‘Easyshop started in rather a crude manner – five or ten orders a week, 200skus of lingerie, manual processing of credit cards. Then someone actually had the cheek to return an order – I’d never thought about that happening!’, says Daniel Nabarro, chairman of figleaves.com.
In early ‘99, Nabarro was joined by the current ceo and they developed back-office software using Microsoft Access. (The current trading name was acquired in October 2000 from a bankrupt US company). Since then, the business has grown gradually, along with its supporting software.
‘We have developed five major modules of software for ourselves including Global Logistics Management, which went live two months ago, and we’ve taken care to retain all our intellectual property. Even where we have used contractors it’s company policy that we own all the code. We develop systems then learn from them, rebuild or scrap and replace them. Already, our website is on its 4th generation, with multi-language, multi-currency capability; our Sales Order Processing is on its third generation.’
The Global Logistics Management system runs two warehouses, in North London and at Haverhill, from a remote London location. These serve over 300,000 customers in 66 countries across 100 suppliers offering 150 or more brands. The UK is the biggest market, although the US accounts for 15 per cent of turnover (‘and we have nobody over there: we are just beginning to recruit’). Nabarro takes pride in consistency of performance: ‘UK or US, we use the same hardware, the same software, the same data sets. An event in the UK averages 1.7 seconds, it’s only 1.9 from San Diego. We are consciously using the technology to offer the same experience worldwide’.
figleaves buys branded lingerie without distribution intermediaries but, says Nabarro, ‘The supply chain could be described as ‘not brilliant’. There are great opportunities to shorten supply chains in the way that Zara has’.
Returns are a problem for any remote retailer but Nabarro claims a surprisingly low rate of 20 per cent overall, though he concedes that this can vary dramatically from category to category, and product to product. ‘There are two principle causes for a high returns rate on a given sku – bad photography that misrepresents the item and poor sizing by the manufacturer: different manufacturers, and indeed different fabrics, size differently’.
Nabarro regards effective returns handling as critical. ‘The whole returns process is systemised – we scan the boxes immediately, they are unpacked and inspected, all the data is captured and actions (replacement or refund) taken. Returns hits a lot of different departments but the process is seamless, albeit highly complex. The easy processes are only about 20 per cent of our software, the rest is all about attention to detail and exception monitoring. We have better quality data and information than anything I’ve experienced elsewhere, and after three years we have some good trend information to help us plug the gaps’. The operation – both dispatch and returns – is bar code driven, using hand held WiFi radio terminals from Casio. Nonetheless, there is room for improvement. ‘We are looking to communicate far faster the message that returns are giving us. It takes five days to turn up on the management reporting cycle: I need to have instant messages that say, for example, ‘this item was coded wrong: check the inventory’.’
For a business which, in the UK at least, is heavily dependent on the Royal Mail, Nabarro has some surprisingly positive things to say about that beleaguered corporation. ‘Royal Mail has a tremendous future – it’s the best mail service in the world. But it and its employees have to recognise that the nature of what it does is changing. It’s the only service that can really do home deliveries nationwide and home shopping is big business. Perhaps they should leave the bulk deliveries of ‘junk mail’ to someone else.
- Nabarro, 55, is a Cambridge electronics graduate. He was in at the inception of ISDN and of digital colour. Later in Canada he worked in the early days of mobile telephony. After a ‘round the world’ with his wife, he worked on paging systems with STC and in 1982 launched an alphanumeric paging service, Inter City Paging, which grew to 400 employees and which he successfully sold on in 1989.
- In 1992 Nabarro founded Wigwam – a digital system to link estate agents and clients with maps, property views and so on. Although unsuccessful, he still describes the concept as ‘a wonderful product, ahead of its time’.
- In the late ’90s Nabarro ‘unretired’ as he puts it, launching Easyshop into the early days of internet shopping, trading in grey market perfumes and lingerie lines. A number of experiences there, many of them supplychain related, led him to create the figleaves.com business of today.