With digital transformation happening at unprecedented rates, the ecommerce landscape has become more competitive than ever. To explore how retailers are navigating these new waters, Narvar’s VP of Marketing, Catherine Dummitt, led a panel at the recent National Retail Federation’s NRF2022 conference, which also featured Eva Gordon, EVP, Stores, at The Container Store, and Heather Kaminetsky, President, North America, at Mytheresa.
Together, the three explored emerging strategies for driving measurable business impact, elevating the omnichannel customer experience, and optimizing the post-purchase phase for customer retention. The following are seven key takeaways from this conversation.
Mytheresa’s North American launch amidst the COVID pandemic left the company in a challenging position—one it aimed to solve by going back to basics.
“We went back to thinking about, ‘what does the consumer want?’” she described. “One of the first things we did was we started to engage with our customers in real-life in small, concentrated special experiences. That, for us, was a great launching pad into gaining even more customers from the ones that had existed.”
Mytheresa also used the increased adoption of online shopping to its advantage. “The other thing that we really looked closely at was our communication with customers, because now there's a larger pool of consumers that are comfortable shopping online,” she continued. “We wanted to make sure that we were speaking to everyone as they would want to be spoken to, and it actually helped our conversions.”
Key takeaway: To be successful in ecommerce, there’s no substitute for understanding your customers and their needs and wants at a deep level. Changing market circumstances may affect what those are, so it’s important to check in regularly and challenge assumptions.
At The Container Store, Gordon and her team took a different approach. “The first thing we did when the pandemic started was figure out how we were going to sell something without brick-and-mortar stores,” she recalled. “In the short-term, we pivoted to curbside, and we figured out how to do virtual design appointments. But what that did—although it got us through the pandemic—was make us realize that we'd gotten away from really what our superpower was, and that was always the environment and the store.”
Returning to a focus on the physical environment meant finding new operational efficiencies to shift available hours to the sales floor. “We added hosts at the front door that would greet you and tell you what was going on at the store,” Gordon explained. “We added demonstrations of new and exciting products throughout the store. We created product discovery zones and product play zones where you could interact with them, and we assigned zone sellers to be experts and talk about their ‘passion product’ in the store.”
As a result, she noted, “When you walked in, there was a lot going on. All of a sudden, we were there for our customers again. They were getting that human element that makes customers say, ‘You're my happy place,’ or ‘I come here to feel calm.’ We reconnected in that we actually needed to go old school in a way, as well as look at technology.”
Over time, Gordon saw the impact this direction had on the company’s net promoter score (NPS), which it had begun tracking during the pandemic. “You can see the difference in spend from somebody that's not greeted and somebody that is, and it's huge. We can measure the fact that our hosts made a difference. Customers don't care if everything's perfect on the shelf. They care about getting help.”
Key takeaway: Disruptive circumstances—like those brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic—can make retailers think they need to reinvent the wheel. But there’s value in understanding what you do well and how your strengths support your customers—even as their needs and preferences evolve.
When asked to expand on how The Container Store was adopting new technology, Gordon explained, “We're working on an employee app and a customer-facing app—really bringing in a lot of conveniences that will give a frictionless customer experience and even support selling.”
In particular, she noted, “We partner with Theatro, so we can send messages in very specific ways to individuals or groups of employees in a store. At a curbside pickup, we know that a customer bought 10 boxes, and they're going to need labels—so we know to mention labels to them. We’re really looking at ways that we can make it easier for our employees to sell.”
Kaminetsky was similarly excited about the future potential of ecommerce technology, stating that, “On the service-level side, there are so many new technologies and opportunities being developed to help customers identify what they want and then get it to them really fast. I find the world of logistics fascinating right now, both the players everyone knows about and the others that are creeping up.”
Key takeaway: New technology can’t replace a thorough understanding of your customers and your business’s strengths, but they can help you facilitate better, more targeted experiences that benefit both buyers and sellers.
But while Gordon was quick to recognize the role technology is playing at The Container Store, she described the retailer’s renewed focus on the customer experience as being equally important.
