Big Interview: Ben Hart, eCommerce director, Evans Cycles

Founded in 1921, Evans Cycles has nearly a century of retailing experience, but arguably, the industry has seen more change in the last decade than ever before. Omnichannel shoppers who spend their lives interacting with disruptive technology on their mobile devices, are becoming increasingly impatient with online retailers. They want a seamless, quick and simple experience when shopping online.

With 60 stores across the country and 1.5 million monthly unique visitors, Evans is a truly multichannel retailer, but eCommerce director, Ben Hart, explains that keeping up with the modern customer isn't easy.

"Like most eCommerce businesses, we got to a point in the journey where we had to start refining and improving our offer in order to grow," he explains. "To increase efficiency and profitability, you can't just keep driving more traffic to the website, you need to make the most of the traffic and drive conversion."

Evans Cycles is using Optimizely to undertake A/B testing. The Optimizely tool allows the retailer to try out multiple different versions of web pages or digital functionalities to test on customers in real-time, simultaneously.

"It could be as simple as changing the colour of a button or an elaborate change of a page layout  and functionality," explains Hart. "By using Optimizely, we are able to direct users down a selected test path and understand customer behaviour and the impact on conversion."

This test information provides the retailer with the foundation to make informed, data-driven decisions, for example a simple change to make an 'add to basket' button more visible, led to 49% uplift of the button and 4.3% more revenue generated.

"And when a test fails, it's almost as valuable as when a test is successful, because it confirms what we're doing is the right thing and gives us confidence."

Compared to the previous method of onerous development changes made on "gut feelings", this tool allows the analytics and web team to deploy effective changes much quicker.

"We can roll out a change quite quickly in a test scenario and we can keep that test running until we get the code developed, which helps to fast track or bridge that gap of development time.

And with Wiggle and Halfords as key competitors keeping the retailer on its toes, Evans Cycles needs to be quick to deploy changes that improve customer experience.

"We're a 95-year-old business, but we're pretty modern for it and a big part of our business is online in terms of direct sales, but a lot of offline business is very much influenced by the website because bikes are a highly researched product. We're pretty joined up in terms of multichannel, and a lot of click & collect customers will research online and order for store collection."

Luckily, Hart says the business is very aware of the impact digital is having on retail and is willing to invest in new platforms and tools like A/B testing.

Hart – who has been with the business for 13 years – said there is not a huge amount of bureaucracy holding back digital decisions. "Everyone wants to be very nimble and react quickly and we back different ideas from different people," he says. "And we're also quite practical, which harps back to the fact a lot of us are cyclists, and we like making stuff happen, that might be using cutting edge technology or using what we've got and adapting."

Hart says Evans Cycles has just completed a re-platform onto Hybris, using systems integrator, Eclipse, but he thinks going forward the biggest tension for eCommerce will be between delivering competitive price and offering value for money.

"It's the fact that price is very easily measured, but value is not," he explains. "And it is the complete experience for us that's really important. If you buy a bike from us that is just the start of the journey, we want to make sure customers are getting a great deal, and a high quality experience that helps them use and engage with that product. There's nothing worse for us than someone buying a bike, taking it on a couple of rides and then hanging it in the shed – that breaks our hearts."

Hart explains the retailer runs cycling events to help customers get the most out of their purchase. "We run road cycling and mountain biking events every weekend – around 65 a year – and we have a dedicated team to deliver those events. We also launch rides from store locations, which you can sign up and register for on website, providing  another way we can communicate and have better relationship with our customers."

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