Matalan: Overcoming “mental barriers” to online shopping

It is in Matalan’s DNA to make its customers feel confident and good about themselves when wearing clothes bought from the British high-street retailer. But this feeling of confidence should also transpire during the shopping journey, not just when they try on an outfit for the first time. Ensuring customers are making the right purchase decision either in-store or online, not only leads to sales, but reduces the dreaded return rate. And online, this can be difficult to do when shoppers can easily be distracted and abandon a purchase.

Back in 2017, Matalan began testing social proof messaging on its website in a bid to provide this reassurance to customers and ensure they are confident enough to complete their online purchase. Working with Taggstar, Matalan has rolled out a functionality which surfaces a message informing customers if the product they are looking at is popular.

After AB testing the tool and interviewing shoppers in its UX research lab, the retailer discovered that customers welcome inspiration and appreciate help understanding which products are trending and which items go well together.

“It’s about answering the mental barriers customers have in their mind,” explains Matalan’s director of eCommerce, Paul Hornby, who first saw this type of technology implemented in the travel industry.

Test, test and test some more

He describes how a little message telling a customer that 54 people have looked at the same dress in the last 24 hours can validate a shopper’s decision and give them the confidence to buy. But Hornby and his team were initially cautious realising that while one shopper may appreciate social reassurance, another person may be worried about being seen in the same dress that many other customers had clearly also purchased.

“So we AB tested everything and let the science tell us,” says Hornby, “and overwhelmingly the results have been positive.”

The first test three years ago of the social messaging on the retailer’s product detail page led to increased conversion of 5.5%, so the feature was quickly rolled out. A few years later and Matalan has been experimenting with different types of messaging on different parts of the website, a recent test on the product listings page increased conversion by just under 7%. Continual improvement such as “softening the look and feel” of the message and adding emojis to bring it in line with the brand proposition is also leading to great results.

What’s next?

Following a pleasing Black Friday and Christmas 2019 peak period, Hornby is now looking at other ways the tool can be leveraged to reassure customers, including adding messages to the basket, wish list and even away from the eCommerce site within digital marketing initiatives, such as email campaigns, display ads and paid social media activity. “It’s about talking about the right product at the right time.”

Unfortunately, while the social proof messages would also work well in theory in store, the investment in digital signage would be too great. “By definition these messages are so dynamic and focussed on a specific product, you would have to have digital signage for every product, which no store in the world would do,” he explains.

A sprinkle of fairy dust

Stepping into a new decade, Hornby feels positive about the retail industry, pointing out that Matalan is still opening new stores and investing in many big strategic initiatives. And when it comes to continuing the growth of its online platform, Hornby puts his faith in a mix of technology partners and his 36-strong digital team.

“I have a strong point of view when you should buy and when you should build [technology],” he says. “If you are looking to create strategic areas of differentiation you should look to build – but you have to realise what that entails.”

Hornby says a product which is built in-house – such as the check-out functionality – needs to be invested in throughout the entire lifecycle. “We couldn’t choose to build everything we’d want to do, otherwise we’d just be keeping the lights on and we wouldn’t innovate.”

Instead Hornby hand-picks a portfolio of vendors who are experts in their field and can “sprinkle some fairy dust” on top of the core technology projects his team have built to take Matalan into 2020 and beyond.