Cate Trotter

Cate is Founder and Head of Trends at Insider Trends, a leading London-based retail futures agency helping global brand create world-leading and profitable retail spaces. As Head of Trends, Cate has helped brands such as Chanel, Galeries Lafayette, Marks & Spencer, Metro Group, Samsung, House of Fraser, Lego and EE innovate and create world-leading retail ecosystems. Chief Executives, Managing Directors, General Managers and Presidents of global companies are often present for her talks. Cate’s experience of setting up two successful businesses in her twenties has led to her being named a Future 100 and Startup 100 entrepreneur.

Burberry: Classic Design with a Future-proof Retail Strategy?

An inside report by Cate Trotter on the strengths of Burberry’s retail operations.

Burberry made headlines when Marco Gobbetti replaced Christopher Bailey at the head of the company, and when Riccardo Tisci was named as Burberry’s new designer. In the context of the management change, the question whether the successors can fill the shoes left for them has been raised time and again. Cate Trotter believes they can, as the brand’s strength extends beyond fashion statement or management and lies in Burberry’s retail strategy.

Inside the Retail Strategy of Burberry

The Burberry name is one of the biggest in British fashion – and beyond. Founded in 1856, the brand is known for being forward-thinking since the very beginning. It doesn’t just design and sell clothes, but was born of innovation for founder Thomas Burberry also invented gabardine, the weatherproof cotton material which Burberry’s famous trench coats are made out of. Before today’s fashion-forward shoppers, Burberry gabardine was used by polar explorers, race car drivers, aviators and military officers.

Burberry opened its first store in London in 1891. Since then the company has built up a network of more than 200 own-brand stores worldwide, plus a similar number of department store concessions. Its online business is also booming with a web presence in more than 40 countries worldwide. We take a look at how it does it and what Burberry can teach the rest of retail.

Retail Strategy Burberry, flagship store London
Burberry Flagship Store London (Photo: Brand Pilots)

Digital Innovation

Burberry may be a heritage brand, but it never been happy to rest on its laurels. Unlike many other long-established brands, Burberry has always been out-in-front when it comes to digital innovation. Since 2006, the company has shifted its mindset to incorporate social media, AI, big data and more into its strategy. Today the brand reaps the benefits of this investment, while others struggle with the changing wants and needs of customers.

Burberry has a presence across 20 different social platforms and a combined following of more than 50 million. In 2016, Burberry launched a chatbot through Facebook Messenger as part of promo around its runway shows. Customers could use the chatbot to get updates and see behind-the-scenes content from the show.

Today they can chat with the bot to browse current collections, see pricing and get recommendations on matching items and accessories. It even has integration with Uber to help customers make their way to the brand’s stores. The chatbot strategy has now been extended to other messaging platforms such as Line and Kakao. Customers can also use the tech in Burberry’s app. By embracing new communication channels, Burberry makes its brand more attractive to younger shoppers. This is vital for the company to ensure it has a new generation of customers.

As far back as 2009 Burberry was experimenting with live-streaming its annual runway shows in order to increase their global reach. Since 2016, Burberry has adopted a ‘see now, buy now’ format for its runway shows with some products available to buy immediately after the show.

Retail Strategy Burberry
(Photo: London Scout)

Burberry has also been a first mover in many other new digital channels. It was the first luxury brand to experiment with personalised experiences on Pinterest and the first brand to use a Snapchat Snapcode. Both initiatives were part of specific product campaigns with Burberry tailoring the digital partner to the content – in the case of Pinterest it was make-up and Snapchat was fragrances. Other Burberry firsts include a dedicated Apple Music channel. The brand is also experimenting with enabling customers to buy through the WeChat social media service.

Luxury brands can often be seen as old-fashioned, but Burberry is shaking off this image by incorporating these digital services into its strategy. It also means it can market itself to customers earlier and earlier in the relationship. A teenager might see Burberry’s content on Instagram or Snapchat and start to form an interest in the brand. If Burberry is able to cultivate this then when that teenager becomes an adult with money they may turn to Burberry.

