How Wouter Torfs envisions the future of the Belgian retail
Partly due to the rise of e-commerce, we are experiencing a destructive moment, with new competitors and channels entering the market. Besides, the share of clothing and shoes in the family budget has fallen. It used to be 10%, while now part of the budget goes to travel, technology and gastronomy, among other things. That leaves only 6% to apparel and fashion. How does Belgian retail retain its share in a cake that becomes smaller and smaller? We spoke to Wouter Torfs, CEO of one of the biggest shoe retailers in Belgium.
“Online shopping is growing and as a retailer you ask yourself how to take part in that,” says Wouter Torfs. “Is it wise to manage an own platform or is it better to connect to an established platform such as Bol.com, Alibaba or Amazon.com?“, he adds. During a business trip to China, Wouter’s team attended a presentation by Dirk Van den Berghe, CEO of Walmart.” Even the largest retailer in the world, Walmart, decided not to go to market in China with its app or platform and sell their goods under the umbrella of Tencent & JD. At Schoenen Torfs, the future still has to show what will be the best route to go“
When you come across sour, unhelpful staff in a store, you will prefer to order through a click on your smartphone the next time instead.
“Customers no longer go to the store to get a box, so to speak. Today, 18% of Torfs’ turnover is e-commerce, while the Belgian average lies below 10%. In China, the share of e-commerce in fashion & apparel is 40%. Suppose that,” he continues,” the e-commerce share of fashion and shoes here goes up to 40 %, then many physical stores will have to close." However, he doesn't believe that will happen: “There is, of course, the movement towards e-commerce, certainly among young people. Still, I think that with the ascent of e-commerce, the need for authenticity, human contact and genuine service becomes a key differentiator. The surviving stores will be future proof, experience-oriented and follow the path of authenticity & positive service.
Radiating authenticity online: it lies in the small things.
“It is essential to carry out the culture of customer focus, authenticity and social responsibility that you radiate offline, as well in online activities. Which is reflected by the way an email is sent out, the telephone is picked up and a package is being wrapped up. Or by a handwritten card that someone signed with his/ her name. It lies in many small things",says the patriarch of Schoenen Torfs.
#ibuybelgian provides local employment
“Belgian companies ensure Belgian employment: supporting them may provide a job for your neighbor. The Belgian aspect of e-commerce certainly deserves attention. Which company owns a certain webshop? A web address ending with .be doesn’t necessarily imply that a Belgian company owns it.
Further, as a Belgian company, you know better what the local consumer wants. Next to that, you can offer a high-performance omnichannel where consumers can go to physically. That is not the case with pure e-commerce players such as Zalando and Amazon. I believe in profitability and sustainability,” Torfs adds,” where the key lies omnichannel: offline and online that help and strengthen each other. “
Don't lag behind
Although the Belgian aspect provides added value, Wouter Torfs believes it is crucial not to stay behind when it comes to data and technology. “Data analysis and all things related keeps us busy. We used to take all decisions intuitively based on gut feeling and experience. Now, we are very well aware of the relevance of decision making based on data and analysis. The reason why we have joined forces with Selma.ai. A company that delivers continuous insights and forecasts based on data. We are running several experiments with them. For example, can a specific store layout provide more revenue? The first results look promising. I think the future of retail lies in a strategy that combines data analysis, experience and a clear vision. ”