Nov 19, 2020
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Pandemic e-sales surge forces greater online focus at Fenwick

Nov 19, 2020

The still-new CEO of the Fenwick department store chain has spoken of how the company is doubling down on its efforts to drive e-tail sales. He also said running regional department stores is “a great place to be right now” and that he’s upbeat store reopening in December will see a Christmas rush similar to those seen in the past before Black Friday shifted the festive shopping season into November.


John Edgar, who joined the business at a very tough time in April, said it was a challenge to try to influence a change of culture when he was unable to meet staff face to face.

But the former Harrods and Selfridges exec seems upbeat about the prospects at the venerable-but-lossmaking nine-store chain.

He told The Telegraph that he had been quick to get the firm’s less-than-a-year-old webstore up and running after the company had closed it down in the early days of the spring lockdown. 

“When I joined, everything was closed, including online,” Edgar said. “There was the view from some people that we should close online, forget online, don't bother. Being able to say ‘no, it is important and fundamental to our future’, is a huge step change and the modernisation of people's minds.”

He said that the webstore went on to take more online sales than it had done in the whole of 2019 within six weeks of reopening for orders, and he now wants to drive e-sales up to 20% of the firm’s total compared to almost zero a year ago.

The higher web sales also saw the retailer rethinking its logistics with more orders fulfilled from its warehouses rather than its main reliance on the stores as previously.

Edgar also said the growing online business has allowed the company to widen its appeal away from its core older, “safer” customer to younger, streetwear-focused shoppers. This move sees it preparing to launch a collaboration with streetwear brand Presented By. 

And he added that while the firm’s Bond Street store in London has always been able to attract a wide range of international fashion labels because of its location, such brands are also interested in its regional stores now due to the impact of the pandemic on London footfall.

“There are brands that we've traditionally found it hard to engage with, apart from in central London, where they're now interested in going into Kingston, Newcastle, Brent Cross and other stores because, actually, they recognise that London is tough,” he told the newspaper. “Who would have thought a regionally-based UK department store would be a great thing to be? It's actually a great place to be right now.”

But while he said the latest English lockdown comes at “the worst possible time” for retailers, with supply chains set to be challenged in December, he thinks there are some pluses for physical stores.

He feels shoppers will want to get back to stores as soon as they reopen and pointed out that what happens in physical spaces is still of interest to consumers with the 250,000 people who tuned in online for the Christmas window reveal at its flagship Newcastle store proves.

And he’s upbeat about the pent-up demand out there. “Our first week of reopening in June was massive, and anyone who went into a shop bought something," he said. I'm hoping it will be like that [next month]. It'll be more like an old traditional Christmas with last-minute shopping this year, that's my gut feeling.”

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