Another way that Burberry is using tech to its benefit is around the challenge of counterfeiting. The company has teamed up with Entrupy, a tech-based authentication service, to use image recognition to determine if a photo is of a genuine Burberry product. The image only needs to be of a tiny section, with the tech able to spot fakes with 98% accuracy through looking for inconsistencies in the texture and weave.

Counterfeiting is a serious and costly issue for luxury businesses. Burberry’s willingness to explore new ways to overcome this will pay dividends if it’s able to weed out the fakes and make sure all sales are for the real thing. The tech also means the company can respond much faster to new instances of fakes being sold online to shut them down before they get going.

Retail Strategy Burberry
Burberry Flagship Store London (Photo: Brand Pilots)

Customer data

Perhaps most interesting though is that Burberry has amassed a huge collection of customer data – as of November 2016 the brand had 12 million people in its database. Customers voluntarily share their information with the brand through its loyalty and reward schemes in exchange for personalised recommendations. It also has an impressive 85% success rate in capturing data from a customer once in-store, which means most visitors are happy to hear from the brand again.

This approach certainly seems to be paying off. In 2015, Burberry revealed that by investing in personalised customer management programmes it had achieved a 50% increase in return business. Burberry is also able to use its database to help sales assistants access a customer’s purchase history and social media activity. This enables them to offer a more personalised experience.

Every type of retailer is aware of the value of customer data. Burberry has worked hard to make sure that what it gives it customers in return for their data seems valuable enough to warrant handing it over. Apart from helping refine its communications, and personalise interactions, this data can also give Burberry a higher-level view of who their customers are. This can help inform everything from its designs to visual merchandising.

Retail Strategy Burberry
(Photos: Burberry)

Physical stores

Burberry’s stores are where a large number of people interact with its brand. The company has implemented a company-wide service model to make sure that all staff work to the same high standards of service. It also ensures that they focus on building long-term customer relationships.

This is because Burberry understands that someone may not buy on their first visit to the brand, but they may well buy in the future. Likewise, if someone does make a purchase, the brand wants to make sure it’s not a one-off. Having a relationship with a brand is an important element of this. If a customer feels understood, appreciated, wanted and valued then they are going to want to keep spending time with the company that gives them that attention.

The design of the stores and visual merchandising are also carefully thought out. Wall colours are usually neutral with darker accents and furniture. Together it brings to mind Burberry’s classic trench coat or tartan. This is a clever bit of branding that’s often missing from other retailers’ stores.

Retail Strategy Burberry
Burberry Brand Store Covent Garden (Photo: Brand Pilots)

As usual, Burberry is very much ahead of the curve with its in-store tech. While RFID is still being explored by retail as a whole, Burberry has been implementing the tech in-store since 2012. Many products in its range are fitted with RFID tags. Shoppers can use their smartphone to interact with these to gain access to extra content – from how a product was made to recommendations on looks.

In fact, when Burberry opened its Regent Street flagship in 2012 it was designed to be the physical version of its website, known as Burberry World Live. Alongside RFID tags, the store uses tech to make its service more seamless. This includes the ability for assistants to take payments anywhere, high-speed lifts that help with speedy stock checks and iPads for kids to draw on in childrenswear.

The store also offers unique experiences, whether it’s live-streaming the latest Burberry runway show, or a live gig on the in-store stage. Burberry understands that customers are coming to the store for something that they can’t get elsewhere – particularly online.

This desire for experience may be particularly strong when it comes to luxury. If you’ve saved up to buy a Burberry trench coat would you rather just click buy on a website, or would you want to go in-store to get the VIP treatment?

Retail Strategy Burberry
(Photo: Sandid)

Refocus on luxury

Burberry has always been a luxury brand, but reports from late last year indicate that new chief exec Marco Gobbetti plans to make it even more upmarket. In order to do this it will pull Burberry products from some department stores, and up the prices on some product ranges.

