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Paul Smith IT chief Lee Bingham ahead of insourcing trend

Mark Chillingworth | April 26, 2013
Fashion house Paul Smith has long taken classic British style to the wider world. Now head of IT Lee Bingham is helping deliver the same quality to online shoppers

"There is a changing face around how people shop. As a brand we are focused on the experience and the business is very well known for that.

"E-commerce is our primary route to market and that has been a significant change for Paul Smith. And recently the balanced tipped to e-commerce away from our best shops.

"We were resistant to e-commerce at first as there was concern as to whether a luxury brand would work online, for example selling a £1,000 suit. But e-commerce has very quickly become our biggest point of investment and sales, and now we have a strategy to in-source our web development.

"For IT, the importance of the customer data means it's all about CRM and trying to consolidate it all," he says of his team's role in the changing retail world. Bingham doesn't for a minute pretend that the internet and e-commerce is the silver bullet for his business or the sector, but it is clear that Paul Smith is now reaping the benefits of five years of investment in e-commerce and a constant strategy to align its online shopping and in-store experiences.

Assessing the state of today's retail market, Bingham recognises that retail is a long-standing business that is now shifting according to the change in consumer habits, but emphasises that certain aspects of the Paul Smith business must remain constant despite the change in customer behaviour.

"Paul Smith has always said the customer is number one, so the in-store and online experience are very aligned and I think we have always been good at that," he says.

Unlike a lot of market watchers, Bingham is direct and honest about the true cost of doing business online.

"Retailing in any form is expensive and I don't know if that has always been known. We had a number of years where the e-commerce numbers seemed really good, but today when you compare e-commerce to the right shop the cost difference between both is there or thereabouts." Search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay per-click (PPC) advertising, as well as the ongoing operating technology costs, have levelled the difference for a business the size of Paul Smith.

Bingham indicates the biggest difference has not only been the growth of e-commerce, but the behaviour change for the company.

"As a business the traditional consideration of our intellectual property has changed. We used to have collections that would be literally locked down, but now we broadcast the fashion show live on YouTube and Paul does commentaries of fashion shows and has his own blog. So it has become a very public process rather than private.

"Social media has been a huge shift and from my perspective it's been a fabulous journey because IT is no longer a necessary cost, it's become a very profitable route to market and in the business we have a very public face."


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