Big Interview: The Body Shop on digital transformation

The Body Shop is ploughing £10 million into turning the brand into a digital-savvy retailer. In an attempt to expand its global reach and integrate online and offline retailing, the retailer has replatformed its website and is deploying click & collect, beauty appointments and personalisation services in stores.

Harriet Williams, chief digital officer at The Body Shop, tells Essential Retail how the first critical step in this transformation journey was to replatform its eCommerce site onto SAP Hybris, which was rolled out to Western Europe at the end of last year and very recently in the US, Canada and Mexico.

In-store technology

Now these mobile-first online building blocks are being deployed across its 68 markets worldwide, The Body Shop can concentrate on integrating its digital activity across its 3,000 stores.

"We still believe in store retailing," she says, describing how customers still need face-to-face interactions with beauty brands for advice and to test products. "But how do we bring those two worlds together?"

As well as its existing loyalty card – which is mobile in the UK and Asia – The Body Shop is looking to roll out click & collect, online appointment bookings and skincare diagnostic technologies in store.

Williams – who led Debenhams' multichannel strategy before going on to work with brands including Gucci and Jimmy Choo – says when it comes to deploying in-store technologies, retailers should look to their mobile-carrying customers.

"It's less putting our devices in and more about how the customer uses their devices in store."

She admits it is a challenge keeping stores up to date and fresh, one attempt last year was to introduce an in-store personalisation service, where customers printed messages onto The Body Shop's famous body butters. Following a successful sales performance over Christmas 2016, the retailer then offered the service around Valentine's Day and Mother's Day and is now considering whether it should be a permeant store fixture and how it can personalise other products.

Content & commerce

Meanwhile online, The Body Shop is using its new platform to distribute content, such as how-to videos and information about the brand's activism and ingredient sourcing. "Our new CMS allows us to link those stories together, so if a customer is interested in our Tea Tree products, we can show how it has come from a community trade partner and the story behind the product."

As well as ethical information about products, The Body Shop is also integrating user-generated content (UGC) onto product pages. It recently ran a successful #daretomask campaign on Instagram and Facebook, encouraging its 11 million social media followers to share selfies while wearing a facemask in strange locations. "It had super-high engagement and it was fun, which is what The Body Shop is all about."

Using UGC technology from Olapic, The Body Shop is also able to embed these social media images on the online product page, which improves conversion rates. The retailer even won Olapic's 'Best Multichannel Earned Content Activation' for the #daretomask campaign last October.

Last year, The Body Shop reported a 19% year-on-year growth in global eCommerce sales – double than the previous year – while over half of The Body Shop's online traffic comes from mobile and 11% from tablet devices.

But as the digital transformation project continues to gain pace, the retailer is hoping to improve its eCommerce sales figures so 20% of total sales come from online. "We're currently in-line with global beauty market penetration figures – beauty is relatively low (7%) compared to industries like fashion which are more advanced than others," describes Williams. "Our key categories of skin, body care and gifts are easier to purchase online… But historically, makeup products have been hard to sell online because it's difficult to understand if the colour is going to work."

But Williams points to a proliferation of augment reality (AR) solutions to help customers buy makeup online – parent-company, L'Oreal, even has its own app to help consumers choose the right shade of makeup. While this technology is not on the roadmap for The Body Shop this year, Williams is constantly on the look out for similar consumer-facing apps which will help convert eCommerce sales.

And talking of L'Oreal, Williams is not discouraged by its plans to sell The Body Shop. "We’re continuing to see really strong growth in the digital area, and the performance will continue to be monitored. I imagine the investment will continue."