It’s an interesting approach. By reducing the number of outlets carrying its products outside of its own stores, Burberry will create a greater feeling of exclusivity around them. Higher price tags will also push the products out of the range of more shoppers, which again will make them seem more exclusive. It may also increase the aspirational nature of the brand.

But Burberry will have to weather a drop in sales, hopefully just short-term, while this new strategy is put into place. The brand may also incur some negative publicity from brand fans that may not be able to afford the higher prices.

The new strategy also includes plans to refit Burberry physical stores to heighten the luxury experience. This may help the brand to justify its higher prices by setting them against a more expensive-feeling backdrop. With physical stores being the easiest way for a brand to totally immerse a customer in their world, it makes sense that Burberry would focus efforts here when trying to reposition itself.

Retail Strategy Burberry
Classic Cashmere (Photo: Burberry)

What can we learn?

As you can see there’s much retailers can learn from Burberry. Number one though is to not be afraid to take risks. Burberry is a pioneer in many new developments and is always on the cutting-edge of what new tech is out there. It’s already looking into virtual and alternate reality possibilities. Even if nothing comes of this, the fact that the brand is aware of the tech and educating itself on it puts it ahead of many others.

It’s not afraid to dip a toe in and try something – whether that’s through a new social media channel or sales model. This reputation as an innovator means that even when it’s not doing something new, people are still watching Burberry with interest.

The company is also very secure in who it is as a brand. It’s proud of its heritage and history, but always looking ahead. It balances serving its existing client base with the knowledge that it also needs to attract the next. Its stores offer customers a slice of special treatment that they can’t buy online and this is tied into the value felt in its products. And any good retailer should want to do the same.

(This article first appeared on Insider Trends and is re-published here with permission.)

About the Author:

Cate Trotter is Head of Trends at Insider Trends, a leading London-based retail futures agency that helps global brands create world-leading and profitable retail spaces. It does this by clarifying what’s coming next in the world of retail, and what clients can do to get ahead of their competitors. Reach Cate via e-mail or read more of her work here.

How to Run a Smart Store

What makes a smart store? While customers imagine touchscreens, virtual reality, smart fitting rooms and mirrors and other digital elements, smart retailers learn to make the best use of internal and external data.

This might be by making recommendations or by automatically triggering certain actions or events. A smart store uses data and analytics in much the same way as an online retailer. And it continues to learn and improve based on past actions and new data inputs.

Smart store visual displays
Visual Displays (photo: brand pilots)

Here are three key areas for getting started in running a smarter store:

Managing External Influences

How much do external forces impact your sales? Could you use outside information to better operate your store?

Your store isn’t immune to the forces of the outside world. If it’s raining then customers may want to buy umbrellas. If it’s sunny they may start to think about holidays and buy sunglasses, sun cream and more. If your store is located near a major tourist attraction, that too might exert some influence on sales compared to other locations.

Eyewear Brand Store Jeddah
Eyewear Brand Store Jeddah (photo: brand pilots)

Smart stores gather this outside information and use it to maximise how attractive the store is to potential customers. IBM offers retail solutions that use insights about weather, location, local events and more to advise store managers on their marketing activities. For example, pushing products that complement the weather or a major local event.

Boldmind is doing something similar, but its real-time info means that you can change your strategy on the fly. If an optician’s stores are seeing a lot of sun on a given day then they can be prompted to switch over their digital advertising to sunglasses. The system can even be programmed to make the change automatically.

By tapping into what’s happening outside your doors and using that information to adjust how you position your stores to customers, you will reap the benefits in sales.


Imagine you never had a product that went out of stock? Or that you never over-ordered on an item? What could you do if you accurately knew the inventory of every single store?

Asics smart store London
Asics Store London (photo: brand pilots)

The smartest stores know exactly what is on the shelves and in the back. They can account for all inventory and help maintain adequate stock levels.

