With retail competition heating up, brands are upgrading their online shopping experience. After all, getting customers to an e-commerce site is one (increasingly costly) thing, but getting them to then spend is quite another. Sealing the deal requires a site that’s, at the very least, on par with the competition. Among the current site standards: timely content and ease of navigation.
Birchbox, which sits in the crowded subscription box space, relaunched its website in mid-July, two months after selling a majority stake of the company to one if its investors, Viking Global Investors. The company, once valued at nearly $500 million, has been successful at acquiring subscribers — in March, CEO Katia Beauchamp told Retail Dive that 2017 was a “record-breaking year for customer acquisition,” reporting 2.5 million active Birchbox members. But, there’s two sides of the business; there’s an e-commerce site, in addition to the monthly boxes. The popularity of the website paled in comparison.
“The site was part of the experience from the beginning [in 2010], but not everyone knows we have it,” said Meredith Schwartz, Birchbox’s vp of product. “The box has traction with an audience; it’s our claim to faim and has really dominated.”
Schwartz was brought on board last August and immediately got to work to fix the business’s imbalance, diving into a website relaunch based on the customized, easy to explore offerings the company is known for. This was her game plan.
Before anything else, Schwartz did an overview of the website’s backend to ensure the technology underlying the system was in the proper shape to support a new, “more contextual” experience. Step 2 was looking at what the customer sees on the screen, with the mindset of: What are the questions a casual, or non-expert, beauty consumer may have while shopping? That led to an overhaul of the site’s organization and product pages, to make them more straightforward.
“We made a very conscious choice with our new navigation to go against the [industry] standard of offering up every possible product option,” Schwartz said. “Less is more, if it’s the right product.”
Prior, there was a “Shop” button on the website that opened 30 text links when clicked. To narrow the focus, Schwartz moved to a navigation based on product “groupings” to both educate customers on new products are and guide them to the choices that are best for them.
“Our skin care is one example,” she said. “We now have four ‘super categories,’ which represent the four main steps to a solid skin-care routine: cleanse, treat, moisturize and protect. Often, customers don’t even know where to start when it comes to skin care. We’ve set up the site so they can navigate the product in ways that are meaningful to them.”
And personalization plays into that: The Birchbox experience utilizes active personalization and passive personalization, Schwartz said. The first is the result of someone signing up with Birchbox and filling out a Beauty Profile, during which they offer up such specifics as their hair color, skin color, and specific needs for their hair and skin. As for passive, a customer’s past behavior — products viewed, products reviewed, products browsed and products purchased — also determines the products they see on product pages.
In addition, Schwartz made a point to ensure the content the company was creating for social media, largely centered on storytelling, was also featured on the site, specifically on the product pages — “to give the customer information beyond what they expect,” she said.
Calling out key ingredients on product pages was also key. “We now have a place where we can tell you what is vegan, and what is paraben- or sulfate-free, so people don’t have to dig through information,” she said.
Finally, she tacked on customer reviews, of which Birchbox has accumulated more 50,000.
Schwartz called the website launch, which it announced to subscribers via a personalized email from Beauchamp, “Step 1.” Since, she and her team have been making little tweaks, and she expects that will be ongoing, along with A/B testing. But, she said, the main goal is establishing a solid relationship with customers, not conversion.
“This wasn’t about: Let’s increase conversion by 20 percent overnight,” she said. “It’s about getting customers to a place where they feel great about coming to the site — because they leave with a product or more knowledge; they leave with something more than they came with.”
Other brands on their website updates
April Hennig, president, Jonathan Simkhai:
“The relaunch of our website last year has made a huge difference in our overall site traffic, conversion and top-line sales. Outside of creative brand storytelling, we realized functionality and ease of user experience have been the most important factors in our e-commerce success. With the design and development changes to the overall layout, we have seen a significant increase in mobile conversion, and an increase in the average order value as customers are spending more time shopping and exploring the site. We also just opened our first flagship retail store in Los Angeles last week, and we have been able to integrate the website with shared inventory and shared services such as in-store pick up, scheduling private shopping appointments and same-day local delivery. We are very excited to see how the integrated omni approach continues to push the business forward.”
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