The panel (l-r, above)
Rob Worthington, ecommerce director, Office Shoes
Nigel Vaz, senior vice president, managing director Europe, Sapient
Rhiannon Humphries, senior international marketing manager, New Look
Kieran Clinton-Tarestad, head of ecommerce, Gant
Victoria Morris, global marketing director, Soap and Glory
Owen Jenkinson, head of marketing, Freeview
Stuart Hiscott, marketing manager, Ardo UK (frozen fruit & vegetable supplier and private label)
James Nuttall, head of marketing and ecommerce, Oki-Ni
Gareth Jones, head of online marketing, Carphone Warehouse
Ruth Mortimer, chair
Marketing Week (MW): What channels are you using for commerce?
Rob Worthington (RW): Office Shoes is primarily known for its stores and concessions; there are about 150 outlets. Ecommerce, multichannel and mobile are growing quickly. Mobile was up 45 per cent on last year – it is still only about 13 per cent of the total – but we have aspirations to grow that significantly.
Nigel Vaz (NV): Our clients are looking a lot more at integration in a consumer journey sense. So when someone is browsing, they are thinking about how they bring that person into the brand journey and when someone is buying something, they want to inspire them with content that might lead them on to know that company for a different reason.
Rhiannon Humphries (RH): The channel everyone knows New Look for is our stores. We have 650 in the UK, a website plus an international website. We have had an app for about a year and an mcommerce site for the past 18 months. We also have social media.
Kieran Clinton-Tarestad (KCT): Gant is mostly known for being in John Lewis and House of Fraser. We also have our wholesale business and 14 [standalone] stores – we are opening another couple this year. We started ecommerce in 2009 and re-platformed our website last year.
Victoria Morris (VM): In the UK, Soap & Glory is in 2,000 Boots stores, on Boots.com and in Harvey Nichols. In the US, we are in Sephora and on Sephora.com. We also have a partner in Germany and sell on its website. We don’t have a transactional website but we are looking at ecommerce because our target audience is women aged 16 to 30.
Owen Jenkinson (OJ): Freeview doesn’t make or sell anything as a brand but we are distributed through 4,000 stores in the UK. About 20 per cent of our sales are via the web, which is massively skewed towards Amazon. The big challenge for us, because we don’t control any of the supply chain, is obtaining real data on what’s happening in terms of point of purchase.
Stuart Hiscott (SH): Ardo isn’t a traditionally recognised consumer brand: we’re a private label [frozen fruit and vegetable] supplier. However, ecommerce has been a massive opportunity for us. Year-on-year the supermarkets have been growing their online sales at around 25 per cent – for frozen fruit it’s around 30 per cent.
We are doing things online that we aren’t able to do offline because of the barriers when looking at the freezer aisle in-store.
James Nuttall (JN): Oki-Ni is online only. We took our first order in 2001, which was early for fashion ecommerce. Our mobile site has been launched and our main site is optimised for tablet, instead of having an app. We try to start from consumer expectations, so we need to be everywhere they expect to find us.
Gareth Jones (GJ): There are around 800 Carphone Warehouse stores in the UK and 2,500 stores in Europe. We have a website and we’ve had a mobile-optimised site for nearly 18 months.
With the iPhone 5 launch, there was a pivotal moment as we had more traffic coming to our mobile site than our desktop site. We know that consumers do their research online when they’re thinking about buying a phone or technology.
Seventy per cent of the journeys that culminate in a retail sale will start online and a significant part of that is increasingly around video content.
MW: Until recently, consumers would research online but purchase offline. Is the journey between online and offline more complex now?
RW: There is some resistance with buying shoes online and we can’t put an accurate figure on how many people start their store purchases online, but we’re seeing evidence of it. That’s why we want to get into the mobile space quickly as it is an extra opportunity to buy then and there, if they don’t want to cart it home.
KV: That notion of RoPo [research online, purchase offline] is almost historical. The ‘physical digital’ is the world we live in. If you’re in a store that has a computer or you are using your mobile device, that is the ‘physical digital’. The way that [people were using those] channels was more reflective of how departments were organised within companies – and that is starting to break down fundamentally.
KCT: I haven’t seen a huge uplift in the use of in-store digital-kiosks. It seems [better] to give people free WiFi so they can browse our website on their own smartphone.
KV: We find that fashion needs more than one person’s opinion in a store. So you have co-browsing on a kiosk, where people are standing around looking at things together and then you have single browsing on a mobile device.
RH: It’s difficult to quantify who is researching online and then coming into store and vice versa. We know we have to be everywhere where our customers are and make the shopping experience easy and straightforward. So we do click and collect, or if a customer is in-store and her size is not available, then the sale can be made in-store and sent to her home address.
