Mastering the Art of Buying with James Barron, ex-ASOS (episode 475)

James Barron is a fashion buyer. With over 13 years at ASOS, and previous roles at Envy, Moss Bros, M and S, and Arcadia, there’s little James doesn’t know about buying third party brands in, or product development of their own brand fashion.

James Barron ex-ASOS on eCommerce MasterPlan Podcast

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Dive in:

[03:36] Online buying offers more product options.
[07:51] Understand customer, adapt sales, follow for rewards.
[11:50] Build diverse brand portfolios, adapt to trends.
[15:01] ASOS offered variety and convenience online.
[18:31] North Face improved women’s wear, increased market share.
[22:08] Collaboration between buyer and merchandiser is essential.
[24:24] Importance of exit margin over intake margin.
[26:09] James shares his Top Tips!

James’ eCommerce Journey

James got into the world of eCommerce around thirteen and a half years ago, when he became the first head of buying for men’s wear at ASOS. James says moving from physical stores to online doesn’t significantly alter the buying process itself. The benefit of being online is the absence of space constraints, which allows for a broader range of options. The freedom of online buying requires effective stock management, as it allows for testing and quick reactions to trends. Although constraints can guide decisions, the flexibility to test and react quickly online proved beneficial and led to ASOS’ success.

The Importance of Understanding the Customer’s Persona in Buying

It’s important to understand the customer’s persona and the events you are buying for. Identifying the target customer, their age group, fashion preferences, and even aspirational brands is crucial for successful buying. This goes for both brick-and-mortar and online retail. Following the customer’s behavior across different channels is key, and James says aligning the buying plan with customer preferences leads to successful outcomes and customer rewards.

Tips for Successful Buying In Brands and Products for Your eCommerce Store

James has several tips for those looking to buy brands and products to sell on their online stores:

  • Define your customer. Identify your target customers and the fashion trends that appeal to them.
  • Reinforce your concept. When bringing brands on board, reinforce your store’s concept of look and feel.
  • Build relationships with brands.
  • Experiment with exclusive products. Explore Special Manufacturing Units (SMUs) where you work closely with brands to develop exclusive products for a season.
  • Be open to testing. Brands that are open to experimentation provide opportunities for testing and learning, which will allow both the eCommerce store and the brand to evolve and adapt to changing market demands.

Advice on Developing Your Own Products

For those developing their own products, James has the following advice:

  • When developing your own products, focus on designing the range by considering options, price extension, and the quality of garments. Identify your target audience and tailor the range to meet their preferences.
  • Decide on manufacturing locations, whether close to home or not. Also, consider a mix of both. Smaller minimums can be obtained locally, but larger units might be available from manufacturers further away.
  • Maintain a speed to market by building flexibility into your processes.
  • Ensure consistency in your product line and buy with authenticity.
  • While you may only have a small part of the brand, aim for consistency and ownership in that segment

Collaboration Between Merchandising and Buying

James emphasizes the necessity of a collaborative relationship between buying and merchandising teams. The strength of the team lies in the combined expertise of a skilled buyer and an effective merchandiser, working in tandem and maintaining relationships with suppliers and factories. James adds that success will come from a collaborative and aligned approach between the two.

A Final Word on Buying

For James, buying is simply turning purchased stock into revenue quickly. The key is aligning everything to enable quick stock turnover, ensuring that purchased items are readily available for sale. While intake margin is often considered a buyer’s KPI, James highlights the importance of exit margin. Prioritize product excellence and ultimately, customers will buy from you.

eCommerce Book Top Tip

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • Prioritize product quality over marketing methods. Excellent products are the foundation for effective marketing.

Tool Top Tip

  • The phone has become a crucial tool for businesses. Incorporate mobile platforms, including apps and social media, into the overall marketing strategy to stay relevant and efficient.

Carbon Top Tip

  • Reduce returns to make an eCommerce store more carbon-neutral. Carbon footprint significantly increases when customers frequently buy and return products. Encourage your customers to be mindful of their purchases. Invest in better sizing recommendations and virtual fit tools to minimize returns and reduce carbon footprint.

Interview Links

Related episodes

  • Sales, Stock and Profit: Strategies for Promotions and Clearances with Alison Metcalfe, Merchandising Masterclass (episode 465)
  • Solving the Overstock Dilemma with Daniel Parekh-Hill, Flare (episode 468)
  • 5 Key Steps for Effective CRM Implementation with Haydn Parks, Digital Fit (episode 472)

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