Putting your entire product range online in a fortnight and launching e-commerce in-house? Belgian home improvement chain Casa did it. Out of necessity, because its shops were packed with Christmas decorations when the second lockdown hit. Today, Casa is still reaping the benefits.
What was a long-term strategic plan, had to become a very concrete and practical reality in a matter of weeks due to the Covid pandemic. “Our strategic plan 20.20 was already aimed at an omnichannel strategy. In early 2020, our furniture was available online and fulfilment was placed with an external service provider”, supply chain director Walter Goossens explains.
Casa used e-commerce a convenience solution for consumers: having furniture delivered to their homes was still a fairly new service at Casa in early 2020. The solution was mostly devised because some smaller physical shops did not have the space for the growing furniture range, and also because part of its urban clientele do not come by car. For smaller items, Casa offered ‘click&collect’: the stock in the shops could be seen on the website, so customers could make reservations and pick them up just a few hours later.
From a whole pallet to four baubles
“The omnichannel idea was already there”, Goossens emphasises, but the company was not ready to organise e-commerce in-house. However, the pandemic forced the chain’s hand: when the second wave broke out at the end of 2020, it just had its shops geared up for the important festive period. The shops were packed with Christmas decorations and party supplies, and then they had to close again. “We were stuck with all those holiday products, so we decided to speed up and put everything for sale online. In 14 days, we completely made the switch to e-commerce.”
The turnaround had a huge impact, not least on the European distribution centre in Olen (near Antwerp). “We used to only deal with bulk and retail packaging, then we suddenly had to start picking individual orders. From one pallet to four Christmas baubles, in a fortnight… Fortunately, we quickly invested in an integrated warehouse system from Centric and a customised packaging machine. Without being able to trial, without being able to test, we flew straight into the end-of-year period.”
The ad hoc solution became a success story and since then Casa has decided to take e-commerce in-house in all countries. Goossens: “Today it is still clear that online is our growth area, always in combination with click&collect. Only in Switzerland is home delivery not possible at the moment, due to export regulations, but that will be sorted out in 2023.”
Customers prefer the shop
Since the pandemic, online sales have more than doubled, despite the slowdown that can now be seen across the industry. “It may be a setback to our ambitions, but not a setback per se. E-commerce continues to grow. The value per order has skyrocketed, customers are bundling as much as possible to reduce home delivery costs. We also see that our customers clearly feel most comfortable with in-store pick-up – which, by the way, is no longer only possible for shop stock. Today, customers choose whether they have home delivery, have delivery from the central warehouse to the shop or have a reservation for available shop stock.”
“Our customers enjoy coming to the shop, but we have noticed that online has opened up two other segments: youth and B2B customers – a segment that is growing steadily”, Goossens points out. For him, it proves that the set-up of 20.20 has succeeded: from an outdated and loss-making concept, Casa has been transformed into a trendy chain that sells more than accessories and gifts and also appeals to younger consumers.
“We pay a lot of attention to being a good trend follower. We also launched a completely new marketing department, bringing in digital skills, complemented by e-commerce specialists. The omnichannel strategy is visibly contributing and we are now ready for further growth.”
At the RetailDetail Night on 24 November, which is already sold out, Walter Goossens will shine a light on Casa’s omnichannel shift during the supporting programme Trends in e-commerce. There, he will share the stage with INNO, Newpharma, eFarmz and more.