The director at Cuckooland.com, takes a breather from a busy lockdown period to share his experiences and offer advice to other brands.
What impact has the lockdown had on Cuckooland?
Home and Garden has of course been one of the fortunate sectors in this crisis. Lockdown measures unfolded pretty swiftly, and so it was impossible for us to predict how quickly consumers, once they settled into the essentials of homelife, would turn their focus to improving life at home with furniture and homeware.
For context, I noted that the IMRG shared figures that homeware and furniture YOY sales rose by 70% during the lockdown and garden ware by over 200%. Our traffic reflected this, with our garden ware sales experiencing a 300% YOY increase. We saw a real uptake of certain items of stock like outdoor pizza ovens and garden furniture, in particular.
So, we have been busy. We are one of the lucky ones in the crisis.
But it’s not just about being lucky, is it? Surely, you’ve had to adapt quickly to respond to the surge in traffic and changes in behaviour. Did you have a strategy in place you can share?
Well for starters we had to understand where the traffic was coming from and respond to this accordingly. We have a loyal and regular customer base, but our increase in traffic also reflected a segment of the population who had traditionally only or mostly bought furniture or homeware products in-store. A large segment of this traffic came via our Organic, Paid and Affiliate channels and were new to us. We took the time to ensure that from search through to fulfilment, that our service and product offering remained 100% relevant and consistent to make the experience for both seasoned ecommerce shoppers and a new segment of online shoppers, intuitive and enjoyable.
We also resisted the temptation to drive ‘race to the bottom’ offerings on our traditional high-volume lines that provide short term value for customers. Instead, we kept our signup initiative intact in order to create brand ambassadors and improve our returning customer rate – customers could still receive money off by creating an account with us and shopping our site rather than be tempted into a quick exit on a product they may not need just because the price is right. A lot of our competitors removed their sign up offers (the argument is that if you’re struggling to keep up with demand then why give away margin) we stuck with it and continued to offer our signup discount. Our finance company told us recently that of the online retailers they service, two stood out with the highest conversion and growth rates and we were one of them, so I think we made the right call on that. Plus, we really wanted to try and keep things as ‘consistent and normal’ as possible for consumers, if you shop for the first time with a company you expect to receive a little welcome onboard bonus. And especially now right? It’s definitely the right time to offer a thank you for trusting us to deliver the products you want during these crazy times.
Good customer service sits at the heart of our values. At difficult times like these it’s an opportunity to show your best self. Our team has been under immense pressure to deliver this throughout the lockdown. But they have been amazing, and we have not forgotten that it is a privilege to be surviving and succeeding in an environment that is so tough for many others. So, we set the bar really high for experience. More relevant seasonal products (for the home and garden) and richer content with more value-added options to accompany product recommendations; we kept online chat open during the day for as long as we could; we offered prompt, consistent communication with customers and we stuck to our 4 ring max pickup (answered by a person, not a computer) on incoming calls with no delay messaging and a ruthless commitment to fulfillment. We were also honest (particularly with our COVID-19 messaging) and never over promised and mostly over delivered as a result.
Have your customers’ demands changed, and do you think this is going to be long term?
Online consumers are incredibly demanding at the best of times, and it can be a challenge to keep them engaged and guided right through to purchase, and then motivating them to return after that is another set of challenges. I would say we’ve actually seen a higher degree of empathy and patience from customers in the lockdown. In times like these, there is that great British sense of ‘help your neighbour’ where ‘intolerance’ to a large degree is replaced by ‘consideration’.
For those who have been fortunate to excel in this environment by communicating the right brand values, in the right tone of voice with a meticulously high attention to detail in service and experience, I believe it will stay in consumer minds for a long time to come. But without the frills and quick thrills – just respond quickly without the padding and bs, just tell the customer exactly when they will receive their goods (or if you don’t know, give them the worst-case scenario) and then deliver within this time. Transparency and reliability is what will create brand advocates and keep customers coming back long after our return to normality. When will ‘normality’ return? That’s anyone’s guess. There are some aspects of the lockdown that I think people will miss and will try to keep going for as long as possible and I think there are some shopping habits that will change forever. Consumers will be more trusting of online (that’s if we’ve all done a good job!) and less reliant on seeing products, especially high-ticket items like furniture, in the flesh.
Covid-19 is unpredictable, and it’s expected that consumer behaviour will continue to be cautious and fluctuating for the foreseeable future. Even as life starts to return to some normalcy how has your strategy changed to support this in the medium to long-term?
We’ve been in a good position to assess and create a strategy based on a higher than usual volume of customer data, over a short period of time. For us this means we can make some decent assumptions about what is worth investing more time and effort into. Optimising site experience for more guided customer search and flow is clearly central to ensuring consistency in conversions, and our work with Attraqt is obviously designed to do that. We’re also looking to invest more in deeper audience segmentation, so that we can set up personalisation strategies to individualise and optimise the journey experience.
Remote working has really opened our eyes to how we can improve workforce planning structure in the future. While we found that customer service teams would have benefitted more by being in the same space so that they could easily bounce queries and problem solving off each other, other teams were less distracted and more productive by working remotely. This is certainly something we want to explore once the restrictions are lifted.
A recent survey from Retail Week suggested that only 41% of UK consumers would be comfortable returning to physical stores as non- essential brick and mortar retail looks set to return. Do you have any advice from an online perspective for store owners?
As an online player, I am not at all an expert on in-store, but if there ever was a time to lobby for connected brand experiences, this is it. There is still very much a place for in-store experiences, but I do think online will play more of a role in guiding and inspiring customers during an extended period of uncertainty. Certainly, at the start of physical stores being opened, brands will have to use their online and social platforms to clearly provide reassuring messaging to in-store shoppers that it’s OK to return in-store. More incentives via their online channels like offering in-store only vouchers and discounts are also likely to be required. On the flip side, we are walking into an unpredictable retail environment, brands need to be able to anticipate traffic flows for both online and in-store and deliver complementary and consistent experiences across both. If you are brick and mortar dominant, switch your focus (if you haven’t already) and invest more time and effort in online; if you are online only, the marketplace just got a whole lot more crowded and there is going to be no room for customer complacency or in offering anything but an outstanding customer experience from landing page to checkout to email to phone call follow-ups.