Ben Davis: Lush’s approach to ecommerce should be a lesson for all retail marketers

Lush’s homepage feels hand-curated and personal. It strikes the right balance between function and inspiration, while reflecting its wider brand purpose.

The Lush website has a homepage that breaks many of the rules of conversion rate optimisation. But far from misunderstanding the online customer journey, the cosmetics company is one of the few retail brands that excites with its website and demonstrates an understanding of brand strategy alongside functionality.

Let’s discuss some homepage conventions in ecommerce. A homepage is supposed to maintain the buying momentum of the shopper through a main menu, a search box and content tiles that represent the main product categories.

Conventional wisdom dictates that products should not be placed on the homepage as they may cause shoppers to underestimate the breadth of a retailer’s product mix, and because each shopper may have different intents at different moments.

There’s a similar school of thought suggesting that although editorial-style content may be good for SEO and brand awareness, it’s not something that should take precedence on an ecommerce homepage, lest it distract the shopper from spending their money.

But let me describe the Lush homepage at time of writing. The vast majority of the desktop homepage above the fold is taken up by a large banner rather cryptically asking “Are you on the list?” with a call to action to “Take the quiz”.

Click through and you are presented with a petition calling on Theresa May to disclose what data the UK Government passes to the US to aid its drone strike programme. There’s a quiz that enables you to find out if you might be on the US kill list (hint: there are plenty of innocent ways to raise a red flag against your name).

READ MORE: Tom Goodwin – Ecommerce has been democratised – now anyone can sell anything

Hang on, we’re a long way from bath bombs and face masks here.

Scroll down the homepage and you’re hit with a product preview and user review, a feature interview with Jeremy Corbyn (on Brexit and animal welfare), another feature on the UK’s complicity in data-driven drone strikes, a banner for the new perfume range, more product previews, a banner for a Halloween collection, more products, and finally a feature on jelly face masks.

What do I find so compelling about this approach? First, there’s a commitment to conveying a breadth of brand meaning. That feels like the priority. Sure, it’s not too surprising to hear about a cosmetics company interested in animal welfare, but data-driven drone strikes? This is a company that is in no way out to patronise me, the consumer, but wants to inform and empower me. Yes, ‘empower’ is a bit of a Ricki Lake-style word, but I’m sticking with it.

Then there’s the obvious impression Lush gives of a changing catalogue – a brand continually innovating its products. Again, Lush would rather use its homepage to inspire me than to do the same job that its mega-menu does (usher me on my way to a category page). This is another way in which I feel like I’m being treated like a grown up.

The products previews not only look incredibly appealing and colourful, they are devoid of packaging, slapping home one of Lush’s core tenets of sustainability and customer experience – package-free products.

READ MORE: Coca-Cola – Ecommerce should not be seen as a channel

Before this turns into a slush-athon, let me point out why Lush’s approach is relevant to all marketers in retail.

Lush is a shining light for the powers of artful curation. The ecommerce world is increasingly full of merchandising and recommendation software that is predictive and powered by neural networks that examine our browsing behaviour. But Lush’s homepage feels hand-curated and cared for. No ‘other people bought’ carousels, and no pop-ups. The brand doesn’t make consumers feel like food for an algorithm or a knot being unpicked, but a real person entering an emporium – something Lush aspires to be.

A retailer’s website must be about more than simply products, though, if the brand is to have any longevity. Product trends come and go so quickly in our globalised market that a retail brand without a three-dimensional personality is far too exposed to the whims of consumers. That means content and cause are important.

User experience consultants and conversion rate optimisation specialists are highly skilled and integral to the success of ecommerce sites, but let’s not forget that basket abandonment rates are high. Just like in offline stores, browsing will always happen; consumers will always pop-in, and it’s often simply to get inspiration or to see what your brand is up to.

Digital is rightly obsessed with proving its value but I would argue this has tipped the scales. Those retail brands that can balance functionality with inspiration will thrive in every sales channel.

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