We’re trying tablets in the store purely because in-store we have a limited product offer but our website has a much wider range.
KCT: Teaching people going into store that there is also an online experience is important, so even having digital displays of your website or with flash images is making people understand that there is that element to your brand as well.
RH: Online is where we have new content weekly to engage customers with our latest trends and products. They are not going to get that in store, but it is really rich on the website.
MW: How important is content? Do you need to provide engaging content online as part of that experience rather than have a catalogue of products to sell online?
JN: Content is the biggest focus of all. It’s obvious why we do it: if one week you’re showing someone your new shoes [that’s fine], but if you show them the shoes the following week, they are not new any more, so why are you showing them? If you provide content with the shoes, that is giving them a second bite of the cherry and you make people appreciate the product in a different way.
There are SEO benefits and you can feature in the press more often if you produce good content.
We also do click-to-shop videos, where people can watch a video and every product has a ‘moving map’ which you can click on to buy. It wasn’t done in a gimmicky sense. It was done because it is an easy, natural shopping environment.
As online is getting better at breaking down the boundaries, the role of a [bricks and mortar] store is changing. I’ve already seen it online, so I’m not going in-store for that. So what is the store adding that online is no longer offering?
KCT: Our store sales assistants are so knowledgeable about the brand, so [we are thinking about] how we can communicate that on the website. So people don’t just get the product details but also the heritage and how that product has grown over the past 20 to 30 years. There are things like live chat online but you can’t necessarily get the same skilled staff member to do that as you could in-store.
VM: We find that people comment on how-to videos, such as how to do smokey eye make-up. We find that a lot of our fans know more about the products than we do. We have a ‘hall of foam’ where we induct our ‘superfans’. We send one of them our products before they go into store and she is there being one of our great brand advocates.
The content that’s created by our fans is often the most popular. Consumers know when they are being sold to but if it’s coming from a fan, they engage and talk about it more with each other.
OJ: There is this tacit knowledge that we are not there to sell stuff, which always surprised me as I assumed that people think that as they are a customer of Freeview, it is there to sell things to them. We have done digital and affiliate activity in conjunction with etailers but it has been unsuccessful. We have also done experiential activity around Christmas and other peaks at shopping centres where we will have a stand to demonstrate the brand.
SH: Each supermarket has meal ideas where you can click to buy the recipe. People are not engaging [a lot] with that at the moment. Grocers have a huge market but we are finding that the online side of things means that people are becoming more disloyal. They can go to a comparison site like MySupermarket to compare prices from different retailers.
People aren’t loyal – and how can you have a kind of tailored message if you are the size of a supermarket compared to smaller brands that have a more specific target market?
NV: Commerce and technology have been limited by technology and people’s expertise around it – but now it’s evolving to create a level playing field as long as you get the basics right.
It is no longer good enough to just do a gimmicky video that looks like marketing, but then the day-to-day shopping experience is completely different. And the videos are designed by marketing teams to be gimmicky while the commerce guys would say ‘that video only features five products and it doesn’t link to our shopping catalogue’ [so it doesn’t work].
GJ: Not all our content is necessarily about expecting a sale at the end of it. We do a lot of video content on Facebook and Google+; much of it is educational. We are also dabbling with content that is inspirational because these phones can do amazing things. We have just appointed an agency and will be doing a series of episodes about the things that you can do with your phone.
MW: How important is the social aspect and can you make it transactional? What is the role of social media in the customer journey?
GJ: We tried to develop a solution in Facebook that was transactional but it didn’t work. We are testing Facebook as a notion of ‘swarming’ to get our fans to help us make choices about what we merchandise on our online site.
We pride ourselves on store staff being authoritative and knowing our products well, but digital gives us accessibility to content. We have lots of people coming to the store knowing as much about the phone as we do – so then the question is about what is the role of staff?
People will always come into the store because they want to touch and feel a product. There is also the notion of ‘showrooming’ where they check the prices on their phone in-store and buy online. The big strategic question is how do retailers like us compete against sites like Amazon – when arguably there could be a price difference and [Amazon does not have] an in-store experience.
RH: Social media is important to New Look as it’s one of the few direct channels we have to engage with our customers and a platform where we can have a distinct brand tone of voice that works well for us.
We can listen to customers and see what they like – if they like something, we do more of it and if they don’t we stop it.
KV: Social media is not just about sales, it is also about customer service. So if you just think about the money the likes of a telecoms company spends on first-time right calls, social media has benefits, for example leveraging your customers in the context of helping each other out rather than coming back to the brand each time for help.
