How a COVID-19 pivot drove greater sales for Knix

From the C-Suite newsletter: Moving its warehouse sale online helped the women's intimates brand sell five times more inventory.

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Last March, women were seen lining up around the corner of Toronto’s Richmond St. West, where intimates brand Knix was hosting its first warehouse sales event.

“The demand was a lot greater than we had anticipated,” says Joanna Griffiths, Knix founder and CEO, resulting in long wait times and crowded change rooms inside the pop-up space. Many outside the GTA were disappointed they wouldn’t be able to attend the three-day sales event.

This year, however, a global pandemic that has confined consumers to their homes and shuttered non-essential businesses forced Knix to move its warehouse sale online, a last-minute pivot that happened to help solve many of the pain points experienced in 2019 and ultimately drove greater sales for the brand.

Knix was only two weeks away from launching the sale in March, which it had been planning since late last year, when the country began shutting down due to COVID-19.

After pushing the date to April 23, Griffiths says the company quickly built out dedicated Canadian and U.S. websites – with a pared-down look suggesting deep discounts and contrasting the brand’s existing online store – and moved inventory from its office into its fulfilment centre. “Now we’ve set up the infrastructure where if we wanted to do it again next year, we can do it online quite easily.”

Knix Warehouse SaleGriffiths says Knix put no paid marketing behind the event, relying instead on email, social channels (where it has upwards of 400,000 followers) and PR to get the word out.

There are obvious trade-offs to moving the sale online, admits the CEO. For one, there’s limited inventory and customers are forced to purchase their bras, underwear, sleepwear and loungewear without first trying them on. So to ensure a better customer experience, Knix had more than 20 customer reps available to assist and answer questions through chat in real-time.

Three thousand customers were already waiting for the site to go live at 10 a.m. ET, and more than 5,000 people placed an order within the first 30 minutes (with another 2,400 customers at checkout), resulting in roughly $500,000 in sales. During the first 10 minutes alone, Knix had sold more items than it had in three days during last year’s event in Toronto.

Moving online made it easier for customers to find the products and sizes they wanted, says Griffiths, but volume of traffic still presented a few challenges. Customers once again lined up ahead of time (albeit from the comfort of their homes) to have a better chance at securing their orders. Even with five-times more inventory than in 2019, products quickly sold out. And to prevent items from being oversold, purchases were allocated on a first-sold basis (instead of a first-to-cart basis), she says. As a result, many customers were disappointed to see items removed from their basket during checkout. “This is something that we will look to troubleshoot in the future.”

Since the pandemic began, Knix has seen sales spike across its entire product portfolio, recording growth of 25% over the same period last year. Loungewear sales were up 360% between February and March, and sports bras grew 30% over the month of March, according to the company.

“We’re seeing a spike across our wireless bras, our sports bras for stuff like a commitment to health and wellness, and working out from home,” she says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these things stick. I believe that the wireless bra trend is going to be accelerated from what we were already experiencing before.”

The DTC brand first entered physical retail in October through a pair of store openings and a national retail partnership with Nordstrom. Prior to the pandemic, sales within its stores were outperforming expectations by around 150%, according to Griffiths.

While she remains optimistic about its bricks-and-mortar strategy, the company has put the roll-out on hold for now. “We lost out on a couple of leases in February that were a big disappointment at the time,” she says, “but in hindsight, they are blessings in disguise.”