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Switching from retail to digital helped the most inventive iconic brands survive the pandemic.

Retail Experience
5 min read

An adult wearing a crash helmet, riding a foldable Brompton bicycle on a city pavement

Brompton’s iconic folding bikes are engineered for efficiency and designed for personality. Built by a collective of creators and loved by the commuter community, Brompton’s hard-earned success came under pressure as companies across the globe closed their doors. Beyond partnered with the brand to rapidly transform its eCommerce experience to ride out challenging times.

Here, Chris Matthews, Global DTC Channel Director at Brompton, reflects on the realities of retail in a pandemic world and how their brand adapted its platform to survive and, today, thrive.

Our customers build their own communities

Those who buy into Brompton become true converts – they’re highly engaged customers. We have substantial online and offline communities, and they’re true fanatics of the product. Historically, that’s how we’ve grown – through positive word of mouth. Personal recommendation is crucial for us. And as we continue to evolve, it still plays a significant role in our growth strategy.

Every community is different

Brompton communities grow up everywhere, and they all have their unique character. Last year, a significant following developed for Brompton in Jakarta, Indonesia. Not because of anything we did in particular, but because a few products surfaced in the region, kickstarting an entirely organic word-of-mouth campaign. Brompton rapidly became a phenomenon.

In Japan, most people don’t ride Bromptons – they’re purely for show. A customer might have ten brand new bikes and only bring them out on Sundays for social outings. In London, the Brompton is very much a commuting bike. The US community is growing steadily. And in Singapore, we have an incredible amount of interest and support from the Brompton communities.

Customisation is key for our brand

People love to customise their Brompton. For many customers, their bike is part of their daily routine — a part of their family. And customisation is important not only at the point of purchase but post-purchase, too.

"Customers don’t replace their Bromptons very often. That’s the whole idea. They’re built to last. So people find ways of adapting and personalising them one component at a time."

We’re finding that different markets have their own particular approaches to customising their Brompton. Generally, we find our UK, European, and American customers don’t do massive amounts of customisation. On the other hand, our customers in Asia are constantly looking for something unique, something different: an iconic colourway nobody else has, a certain specification, particular saddles, etc. That’s super-interesting for us – and we adapt our marketing and sales strategies accordingly. It offers a huge opportunity. It’s a way to change our product range without really changing it – offering accessories to adapt the bike and make it feel unique.

Brompton's website interface that allows users to choose the best bike for their needs, then customise it.

When the pandemic hit, we had to act fast

The pandemic altered everything. Our communities quietened, our growth strategy had to adapt, and our buying experience needed a drastic overhaul. We were classed as essential retail in many markets, so our stores could remain open but, of course, people weren’t venturing out. The world shifted to eCommerce, and the change was dramatic – retail grew exponentially online.

We had to make some judgement calls fast. We were conscious that, even though we had a huge opportunity to sell so many bikes, it was imperative to deliver a consistent Brompton experience that our communities have come to expect.

The concept of ‘unfolding your story’ defined our new user experience

We started with a clunky, confusing journey, so we aimed to simplify the journey  at every stage for every customer. From newbies discovering more about the brand and exploring their cities in a new way, to experienced users who know what we offer and want detailed information.

Bikes are touch-and-feel products, and as we occupy a more premium, expensive space in the industry, our customers expect support and interaction throughout the purchase cycle. We analysed every online touchpoint to make it mirror the same attentive service offline. And reworked all aspects of the buyer’s journey without making it overly complex or challenging to navigate. It meant unfolding a new story for our customers and our brand.

"From exploring different models and customising your Brompton to opening the box and taking your very first peddle — buying a Brompton is a story, and it’s written by the customer."
A grid of Brompton's marketing materials that say "Brompton reimagined", "Unfold -- set go", and "Find your ride and joy"

Feedback was critical to our evolution

We have a significant, active Facebook community, and the social platform became crucial for feedback during our transformation. It allowed us access to first-hand information that we could monitor and act on. If we had concerns about lead times, people would discuss their expectations. If we worried about the experience when customers received their Bromptons, such as could they unfold it on their own? Did they need to be shown again? Photos, reviews, open conversations — very quickly, we received the feedback we needed to refine our processes. We had a finger on the pulse of our community, and it drove our investments in customer experience.

The website has to work hard for sales and brand

We’re always trying to balance the transactional and the brand elements on our website. The Brompton bike needed to be front and centre. Still, customers had to be able to find the information they needed. Our goal was to be the number one place for everything Brompton, just like our stores. That started with replicating the premium experience of buying a Brompton in person, online — pairing the right data, imagery, and content with simple navigation.

And not just for us. We engaged third-party stockists to refine their online presence, replicate our premium experience, and make sure they display and talk about Bromptons authentically.

Post-pandemic, business is thriving

As an omnichannel business, it’s fantastic to see physical retail come back to life. Customers still tend to start their journey online, but our offline sales are improving and increasing, both in our British Brompton stores and with our third-party retailers. And, it’s great to see other markets following suit – the USA is on a similar trajectory, and parts of Europe too.

"Our partnership with Beyond to level up online helped us and our customers navigate one of the most turbulent periods retail has faced in decades."
Website cards showing Brompton's bike models: A-Line, C-Line Electric, P-Line Electric, and T-Line

Retail Experience
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