Catwalk Queen reports that Liberty has finally gone live with its transactional website after months of gentle teasing. Like many other transactional sites – Harvey Nichols for one – they’re taking things slowly, concentrating on ‘easy’ purchases like gifts, homewares and fabrics before jumping into the fray with clothing (although their shoe boutique launches on Friday). I have harped on before wondering why it’s taking so long for many stores to go online with proper stock, not just the easy options of leathergoods, perfume and make-up. Clearly I wasn’t thinking straight. Having discussed the issue with contacts at My-Wardrobe and New Look, it appears that having an online arm to your business is no breeze. In the words of my contact at My-Wardrobe, selling online ‘is like opening a whole new department store’ – it can take years.
The main issue is where to store the stock. Net-a-porter house theirs in a huge warehouse, so for a department store it’s not a matter of just taking things off the rail, otherwise as my mole at New Look explained, the rails would be permanently empty. Next is the issue of returns. In order to keep returns to a minimum, it makes sense to stock things that don’t need to be tried on, hence the success of wallets, sunglasses and – kerching! – handbags. (Even though the economy is on the slide, handbag sales are still going up.) Once the transactional site has been up and running for a while, with teething problems mostly ironed out, the clothing can then be introduced. If you think about it, launching a transactional site really needs to be thought out, there’s just no way of hurrying it up. Online users are impatient and vocal and it only takes one or two bad experiences to spell disaster. Better to think things through, take baby steps and do it properly, even if it means potential shoppers champing at the bit while they wait.