Journeys Milestone: Going Channel Surfing

Journeys is ready to talk to its customers wherever they may be.

“The customer doesn’t care [where they are],” said John Tighe, director of e-commerce for the retailer. “They want the same information in the store as on their mobile phone as on the website. It’s all Journeys; it doesn’t matter which channel it’s coming through. And it’s our job to continue to blur the lines between the channels.”

To that end, the retail chain speaks to its young consumers through a website, a mobile site, Twitter, Facebook and even a direct-mail catalog.

Journeys’ first foray outside of brick and mortar and into the World Wide Web was in 1999.

Back then, Journeys.com began in a modest space containing three desks, three Journeys sales associates and a cash register taken from one of the stores.

“It was all very manual. Nothing was integrated,” said Rob Taylor, SVP of operations. “We took existing technology, which was the registers, and existing staff who took orders from people, put [the orders] into the register and then shipped them to the customer.”

Today, Journeys’ e-commerce business is the chain’s fastest-growing channel. While parent company Genesco Inc. doesn’t break out figures, it reported in the second quarter that e-commerce and catalog comp sales, as a group, surged 40 percent year-over-year. And including Schuh, total direct sales, which include catalogs, now make up 5 percent of Genesco’s revenue.

But less-high-tech approaches to selling are also working for the retailer.

Journeys’ catalog, which gets mailed directly to customers’ homes, continues to have one of the retailer’s best returns on investment since launching at the end of 2000, said Taylor.

Arguing that direct-mail catalogs retain their relevance in the digital age, Tighe said, “Web sales shoot up [after the catalog goes out] for back-to-school, holiday and spring. We have kids — and even parents — coming into the store holding the catalog in their hand with stuff circled.”

Of course, the challenge of having multiple channels is ensuring they all speak the same language.

“Kids nowadays, they get a text message from Journeys saying a new shoe is available, they go into the store to buy it, they tweet about it, they post a picture on Facebook of them wearing it. You have to be able to talk to them all those times,” said Wade Lee Jones, director of visual merchandising and catalogs. “You can’t just say, ‘Here it is on the website. Hope you like it.’”

That’s not to say the retailer likes jumping on the bandwagons of fads. It does not, for example, have an iPhone app, although it does have a mobile site that launched two years ago.

“We specifically wanted to launch the mobile site first,” said Tighe. “We’re going into it responsibly, trying to get the most bang for our buck. We know we can get multiplatform use out of a mobile-optimized site, versus one just targeting iPhone users.”

Describing the traffic to the mobile site as “phenomenal,” Tighe added, “Customers are using it for exactly what we hoped they would use it for, as a reference tool to get information, such as store locations and product availability. If they choose to buy [product] through the phone, [that’s] fantastic, but that was not the goal of the mobile site.”

Plans are already in the pipeline to improve the mobile site and make it more consistent with the website, as the former mainly provides store and product information while the website is the go-to resource for events and promotional listings.

The firm also is considering exploring e-commerce through Facebook and other social media, as long as the strategy will grow the business in the long run, the execs said.

Ultimately, while brick-and-mortar stores remain the main top-line contributor, Journeys sees technology — and the Internet in general — as a fertile testing ground for new concepts.

“You get the broadest exposure in the quickest way for the least amount of cost,” said Tighe. “You don’t have to ship product to hundreds of different stores to test it. It all stays in the distribution centers, yet all the stores have access to it. And if it fails, you can take it down quickly.”

Access exclusive content