Refreshing a brand with a new customer experience

As it gives its bricks and mortar stores a fresh new look to improve customer experience, Australian retailer Best&Less has introduced an e-commerce store utilising the hybris platform. Freya Purnell reports.

Since Best&Less first opened its doors in 1965, the retail chain has grown to include nearly 200 large stores, with more than 4000 employees. In 1998, it was purchased by Pepkor, a large international company which 12 brands, including Harris Scarfe, Mozi, and Postie Plus.

Best&Less has always been known for affordable clothing and homewares, but over the last few years, the company has been through a transformational journey, making a significant investment into stores, marketing, and visual merchandising, according to Lynna Barrett, head of e-commerce, Best&Less.

“If you hadn’t been into one of our new stores, you may be thinking it’s a bit out of date, but that’s all changing. The brand’s mission is now to offer fun and affordable fashion for everyone. So there is a lot of investment in actually changing customer perceptions to attract new customers,” she says.

This investment is being made in areas such as catalogues, window displays, member program and Email Direct Marketing (EDM) platform, and social media. Stores are also being made over to improve the customer experience, with conveniently located service desks and impulse bars, clear price point messaging, and new merchandising units.

With consumer confidence low and the Australian retail market so tough at present, many retailers are looking to e-commerce as a key growth vehicle to reach customers and gain revenue and profit. Best&Less also has recognised that where once the path to purchase started with walking into the store and ended with a sale, now the customer journey is complex.

“The digital age has really turned the path to purchase on its head,” says Barrett, citing statistics that show the zigzag pattern many customers follow:

  • 44 per cent of people research and buy online;
  • 17 per cent visit stores and then buy online;
  • 51 per cent research online and then buy in-store; and
  • 32 per cent research online, visit stores and buy online.

“Customers basically want to shop how they want to shop, so that means you can’t rely on one medium to be competitive in the market. To capture our customer, we really need to focus on a multi-channel strategy to engage them,” Barrett says.


 

Launching a new e-commerce presence

Bestandless.com.au was launched in November 2013. Not only did the e-commerce site launch help to bring the business into the online shopping arena, but it was also a key initiative in helping to change customers’ perceptions about the brand.

In addition to investing in the website, Best&Less also created a new customer experience team, with the aim of improving customer experience, expanding the product offering, having targeted marketing promotions and focusing on customer service, according to Barrett. The aim has been to create a total customer experience online, which has many different phases.

“You go from awareness, to discovery, to attraction, to shopping, to purchase, to wearing it, loving it, and eventually becoming loyal and being an advocate for the brand. A traditional approach to e-commerce would probably be focused more on just the purchase element,” Barrett says.

To be competitive in the e-commerce market, Barrett says, “customer experience, digital delivery, and integration now do hold the key”.

“Our aim is to integrate all customer touchpoints with our commerce capabilities to allow customers to shop anywhere, any time – that’s our guiding principle.”

The project to create the e-commerce site took seven months, and it was built on the hybris platform.

“We wanted the site to look really modern, and we wanted cross-promotion and clear price messaging, so we have improved the look and feel of the site. All of our in-store promotions are now available online,” Barrett says. “You have got to have a real focus on navigation and making it as intuitive as possible, just like you would in-store, so people can discover everything.”

The new site has landing pages which clearly feature the offers available for each category.

“The journey forward will be to get more and more targeted with this content. Right now it’s all campaign-focused, but once we are much more customer-centric, so we actually know who you are, we will serve you up content that is more relevant to you,” Barrett says.

Another key element of the new platform is it enables social sharing and recommendations. Barrett says an image pinned on Pinterest generate 0.76 cents per image on average, and the average basket size of someone coming from Pinterest is around $8, which is double that of other social sites such as Facebook.

“People are in discovery mode [on Pinterest], so they have a really high intent to purchase. It’s important to understand this as you design your customer experience,” she says.

