Wouter Torfs: “Cross-channel makes you stronger than pure e-tailers”

Wouter Torfs: “Cross-channel makes you stronger than pure e-tailers”

Belgian shoe retailer Schoenen Torfs is a prime example of a classic retailer: half a century after the company started as a small business, the family company has built a true empire of shoe stores. It is therefore interesting to see how the chain deals with the latest and probably most radical challenge yet: the digital era. Even for a ‘classic’ like Schoenen Torfs, it is “Switch or die”, says CEO Wouter Torfs.

As keynote speaker at the RetailDetail Congress on 25 April, you will talk about how Schoenen Torfs is adjusting to a new retail reality. So let us barge right in: what is your vision on e-commerce?

W.T.: “My thoughts on e-commerce are clear: instead of seeing it as a threat – which a lot of retailers still do – I see it as an opportunity. It is key to combine the best of both worlds and to create synergy: the combination of brick stores and an online shop makes for a very strong proposition towards customers.


As cross-channel retailer you also have a stronger position than a purely online player: you can offer more flexibility, more service and a better experience. A customer can easily return shoes or pick up that pair of shoes he urgently needs. The possibilities are much broader for cross-channel.”


Another hot topic is the rise of mobile devices with internet connectivity. Does this hold value for Schoenen Torfs?

W.T.: “Mobile is something we are really working on, but at the moment it is at an embryonic stage. We have four shops where we installed iPads in a specially designed piece of furniture, but we noticed that this is actually too small and too limited. In a store of about 1,000 sqm, those screens do not draw the attention of customers.


Nonetheless we are absolutely open towards the mobile evolution and we are always searching for a way to integrate it into the shopper experience. We do not really see people using their mobile devices in our stores, but if you see how fast the usage of mobile devices is rising in the United States or Asia, there is no doubt it will also start happening here.”


On 25 April, there will also be a seminar about the future of print as a marketing medium.

W.T.: “When talking about advertising and communicating, we like to use a broad number of media. We believe this way our message reaches the biggest audience. At the moment we feel it is no use choosing one or the other, it still is more of an and/and-story.


Every season we publish 50,000 copies of our consumer magazine CHOEZ. Customers are eager to pick it up in our stores: they like to read it or leaf through it. But we’ve also developed a mobile application, so customers can read the magazine digitally. It is a fact that printed communication is losing ground and we can not close our eyes for that evolution.”


At the pre-congress “The new consumer” ‘the new stinginess’ of the consumer will be a topic. Has the consumer really become that price oriented?

W.T.: “Especially online, we notice customers are sensitive to promotions. As soon as we have a temporary promotion at our online shop, we see a considerable effect on our conversion rate. Our experience tells us the online shopper is more looking for a deal than offline shoppers, probably because they are less used to temporary promotions on the shopping floor.


It is very important to keep online promotions separated from our shops though. We will never have a promotion online when the shops are open and we will never go lower than -10%. They’re more like guerrilla actions: unexpected and short. An example is how we sometimes send out a newsletter warning our customers of an upcoming limited promotion that evening. We see that the consumer is ever more affected by those type deals.


We are very careful though, because we believe our physical stores are still our core business. Our core values are brand experience, service and customer care: ‘unique selling propositions’ that can not be combined with explicit discount orientation.”




Wouter Torfs is keynote speaker at the RetailDetail Congress “Switch or Die” on Thursday 25 April in Schelle (near Antwerp). You can find the complete program here; registration is possible via www.retaildetailcongres.be.