from catalogue to digital first

Just five years ago, - formerly Express Gifts - didn’t have much of a website to speak of, with the 100-year-old brand still relying heavily on its catalogue business, says marketing director Chris Chalmers. Now 75 per cent of all its business is online.

"There is a legacy infrastructure around catalogues, but we’ve shifted everything to be digital first... We’re in the midst of that digital transformation, which is why we are making selective investments in key technologies."

He says the company has invested to capitalise on the shift in consumer behavior in recent years. "But one of the biggest surprises has been the shift to mobile. That represents 70-80% of the online demand in any week."

The firm stocks around 21,000 products, covering a range of areas including homewear, clothing and electricals. So helping customers to find the right product quickly is important, he says.

"There’s a lot of new technology emerging and I think retailers have to make the call whether it’s the right technology for them. Artificial intelligence and machine learning has been the area we’ve been focused on to play a role within our business."

It uses analytics platform Apptus to automate page searches. For example, if a customer is searching for a red dress, it will show them the most popular red dress that had been used or searched in that journey. The has led to a 9% increase in conversations, he says. "And the benefit has been its real-time. When we manually cranked everything, we had to pull the spreadsheets, understand the data, and set the rules – this takes all that away."

It is also using AI-based technology to help detect fraud on the website, optimise customer contact, personalisation and as part of the mobile experience – where it is using Aura to personalise search results.  

Biometrics and eye-tracking

The business is constantly reviewing ways it can improve its web offering, which is why it has partnered with conversation rate optimization agency Endless Gain for customer testing.

"They use eye-tracking, pupil dilution, skin responses, facial expressions, and look for electrical activity in the brain to get a sense of what’s going on in the customer’s head when they are using our website." It works with the company every month to get feedback on ways to optimise the site, with users asked to perform a task on the website to measure how they react, and where their pain points might be.

"In old testing you might see someone naturally pausing – but under this approach by looking at sweating, eyes dilating you can actually determine what that means."

One of the successful changes to the site as a result of this testing was to change the static product grid, which displays stock availability in sizes and colours, into something customers can now click on and interact with to add items directly to the basket.

"It’s a window into what the customer is thinking," says Calmers.  

It is continuing to invest in digital, with a further £1 million this year on development this year. “We have also plugged in a lot of technologies that do end up slowing the site down. So we’re making some conscious decisions about consolidating some of those technologies,” he says.

The company seems unrecognisable from its roots as a traditional catalogue business with a heritage in Christmas gifts, cards and decorations.

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