Growing pains: how Helly Hansen revamped its online business

Relaunching a website is rarely painless, but for Chris Hammond, global digital director at outdoor wear brand Helly Hansen, it was a true baptism of fire. “For the first two weeks after we went live we did 6am starts and 3am finishes every day,” he says.

“I remember one evening sitting in a hotel in Dublin at 3am, trying to figure out why, to upload our entire image backlog, it was going to take three-and-a-half weeks.”

Hammond joined the company, which was founded in Norway in 1877, nearly three years ago. That was in the midst of an ambitious plan to overhaul its legacy platform; and unify over 30 sites across 19 countries, each with specific language options, payment methods, shipping rules, localised content, and product availability. In other words: there were lots of moving parts.

A decision had been taken to move away from the now dissolved eBay Enterprise platform to Magento Commerce Cloud and Magento Order Management system. “But what that meant for those of us coming in for the week of the launch, was no one had ever re-platformed a business before and quite a number of things had been missed,” he says.

“To put it simply: we went live with a very raw site and we lost money in that time and things got pretty bad.”

Some of the issues included third party plug-ins not being compatible with the new platform, but he says the team also made some rookie mistakes: “A lot of the changes meant that overnight we lost 40% of our organic listings,” he says.

However, their hard work and help from partners, including system integrator Vaimo and Magento, helped to turn it around. As well as added investment in its eCommerce and digital marketing teams – to offset the SEO issues. Two months later, orders were going through smoothly, and after “a lot of downtime” in the first year, the site hasn’t had any unplanned outages since the beginning of 2018.

Not only did the disruption fail to impact the bottom line, but the company achieved double-digit growth for the last two years, increasing traffic by 24%, with mobile traffic up 48%, and online revenue growth of over 45%.

Plans are underway to further develop the digital business, with the company having been bought by retail conglomerate Canadian Tire for CA$985 million (£576 million) last year.

“Be very concerned with SEO. Ensure you have an agency that has gone through everything with a very fine tooth comb"Chris Hammond, global digital director, Helly Hansen

Lessons learned

Talk of digital transformation often belies the many bumps along the way. “If everything went really smoothly, none of us would have a job and a computer would be doing it,” he says.

Hammond’s take is refreshingly honest – and potentially helpful for others. So what would he do differently? Not surprisingly, there’s a long list. Although he notes the learning process was invaluable. 

“Do not redesign and re-platform at the same time. That is a big one,” he says. “Be very concerned with SEO. Ensure you have an agency that has gone through everything with a very fine tooth comb.”

He also described how prioritising load time is a must: “What you find is if the site loads slowly and the shopping experience is poor, then it doesn’t matter what marketing has been done.”

Re-platforming is rarely a quick win, because of the inherent risks involved, he adds. Although that doesn’t mean the long-term benefits aren’t worth it.

“Ensuring your digital capabilities map onto your strategic priorities is the biggest thing,” he says.  “If they do, then you are in a really good position not only to do any of the platforming you need to do, but also the digital transformation.”

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