Fletcher Jones closes doors but opens eCommerce store

Iconic Australian menswear retailer Fletcher Jones, renowned for selling largely to the “greying” population, has opened a new online store, despite only closing its doors one year ago.

The long-established brand first started trading in 1924 in the regional Victorian town of Warrnambool. When its founder Sir Fletcher Jones died in 1977 the brand was one of the largest in the country, employing 3000 people across 33 stories.

Fletcher died well before the online revolution, but under the new ownership of the Gowty family the brand is being rejuvenated as a predominantly online business.

The brand has a community of 2127 Facebook fans, and when it closed up shop last year its page was flooded with support from Australians lamenting the loss of the brand.

Australians are now able to purchase goods through Fletcher Jones’ website, which managing director Matt Gowty says has so far been a “very positive” move.

“The main website was released on March 22, 2013 and so far it’s been very positive. For the first two months it’s been up on budget and it seems like the age group have enjoyed the experience,” he says.

Gowty says the brand’s oldest online customer so far is a “young” 87-year-old man.

“I’ve spoken to him personally and he was actually surprised he was the oldest. He did it all himself and actually found it an easy experience,” Gowty says.

Gowty expects more people of a similar age to start shopping at the online store, as older Australians learn how to use iPads, smartphones and computers.

A recent survey by MasterCard on shopping behaviour revealed 76% of Australian men and women aged between 50 and 64 had made at least five purchases online and 71% of these shoppers had bought items from an Australian retailer.

Nearly one quarter of these purchases were made on a smartphone.

The Fletcher Jones website has a set of clear instructions detailing how to order products and if a shopper is struggling with the website, they are able to call up and someone from Fletcher Jones will help them with the process.

As well as the online store, Gowty says there are plans to have concept stores where consumers can try on clothes before making their purchase online.

“Within the next six months we’re looking to have a concept store in Melbourne. It will be smaller than the average store and since rents are so expensive and there are a lot of retail outlets closing down, we’re bringing a different concept,” he says.

Gowty says without the high rent costs clothing is able to be sold cheaper and since launching it has already sold several thousand pairs of trousers.

Retail Doctor Group chief executive Brian Walker told SmartCompany the idea has potential, but only time will tell if it’s ultimately successful.

“It’s an interesting idea, compliments on the initiative, but the jury is out.

“Theoretically very clever, but I’m not sure it will satisfy the basic human needs. People go to physical stores to enjoy the experience, talk to staff and have the tactile experience, and unless its research shows otherwise, I think people also want some level of instant gratification,” he says.

Walker says the move puts “a lot of faith” in the online model.

“Online at this stage is predominantly a research tool. It certainly has a part to play in fashion purchases, but it still only makes up 8% to 10% of total sales, so this kind of online model could possibly be a little early,” he says.

Walker says the success of the venture depends on a number of factors.

“I’ve got questions around their merchandise mix and target market and I also haven’t seen many pilots of this concept around the world. But I admire the initiative, and in their favour is that it is a very well-known brand.

“The clever thing is it’s also not carrying much margin in inventory. Depending on the lag between order in the store and delivery, there is the possibility they could make garments to order – the economics could be very attractive,” he says.

Gowty says shipping time to customers is dependent on their location, but if they live in Melbourne items are delivered in around two days.

Looking forward, sales are expected to continue increasing, Gowty says.

“The first month was great and the second month was even better and we’re on par to increase sales again this month,” he says.

At the moment, Fletcher Jones is sticking to its traditional clothing merchandise aimed at the 60 years and up male market, but in summer it’s looking to shake things up.

“We’re pretty happy with where the product range is, but we’re looking at some different things. In summer we’ll have some polo shirts and some different weighted shorts which will be new and exciting,” Gowty says.

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