Thanks to ongoing restructuring, more of Burberry’s sales are being made through its own retail channels, both in store and online.
While discussing earnings results for its financial 2018 with investors on Wednesday, chief operating officer Julie Brown said 80 percent of Burberry’s overall sales come from direct retail. Last year at this time, direct retail accounted for 75 percent of all sales. Meanwhile, wholesale saw a high single-digit decline, a pattern Brown expects to continue through the first half of the year.
“There are changes happening to our sector, and the ever-evolving consumer proved we have the right strategy in place to deliver sustainable, long-term value,” said Marco Gobbetti, Burberry’s CEO, to investors. Overall, Burberry’s comparable sales grew 3 percent for the year, to $3.6 billion.
Burberry’s strategy, which was laid out in November, focuses on six areas of development and improvements: product, digital, employees, operations, distribution and communication. The British fashion house had been hit by weakened sales in 2016 through 2017, and has recently undergone executive changes in order to right ship: Former Burberry CEO and chief creative officer Christopher Bailey departed in March after spending 16 years at the company. Gobbetti replaced him as CEO in June of 2017, and designer Riccardo Tisci, most recently at Givenchy, joined as chief creative officer at the end of February.
Tisci’s effect on Burberry sales won’t be felt until next year, however, when the designer’s first spring collection, shown on the September runway, will debut in stores. In the meantime, Gobbetti’s plan is to focus on product capsules — which bring new product to customers more often and drive people into stores and online — fix wholesale relationships, update the Burberry store experience and improve the store network.
The focus of the strategy around “retail excellence” has resulted in an overhaul of customer experience in stores. Burberry is closing underperforming stores in less trafficked neighborhoods, and investing that money in revamping stores in higher-profile cities like London, Hong Kong, New York and Los Angeles. This year, the company rolled out a new internal tool for store employees that included updates like individualized training around new products and collections, client services like digital appointments, and after-sale services, like personalized customer profiles and purchase histories.
“You can’t ignore the store, because that’s where customers are immersed in your brand. Luxury retail needs to get a much closer and tighter understanding of the customer, including the ones buying, what’s being bought and how they want to interact with you,” said Antony Karabus, CEO of HRC Retail Advisory. “Then they can react.”
On the wholesale end of Burberry’s business, Gobbetti said its retail team has been working with partners to limit promotions and improve positioning in stores, around brand adjacencies and visibility. He noted that wholesale is still needed to bring in new customers and raise exposure, but added that Burberry will be focusing more of its energy on digital partners, like Net-a-Porter and Farfetch, and more alternative physical retailers, like Dover Street Market.
Burberry is one of several fashion brands that have had to rethink wholesale partnerships due to consistent promotions and declining store traffic in department stores: Coach, Michael Kors and Kate Spade are all undergoing similar distribution restructuring. More than that, however, direct retail lets brands collect more relevant customer information. By bulking up in-store technology tools for employees, Burberry can track physical purchase behavior and personalized customer profiles, like they already do online.
Part of Burberry’s direct retail strategy includes updating the inventory it’s carrying. Gobbetti referenced February’s runway collection, which shifted away from the brand’s full see-now-buy-now experiment for the first time since it was introduced in February 2016. Instead, only a more trend-driven capsule collection was released in stores at the same time as the runway show, which Gobbetti said drove immediate sales by triple digits. The capsule model will continue to play an increasingly important role in inventory drops throughout the year.
“This marks a new evolution in our go-to-market strategy with the customer wanting constant newness and unexpected product drops,” said Gobetti to investors. “It’s a new way of working for us, and it will continue to develop. In terms of customer, the February capsule attracted new, young customers and resonated well with existing top-tier clients.”
Speed-to-market and a more efficient inventory strategy is extending off of the runway for Burberry. On Monday, the brand announced it had acquired its Italian leather manufacturing partner, CF&P, to have better control over deliveries and cost. Overall, but particularly in the leather goods category, Burberry’s strategy is to elevate product quality and pricing to better enforce its positioning as a luxury brand.
But the true test will be how Tisci’s first designs for the brand are received. When asked about distribution strategy for that collection, Gobbetti declined to comment around whether or not some items would be part of a ready-to-buy capsule collection.
“I don’t think we will divulge everything about what we will do in September, but there are a lot of ideas and buildup. We have big plans, but it’s too early to disclose,” he said.