The UK retail sector starts 2013 under intense pressure. In a turbulent market environment, both new and established retailers are battling the combined challenge of a sustained economic downturn and changes in consumer buying behaviours. The rapid growth of internet shopping is forcing traditional high street stores to adapt their operational models as customers increasingly embrace the opportunities presented by online, mobile and digital technologies. Recent data suggests that online shopping has increased by 20 percent in the past twelve months, while online sales at some of the high street's biggest names are reportedly growing at around 40 percent. Most stores now regard the internet as their biggest engine for future growth. With the online channel becoming increasingly significant for retailers, the importance of optimising the customer's online experience – and improving the user's journey through the sales funnel – has become critical. As a result, a growing number of proactive retailers are developing sophisticated customer optimisation strategies using A/B and multivariate testing to enhance the customer journey. The evidence to support the approach is compelling.
Crew Clothing is a UK-based clothing retailer specialising in luxury casualwear. Now entering its twentieth year of trading, the business comprises traditional high street, mail order and web-based operations. It currently boasts over 75 high street stores in the UK, and distributes more than 3.2 million catalogues each year. But its online store is arguably its most important sales outlet. www.crewclothing.co.uk is responsible for driving approximately 30 percent of the company's revenues – a share that is only expected to grow as consumer trends towards online shopping increase. Nurturing and enhancing the business's online capabilities has therefore become one of Crew Clothing's highest priorities. But it knows that to deliver this, it must secure a comprehensive and ongoing understanding of customers' evolving needs and preferences.
In recognition of the company's rapid growth in sales via the online channel, Crew Clothing sought to optimise its website to ensure its customers were getting the very best online experience. In 2010 it began a long-term partnership with Maxymiser to develop a robust customer experience optimisation strategy using A/B and multivariate testing.
"The strategic objective initially was to improve conversion and sales," said Frank Sendler, Online Marketing Manager, Crew Clothing. "The first tests we did with Maxymiser focused on this by looking at the check-out process and basket pages. Over time we have changed the way we look at things and included objectives like improving user experience, customer engagement and the flow from Homepage/Category pages to basket. Looking back to where we started, it is surprising how much our approach has changed over time and how much more mature testing has become – not just in the number of experiences we test but also how much more planning now goes into testing. The amount of insight we are now able to get about our customers' behaviour on-site is remarkable."
Prior to working with Maxymiser, Crew's only glimpse of customer insight had come through them conducting usability studies, whereby small groups of users would provide feedback about the site. But beyond this, crucial web design decisions were predominantly subjective. "The brand and creative teams historically had the biggest influence, but changes were generally based on internal opinion rather than real world data," says Mandy Lam, Online Content Coordinator, Crew Clothing. "Maxymiser has transformed our approach and provided us with the evidence to ensure that the changes we make are the right ones to improve the user experience. We now have greater control of what works and what doesn't. Maxymiser has enabled us to take the guesswork out of our decision-making."
Crew Clothing's optimisation strategy with Maxymiser has been in operation for more than two years and continues to help the business to improve its online capabilities and adapt to changing customer expectations. Moreover, its structured multivariate testing programme has had a positive impact on profitability.
A good example of this is a campaign that looked at the presentation of Pricing and Reviews on the site. The test set out to establish whether either the size of the price, or its position on the page, impacted the customer's decision to purchase. In combination, it also sought to determine whether changing the colour of the ratings star would increase the number of visitors reading reviews and, in the process, improve conversion rates. The multivariate test generated quantitative data which suggested that whilst moving the price or increasing its size did not have a significant impact on conversion in isolation, in combination with a yellow rating star, customers' propensity to purchase increased dramatically. The 'winning experience' following the test has driven an 11.4% uplift in purchases and a 10.7% increase in revenue per generation. In addition, the number of user reviews being read has grown by 16.5%.
"The Pricing and Reviews test is a great example of how apparently small changes can make a huge difference," says Mandy Lam. "The outcomes truly align with our key objectives to enhance the customer experience, improve conversion and drive sales."
A further example is the more recent 'Product Page Size Selector' test, which once again yielded impressive results. "We wanted to give our customers the best user experience when they are ready to buy a product – and developed a test that explored a variety of presentations of our product pages. The findings have led to increased sales and an improved usability of the page," says Frank Sendler.
Multivariate testing is also proving to have benefits beyond increasing profitability and improving the customer experience – it is helping Crew Clothing become more efficient with resources. "When we conduct tests, it very quickly becomes clear whether or not changing an aspect of the site will make a significant difference," says Mandy Lam. "This is really helpful because we can avoid investing time and resource changing areas of the site that will have no discernible impact. It makes us much more responsive, and much more efficient. Conversely, the data and conclusions that Maxymiser generates help us to justify our budgets to senior management, so that we can prove that we are investing resources wisely and productively."
Multivariate testing is now firmly established as part of the culture at Crew Clothing – and there is to be no turning back. "Our customer experience optimisation strategy with Maxymiser is a long-term one – the insight that multivariate testing provides is invaluable," says Mandy Lam. "Without it, it's doubtful that the online business would have moved forward as quickly. We would certainly not have had as much confidence that any changes we were making would not be detrimental to the site. This is a key aspect –we not only want to improve the site and increase conversion, but we also need to ensure that we are not doing anything that damages the user experience.
"But we could not do it on our own. Maxymiser has become a crucial part of our team – and a true partner for us. They offer additional resources, expertise and proactive consultancy – and the full service that they provide really does set them apart. What's more, in terms of ROI, the outcomes from our work with Maxymiser means that it ultimately pays for itself very quickly. They not only give us a great service, but, in terms of our online development, they've become a valuable member of the Crew!"
As UK retail sails through some choppy waters in 2013, it's clear that a customer optimisation strategy using multivariate testing can help retailers row against the tide.