Close this search box.

Shop direct: What she wants

Sam Perkins and Jonathan Wall of Shop Direct explain how merchandising strategies across its websites are driven by the customer. Chloe Rigby listens in

SHOP DIRECT HAS invested heavily in data science as it works to understand how – and what – customers of brands including Very and Littlewoods want to buy. It’s putting mobile and personalisation to work to deliver on its findings.

“Our user experience research overwhelmingly shows us that our customer wants a tailored online shopping experience,” says Jonathan Wall, group ecommerce director at Shop Direct. “That’s why we’re passionate about personalisation – it’s one of our core focuses.

“Our customers want the products and messages that aren’t relevant for them to be removed, and those that are right for them to be placed front and centre. We want to tailor everything – from the shop they visit to how we engage with them before, during and after they’ve shopped.”

As well as relying on information about the customer and the way that they behave, Shop Direct also feeds in external factors, such as the weather and current events.

” Our customer wants a tailored online experience” Johnathan Wall, Shop Direct

“We’ve invested significantly to combine big data with cutting edge technology,” says Wall. “Continuous experimentation using this data helps us to improve our customer’s journey. Our approach is evidence-led. It takes qualitative and quantitative data and uses it to help us better understand our customer.”


Shop Direct deploys a testing regime to understand how shoppers move around the website and how products can best be displayed. The retail group prioritises high-quality imagery, straightforward descriptions and an easy-to-navigate site. It tests product page elements through up to 100 AB tests a month: if these don’t meet customer needs, they go. A fast failure approach that also encompasses personalisation elements is, says Wall, “helping to make our user journey simpler”. Personalisation is now being brought to bear in the way shoppers see product gallery pages, product recommendations and homepage content.

“It all helps our customer land on the products she’s looking for, improving her experience and helping us to increase conversion,” says Wall. Technology from Tangiblee is used to help customers understand how products from bags to purses will measure up in real life (for more here, see our 12 approaches feature on page 24).

Ensuring that customers can easily find the products that are of most interest to them is a priority. “Our purpose is to make good things easily accessible to more people,” says Sam Perkins, group merchandise director at Shop Direct. “Product merchandising is a massive part of that, focusing on giving our customer newness, assortment and availability.

“Assortment is the ‘good things’. We use our customer and market insight to add the famous brands we know our customers want. We’ve got 1,100 of them. We’ve also now got our new own-label brand V by Very. It’s the natural next step for us and we expect it to become a huge part of our assortment offer – we’re backing it in a big way.”


It’s an approach that’s paying dividends.

“A personalised, mobile-first approach has massive benefits for us in terms of sales conversion and customer retention,” says Jonathan Wall. “Last year was our third year of record profit growth and our sales were underpinned by mobile commerce, as well as the stellar performance of Very.”

So what does the data say about how the typical Shop Direct customer likes to buy? “Four years ago, our customer was spending around 30 minutes on her phone each day,” says Wall. “Today, it’s over four hours. Sixty per cent of our sales come from mobile devices so we take a mobile-first approach, tailoring everything for a customer that’s engaging with us in this way.

In doing so, we use our rich customer data asset to provide the insight and understanding needed to win at each customer moment of truth.

“We’re trying to develop an overall offering that dazzles our target customer and fits around her life. While our customer is watching TV, for example, she might have three screens on the go – it’s about cutting through that complexity and grabbing her attention with the way we present our products and our marketing.

“We’re also always striving to talk to our customer in a way that resonates with her. It needs to be a way she’s comfortable with, which is seamless and not intrusive, and we’re exploring new disruptive technology to do it.”


There’s always more to do. “We’ve made huge progress in recent years, but our approach to merchandising isn’t slowing down,” says Perkins. “We’re looking at our wider supply chain to drive further improvements in availability, because we know this is vitally important to our customer.”

It’s also crucial to keep focusing on details. “Of course, we know we need to keep getting the basics right,” says Wall. “How our customers interact with different types of pages across our site will remain a massive focus – we’ll keep on testing, employing a fast failure approach.

“Ultimately, we know our biggest challenge is giving our customers what they want and need –both today and in the future.”

Read More

Register for Newsletter

Group 4 Copy 3Created with Sketch.

Receive 3 newsletters per week

Group 3Created with Sketch.

Gain access to all Top500 research

Group 4Created with Sketch.

Personalise your experience on