Responsive websites, editorial content and seamless personalisation were the topics up for debate at Drapers’ latest roundtable.
The ability to create a consistent, engaging and seamless experience across online, mobile and tablet, as well as in physical stores and concessions, is central to retail success in 2015. However, such success can be hard to attain when there are so many issues to consider. Is there demand for editorial content online? Is a responsive website better than an app? Do customers like personalisation?
To gain greater insight into the factors at play, Drapers polled a nationally representative pool of 2,000 UK consumers to find out how they shop across retail channels for our Multichannel Report 2015, sponsored by solutions provider K3 Retail, legal firm Pinsent Masons and payment technology company Adyen. Experts from the likes of Selfridges, Topshop and Jigsaw were then invited to discuss the results at a roundtable event at London’s Soho Hotel on September 3.
White Stuff cross channel marketing director Julian Baker kicked off the discussion, expressing surprise that just 10.9% of those surveyed wanted to see catwalk video online. “We introduced video six months ago and, while it was a big investment, it is great at bringing product to life and driving conversion.”
In contrast, co-founder of flash Sales etailer SecretSales.com Sach Kukadia trialled catwalk video but decided against it. “We found large, clear images showing the detail are enough. Catwalk videos are not that important, whereas when we tested stripping out our short product descriptions sales dropped by 17%.”
Selfridges multichannel director Simon Forster agreed that shoppers want to see as many images as possible. For the luxury consumer, in particular, product descriptions are essential. “We split our product descriptions between telling the shopper what it feels like to wear the product and a separate description of the sizing and fabric. Our customers always look at both.”
While online editorial content is often used by retailers to engage consumers and increase site dwell time, the survey found that 40.6% ofrespondents do not want any at all. This statistic came as a surprise to Tom Wood, chief commercial officer at premium cyclewear brand Rapha: “Building deep, long-term relationships with customers is the main driver behind the website. Conversion rates and metrics are all secondary for us. If people love the brand they’ll make repeat purchases.”
For James Williams, head of ecommerce at premium fashion chain Jigsaw, the focus must be on offering relevant content. “You need to have content in the right place so it feels integrated into the journey. Video content can certainly enrich the website and enhance the experience, but equally we’re a store as well. So it’s about striking a healthy balance.”
Womenswear retailer East has seen the positive impact of increasing online content, particularly when focused on new styles that can be shopped directly from the page, said ecommerce manager Simone Williams. “We’ve seen a huge increase in sales and engagement. For us content is working, but when we surveyed our customers they said they weren’t interested in it.”
This opinion was not shared by Kukadia, who recently decided to scrap the SecretSales digital magazine. “Last month, I realised that 30% of traffic leaving to read the online magazine weren’t returning. Now I’m in the process of stripping it out altogether and simplifying the journey. We want the consumer to get to the checkout with as few clicks as possible.”
Cath Kidston merchandising director Simon Dawes agreed that simplifying the purchase journey is paramount. “The more content, videos and blogs on the site, the more likely you are to make it less easy to navigate and less transactional.”
Head of UK account management at payment specialist Adyen Ian Campbell noted the importance of keeping the payment page simple. “The more distractions on the payment page, the less likely customers are to convert. However, if you’re using a hosted solution you should be able to pass through the basket content to the payment page to give customers confidence that they are still shopping with the retailer and not being redirected elsewhere.”
In response to the growth of mobile and tablet usage, the roundtable participants highlighted the importance of responsive websites, which can re-size to any screen. SecretSales recently decided to scrap its app in favour of a responsive website. “I spent £160,000 on building an app and I didn’t even launch it,” explained Kukadia. “The experience wasn’t consistent with the website and the only people who download an app are loyal customers, so we would have been giving our loyal customers a sub-optimum experience.”
Wood was in agreement: “Having a responsive website is far and away the most important thing, and if you’re going to have an app it needs to have a purpose beyond the everyday transaction.”
When it comes to the in-store environment, technology should be used to enhance the consumer experience, argued Andy McGeoch, chief executive of value fashion chain M&Co. “Using beacon technology or geo-fencing, you could recognise if a customer has a loyalty card or tell a member of staff that a customer has arrived for their click-and-collect purchase so the item is waiting at the till.”
For Topshop senior logistics manager Julie Reynolds, managing the click-and-collect experience is of prime importance: “We’ve just remodelled our Canary Wharf store to expand the click-and-collect area and we’re encouraging consumers to interact via iPads.”
While Uniqlo UK omnichannel executive Anaïs Bellid reported mixed success for a recent trial of in-store iPads, this experience was not shared by East’s Simone Williams, who found arming staff with iPads helped them to capture orders the shop might otherwise have lost.
Campbell also noted the advantage of giving retail staff tablets and card readers as a means of queue-busting and improving customer experience in-store: “Giving staff mobile devices encourages customer engagement, and tablets can link to the full online inventory, enabling staff to save sales if items are out of stock.”
Tony Bryant, strategic business development director at multichannel fashion expert K3 Retail, also values the importance of well-informed, passionate employees who understand how technology can enhance the customer experience: “Staff need to understand the balance between letting the customer do their own thing and knowing when they want that interaction.”
East’s customer information capture rate of 70% is reliant on staff asking the right questions and making shoppers feel comfortable, said Williams. Meanwhile, at White Stuff, rich data about size and fit comes from customer reviews. “People are happy to give more details about themselves and see the value in reading others’ experiences,” said Baker. “We have really strong engagement with more than 2,000 reviews a month.”
While social media is another good way to maintain customer engagement, Kukadia pointed out that Twitter and Facebook are not, however, shoppable platforms: “The customer will only engage with you on Facebook if there’s a value exchange. They’re on Facebook to look at their friends, so for us Facebook is a customer service tool and that’s where it stops.”
Nevertheless, partner and head of retail and consumer at international law firm Pinsent Masons Tom Leman observed: “Research shows that social media channels drive large numbers of customers to both retailers’ websites and their high street stores.”
Ultimately, all the participants were agreed on the need to strike a delicate balance in every aspect of retail, from using lifestyle content to engage while keeping the transaction simple to using subtle personalisation that offers a tailored experience without being intrusive. Get it right and customer loyalty is the prize on offer.
Download our Multichannel Report
To read a detailed analysis of our multichannel report, including comment from leading industry figures, download the Drapers report for free here at drapersonline/com/multichannelreport2015.
List of attendees:
A Suit That Fits: David Hathiramani, co-founder
Cath Kidston: Amy Tooley, senior merchandiser; Simon Dawes, merchandising director
East: Simone Williams, ecommerce manager
Jigsaw: James Williams, head of online trading
M&Co: Andy McGeoch, chief executive
Macintosh Fashion: Harriette Luscombe, head of marketing
Rapha: Tom Wood, chief commercial officer
SecretSales.com: Sach Kukadia, co-founder and director of buying
Selfridges: Simon Forster, multichannel director
Simon Carter: Malcolm Bell, IT manager; Simon Carter, founder
Soletrader: Eli Cohen, digital marketing manager
Topshop: Julie Reynolds, senior logistics manager
Uniqlo: Anaïs Bellid, UK omnichannel executive; Yolanda Hurtault-David, logistics co-ordinator
White Stuff: Julian Baker, cross channel marketing director
Adyen: Ian Campbell, head of UK account management; Mary-Elizabeth Hallahan, vice president
K3 Retail: Peter Duncan-Brown, fashion sector manager; Tony Bryant, strategic business development director
Pinsent Masons: Sam Livesey, partner; Tom Leman, partner and head of retail and consumer
From Drapers: James Knowles, online content editor; Charlotte Rogers, features and special reports writer