French Connection UK : An ECommerce Case Study
For decades, London-based clothing retailer French Connection UK seemed to have everything in place to ensure an iconic status well into the digital age and beyond. An established reputation (formed in 1972, coinciding with the classic film of the same name,) a marketing campaign that largely focused on an ironic resemblance of its abbreviation to a certain four-letter word, an international physical presence, a youthful appeal and an aloof, almost unbearably hip attitude permeating all aspects of design and advertising. So why did it take so long for the British institution to cotton on to ecommerce?
Hesitation Isn’t Always What It Seems
As early as 2009, CIO magazine was reporting that despite a £17.4 million loss, the company was actively investing in its ecommerce infrastructure as a preemptive move; making it an early adopter in recognizing the value of robust online management. And some five years later, French Connection were announcing that online sales constituted some 23 percent of their overall sales, with 24 percent of all orders fulfilled using click and collect technology, including free delivery and free returns on items over £50 (following the company’s decision to invest in revamping multichannel platforms.) Which begs the question: why isn’t the company more well known as a digital adoptee?
Is Multichannel Always What It Seems?
Yet despite the upswing in online sales and a substantial online presence, the dilemma of FCUK is an unavoidable truth; digital sales strategies cannot act as a life preserver for a company that seems destined to lose. Since 2011, the company has been faced with an annual revenue loss of almost 25 percent from £223.8m to £178.5m. According to Anusha Couttigane from retail consultants Columino, “The lack of distinction has disillusioned consumers who expect to extract more exclusivity in terms of style… Collections are simply not compelling enough to inspire big spending and this has led to it losing ground in the upper middle market.” But is the failure to keep up with innovations in apparel and cutting edge fashion solely to blame for the decline in esteem of French Connection?
From Smarm to Smallcore
Throughout much of the 90s and the following decade, the retailer distinguished itself as much by attitude as it did by end-product; a marketing aesthetic noted for minimalism, irony and ultimately, an elitism so sharp it could kill. All of which fell out of favor with the rise of geek chic, distinguished as much by a staunch utilitarianism as it is by authenticity and egalitarianism. In a landscape of overnight YouTube sensations and automatic meme generators, the sort of mocking aloofness represented by French Connection must have seemed as out of place as the Calvin Klein commercials of some twenty years earlier.
Ultimately, it cannot simply be said of French Connection that a failure to adopt a robust online presence has led to their downfall; on the contrary, they have been a proven early adopter of digital strategies. The failure is in refusing to adapt to a changing landscape, one that relies as much on the message of marketing as it does the final end product. Failure to reach out to a population that responds more to personalization than it does provocation can result in the virtual submergence of your brand identity. Which is a shame; because underneath the clever marketing bylines, French Connection’s line was pretty fcuk-ing remarkable. All puns intended.
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