For example, Footlocker was going through a classic problem of becoming another shoe store, losing the reason around why it was selling shoes in the first place.
It was the original referee to arbitrate between all these different trainer brands. So it launched Sneakerpedia, which is the largest online visual wiki for shoes [and it is now so well-known that] Alexander McQueen’s estate has donated shoes and more than 10 million people a week visit it. It can also see that in Italy, white Fila trainers are trending, for example. So Footlocker can go back to Fila and say it wants to do an exclusive re-release of its 1993 white Fila edition in Milan.
GJ: Social is about saving money as well as making money. From a customer service perspective, if you can have a first touch resolution on Facebook, it avoids phone calls and emails, which are typically more expensive.
We have had a fundamental shift in terms of how we view social, it has transitioned through a number of departments.
RW: Most of our Facebook comments are about customer service issues, people go there because it is the first place they think they are going to get an answer.
Social media is settling into its own position because of the way that people are using it. We don’t view it as a commercial element and I wouldn’t expect to see direct sales from it yet. Content and competitions are great – we are using it to get opinions and that is the right way for us to use social.
VM: Social media is very active for us and customer services sits in our digital and social media department. We use it for customer panels and for product development.
We don’t talk to people in the social space about sales but maybe we will start to collect data and then send a newsletter for when they are more ready to be thinking about sales. We don’t do any above-the-line advertising, so social is something we use a lot.
KCT: We are a global brand and we have to be totally clear on our tone of voice and how we distribute that around the world.
My team is responding to people on social media who have posted negative and positive reviews. The mainline Gant collection is for slightly older customers; it has always been the view that our customers aren’t really there but I don’t entirely agree with that, so I think there is a huge opportunity for us.
GJ: We are testing Facebook as an ad channel – it provides huge scale and there are lots of ad formats that have been launched recently. For example, we can reach 8 million people in 24 hours, it is comparable to having TV advertising or a national press campaign.
VM: We have tested some of the Facebook advertising too – we had a tiny amount of money but the return on investment was amazing. It helped us to prove our brand awareness too.
KV: There are two trends on social. First, Google and Facebook now operate in different points of the sales funnel. Google was at the conversion end of the funnel, so when people were looking to buy they might go there and type in the brand. But the social search capability of Facebook is about ‘I need a new TV, is this one good?’ It is that early research and a distinct thing.
Social media used to be about me and my family and my tribe, but the next phase of social evolution is ‘I am my stuff, don’t judge me on who my friends are, but judge me on what shoes I’m wearing’. This is a huge trend and there are a lot of brands on Pinterest starting to get a very different kind of audience.
MW: What is your biggest challenge this year?
JN: For us, it is about brands trying to over-control their product distribution. We have brands that we would love to stock but they refuse to go on any site that doesn’t have a bricks and mortar store. That is a distortion of the market, but it won’t last forever.
If the brands that insist on us having a store have poor websites, eventually those customers are not going to buy from those brands. They will start buying from websites instead. Then the brand will decide to loosen that restriction.
OJ: Freeview probably has two challenges. Our media footprint is skewed by our shareholders – ITV and Channel 4 among others – and we get gifted airtime from them. It is kind of a nice problem to have, but given that the way we spend money is 60 per cent brand and 40 per cent activation, doing activation through TV media is incredibly challenging.
Then there is the fundamental shift in consumption of TV content. The Olympics combined with vast uptake of tablets and smartphones normalised the behaviour of watching TV content on those devices. Around 5 per cent of TV viewing is via tablet and smartphone and in six or seven years, that will be as much as 20 per cent according to Enders Analysis. That for us is seismic.
RW: The biggest challenge is about how we convert the business to manage [the fact that consumers want to shop in an omnichannel way] so it is about aligning the systems and the technological side of the business to try to keep up with the technology changes at the same time as going international.
But from the customer point of view, they just want everything to be the same price, with the same online or offline stockroom, the same delivery and service.
VM: Our brand is six years old, so it might be about doing fewer things better. It is really about understanding where the potential is for the brand and focusing on that. Remaining distinctive and true to who we are and trying to understand the customer more as we don’t have standalone stores or a huge research department.
RH: My biggest challenge is that we are known in the UK but internationally we have just started growing. So it is about brand awareness.
GJ: Ours is about how we respond to this evolving customer; their behaviours are rapidly changing, they research and buy and it is very different today to how it was this time last year.
Consumers were using mobiles to access the desktop site in advance of mobile-optimised sites, so it is how we get ahead of the game and nimbly respond to these opportunities and that is a big organisational challenge.