The Cambridge Satchel Company, saddled by millions in platform costs, focuses again on fashion—not tech
Salesforce Commerce Cloud
Fashion and apparel
Augmented reality and 3D, Cost effectiveness, Replatforming
With only £600, Julie Deane founded the iconic British brand Cambridge Satchel Company at her kitchen table in 2008. The company’s rise from such humble beginnings led to collaborations with the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Comme des Garçons, and saw Deane become the first woman ever awarded RSM’s Entrepreneur of the Year accolade in 2013.
The Cambridge Satchel Company had the cachet to scale large and wide—its bags had, according to the Guardian, “become a cult among twenty-something fashion bloggers.” But the brand’s previous ecommerce platform was holding it back to the tune of £3 million in annual losses. With Shopify Plus, the Cambridge Satchel Company has enjoyed:
- A streamlined tech stack to return its ecommerce business to profitability
- Selling in multiple currencies with online storefronts in the U.K., Europe, and the U.S.
- The transition from £30,000 custom integrations to seamless plugins
It was crippling. You have to look at, ‘Do I spend another £200,000 on development costs, or do I upgrade the machinery in the manufacturing facility so I can make more bags to sell and actually grow my business?
The Cambridge Satchel Company was a hit, celebs like Taylor Swift clamoring to be affiliated with the brand, and earnings were following suit. Within its first three years in business, annual turnover leapt from £15,000 in 2008 to £8 million in 2011.
But a new mandate to scale its ecommerce business at the same rate as its brick-and-mortar arm nearly crippled the company. “You buy a platform thinking that is what you need to do to scale, but what you don’t necessarily know is the associated costs that go with that,” says Deane. “Not only the costs of getting onto a massive platform, but the size of the dev teams you need to maintain it or do anything.”
The company found that the resources being spent to reach a new audience were more than the revenue each new customer brought in. For a brand that had always centered its values around ethical production and quality, it found itself in a cycle of dumping vastly more money into technology than the product itself.
Something had to change.
The company replatformed to Shopify Plus in 2017, and costs dipped dramatically. Now the ecommerce portion of the Cambridge Satchel Company’s business has become something its core team can manage with minimal outside development help.
Deane also chose to move her brand’s dispatch team from a distribution center into her factory, so the company could begin handling more operations in-house. “[Our systems] just plug into Shopify Plus,” she says. “This is something that on previous platforms would’ve cost us hundreds of thousands—something we couldn’t justify.”
There’s also huge excitement around Shopify’s new augmented reality (AR) experience, which will allow online shoppers to virtually place a 3D image of a Cambridge Satchel Company bag onto a screenshot of the environment they’re currently in—essentially mimicking the “trying on” process via smartphone.
“The fact that we can offer this kind of AR experience with our budget puts us on a level playing field with people who have much greater resources than we do,” says Deane. “I’ve no doubt that if big luxury brands create this kind of AR experience [in-house], they would be paying ten times what we are.”
If headcount is going to grow, make it grow in a smart way—in manufacturing or in marketing, not in servicing tech debt.
After years reporting £3 million in annual losses, the Cambridge Satchel Company is projected to break even again by the end of 2019.
Previously expensive processes, such as integrating a stock system, can now be done simply and affordably. On top of the cost savings, there’s the tremendous saving to Deane and her team’s time and focus.
They no longer have to worry about supporting a huge development team to keep the platform up and running. Instead, they can focus on what they do best. “We make stylish bags,” Deane says. “That’s what we know how to do really well—not complex software. That’s not our strength.”
Think about what this company had overcome. The hole it was in, and the mountain it now climbs. It was possible through a change in thinking, an enlightenment about what a modern partner in commerce really should provide.
“If you buy into a big clunky tanker of a platform, you can expect to pay £30,000 every time you need to integrate any system,” says Deane. “You don’t need to tie yourself into massive bespoke systems to scale anymore.”
My business doesn’t revolve around tech. It revolves around bags. Now we have our focus back on the business, not on the technology.