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The Name: ASOS

The Place: No shops, of course, but head office is in scruffily trendy Camden Town and fulfilment is up in Barnsley which is probably just scruffy.

The story: Who would found a fashion company aimed predominantly at 18-34 year old women? – Two (almost getting on for) middle-aged men of course. It’s so obvious. In 2000 Nick Robertson, the current Chief Executive and Quentin Griffiths set up this tiny outfit, As Seen On Screen, aimed at allowing consumers to look like their idols on the red carpet, and in 2014 they win the Company of the Decade Award at the Quoted Company Awards with a turnover of £753 million in 2013.

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Nick Robertson (left): laughing all the way to the…next innovation

Stupendous work, what’s behind it all? Well, where to begin… ASOS has blazed the trail on monetising online communities and using customer insight data to maximise the money to be made. It has brought so many innovations to the table it’s almost impossible to count them all and it never stops finding the new.

Enough waffle, examples please: Here’s one, in 2009 ASOS decided to set up its own magazine. Like opening a restaurant, many try publishing, few succeed. The circulation of that free-to-users magazine is now around 450,000 – that’s loads. And if you browse the online copy you can also purchase without leaving the site – seamless.

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Not quite seamless innovation

Alright. A more recent one now please: You’re a hard taskmaster today. OK, in 2013 ASOS launched the Stitch Academy. 120 young adults who fall into the NEET category (basically no job and no prospect of one either) were taken on for a six week apprenticeship after which around 40 were taken on to work at The Factory in North London producing garments for ASOS. As a result of this kind of move ASOS sources far less of its products in the Far East, only around 30% making them far less vulnerable to global volatility and long lead times for deliveries.

That’s enough for the present: No, I’m on a roll. Let me introduce you to an app called Editd. It collects and aggregates insights, in this case it would be fashion movements, opinions on forums, views on trend blogs, pricing and discounting data from around the world, which is all instantly collated. In some companies I could think of, a couple of marketing people might get access and do the odd presentation about what to expect some time in the future. But ASOS doesn’t pussyfoot around with any of that – 200 of its buyers get the thing uploaded and off we plunge into an even faster, more immediately reactive online world.

Crikey: That’s what happens when the kids get hold of the tech. They’re not scared of the future of retailing because they’re shaping it as they go. Robertson recently stated at the Metapack Delivery Conference that it helps run his business by “putting yourself in the mind of a 12-year-old”.

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Spot the difference – customers and employees

So what about the average age in the office? Low, very low. You wouldn’t even get past the lift.

That’s harsh:  You’re just not a digital native.

A what? If you have to ask then you prove my point. Really, unless you are happy submerging yourself in social media platforms then ASOS is not for you. Take ASOS Life for example – a large community of people (let’s be honest, young women) who share looks, create content, download photos and commentary, create their own peer attitudes all under the watchful eye of Uncle Nick who makes it super-easy for them to then purchase the items under discussion.

I have to admit it’s clever: ASOS was the first to use videos, live streaming of images, and uploads on YouTube imaginatively in retail. Before that it was all so static. In ASOS-land the user does not pay for delivery even if you only purchase a measly pair of socks, the user does not pay for returning items either. Almost anything that might put someone off pressing the buy button is removed and you can purchase through any device, even Facebook. ASOS uses its customer base to create a shared demand for stuff that ASOS then seeks to provide.

It’s a retail dream: Well, it has been said that ASOS has come full circle from initially allowing women to follow celebrity fashion to it now being a style maker in its own right. Celebrities often wear its own-label brands and users are finding inspiration from one another. Trickle-up one might say.

Yes! Empowerment, the female emancipation from imposed definitions of style, the sisterhood working together to decide if red and green should never be seen… Alright, calm down you still need a patriarchal credit card to get the stuff. Let’s talk about the hard numbers. Between 2005 and 2012 revenues have doubled every two years at ASOS.

Wowzer: But the City is a tough place and a few analysts point to growth in America and the rest of the world slowing down a bit in the last set of figures released. It may be that ASOS is rapidly coming to the end of its logistics space and capability in Barnsley, which is going to need some money throwing at it. And these analysts cannot really decide whether to treat ASOS as a retailer or a technology company, which also muddies the waters. If it’s a tech company then it’s very high valuation of around £6 billion is kind of alright but if it’s a retailer then … hmmm.

Say what you like, barrow boys. Innovation is always welcome on this column: Indeed. And where else but a peer-modulated fashion blog can you write the immortal words: “I’ve recently been adding fluffy jumpers to my wardrobe wish-list”.

Exactly. 

 

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