How Taking Shape is leveraging backend efficiency gains to grow overseas
Australian plus-size women’s fashion brand, Taking Shape, has had a busy three years. Since 2019, it has relaunched its online offering in Australia, rolled out dedicated e-commerce sites and fulfilment centres in New Zealand and the UK, and upgraded its warehouse management and order management systems, leading to significant efficiency gains and growth. Now, the retailer is looking to further expand its international presence through online marketplaces, including Amazon in the UK, a
UK, and faster delivery options for Europe and potentially the US.
It is also exploring new in-store fulfilment options in Australia, and continuing to add new payment methods, which customers have been clamouring for.
“What we want to do is make buying online as easy and as engaging as it is in-store,” Krista Diez-Simon, Taking Shapes’s chief financial officer and chief operations officer, told Inside Retail.
“Our customer demographic was maybe a little bit more hesitant to buy online pre-Covid, and that has definitely shifted over the last two-and-a-half years, not just because of the changing landscape, but also because our retail operations team has done an incredibly good job educating and communicating the importance of online to our retail teams.”
Whereas store staff may have previously seen e-commerce as their competition, they now see it as a complementary sales channel.
“All of our boutiques have iPads. If a style is not available in that particular store, or if they don’t have the size, [store staff] can help customers buy online, and either get it delivered back to that store or get it delivered to their home,” Diez-Simon said.
“That programme has been incredibly successful. Not only does it mean that our customers can get what they want, where they want, when they want it, but it’s given our store teams a sense for how complementary online is to the overall business. It actually opens up the store, because everything’s available online.”
Doubling warehouse efficiency
It wasn’t that long ago, however, when Taking Shape was still relying on manual processes to fulfil online orders in its warehouse.
“It wasn’t even necessarily a scan and pick-by-location system, it was almost paper-based. It was incredibly manual and inefficient,” said Diez-Simon. “If we wanted to increase volumes, it was a case of throwing people at it.”
The retailer started the process of upgrading its backend systems in 2019, with the relaunch of its e-commerce site in Australia to one that was more responsive on mobile and could integrate better with third-party platforms, such as shipping and freight.
“We were able to link with multiple carriers, improve our tracking and traceability for customers and integrate with a more robust warehouse management system to solve that warehouse efficiency piece,” she said.
A new order management system from Fluent Commerce means the warehouse team is now directed to pick orders in the most efficient route. As a result, the team is able to pick almost double the number of orders without any increase in headcount.
“When I wear my CFO hat, that’s obviously incredibly exciting, and it means we can do more with the same amount of resources and it’s incredibly scalable,” she said.
Targeting global growth
Founded in 1985, Taking Shape is the market leader in the plus-size fashion space in Australia and New Zealand, with around 150 bricks-and-mortar stores across the two markets, including about 60 concessions in Myer department stores.
But increasingly, it’s looking beyond Australia and New Zealand for future growth. It launched a local online offering in the UK in March 2021, after a previous foray ended with the closure of 30 bricks-and-mortar stores in 2016. This time, the brand is focusing more firmly on e-commerce.
“What was really helpful, and why we were able to set it up quickly during a pandemic, was that we had set up the New Zealand distribution centre and dedicated website at the same time as replatforming the Australian site, so we knew exactly what we had to do over in the UK,” Diez-Simon said.
The retailer has since launched on British fashion brand Next’s online marketplace, and is gearing up to launch on Amazon’s UK site.
“We’re also working to enable our UK distribution centre to fulfil to greater Europe. Obviously, there’s complications with duties and taxes, but we’ve been bolstering our checkout to be able to cater for those additional complexities,” she added. “From a delivery perspective, it makes sense to deliver to those jurisdictions from the UK.”
The US market could be next on the list.
“Being able to deliver to the US out of the UK is definitely something that we’re looking to at least trial,” she said.
Improving the customer experience
Closer to home, Diez-Simon still sees room to improve Taking Shape’s offering in Australia and New Zealand.
“In-store fulfilment is something that we’re very interested in exploring,” she said. “At the moment, for a customer in Western Australia, it might take anywhere between three and five days to get her order across to her. Can we shorten that using the infrastructure we’ve got in place? That’s a really big opportunity.”
Offering more buy-now, pay-later (BNPL) options at checkout is another priority for the brand.
“Our customers have been screaming for it,” she said.
Rather than partnering with different BNPL providers individually, Taking Shape is one of the few retailers in Australia using a centralised platform called Optty, which makes it easy to roll out multiple providers.
For Diez-Simon, it all comes back to the efficiency gains the business has made in its backend over the last three years.
“If anything, it means we are more willing and open to investing in more platforms, such as the global checkout,” she said. “That’s possible from a financial perspective.”
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