Sean McKee, Director of Ecommerce at Schuh , spoke to Emma Herrod about how metrics, efficiency and people combine to deliver brand consistency.
Consistently doing things well is a compliment in ecommerce. It’s one of the main reasons why so many keep buying from Amazon; they know that what they order is going to be delivered and if there’s a problem it will be resolved easily and swiftly. Shoe retailer Schuh aims to do things well for its customers, too, giving them the best experience and choice of services whether that’s across channels, on mobile, online or in one of its 118 shops in the UK.
As Sean McKee, Schuh’s Director of Ecommerce, explains, the firm’s consistency is based on an empirical approach to business combined with a genuine commitment to being better and delivering volume and success in what it does. “We’re a business that’s motivated by efficiency.”
He says the company is also “very considered” and “very risk adverse”. The omnichannel services it offers — including reserve online/collect in store and click and collect — are all designed to be used by enough customers and with a sufficient order volume to enable performance to be measured. These measurements include service performance, customer journey and outliers such as when things didn’t work out as intended. “We’re very empirically driven. We will measure and measure,” explains McKee.Everything the retailer does aims to increase conversions or micro-conversions, since anything that enhances the overall journey and not just the turnover is counted as important, too. McKee explains that having full ownership of the customer journey and the CX function in-house enables Schuh to have good visibility and the ability to measure what it’s doing. For example, it has full visibility of stock across its distribution centre and stores, which has enabled it to offer omnichannel services to customers that are profitable, according to McKee.
“We’re an extremely product-centric business and our systems are built around that product-centricity,” McKee says. “We major very much on inventory control, near real-time visibility, and we’re very, very focused on efficiency. That’s our strength and we’ve tended to play to that strategic strength sensibly.” He points out that the sector in which Schuh operates is a fairly promiscuous environment and the firm needs to continue to carve out a point of difference. That point of difference is efficiency, along with a casual, friendly brand positioning which it conveys to customers via its website and the assisted-service model it operates in stores, where McKee says staff are the best equity. He says Schuh is still expanding its store estate, and services such as click and collect are becoming increasingly important to the website. “It gives us the opportunity to continue to be efficient because we have stock in situ that can be deployed through more than one channel which is very good,” McKee explains. “Also, we’re at our best in store with a member of staff with a good attitude assisting the customer in a live scenario. That’s us at our best; that is the brand experience.”
Schuh moves a large amount of stock around the business every day in order to replenish stores. Ecommerce is able to piggy-back on these movements, which makes sending stock to stores for collection by a customer next day a relatively cheap option. It can also fulfil orders from store stock so customers can reserve something online and pick it up in store just 20 minutes later. Orders can also be fulfilled for home delivery directly from store stock. This assortment of services means that staff in stores pick half of the ecommerce orders every day; picking 4 times a day for orders which will be fulfilled from stores. As McKee points out, this does result in questions about which channel sales and costs should be attributed to across the business. Because Schuh aims to measure every aspect of the business, it has set KPIs that focus on the speed and accuracy of fulfilment in store, customer sentiment and NPS at branch level, as well as insight from traditional mystery shopping journeys.
It measures online sentiment too, along with traffic and conversion rates, evidence of friction, and checkout and basket abandonment. Openness, transparency and honesty are conveyed on the site via product reviews, service scoring and customer satisfaction – as an amalgamation of NES and NPS scores on view. Schuh knows that it needs to convey the same brand openness across all of the platforms on which its customers want to interact, including social media. In the past, the firm focused on customer behaviour, looking at whether they visited shops and what they bought. Latterly, it has turned its sights on customer sentiment. Customers are asked about their experience, the number of reviews generated is recorded, and the NPS is measured each week as well as the number of customers giving a 5 out of 5 for their experience.
“We’ve become less behaviour focused and more sentiment focused over time,” says McKee, and this informs actions, bug fixes, design changes on the site and feedback to colleagues. It doesn’t detract from the fact that the business still measures everything “from what should have happened against what did happen”.
A major review of customers and non-customers is conducted every couple of years and this helps the development of both new and existing services, while online is continually monitored. Every change on the site is A/B tested against a robust segment of customers. “We’re wedded to letting the numbers tell us what to do and we do a substantial number of tests,” explains McKee. He’s quick to point out, however, that an accumulation of tested elements does not necessarily deliver a better result.
The Schuh site is being replatformed to future proof it, with individual sites moving to a single, bespoke platform. This will enable different fascias and iterations across the retailer’s UK, Ireland, EU and German sites as well as allowing Schuh to maintain efficiency and consistency. It has chosen a bespoke model for ecommerce because of the bespoke nature of its business. As McKee explains, the merchandising system gives an efficient single view of product across the whole business and integration with that system is inherent to Schuh’s offer.
“We want to have very good visibility of the customer journey, be free to change that customer journey or enhance that customer journey in ways that we see fit, ” he says. “We don’t want to wait on iterations of a platform. It’s about control; it’s about visibility of the journey and integration with some very bespoke systems that have been excellent in terms of delivering success for the business.”
