In partnership with CGS, The Interline spotlights the journey that boohoo has undergone to expand its international reach, post-pandemic, through a global network of wholesale partners. And we look at the B2B technology that’s underpinned that ambition and helped deliver a new avenue for growth for one of fashion’s most-recognisable groups of brands. (Images throughout this case study are provided by boohoo.)
Key takeaways and results:
- With 13 brands under its name, the boohoo group (boohoo) identified further international expansion as a cornerstone of its growth strategy.
- To support that objective, boohoo selected the BlueCherry B2B eCommerce platform, by CGS, as its primary tool to streamline wholesale relationships and reach new international audiences without significant overhead.
- boohoo stress-tested the BlueCherry platform with speed and scale as part of an initial phase of adoption – making new styles available to wholesale partners and taking orders within 24 hours, and achieving growth at a time when many global brands were struggling with disruption.
- As part of the wider BlueCherry portfolio – which also includes enterprise PLM and ERP solutions – boohoo and other brands stand to benefit from seamless integration between product data and transactional solutions, streamlining the route from inspiration to purchase order.
The worldwide fashion retail market has been reshaped in historic disruption. Everyone reading this will be familiar with the key themes: complex, supply chains, fast-changing consumer behaviour, and intense competition across every channel, every category, and every geography.
Against that backdrop, success is a simple recipe on paper, but a difficult one to put into practice. It means having the right products, the right message, the right pricepoint, and the right reach to earn the loyalty of existing customers and to find and delight new ones.
Founded in 2006 with the promise of making “up-to-the-minute fashion” affordable for all, the boohoo group uses its “test and repeat” model to shorten the months-long timeline from inspiration to consumer to just a few weeks, making it an eCommerce brand success story in a landscape where the retail model had dominated.
In the 17 years since, that homegrown UK brand has hit stratospheric scale – with sales now in excess of £1.2 billion annually at the group level – and found its recurring place in the headlines for a wide spectrum of different reasons. (The group has published significant new sustainability, equality, and transparency commitments in the last two years, and promises to be “upfront” around its progress in these vital areas.)
But behind the news, boohoo has stuck to a simple, successful philosophy: putting a vast array of deceptively-curated choices in front of a demographic – 16-40 year-olds – that values trend velocity, variety, accessibility, inclusivity, and body positivity.
In all these areas, boohoo’s messages and product mixes have resonated, and the headline brand’s social and sales reach is now measured in the tens of millions.
But beyond the main brand, the boohoo group has also grown to include brands like Nasty Gal, Misspap, and Prettylittlething – as well as more recent acquisitions like Karen Millen, Coast, Oasis, Warehouse, Wallis, Dororthy Perkins, and Debenhams. And although it’s known primarily for womenswear, the group also deals in men’s clothing across its Burton and boohooMAN brands.
Behind what the end consumers of these brands see, is an increasingly-complex and truly global map of product design, development, sourcing, logistics, and retail channels. For its Boohoo brand alone, the company sells natively to the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada, a range of different European and Nordic countries, and seven Emirates.
Add near-global shipping coverage to the mix, and the boohoo vision of affordable fashion “for all” has taken on a new aspect as the company has scaled – to the extent that the wider group is now seeing more than 20% growth in international markets.
Deepening that growth, though, is not something that boohoo aims to achieve alone. As successful as Boohoo has been at building its own direct to consumer channels, securing and expanding its existing international reach and impact, the brand recognises, hinges on building effective wholesale relationships with established retail partners who have the reach, the infrastructure, and the market penetration to carry the Boohoo name even further afield.
“Every brand’s post-COVID recovery has been different, but for us we recognised that one of the keys to success was going to come from expansion – finding new ways to push our product out, and exploring new markets that we’d had limited or no exposure to in the past, before the world changed,” says Kieren Rimmer, Technology Director for Trade & Operations at Boohoo Group. “International wholesale isn’t our only avenue, and we’re still seeing great growth at home in the UK, but boohoo really is a worldwide business, and we knew that taking that to the next level was both a strategic priority and something we wanted to do with the right regional partners.”
As a result, boohoo began to formulate the next stage of its strategy for internationalisation as one of the pillars of its vision for growth. And quickly the company’s commercial teams realised that its existing technology ecosystem, which had focused heavily on building eCommerce platforms for its brands in their domestic markets, did not have the right capabilities to streamline the process of introducing new products to new markets, through new retail partners, at the speed and volume that defined the boohoo brand.
To bridge that strategically-important gap, boohoo’s technical team – which is based in The Interline’s home city of Manchester, UK, and which Kieren helps to lead – was tasked with identifying and building the right B2B wholesale solution.
“The drive from the business here was wider exposure – getting our brands known in new markets through our partners’ storefronts – but the real key to success wasn’t just scaling our international wholesale, it was scaling it at speed, without slowing down or burdening our core teams,” says Kieren. “That was a capability we didn’t have, and it’s one we needed to find a partner to help build in a way that could match Boohoo’s rigorous demands.”
So, unlike many other software selection projects, which begin with problems to solve, this project was driven by an identified opportunity, and technology was the lever that would be required to move it forward at speed and scale.
