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IREU Top500 INTERVIEW Harriet Williams of The Body Shop on adopting a customer-first approach

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The Body Shop’s Harriet Williams tells Chloe Rigby why taking a customer-first approach makes so much sense for a company so dedicated to wellbeing.

PUTTING THE CUSTOMER at the centre of your multichannel strategy certainly sounds like a worthy aspiration but for The Body Shop , it’s also one that makes financial sense, according to its chief digital officer Harriet Williams. “Generally, if we do something good for a customer, it’s good for our business,” she says.

The ethical beauty retailer takes a good look at customer demand before deciding how to develop its website or its stores. A new mobile-first platform was a “really easy decision” because “the data speaks for itself”. Williams adds: “More than 50% of traffic now comes from mobile and tablet devices, so we needed a platform that was easy for our customers to use.”

The retailer built its mobile-first site on Hybris and launched it first in the UK in 2016, swiftly followed by the seven European markets that the retailer serves directly, including France and Germany. Some 28 of the brand’s websites, operated directly or via franchisees, are expected to have moved to the mobile-first design by the end of 2017.

This reboot has enabled The Body Shop, which ranks among the Top50 retailers in The Customer Performance Dimension of IREU Top500 research, to upgrade the customer experience across Europe.

Previously, only the UK site was optimised for mobile but now, new features include PayPal and Live Chat. “We wanted to have that strong foundation of services to meet customer expectations,” says Williams. The decision seems to be paying off. The Body Shop, which at the time of writing is owned by French beauty group L’Oréal , enjoyed a 19% year-on-year rise in ecommerce sales in 2016, with Williams noting that much of that growth came through mobile.

Content and commerce

The new website puts the emphasis on content alongside commerce, in direct response to The Body Shop’s customers’ behaviour. “We know that the majority of people coming to the site are researching and going into our physical store,” says Williams. “We believe that improving the online experience will help support our physical store sales as well.”

Content is produced centrally in the UK but localised to different regions. Much of that content is pre-tested with customers before it’s used in marketing campaigns, on the website or on social media, so their response to it is measured. “On our social media platforms such as Instagram, it’s really easy to see what works,” says Williams. “I think the key is to look at the data and see what content is performing, then continue to optimise on that basis. The challenge is more about how we keep pace with customers’ demand for content across all the touchpoints that they use online.”

Williams says that Instagram, where inspirational photos are important, is “huge for us,” while shoppers tend to post their customer service enquiries on Facebook and Twitter, turning to the former for information about local events. Local teams can tailor promotions and product merchandising around important dates in each market, while highlighting products that have sold well in individual markets.

Follow the customer

Data enables The Body Shop to see macro trends in the way that its customers expect to engage with it and to put the appropriate response in place. “If I look across most markets, there’s generally a decline in people calling customer service teams,” says Williams. “But since we’ve launched live chat on the site, we’ve seen that trend explode.”

So The Body Shop has developed this further, making skincare experts and gift advisors available to talk to ahead of the last Christmas season. “I guess,” says Williams, “it’s a customer trend of more instant response rather than phoning or emailing. We are also seeing an increase in terms of messenger apps. Customers are now using Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp instead of email, so we’re looking at how we can use that channel in the future as well. The focus is on that much more immediate response in terms of live chat.”

Across channels

Another focus is on linking sales channels in a way that makes sense to the customer. A click-and-collect service is being planned for launch in a trial market this year – probably the UK – which will then be rolled out across other markets in 2018.

Meanwhile, The Body Shop’s global loyalty programme has been integrated across channels. Shoppers can now collect and redeem loyalty points when they spend on the website or store, tracking points and any vouchers through the ‘my account’ section of the website. In exchange for insights into shoppers’ cross-channel customer journeys, the retailer also promises increasingly relevant recommendations.

In the coming year, The Body Shop will be working on ways to use customer data in store to serve customers better. The ecommerce team is currently working on the scope of a new Shop Floor CRM service. This will be delivered by store staff offering recommendations via iPads to customers who have already come into store for personalised services such as skincare consultations, or to design their own product labels.

“It’s really enabling the store staff,” says Williams. “We have a lot of information that sits in systems and this gives staff in store more access to that. Ultimately, this should deliver better service for the customer.”

This interview first appeared in the IREU Top500 The Customer Performance Dimension Report. Click here to explore the Top500 series of reports.

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