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INTERVIEW How Holland & Barrett enabled its customers to give to charity during lockdown – and other ways it’s adapted in the light of Covid-19

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Chloe Rigby talked to Holland & Barrett’s chief customer and digital officer Nick Collard, chief customer and digital officer, and head of digital UX and product Jade Denham about how they enabled its customers to contribute to the wider community as much of society shut down during lockdown

As the UK went into Covid-19 lockdown, at Holland & Barrett it was very soon clear the health and wellbeing retailer would stay open in-store as well as online to provide essential goods during the pandemic. One priority was to find new ways of enabling its customers to support good causes beyond its stores at a time when normal life was temporarily on hold. These needed to be ways that its customers would be able to use whether they bought online or in-store.

This was important to think about, says Nick Collard, Holland & Barrett’s chief customer and digital officer, at a time when it was already clear that charities were under pressure and existing sources of funding were drying up. He believes it was just as important for its customers. “Consumers absolutely expect more from retailers – not just to show up and sell them products but to demonstrate their values,” he said. “That’s particularly important for us as an organisation – and as a business centred in wellness. Customers expect to see it that way.”

It was an easy decision to decide to implement the Pennies micro-donations solution that enables shoppers to round-up the amount they spend on a transaction, whether they’re buying online or in-store. Collard already knew the organisation’s work, and the Holland & Barrett digital team decided to set up Pennies on its own systems as quickly as possible.

“We know the use of cash is falling – donating digitally and in this micro way is much more relevant to consumers’ behaviour,” said Collard. “Charities are under a great deal of pressure particularly at the moment and stepping in to support them feels like it’s something a good responsible retailer or brand should be doing.” Holland & Barrett chose to support NHS Charities Together, through a relationship that was facilitated by Pennies – and wanted to set it up urgently.

In the event, going from concept to execution took just two weeks. Putting the solution in place was very straightforward, says Jade Denham, head of digital UX and product at at Holland & Barrett. “It was probably one of the easiest set-ups we’ve done with a third party – from concept to the initial conversation with guys at Pennies, and then daily stand-ups with them,” she said. “You can tell they’ve done it multiple times with different vendors. It came as a package – they worked with us on best execution and explained how others had done it. They understood how we could potentially execute this for digital and store within a short time frame, which was crucial for us.” Holland & Barrett had a small squad of about six working on the implementation, calling on expertise from retail, finance and legal as well as the digital team, and the solution was built using Holland & Barrett’s existing digital capabilities around product and SKUs.

Currently, shoppers buying from Holland & Barrett can opt to donate 50p either online or in-store. So far microdonations have been made via Holland & Barrett’s stores and website at a rate of about 10,000 a week. Since the system was launched online on April 10, and rolled out to stores that weekend, it has made more than £45,000 for the NHS charities. That adds to the more than  £24m that Pennies has raised through 97m small change digital donations in its 10 years of operation.

In future, Holland & Barrett, a Leading retailer in RXUK Top500 research, aims to develop its use of Pennies still further.

Denham said: “The next phase for us is about leveraging the platform that we’ve put in now. We turned it around very quickly in a small design sprint. I think the next thing will be about how we leverage that capability.” Future changes could include giving shoppers more control about how much they give in each transaction, or to enable them to round up donations to the nearest pound.

Holland & Barrett is one of more than 65 household brands that now use Pennies, which is easily integrated into commerce platforms from Oracle, Magento and Salesforce, and supported by Worldpay and Ingenico. Alison Hutchinson, chief executive of Pennies, says more retailers are looking to integrate Pennies during the pandemic – as they respond to the UK public’s wish to contribute. She said: “We are seeing record levels of giving, as people at home want easy and affordable ways to give and be part of a community where together they can make a meaningful difference – even, or especially, in our isolation. We are really pleased to welcome an increased number of retailers approaching us to see how they can join the microdonation movement and support charities they care about – whether that be Covid-19 related like NHS Charities Together and the National Emergencies Trust or the many charities supporting communities and in vital need indeed of funding in what will be an exceptionally challenging 12 months for the sector.”

New approaches to fulfilment 

The implementation of Pennies is just one of a number of ways that Holland & Barrett has adapted during the coronavirus pandemic. The retailer, which has turned off click and collect services for the moment, has now turned a number of stores into distribution hubs to fulfil home delivery orders, as a way of adding capacity for fulfilment operations during a time of social distancing. 

Added to that, Deliveroo riders are now delivering products from a range of more than 200 products from 50 shops across the UK in as little as 30 minutes from an order being placed on the Deliveroo app and website. Products available include gluten-free, vegan and low sugar products in order to serve people with specific dietary requirements who may be self-isolating at home. This, says Holland & Barrett, marks a return to form for a retailer that first started delivering vitamins and supplements to customers by bike 150 years ago. 

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