Wouter Torfs: "Online is just as profitable as in-store"

Pat Verbruggen - RetailDetail

Belgian shoe store chain Torfs says its e-commerce is just as profitable as the sales made in physical stores. There is, therefore, no reason to move the e-distribution centre abroad, CEO Wouter Torfs says.


Optimised webshop

Online represents a 20.4 % share of Torfs' turnover, but a third of this turnover comes from online sales through the kiosks in the physical stores. E-commerce does not have to be a burden for physical retailers, the CEO says: "For us, the profitability of the online store is on a par with that of the physical stores." It is a matter of details, according to Torfs: "We have optimised our webshop: better pictures, better product descriptions, more precise size descriptions... This increases conversion and reduces returns."


Torfs managed to reduce the percentage of returns from 27 % to 20 %. "Our large international colleagues have a percentage that is much higher." In addition, the retailer is adjusting its online range: references that are too cheap and/or loss-making have been removed. Nevertheless, the online range of women's shoes is still twice as large as the in-store range. The shoe retailer also gives fewer discounts online. Torfs gave up its Dutch webshop and discontinued its collaboration with bol.com. All those factors combined result in profitable e-commerce.


Social responsibility

Wouter Torfs made these statements in the context of the opening of a new city store concept in Ghent. The timing is remarkable, because just now the discussion regarding night shifts in e-commerce and the transfer of logistics jobs to neighbouring countries is back on the agenda. "We are keeping our e-distribution centre in Belgium", the CEO says. "It is a matter of social responsibility: if you want to sell shoes here, you also have to create jobs here." From 1 January 2022, the distinction between blue-collar and white-collar workers will disappear at Torfs. Night shifts and the four-day working week have already been introduced.


The CEO also states that the shoe retailer has weathered the coronavirus crisis. "On 31 August we were still 5 % behind 2019 in terms of sales, last week it was only 3 %. So we are catching up. Our EBITDA in the first half of the year was 8.7 million euros or 9.2 % of sales, which is a big step forward. We will close this year with growth and profit." Incidentally, Torfs is also ending its franchise agreement with trainer chain The Athlete's Foot. The five stores will close: they did not deliver the desired results.