The platform, which has been developed in-house by its ecommerce, IT and marketing teams, is currently being rolled out to UK customers. The UK site will be refreshed with a new look and feel in 2018. “Most of what we are busy with is slightly unglamorous; it’s the behind-the-scenes operational efficiency stuff,” says McKee. This includes implementing a CX roadmap to improve what is put in front of the customer as well as automating back-end systems and processes where possible and in ways that make sense to the customer journey. “There’s a plan in place for automating processes where the process and the customer is best served by a faster, machine-learned outcome,” he says. But all automation, bots and machine learning will be analysed first from a business process or customer-friction point of view. Schuh will also look at any point of differentiation it gives the company. It says its differentiation is its people and they will continue to be the main point of interaction with customers. A bot, for example, could handle customers tracking their order or give someone a student discount code, but if a shopper wants to say why they bought a certain pair of boots “that will never be handled by a bot”.
However, as McKee points out, ecommerce and digital are just parts of the retail business and he cites metrics and people as the main contributors to the company’s success. While it’s easy to be process driven or operationally focused, personal interaction is important both to the brand and its customers. Staff at Schuh are recruited against a specific profile which includes being cheery and friendly; this profile also applies to recruitment at the company’s contact centre. It is through the contact centre – specifically the use of live chat – that shoppers on digital channels can get the personal brand experience. Contact centre staff can use live chat to co-browse with a shopper, add an item to their basket or interact with them via video or text. It allows the company to help a customer at the moment they need it. Everybody in the contact centre is able to help shoppers via text but 22 desks are specifically set up for video interaction. Schuh has been operating these desks from Vee24 for 4 years. These personal interactions result in “substantial sums” being made from customers who contact the company using live chat and interact via text or video. McKee says video accounts for “a meaningful slice”, while text is a very convenient way for shoppers on mobile devices to interact. In fact, live chat delivers conversion rates that are 4 times greater than the site average and basket sizes that are 10-12% bigger, and it will deliver a “very substantial” 7-digit sales figure this year. “We wouldn’t want to have to live without it,” adds McKee. He explains that the profitability of every desk has been assessed and that the firm has made sure that it’s a service that makes sense from a business as well as from a service point of view. Schuh is looking at how a till or mobile payment device can be utilised for text-based interaction for internal business uses too. A move to mobile payments also presents an opportunity to free up till areas.
Some 70% of the company’s online traffic is via mobile devices and shoppers initiate the chat themselves rather than being nudged toward it, because the retailer does not want to be seen to be intruding on a customer’s personal space.
Schuh is looking at the skill sets required by the business to ensure that it can provide employees with training and career opportunities “that are fit for purpose” for its medium and long-term plans. A key element of this is ensuring that the ecommerce team is upskilled where necessary in line with the company’s 5-year plan. To this end, a 2-year training development programme has been put in place that provides a set career path within ecommerce which could be followed whether someone is working on the trading side of the team or predominantly site optimisation. Some of the modules are mandatory while others are optional, enabling staff to customise their training. Monetary incentives are given upon completion. Six of the ecommerce team are going through the programme currently and a further dozen will be put forward over the next six months.
“It will make a difference to the quality of the people in the jobs and the quality of the jobs themselves. Its attractive to be able to articulate a career path for millennials who aren’t going to hang on for ten years waiting for a career break,” says McKee.
Schuh is not a business to sit back and wait for suppliers or other retailers to provide solutions. It understands that there is a balance between iterating at speed and the pressures of daily trading. “It’s more about baby steps than big bangs,” says McKee.
While he’s always looking for “big potential moves of the needle,” these are increasingly difficult to find and not always possible with everyone understanding optimisation. As he points out, ecommerce won’t change what’s at the core of retailing, which is having the right product, at the right time and delivered very efficiently. Schuh does what is best for its own customers as fast as possible and as efficiently as possible, measuring everything but keeping people and transparency at the front of the interaction where and when the customer chooses. The result is customers with a connection to the brand that is “warm and fuzzy” and a product that’s delivered consistently as expected. This is achieved in the current business climate with the real-cost pressures that all retailers have to operate under. This calls for efficiency and careful consideration and application of its metrics in order to make the best business choices possible.
Schuh is achieving year-on-year increases in its mobile conversion rate. This is partly because phones have larger screens and consumers are more confident about mobile as a channel, as well as the UI work conducted by Schuh to reduce friction in the customer journey. “The average visit is about 3 minutes,” says McKee “so we’re very much about friction removal.” He adds: “99.9% of the time we’re in the job of removing friction to move customers down the funnel and this is more important in the mobile environment.” However, Schuh does not remove all friction from the mobile or desktop experience as some of it is seen as beneficial to the company because it provides business insight about customers that has a broader application. One of the things being considered is asking customers to go through more steps in order to select their shoe size so the retailer has more insight into the sizes and looking at availability of that size in real time and aligning fulfilment stats and size statistics in that moment and seeing what happened in between. McKee finds this fragment of insight fascinating since it can deliver very meaningful data, but everything else needs to be clean, simple and quick – especially where the checkout on mobile is concerned. He explains that typical customers go to the site via search so they land on a product page rather than first hitting the home page and then browsing. These customers “may have a warm sentiment for Schuh” according to McKee but if the particular brand or line isn’t available they are quick to shop elsewhere.