10 Key Takeaways from the Internet Retailing Expo 2015 (Part 1 of 2)

10 Key Takeaways from the Internet Retailing Expo 2015 (Part 1 of 2)

On Wednesday 25th March, and Thursday 26th March 2015, The NEC, in Birmingham, United Kingdom, played host to the Internet Retailing Expo 2015 - a E-Commerce and Multichannel-focused expo, attracting retailers, industry experts and visitors, from far and wide.  The show attracted more than 5,000 visitors - a 20% increase YoY.

This is the first of a two-part blog post, covering 10 key takeaways from the "Mobile in Multichannel" talks I attended, at the Internet Retailing Expo 2015.

This was my first time at the show, and I was in attendance to learn more about the future of retail technology, and the innovations deemed to be "gamechangers", in the multichannel landscape.

As well as the range of retail-related stands and exhibitions you'd expect to see at such an event, of most interest to me, were the mobile talks being held around the subject area of, "Mobile in Multichannel".  I attended 4 of the 7 talks held, which were:

ABOVE: A snapshot of the "Mobile Technology - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" panel discussion.
[SOURCE]: Internetretailingexpo.com, (2015). [online] Available at: http://www.internetretailingexpo.com/wp-content/themes/IRX2015_PostEvent/gallery/16.jpg [Accessed 16 Apr. 2015].

  • Opening Retailer Keynote: Turning Mobile into Money – Key Challenges and Best Practices
    Lysa Hardy, Chief Marketing Officer, NBTY Europe
  • Retailer Case Study: Converting Mobile Traffic into Sales
    Nish Kukadia, CEO, SecretSales.com
  • Retailer Case Study: Harmonising Bricks and Clicks
    Annabel Kilner, UK Country Manager, Made.com
  • Panel Discussion: Mobile Technology – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
    Chuck Cantrell, Head of eCommerce Solutions, Clarks
    Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce, Schuh
    Helen Colclough, eCommerce Development Manager, River Island

The knowledge I gained from these talks alone, was more than worth my hour-long trip along the A38 and M42.  I'll try and summarise, the key takeaways, from these talks, in the first of two blog posts:

1. Don't overlook the quality of your product imagery

As online shoppers, one of the biggest problems we face, is the inability to use our senses, to touch and feel items, that we would otherwise be able to, in a brick and mortar store.

For that reason, product imagery and videos, play a vital role on your product page.  They help shoppers to get a sense of the style, size, and quality, of an item in question.  Providing products shots, which portray the various angles of an item, are important for this exact reason, as is the quality of the imagery itself.

According to SecretSales.com CEO, Nish Kukadia, the top 3 priorities, specifically for the Fashion sector, as far as the customer is concerned, after pricing, are (in order of priority):

  1. The ability to find things quickly;
  2. The convenience of being able to shop "on the go"; and
  3. High quality product imagery.

ABOVE: An example of a "Catwalk Video", as features on ASOS' iPhone app.

If shopping for a pattern-print dress, for example, the ability to see the front and back of that dress, as well as how the dress fits (often achieved through model shots, or catwalk videos), is so important, to improving "add to bag" conversion rates.  Equally important, is the ability to zoom into the imagery, to see the detail in the pattern, as well as in helping to get a better idea, of the quality of the material.  I've personally been involved in usability testing sessions, where users have explicitly stressed their frustrations, with the fact that retailers don't show model shots - even more importantly, front AND back, model shots.  Dresses for example, may be styled differently at the back, compared to the front, so the user needs to see this.

I vaguely recall a A/B or multi-variant test, which Nordstrom previously ran, testing this exact theory.  Their test users reacted most positively, when given the option to view both these shots, on a product listing / search results page.  Now on Nordstrom's "desktop" site, when you hover the mouse over a product image, on such a results page, the image automatically switches, to show you the model shot, from the back.  Better still, ASOS provide a "Catwalk Video", which not only allows you to get a sense of the fitting on the model, but it also gives you a good indication of how it moves, or flows, when walking - again, important for items of clothing, like maxi dresses.  

Today, this is a staple requirement, of any retailer with an online presence.  Customers have come to expect it, yet so few retailers do it right.

2. Design for interruptions

Customers are very likely to get interrupted by real-world, every day distractions and disturbances, that are beyond our control.  As such, Nish advised keeping actions that you're looking for customers to do, to an absolute minimum.

[SOURCE]: Flickr, (2015). 26 September, 20.31. [online] Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/timo/16208977933 [Accessed 16 Apr. 2015].

Focus your efforts on "task-based design" - identify what tasks your users are looking to complete, and allow them to do so, as quickly as possible.  He used the phrase, "feature-rich, user poor".  By that, he means, don't overload your mSite or apps, with tonnes of features - 64% of all features developed, are never used, so try and adopt lots of customer-centric ways to enhance your mobile UX.  Think about minimising the length of form registration, and your checkout process, for example, stripping thing down, to the bare essentials.

Also, be very mindful of the speed of the mobile connection, as this will ultimately impact the speed at which customers can access and load your content.  Whether connected using Wi-Fi, 4G or 3G, your mSite or apps, need to perform well, over any connection speed.  A perceived "slow loading time", can be detrimental to all the hard work you've put into your design, content, marketing and UX efforts.  Simplify the display of your information, and optimise file sizes of images, for example, to reduce load times over slower connections.

Lastly, Nish mentioned two distinct types of shoppers - "Hunters" and "Gatherers".  

