Growth in online sales has prompted the 120-year-old Belk to expand distribution space, including acquisition of the former Disney catalog center in Union County. Belk also has a 371,000-square-foot distribution center in Blythewood to serve traditional stores in the region.
Belk recently acquired the former Walt Disney Co. catalog center in Union County to support its growing e-commerce business. (Photo/Provided)
By Chuck Crumbo
Published Aug. 3, 2012
Belk’s emergence into the world of online retailing appears to be moving at gigahertz speed.
Just three years ago, Belk was servicing online orders from an 110,000-square-foot distribution center in Pineville, N.C. Last year, Belk announced a 140,000-square-foot expansion of the facility.
Now, Belk has a 512,500-square-foot distribution center in Union County along U.S. Highway 176, near Interstate 85. The acquisition represents a $4.5 million investment and is expected to create 124 new jobs over the next five years.
“Opening the facility in Union County really set this up well for the foreseeable future to make sure we can deliver on our promise to get product to our customer within the agreed upon timeframe,” said Jon Pollack, executive vice president for sales promotion and e-commerce.
|Belk’s new Union County distribution center represents a $4.5 million investment. (Photo/Provided)|
Belk also has a 371,000-square-foot distribution center in Blythewood to serve traditional stores in the region.
Although online sales make up only 3% of Belk’s total business, it’s the fastest growing part of the 120-year-old company.
In three years, Belk’s online sales have climbed by 353%.
“It’s been built in virtually no time,” Pollack said.
In 2009, the first full year of e-commerce operations, Belk reported $20.5 million in online sales. The next year, 2010, sales reached $34.8 million, and last year the company reported online sales of $72.4 million.
Belk’s total sales in 2011, combining stores and online, was $3.7 billion.
Belk’s 300 stores in 16 mostly Southeastern states remain the heart of the company, but e-commerce now gives the company a presence in all 50 states, Pollack said.
To reach beyond Belk’s bricks-and-mortar footprint, the company has national promotions such as sponsoring the annual Belk Bowl in Charlotte and an advertising campaign.
“We are starting to build a very robust clientele outside the 16-state footprint,” Pollack said. “It’s growing faster than the growth inside the footprint.”
Belk’s e-commerce business has recorded sales in all 50 states, Pollack said. The highest concentration of online customers outside the company’s footprint is in southern New Jersey, Ohio, Milwaukee, Wis., Oklahoma and Colorado, he added.
Many of those customers are familiar with Belk because they have vacationed in the South and shopped at the company’s stores, Pollack said.
“They discover our stores, like it and can continue to shop with us,” Pollack said.
Inside the 16-state footprint, Belk has found there’s little difference between online shoppers and those who go to the stores, Pollack said.
“We don’t see many differences at all between buying behavior online and buying behavior in our stores,” he said.
About 70% of browse behavior online is product research, checking out assortments and prices, Pollack said. Many of those customers then shop in the store.
“They want to check things out before making that buying trip. Time is precious and they don’t want to waste a trip,” he said.
The customer’s willingness to adopt new technology and shopping by cellphone or tablet has been the key to growth, Pollack said. In addition, customers like to shop with an established brand.
“One thing about e-commerce and technology today is that it’s never ending,” Pollack said. “You just have to keep moving with the technology improvements and moving with the customer. That’s part of what we do as retailers — giving the customer what they want in the way they want it.”
Belk is taking advantage of its stores to help with handling returns, Pollack said. An online customer who isn’t satisfied with their purchase has the option of returning the item to a Belk store. Belk also is exploring the possibility of giving customers the option of picking up online orders at a nearby store.
Right now, the future of e-commerce for Belk appears to be bright, Pollack said.
“We feel real good about the next three years and we have a view into the next five years,” Pollack said. “We’ll adjust and go from there.”