And whatever solution the boohoo technical team identified needed to make the process of bringing new products to the brand’s overseas partners as streamlined as possible – as well as making it viable for adoption at some of the earliest possible stages of the product lifecycle. Due to the pace of Boohoo’s new product introduction processes, partners needed to be made aware of the availability of new catalogues as quickly as possible, which created a demand for both speed and flexibility.
“Our catalogues are specific to partners, so they contain regionalised products and local currency prices, but the level of detail they contain can be quite variable,” Kieren explains. “Because of how quickly our teams work, sometimes a product is presented with just a sketch, whereas sometimes – and this is becoming the case more often – they also include material composition and fabric details. So the requirement was to identify a B2B platform that would allow our teams to notify partners of new catalogues containing potentially thousands of products, to give them as much detail as it’s possible to at this early stage, and to allow them to save the styles they like, share them with their teams, and then file an order – all within 24 hours from that catalogue being released.”
With their experience of building enterprise eCommerce platforms that were routinely stress tested at huge volumes and pace-setting speeds, the boohoo technical team knew they would need the same rock-solid reliability, the same scale, and the same flexibility from a new platform tailor-made for multinational business-to-business wholesale. The team explored the possibility of building a solution for themselves, but as deep users of other enterprise platforms like PLM and ERP, Boohoo saw value in approaching the market to find a technology solution that would meet their needs.
“We evaluated a number of different technology providers and different solutions, and we determined that CGS’s BlueCherry B2B eCommerce platform felt like the right fit, with the right capabilities off-the-shelf, and the right flexibility to deliver on our vision.”
Another factor in boohoo’s decision to work with CGS was the requirement for a partner whose international reach and UK presence matched their own – with CGS having committed in a major way to the UK retail market, with specific solutions, a seasoned expert team, and a previous partnership with The Interline to educate and connect with the UK market late last year.
Following the selection process, the boohoo and CGS teams entered into a phase of building core capabilities and ensuring that the solution could operate at the speed and volume they needed before going live in 2022, as Eve Short, Technical Delivery Manager for Boohoo Group, explains:
“We worked with CGS to start this strategic project off on the right foot, which meant an initial roadmap that was defined by reaching the right level of efficiency to cope with the volumes that boohoo deals in, across catalogues, purchase orders, and sales orders. Together, we also built out the ability for our in-house teams to filter our full B2B offer so they could create catalogues for the relevant partners quickly and easily, and we made sure everyone who interacted with the solution could work at the speed our business demands.”
With speed front of mind, another important consideration behind Boohoo’s expansion strategy was the ease with which the new wholesale platform could be populated with new products, and how easily transactional data could be brought into the group’s existing ERP solution. And from this point of view, boohoo’s use of other solutions that form part of the BlueCherry ecosystem was seen as a way to smooth out and speed up the adoption process.
“Our design, development, and selling teams do a huge amount of work in PLM to create the products that are released at an early stage to our partners, and when sales orders are received and need to converted into VPOs, having everything in one ecosystem is beneficial because you have access to the entire process from start to finish,” adds Eve.
But despite having that platform integration and ecosystem edge, the choice to use BlueCherry B2B eCommerce was by no means guaranteed – and between selecting the solution and starting to roll it out to the global partner network, boohoo set a series of high bars that required CGS’s retail team to collaborate deeply with boohoo’s technical team.
“We’ve worked very closely together over the last two years to evolve the platform, and that evolution came from the demands that the boohoo model brings” says Kieren. “We work across so many different brands, so many different size ranges – women’s and men’s – and obviously we’re dealing in hundreds of thousands of new products a year, and publishing thousands of new products a week. The sheer throughput was something that really tested the BlueCherry solution, and the CGS team, to its limits, but with performance enhancements and new capabilities, we’re now absolutely up to a speed and a feature set that’s ready for the demands of the world’s biggest brands. It’s a credit to the CGS team that they accepted the challenge, recognised that we wouldn’t settle for second best, and now we’re building an even more ambitious roadmap that can really showcase and build on the foundations we’ve set together.”
For boohoo, then, expansion is not just a hedge against uncertainty, but an opportunity to demonstrate just how much the boohoo group of brands resonates worldwide, and to prove just how far a model that began as the ultimate disrupter can scale. And the company also sees the chance to use technology – including BlueCherry B2B eCommerce and other components of the BlueCherry suite – to unlock a new phase of growth at a time when many brands are reckoning with disruption.
“Retail is in an uncertain place, and it’s definitely the case that every day brings a new challenge, or a new opportunity,” concludes Kieren. “But our customers and our competitors are the ones that prompt us to always be on the front foot and never fall behind, and in a difficult retail environment our partnership with CGS is key to helping us continue to grow.”
About our partner:
For nearly 40 years, CGS has enabled global enterprises, regional companies, and government agencies to drive breakthrough performance through business applications, enterprise learning and outsourcing services. CGS is wholly focused on creating comprehensive solutions that meet clients’ complex, multi-dimensional needs and support clients’ most fundamental business activities. Headquartered in New York City, CGS has offices across North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.