Case

Fashion mail order

Problem Definition

Your client is a direct mail clothing retailer. They primarily sell clothes through their product catalog. Next year, postage costs will increase to 40 cents per catalog. Your client wants to know whether his current business model is still profitable.


Comments

This case is divided into two parts:

In the first part, the candidate should use the profitability analysis framework to evaluate whether the client’s current business model can sustain this new cost.

In the second part, the candidate should use another framework to evaluate potential new markets and distribution channels.


Short Solution

The current business model is now unprofitable. If the client wants to keep his business, the client should:

  • Enter new markets.
  • Utilize different distribution channels.

Detailed Solution

Paragraphs highlighted in green indicate diagrams or tables that can be shared in the “Case exhibits” section.

Paragraphs highlighted in blue can be verbally communicated to the interviewee.

Paragraphs highlighted in orange indicate hints for you how to guide the interviewee through the case.

The interviewee should calculate the profitability of the current business model under the new cost structure (it now costs 40 cents to mail one catalog).

Profit = Revenue – Costs

Suggested structure:

I. Revenue

First we need to calculate the revenue, because we have no information on the cost side.

Information that can be shared if inquired:

  • The profit margin of orders is 15% (excluding mailing costs)

Thus, excluding the mailing costs, the remaining costs are 85% of revenue. If the 40-cent mailing cost is greater than the 15% profit per order, the business is unprofitable.

Share Diagram 2 with the revenue estimation tree.

Below is the structure of the revenue calculation:

Revenue estimation tree

Assumption:

The average repeat order price (some customers buy more than once from the retailer) is the same as the average price of the initial orders.

Once the structure is ready, we need to calculate the nodes of our tree. We will start from the leaves (nodes at the bottom of the tree) and use them to calculate higher-level nodes until we reach the top of the tree.

Share Table 1 with the revenue data of clothing retailer if inquired.

Main conclusion:

Each catalogue generates $2.50 in revenue.

II. Costs

With the new 40-cent mailing cost, our client’s business model is now unprofitable.

On average, our client loses 2.5 cents for every catalog they send.

III. Sustainability

The client wants to continue his clothing business. Ask the interviewee to suggest potential solutions.

Information that can be shared if inqiured:

  • The retailer has a large variety of low-cost clothes. This is their unique selling point.
  • Costs have been minimized over the entire value chain.
  • The client operates in the European market. Orders via catalogs have decreased over the past few years. The client’s orders have also decreased.
  • Price elasticity has been studied. Increasing prices will cause the number of customers to drastically decrease, thus decreasing revenue.

Since catalog orders in Europe seems like a declining industry, the interviewee could develop a 2x2 matrix with market and distribution channel as variables. It is similar to the Ansoff matrix. However, in this case, changing products makes little sense.

Share Diagram 3 (2x2 matrix) to guide the candidate towards this framework.

The interviewee can offer a variety of solutions. Challenge the interviewee and let him or her come up with as many channels and new markets as possible.

Entering a new market

Lead the interviewee to a new market entry. It can be justified with the following reasoning:

  • The current market is expected to shrink. A penetration strategy will be costly and unprofitable.
  • Strong competitors are already using their European distribution channels.
  • Emerging markets have an increasing number of people who can afford to buy cheap clothes.

Possible distribution channels

Possible reasons for using new distribution channels:

  • In new markets, catalog orders are easily threatened by Internet orders. Currently, the company only uses the direct mail channel. They could launch an Internet site to receive orders.
  • Due to market trends and market growth, obtaining market share online is a more sustainable move than attempting to maintain market share in Europe.

Since our client has a huge variety of low-cost clothes, they could become a wholesaler and sell clothes in bulk to smaller clothing retailers.

Difficult Questions

In order for the business to break even, by how much should the average order price increase?

Suggested answer:

The revenue per catalog is proportional to the average order price. To break even, the business needs a per-catalog revenue of $2.525. That is a 1% increase from $2.5.

More questions to be added by you, interviewer!

If the interviewee solves the case very quickly, you can come up with more challenging questions to ask them.

Related consulting question(s)
Best answer so far:
McKinsey / Accenture / More than 300 real MBB cases / Collected all Big 3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi, 1) Youproactively ask in the beginning, even before drawing the structure (something like "What kind of products / revenue sources do we have) and then split the structure into price, qty,... (more)

Best answer so far out of 2 answers:
BCG Consultant / Interviewed 80+ applicants at BCG / Received offers from McK (US) and BCG (DE)

Hi Anonymous! Both are valid approaches. As a rule of thumb, 1) is more suitable for a quantitative assessment (e.g. "By how much has profit declined?"), while 2) seems like a good approach for a... (more)

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Case exhibits

Case Structure


Revenue estimation tree


Assumption:

The average repeat order price (some customers buy more than once from the retailer) is the same as the average price of the initial orders.


Clothing Retailer's Revenue


*Orders received within 2 weeks of sending the catalog are counted as initial orders.


2x2 Matrix