Big Interview: JJ Van Oosten, Chief Customer & Digital Officer, Kingfisher

Kingfisher chief customer and digital officer JJ Van Oosten talks to Retail Gazette about why investing in online and prioritising consumer needs has been crucial to the home and DIY retail giant's success - especially in the wake of Covid-19.

Kingfisher JJ van Oosten profile B&Q Screwfix interview
JJ Van Oosten.

JJ Van Oosten joined DIY giant Kingfisher as chief customer and digital officer before the Covid-19 pandemic affected all of its fascias, including B&Q and Screwfix in the UK.

Speaking to Retail Gazette, Van Oosten said he was responsible for looking at customer insights and data, ecommerce, digital platforms and marketplaces of services, all new store concepts.

“I’m looking after these little Lego bricks of how you can browse our website, how you pick things in stores, these are the little Lego bricks of processes and technology which are called products,” he explained.

During the early phase of Covid-19, Kingfisher held daily operational meetings. Some of the subsequent actions included closing stores during the lockdowns and allowing some colleagues to work from home, drafting in new hygiene measures to keep staff and customers safe, and differentiating between essential and non-essential retail.

“What is essential? We have a range of 30,000 to 50,000 SKUs, depending on where you are, so we had to decide on whether we should be selling things for the garden or swimming pools in May. Probably not,” Van Oosten said.

Customers are “emotionally bound” to B&Q

“We had to decide which products were deemed to be essential, and then check with our customers,” he added.

“We then realised that our customers wanted to repair their homes during lockdown so we opened up most of our range to cater for this demand.

“We did everything step by step. We learned quite fast and quickly increased up to 22,000 SKUs in the UK.”

Van Oosten said Kingfisher was fortunate to not have to rely on stores during lockdown, as its ecommerce channels drew in a lot of traffic.

“Kingfisher had the ability to scale at speed. You need stores, you need local presence. So we changed our stores within a few hours into picking centres,” he said.

“It was a huge amount of work on the tech side. Everything is digitalised now. Covid-19 has been a massive accelerator for what was happening before.”

During lockdown, Kingfisher redesigned its fascia apps and currently has over one million downloads, and that accounts for over 10 per cent of the business revenue.

Van Oosten told Retail Gazette that ecommerce sales grew by 300 per cent in over two years for the group as a whole, helping Kingfisher gain market share.

Screwfix set to launch 30-minute delivery trial

In the 12 months to the end of January, Kingfisher’s online sales grew by a colossal 158 per cent as ecommerce continues to be a growing segment of the business.

Van Oosten said the group has prioritised speed during the pandemic in response to the increased customer demand.

In June, Screwfix announced plans to launch a trial which would see it deliver products to customers in as little as 30 minutes. It partnered with delivery courier service Gophr to deliver products in Bristol.

While the trial is limited to the area, Screwfix has been looking to boost its last-mile delivery options. This initiative came after Screwfix revealed in March it would open over 50 stores in the UK and Ireland this year – a move that will create around 600 new jobs.

Van Oosten said Screwfix’s 30-minute delivery trial was currently taking place across 10 stores in Bristol.

“The most important thing as an agile organisation is that you have to test and learn all the time,” he said.

Van Oosten also said that from a brand perspective, customers were “emotionally bound” to the B&Q brand due to the level of trust.

“According to our findings, our B&Q customers are emotionally attached to the brand. Trust is the main factor and that comes from their experience in stores with knowledgeable staff,” he said.

“The other thing that our customers are asking for consistently across all of our markets is more choice. This doesn’t necessarily mean more complexity, but a wider range to chose from.”

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