“Of course, technology has been important,” she stated. “But I think, at the end of the day, that's the start. Customers really do still crave personal experiences. Sometimes they want quick and efficient. But sometimes they want somebody who understands and who personalizes that experience to them.”
Kaminetsky had observed something similar at Mytheresa. “All of us know, when someone pays attention to you in any sort of scenario, you wind up spending more,” she said. “One of the things that's really important to our business—and especially in the midst of not having as much physical interaction—is our personal shoppers. Every week, they send things just for the client; it's an edit of things that either we know they’re interested in or have an affinity towards. We use that data to create this personalized experience.”
Key takeaway: Personalization at scale can be challenging, but customers want to feel cared for. Looking for simple ways to create experiences that feel more attentive and customized can go a long way towards attracting and retaining customers.
Although The Container Store and Mytheresa handle returns in different ways, both companies have developed extremely customer-centric return policies.
Gordon’s desire to put the customer first stems from early in her career. “My very first boss told me that we'll never go out of business taking too many returns. We're going to go out of business if we make enough people mad at us,” she described. Following this ethos, she stated that, “Our mantra is ‘get to yes.’ Whatever the situation is or whatever you think about it doesn't matter. Do what's right, get to the yes, and let the customer leave with a win. There's always a way to do that.”
And although Mytheresa’s return process follows more of a standard ecommerce flow, the retailer still goes out of its way to accommodate its top customers.
“If there's a very large order or if they're a specific type of client, then we'll just [issue the return], Kaminetsky explained. “And then, when it comes back to the warehouse, we'll book it in. But it'll go first to the client because people get upset—it's their money, and it's often a lot of money. So generally, when we return, we give the credit when it gets back to the warehouse. But top clients, we take care of you before it comes back.”
Key takeaway: The majority of customers who have a positive returns experience are willing to give the brand in question a second shot. Whether your returns policy is structured or more lenient, make sure it’s clearly stated so that buyers understand how their needs will be met in the process.
Beyond its tiered, loyalty-driven approach to returns, Mytheresa aims to limit returns in the first place by providing an exceptional level of detail in its PDPs—a level that surprised Kaminetsky when she first joined the company.
“The first time I was introduced to Mytheresa and I looked on the product pages, I couldn't understand why there was so much copy,” she stated. “I realized it actually pays off; the returns are much less. And it wasn't about the photo, it was about the copy. People really read the copy.”
To readers of Narvar’s 2021 State of Returns report, Kaminetsky’s finding shouldn’t be unexpected. According to our research, fit and sizing issues continue to be the primary reason consumers return items—driving as many as 42% of the returns made by survey participants. The more detail retailers can integrate into their product pages in today’s competitive markets, the better.
Key takeaway: Improving your PDPs isn’t just about adding better pictures or more social proof. Even your copy matters, so give it the degree of attention visitors to your website will when they land on your product pages.
Finally, although trying to stand out in an era of increasingly saturated markets can seem impossible, marketers don’t have to shoulder the burden alone, according to Kaminetsky. “Some of the greatest ideas I've ever executed have come from customers. They will literally just tell you what they want because they're a consumer of your output.”
When asked how she captures customer data, she explained, “I call them, I Zoom with them, or I grab coffee and masks with them, depending on who they are. But I just call people and say, ‘Hey, I noticed you shop with us. I know you like the service we provide, but tell me how we could do more together.’ And they tell you.”
In addition, Kaminetsky looks to understand why some shoppers drop off. “If you have people who, two years ago, were spending $50,000 a year, and now they've spent $10,000, you did something wrong, and you need to understand what's going on.”
Key takeaway: Ecommerce sellers have never had more access to first-party customer data. Leaning into what it tells you about what customers do and don’t want makes marketing easier and ultimately results in happier customers.
As a senior content manager at Narvar, Michelle has a finger on the pulse of the ecommerce industry. She's spent close to a decade helping online retailers make sense of their post-purchase processes.