Once the e-commerce platform was established, the next priority was to get as many products up on the website as quickly as possible. With categories such as underwear, providing styling guides has added some rich content. The team has also segmented the database to send more targeted emails, and undertaken analytics to understand the performance of the website.

One of the obstacles during the course of the project was that while pricing was integrated with stock, product was not, so creating that integration was a priority.

“We are still struggling now at Best&Less with some manual processes. That’s one of the things we are really working to take away, so we don’t have really talented people spending their time doing administration work,” Barrett says.

Managing customer service

In tandem with the launch of the e-commerce site, Best&Less had to create a customer service system that would support online shopping, rather than just in-store interactions.

“In my experience, when you launch e-commerce, the business isn’t really ready for the fact that everything is on the website, and everything is public, as well as queries such as ‘where is my order’, ‘I’m having an issue’, ‘this won’t process’, and ‘my payment won’t go through’,” Barrett says.

Rather than running customer service from email, the company established a new customer service ticketing system, which includes a knowledge base that customers must search through before they can contact Customer Service.

“That has basically halved our customer enquiries, and it’s also increased our customer service satisfaction rating. Our industry average is about 76 per cent for our market, and we are running at about 90 per cent,” says Barrett.

Business benefits

The launch of Bestandless.com.au as a new sales channel, as well as the increased focus on customer experience both online and off, has resulted in a dramatic increase in online sales growth month-on-month since the launch, with plenty of upside potential (based on industry averages).

“Having an application like hybris has really allowed us to stabilise the commerce part of what we are doing, so that we can focus on the experience and having a seamless integration with the rest of the business,” Barrett says. “We use hybris for its commerce capabilities, and overlay it with ‘best of breed’ customer experience and marketing technology solutions.”

Barrett says while hybris provides a complete multi-channel commerce solution integrating product content, commerce operations, and the extended channel to help businesses create a unified and seamless experience for the customer from online to in-store to mobile, there are probably many capabilities Best&Less has not even tapped into yet.

The new e-commerce platform at Best&Less does face some challenges, however, including finding a dramatic differentiator in the market to gain cut-through and build its customer following; ensuring technology remains current as new versions of integrated applications are released – a particular challenge with legacy systems; and scaling existing systems and business processes to become more efficient.

Lessons learned

Ensuring that e-commerce is actually integrated into the business is an important factor for success post-launch, according to Barrett. 

“Usually you have one very relentless person driving the boat and steering during the project phase. Once you’ve launched, you have daily things happening in the business – from getting the images to the site and regular site updates to fulfilment. That can really only happen if you have a holistic approach to e-commerce within your business,” Barrett says.

When it comes to resourcing a project such as this, Barrett sees value in insourcing the development team, and outsourcing project work, because there are considerable efficiency gains to be made when the team can draw upon past experience.

Another factor to consider when kicking off an e-commerce presence are the 24/7 customer service expectations – which can take businesses by surprise.

“Once it is there, they realise every image and page on the website is open to public scrutiny, and the level of monitoring for any error has to be constant. Your website really is a flagship store – it’s your biggest point of customer contact.”

Finally, particularly if retailers are aiming to implement full omni-channel capabilities, having a well-planned strategy and roadmap is critical.

“The longer term a strategy you can have the better, because it could take five years to actually get there,” Barrett says.

Future plans

Among Best&Less’ planned initiatives to build on their e-commerce presence are a rewards-based loyalty program and a retargeting and remarketing program.

“We are finding the further along customers get into the purchase funnel, the more likely they are to convert. Essentially wherever you were in that journey, our approach will be remind, reassure, prompt to purchase,” Barrett says. “We will also be retargeting on different websites you are browsing on, and if you have actually gone through the purchase journey, we will remarket to you.”

Lynna Barrett presented this case study at the BluLeader Breakfast Series. This article first appeared in Inside SAP Summer 14/15 – subscribe to receive our next edition.

 

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