process by offering refunds of online goods in store.

One of the biggest criticisms of retail sites is the delivery cycle and customer service. Pillai says Peter Black Distribution, which handles warehousing for Marks & Spencer, is handling fulfilment and Parcelforce is doing the deliveries.

The next step for the site is full automation – something that Accessorize has not done initially because, according to Pillai, to set up a fully automated site costs about &£1m. “We will be doing this in phases. To achieve electronic CRM is a huge expense, but there is no doubt that is where Accessorize is heading.”

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