Hunters, being those who know exactly what they want, before they arrive on your mSite or app, and Gatherers, being those who want more information first, to make an informed purchasing decision.  

Both types of shoppers, will recover from real-world interruptions, and react differently, once you have their focus again, so make it quick and easy, for both types of users to complete the task they originally set out to achieve.

3. Grow your Data Insight and Technology teams

ABOVE: The home page representing SecretSales.com's responsive website.

For SecretSales.com, the Data and Insights Team, now represent the largest department in their business.

The team are crucial to the ongoing success of SecretSales.com's Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) strategy, in addition to all other web and mobile-related activity.

Nish invested considerably in the team in 2012.  In turn, their analytical efforts helped contribute towards the launch of a new, responsive website, later that year - 6 months ahead of when Mashable said this was to be the "new trend" (as far as web design was concerned), for 2013.

60% of SecretSales.com's entire revenue, comes from mobile and tablet.  Of that, 72% of this traffic, now arrives to the site, from a smartphone.  They're not seeing anywhere near as considerable growth for tablet, which is still on the rise, albeit, at a much more tapered rate.

In light of the above stats, you can see why Nish continues to see the importance of growing his Data and Insights Team.  Stats are crucial to any business, but with the growth in usage of mobile and tablet devices for online shopping, I wouldn't be surprised to see more retailers like SecretSales.com, look to increase the size of their respective CRO and Analytics-orientated teams.  It's a sensible move.

4. "Fail Fast, and Fail Often"

These were the words, shared by Clarks', Chuck Cantrell - a phrase he said, was commonly used amongst those working in Silicon Valley, home to the world's largest high-tech corporations, as well as thousands of tech startup companies.

[SOURCE]: Flickr, (2015). Browns-Lions 2. [online] Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/43723073@N04/4121288649/in/photostream/ [Accessed 16 Apr. 2015].

Chuck is a big fan of small experimentation.  He said that by running small-scale A/B, or Multi-Variant Tests (MVT), you can then show some incremental value that the business is willing to hold on to, to then develop and grow further.  Do it small, and learn from that.

The importance of A/B testing, MVT and usability testing, was frequently discussed, across all of the talks, thereby highlighting the significance, of testing the waters with your target audience, instead of blindly releasing changes, without considering your users' feedback first.

Chuck mentioned how Clarks experimented with both an adaptive and responsive site design.  Adaptive simply didn't work for them.  By carrying out testing early on, Clarks were quick to realise that it didn't give their users, the experience they need.  As such, they then made the switch towards working on a responsive site design.  This however has worked for them.

SecretSales.com CEO, Nish Kukadia, similarly shared with us details on how his Data and Insights Team, aim to conduct 5 very meaningful experiments, every month.  They also carry out all of their own usability testing, internally, which has also proved to add value to enhancing their customers' user experience.

MVT is a huge part of NBTY Europe's CRO efforts too.  Lysa Hardy gave examples of the success they've seen so far, having focussed on home page optimisation, and enclosing the shopping basket page, amongst other things.  By improving the prominence of the search input box on the home page (rather than hiding it, behind a menu option), NBTY have seen a 7% uplift in conversion.  Similarly, by removing the exit points from their shopping basket page, they've experienced a 12% uplift, on customers progressing to the next step of the checkout process, followed by a 19% uplift, through the full conversion funnel (to the 'Order Complete' page).  In light of these findings, Lysa sees MVT as being an important part of their future CRO activity.

As someone who managed all MVT activity for Boots, I too am a strong believer in the iterative, "test and refine" process.  Even though, we may all think that what we're delivering to the customer, is indeed a great user experience, believe me, MVT will often prove you wrong!  It's also a great way to persuade more senior internal stakeholders, that there not always right, when it comes to forcing their opinions on how something should be designed, or should function.  After all, you can't argue with user-generated stats.  Without its customers, what would a business be?

5. Smartphone commerce is growing at a much faster rate than tablet

[SOURCE]: Flickr, (2015). IMG_4318. [online] Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fotobib/13759979424 [Accessed 16 Apr. 2015].

I've already touched on this further above, but contrary to what I thought before the Expo, it appears that smartphone is growing at a much faster rate, than tablet - not the other way round.

Both Nish, and Schuh's, Stuart McMillen, eluded to this, in their respective talks.

For the w/c Monday 16th March 2015, Stuart shared with us details of the levels of traffic that arrived to their website - 46% of their total traffic, from smartphone, and 21%, from tablet.

It's a similar story for SecretSales.com, 60% of whom's entire revenue, comes from mobile and tablet, with 72% of this traffic, resulting from visits on a smartphone.

Nish also quoted two other facts, that are of particular relevance to this growth, extracted from a McKinsey Research Report:

  • Only 11% of UK users can tell the difference between a mobile app and mSite.
  • Less than 10% of UK mobile users, use more than 2 ecommerce apps.

For those of us, that currently have both apps, and an mSite presence; in light of the above information, now may be a good time to start considering the benefits responsive design could offer your business, and its customers, in place of your existing mobile strategy.

That's it for part one of this post - here's 5 more key takeaways, in part two.

Joe Pendlebury AKA "The UX Chap"

Further Reading

10 Key Takeaways from the Internet Retailing Expo 2015 (Part 2 of 2)

10 Key Takeaways from the Internet Retailing Expo 2015 (Part 2 of 2)

7 Ways to Pee Off First-Time App Users and How to Avoid Doing So

7 Ways to Pee Off First-Time App Users and How to Avoid Doing So