Monday Jul 07, 2014

Shop Direct User Experience Focus Drives Sales

Oracle Retail colleagues report from the Internet Retailer Conference and Exposition last month in Chicago.

Shop Direct is a relative newcomer among elite e-commerce leaders, recently joining Amazon, Staples, Tesco and Apple on the Internet Retailer Europe 500 Top Ten industry ranking.

More than 84 percent of sales come via e-commerce and the majority of online traffic is mobile, says the company.

Yet just five years ago Shop Direct was predominantly a catalog business.

It’s a dramatic transformation best captured earlier this year by Retail Week’s Laura Heywood from Oracle Retail Exchange in New York, where Shop Direct head of e-commerce Paul Hornby outlined the journey.

Supporting the company’s digital strategy is an Oracle Commerce platform first installed in 2006 and upgraded in 2013. Internet Retailer’s Mark Brohan detailed the company’s tech journey as they moved from “spaghetti junction” to a sophisticated platform that increased conversion rates, is readily updated and optimizes for mobile.

Given the back story, it’s no surprise the room was packed when Shop Direct e-Commerce director Jonathan Wall appeared on the Executive Strategies track at the 2014 Internet Retailer Conference and Exposition (IRCE) in Chicago. Wall described a transformation that began with new leadership, preserved the company’s core customer focus and introduced a culture of innovation.

Central to its success, said Wall, is a major shift to a “fast fail” environment that looks to triple the frequency at which merchandising, promotion, design features and functionality are tested and tweaked to meet changing customer expectations. The testing happens in a new user experience lab at the head office located in Speke, Liverpool.

“Data is key to what we do as a business,” said Wall. “The data is coming in quickly and driving a rapid pace of change. We look at eye tracking, live session replays and run quantitative testing to achieve continuous change.”

It’s a big switch from a culture in which long, expensive print cycles dictated a risk-averse culture. When merchandising was tethered to print cycles, an ineffective promotion or price change could hurt revenue for an entire season until the next edition printed and made it into the hands of customers.

Not long ago, one such test resulted in a change that drives as many as 3.3 million incremental sales in a year. Most important, said Wall, is that the aggressive test environment drives continual change across its commerce business. This appetite for innovation enables Shop Direct to be in continuous touch with shopper preferences, keeping the site fresh and ever improving sales.

It’s a dynamic that keeps the company well connected with customers. In 2010, a 3% slice of Shop Direct’s online traffic was mobile but the company saw what was coming. Now more than 60% of its customers online sessions are via mobile devices, a testament to Shop Direct’s focus on encouraging mobile and enabling an Omni-channel approach.

“The turning point was we were able to show brand directors that these customers were converting at about half the rate of those shopping from a desktop. We knew it was the right thing to do,” said Wall.

It’s clear that Shop Direct is not pausing to gaze at success. The company continues to move forward and among its endeavors is the art of personalizing each customer’s shopping experience. It’s a work in progress, according to Wall.

“We believe personalization is having a real time engine that uses real live customer data. We have lots of behavioral data, financial data, buying data. We know what product to merchandise to them. We aren’t betting the farm on (personalization) but we are certainly betting the garden shed.”

Read more: “NRF: Shop Direct’s transformation from catalogue business to digital retailer” (via Retail Week, January 2014)

“Shop Direct makes up for lost time online” (via Internet Retailer, June 2013)

Oracle Commerce: Shop. Explore. Demo. @ Shop

 Oracle Commerce @ Shop Direct: Shop. Explore. Demo.


David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.

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