Dear Fenwick, it’s 2017…

I love department stores and I love Fenwick. I love the long and rich history of the business which gives me a warm feeling of belonging to something bigger when I walk in; I love the Central London location on New Bond St where it stands face-to-face with Victoria’s Secret, Hugo Boss, Canali and Zegna, and just a few minutes walk from Burberry, Dunhill and Selfridges; I love the friendly non-pushy staff who allow me to stroll through the store without being forcibly draped in clothing or sprayed with something; I love the Carluccio’s, Bond St Kitchen and Bodyism Cafe which mean I can get good food and coffee in-store; and I love the premium brands that can be found across all categories at reasonable prices.
But… and it is a big ‘But’ with a capital ‘B’… it could be so much better! In fact, it has to be so much better and soon, or I worry that the fate of the Leicester store will become the harbinger for the wider Fenwick empire.
There are two major issues for the customer, one widely written about and another which I’ve seen largely swept under a fine carpet of stable and consistent annual profits.

Firstly, the much-talked-about website. At the time of writing, and since it pulled the shutters down on eCommerce in 2014, you cannot buy products on Fenwick.com and it regularly features on the wrong side of ‘Good vs Bad’ website analysis on RetailWeek.com and other industry blogs. In 2017 it is almost impossible to believe this can still be the case but sadly, it is. The marketing team have done a great job of producing an attractive site which does everything it should, except sell things to you. You can find locations for all stores, read well-researched articles about the hottest new brands and trends, and see how much they cost to buy (IF you can get to one of the Fenwick stores) but there’s no ‘click to buy’ button and no ‘shopping cart’ which is a ubiquitous feature in the top right-hand corner of all other retailer’s websites. You can even engage socially via facebook and twitter, but you can’t buy anything except gift vouchers online.

Mark Fenwick, the company Chairman recently commented:

“Retail has changed a lot, online has become a big factor. We haven’t got an online presence for reasons we can’t discuss, they’d take too long to discuss.”


There is hope though – a statement on the Fenwick website was issued in regards to the closure of the store in Leicester, reads:

“It is our intention to launch a new eCommerce platform, which will enable all customers to continue shopping with us.”

Everyone knows the old adage about roads paved with good intentions, so Fenwick need this turned into good actions, and without delay.

Secondly, the merchandising and display of products must be better. My last visit to Fenwick reminded me of another retail experience at American Apparel. In both cases, there were expensive products laid out in sportsdirect.com fashion; flatly on plain white and chrome tables or hanging from wire wall-mounted hangers. Fenwick is not doing justice to the premium designers and manufacturers that it stocks from top-to-bottom of its store, and when you visit Selfridge’s, Liberty or Harrod’s or even mid-market department stores such as John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, the contrast is obvious. The company says that it is deliberately understated and doesn’t want to be shouting ‘in the face’ of their target demographic of 40-60-year-old women, but I think there must be a middle ground that Fenwick can find… somewhere between shouting and ignoring.

These two areas of investment will require good people. Fenwick must invest in ecommerce capability and will need strong experienced leadership as well as digital fluency throughout the business to make a success of this area.
Fenwick already has a strong, experienced Buying and Merchandising team. There are 19 people on Linkedin who work for Fenwick in a display or visual merchandising capacity and they have a good blend of long-serving employees and experienced new hires from a range of other well-known retailers. Perhaps they need a fresh mandate, and budget, for displaying their premium brands in a premium setting.
The exciting news for Fenwick is that, having posted pre-tax profits of £44.2m last year, a new CFO was appointed in the Autumn. Peter King should bring with him a healthy appetite for online sales from The Fragrance Shop which saw a 38% increase in online sales in 2016. I look forward to seeing him drive investment in 2017 and using the solid Fenwick balance sheet to support the people who can inspire the company to stay at the top of the luxury department store market.

For any reaction or comments, please email Felix@agora-talent.com