Consumer electronics giant Philips has just launched a major redesign of its consumer website to improve usability and help shoppers “fully experience and interact with products as though they were right in front of them.”
The firm says it’s its biggest upgrade for three years. New features include a Google Maps mashup showing the location of retailers' outlets, as well as tools to allow greater interactivity on product pages. Philips also deployed technology to improve communication with retailers about stock availability and lead generation.
We spoke to Gilles Domartini, Philips Consumer Electronics’ VP & GM of online sales and marketing, to find out a bit more about how the company's e-commerce strategy is changing as brands seek to interact more closely with consumers.
Briefly, what were the key aims of the relaunch?
The main thing was that Philips is becoming much more of a lifestyle company. We’re trying to move away from electronics and specs into consumer-led lifestyle experiences, based on designs and innovations that consumers can easily understand and use. All of this is under the umbrella of our Sense and Simplicity effort. That’s the foundation of what we are trying to do.
To do this, we need to work much more on emotional factors – always a bit of a challenge on websites - and work very deeply on consumer insights. We are basing these on focus groups and discussions with consumers about how they are doing their shopping and interacting with products offline, and trying to replicate the experiences they have when they are in shops.
What features have you implemented to achieve that?
We’ve started to use graphical elements a lot more. We’ve moved away from a very text-oriented website into much more of a visual website.
We’ve also implemented technology from Adobe (Adobe Flex) to help users interact much more with what they see on the site and help us tune product pages more to their needs, rather than what Philips thinks is right for them.
We are looking to allow the user to interact with our product portfolio and features and say how they plan to use the products in the future.
If you ask people what they intend to do with a product, they won’t mention specs. They will tell you they want to use it for travelling, for example, and that’s how we want to optimise the site in the future.
You are selling your products through an online shop on the new site. How does that fit in with your channel strategy? How do you balance the two sides of the business when it comes to lead generation and marketing?
The core of our strategy is to work with the major retailers in our key countries. Most consumers prefer to go to their preferred channel partners and we need to create similar experiences with those channel partners. Our team is trying to liberate all the material being created for Philips so that it can be used by Dixons or John Lewis in the UK, for example.
Also, currently, we see more and more leading brands, including Philips, engaging directly with their consumer base. The benefit of that for the brands is that they learn much more quickly about consumers' behaviour and expectations. The consumers also feel a lot more attached to a certain list of brands and feel they should be able to interact with them.
We are moving much more from the department store model into dedicated shops for brands, such as in the car industry and more recently in the computer space, if you take the Sonys and Apples as an example. We also want to start engaging much more closely with our consumers.
How are you positioning the shop though? Isn’t that competing with your retail partners?
I wouldn’t say it was competing. We definitely wouldn’t position the shop as a competing channel. We are investing a lot to support our key retailers, if you look at the Google Maps tool on our website to help people find retailers offline.
We are also progressively rolling out links between the Philips website and retailers and are trying to tie in our business with the main retailers.
But we also have a complex portfolio, and as a brand, we want to recommend products to people through the shop. With the shop, we want to focus on the best products that we would recommend to people at any given moment.
We are extremely neutral in our pricing and it’s much more of a marketing exercise to enhance users’ experiences. It’s complementary, and much more of a new opportunity for Philips rather than competing with existing business.
How are you planning to improve the flow of product information and other content to your retail partners?
One thing we are very strong at now is our content management chain. The Philips website is pretty much the same across the globe, in 52 countries. We are a real global company in that sense and to run such a global website, you need a very good quality content management chain.
This chain also allows us to very easily exchange information with retailers. We either work directly with them through product feeds or work with companies like CNET Channel to help share our content with a number of partners.
We are also working with content enrichment specialists, which are taking our content and creating animations and videos that can be shared with retailers. We are investing a lot in that area.
You haven’t implemented user reviews on the site, but mentioned earlier that you were looking to find out more from consumers about how they use your products. What are you doing in the area of social commerce?
We have a roadmap to follow. This year, the main thing has been to improve navigation and the quality of the experience, and move more towards this lifestyle environment. Also, fixing bugs – we had a number of standing bugs, to be honest.
Going forward, in the next twelve months, we will be looking to personalise the experience on the website and move more towards two-way communications with consumers. At the moment, we are very much still in the stage of one-way communication.
In the future, we would also like people to tell us more about how they use the products. I wouldn’t say we will go into reviews because they relate very much to e-commerce strategies, but you could imagine that you buy a TV and we ask you to record your experience of unpacking and starting to use the TV on our website.
Do you have any advice for other e-commerce managers about how to get buy-in from senior management for web projects and strategies?
One of the challenges in big companies is that there is a degree of uncertainty in your roadmap, but big companies really want to know what will happen in the future.
A lot of people in Philips ask me “How do you see the web in five years from now?” and I have to tell them that there a few things I can foresee but that to be honest, I don’t know.
If you look at five years ago, Google would be much smaller and YouTube wouldn’t have existed. A lot of the big changes have only happened in the last two or three years and I’m sure the same will apply to the future.
So create a plan with clear milestones, but make sure that your management understand that the plan may evolve over time. Then be very consistent in how you execute the plan step by step, and keep explaining what you are doing and why you are doing it. Also, keep sharing the results.
How is e-commerce structured and budgeted for within Philips and how has that changed over the last five years?
E-commerce, in some ways, is a channel like any other – traditional retailers, hypermarkets and so on. You need to start to treat this channel in the same way as you treat the rest of your commercial activities.
Existing teams need proper training and education about what is required to be successful online. People have a hard time appreciating how granular analytics can be on the web, and how quick the medium can be in terms of reactions.
In other areas, we often launch things and wait three months for the results, whereas with the web you can start to adapt the strategy from the word go.
Training is very important. The way you build a strategy with Google keywords is also very important, as well as the way you improve your own website and syndicate content to your partners.
Personally, I think that you can’t be a successful e-commerce company without a quality website or without improving the quality of your product descriptions with key retailers.
Interview: Ted Speroni, director EMEA of HP.com