July 7, 2008, 12:00 AM

N Brown Group experiences massive shift to online sales

Web sales as a proportion of total sales have increased tenfold in the past five years at UK-based apparel and housewares retailer N Brown Group plc, whose roots are in catalogs aimed at consumers 30 and older.

Web sales as a proportion of total sales have increased tenfold in the past five years at UK-based apparel and housewares retailer N Brown Group plc, whose roots are in catalogs aimed at consumers 30 and older. While online sales represented only 3% of the company’s business in February 2003, that rose to 28% by February of this year, Alan White, chief executive, told attendees last week at The Future of Retail conference in London. More recent figures show that proportion climbing to 31% of sales, he said.

Older consumers still use the web less than others, but that is changing as friends and relatives show them how to shop online, White said. The web accounts for 51% of sales for Brown’s under-45 customers, 23% for those 45-65 and 9% for those over 65. But the over-65 group’s web sales are growing at the fastest rate, 55%, compared to 45% for those under 45 and 49% for those 45-65.

Brown operates more than 40 e-commerce sites and is making more of an effort to drive shoppers from one company web site to another, he said. He noted that, while each web site and catalog uses its own brand, the retailer invites a shopper viewing one site to “visit our other great sites” and provides links to sites related to the one the shopper is viewing.

As a result, he says, 20% of customers leaving one Brown site go to other sites within the group. Customers can use a single shopping cart when shopping all the sites and that results in an average order value online that is 25% higher than when a customer calls in an order, White said.

The Future of Retail conference was sponsored by The Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank, and UK-based conference organizers Marketforce.

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