Smart shelves aren’t just ensuring price accuracy by using digital price tags, they’re also changing the way stores track what’s in stock. Sensors in the shelf can track when products are picked up, or put back, and therefore tell when a certain product is out-of-stock or running low. It’s a similar principle to the new no-checkout Amazon Go concept.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is another way for retailers to gather this information. The shoe department in Saks’ Fifth Avenue store is one of the best-known examples of this; the store uses RFID to tag and stock-check up to 4,000 shoes every day. Companies like River Island are using RFID to achieve 97% stock accuracy and trigger replenishment when stock is running low.

Tommy Hilfiger smart store
Tommy Hilfiger also uses RFID to manage stock (photo: brand pilots)

Retailers are also improving their inventory information by using robots, such as Simbe Robotics’ Tally, to count the items on the shelves. This dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes to check stock levels and gives the store a highly accurate overview of what is available. Out-of-stock or low-stock items are flagged up, which means the store can reorder with little to no loss of sales opportunities. Staff are also alerted to incorrectly priced or wrongly placed items.

This smart inventory management has huge implications for stores as it can help to reduce wastage further up the supply chain, both in terms of cost and product. There’s no need to order more than you need of a product. Instead, you can make better use of stock you have across your retail chain.

If you want to discontinue a range, the store can use its historical data to identify what is selling poorly. Or if you have a massive overstock, it might suggest that you put a certain item on sale.


What if your store could change its look and feel based on the demographics of the customers inside? What if every advert could be tailored to the person looking at it? What if your store design and visual merchandising reflected how your customers used the space?

Many retailers are already collecting and analyzing data about their stores, such as footfall and dwell time. A truly smart store would be able to take this information and use it to recommend where to place products to maximize sales.

For customers, a smart store might be one with lots of digital elements – touchscreens, digital advertising, virtual reality, augmented reality, smart fitting rooms and mirrors, voice ordering and so on. But for retailers, a truly smart store is a store that uses internal and external data, and customer information to sell more.

The Pro:Direct store in London is able to change its aesthetic through the use of magnetic wall panels and digital screens. It’s not hard to imagine this being an automated process in the future. For example, if the smart store detected a particular customer demographic, it could trigger a certain color scheme or piece of digital content.

Pro:Direct London smart store
Pro:Direct London (photo: brand pilots)

In much the same way, some stores now have digital advertising screens that are smart enough to tailor what they show to a particular customer. This might be via facial recognition or based on the products that they interact with. This means that in-store experience always feels different to the customer. The store can also collect information on how a customer responds to advertising to determine what’s working and what to show them next.

The physical environment is one area where stores still have a massive edge over online shopping. Smart stores will enhance this by using data to improve layouts, promotions, advertising and merchandising that attracts and engages.

Multiple Benefits

Where the smart store really comes into its own, is the combination of all of these things. If your store can accurately pull information on the weather, it may recommend that you put certain seasonal items on sale now because you have excess stock.

Having an almost real-time overview of inventory across all stores means you can offer better customer experiences like shipping an out-of-stock item in from another store. Knowing that there’s a local event going on means that the store might recommend you place certain products in prominent locations around the store.

Cole Haan smart store
Cole Haan Brand Store (photo: brand pilots)

Retail has made a lot of progress with the collection of data about stores and customers, and the smart stores of the future will benefit from this. They will use artificial intelligence to learn from this information to make the best recommendations for driving more sales in real-time. They will identify patterns in behavior and use that to suggest actions that tap into this data.

New technologies like beacons and virtual reality have their part to play, but they’re much like the interior and paint job of a new car. They help provide a nice environment and a pleasant experience, but what’s happening under the hood is what determines your success. And in that respect, the smart stores of the future will boast a lot of horsepower.

About the Author:

Cate Trotter is Head of Trends at Insider Trends, a leading London-based retail futures agency that helps global brands create world-leading and profitable retail spaces. It does this by clarifying what’s coming next in the world of retail, and what clients can do to get ahead of their competitors. Reach Cate via e-mail or find out more about her on LinkedIn.