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Thanks in part to a revamped website and the introduction of its Reserve and Collect service last year, Halfords.com has been enjoying strong growth, with online sales up 90% in the year to April 2009.
I've been asking Halford's Channel Development Manager Jon Asbury about the retailer's multichannel approach...
What made you decide to introduce the Reserve and Collect service last year?
Customer research was telling us that a significant percentage of our customers preferred the convenience, time and cost saving of store collection over the traditional home delivery model. Reserve & Collect offers customers collections within one hour and makes all our key instore services like building bikes, fitting parts and accessories and demonstration of sat navs and child seats immediately available.
What were the biggest challenges in implementing this on the website? How hard is it to join up online and offline so that things like stock levels are accurate?
Reserve & Collect required colleagues across the company in Operations, Supply and Business Systems to work together to deliver a really good customer experience. There was considerable integration required between the website and the BTE store system and other central infrastucture as well as external partners like Multimap.
Stock levels are checked in store in real time as the customer transacts to ensure accuracy and the reservation and customer contact details are immediately transferred to the relevant store to secure the stock with email and text confirmation to the customer.
Has the structure of your team had to change as you have become more multichannel focused?
Marketing has become much more a 'though the line experience' with online and offline activity being coordinated by the same team. Customer service has been brought together into one team to ensure a consistent customer experience. We work closely with colleagues in the Operations team to ensure customers enjoy a good 'fulfillment' experience.
Is the customer experience joined up across channels? Can customers buy online and return to stores for instance?
We aim to offer a consistent experience across channels. As already indicated we offer one point of contact for customers by phone or email, customers who opt for home delivery can take up in-store services like bike building, fitting or demonstration. Of course we are happy for home delivery customers to return products to their local store for a refund.
Are you finding that customers that reserve online are buying additional items in store?
This is one of the real benefits for customers! Collecting orders in stores and the face to face contact with in-store colleagues enables us to check the customer has all the components and accessories required to get full enjoyment from their purchase for example leads to connect audio units, safety accessories with bikes and, as previously mentioned, fitting where relevant.
I have heard that, for every sale the web generates online, it pushes three in store. Do you see this sort of pattern at Halfords?
Absolutely. Halfords.com is very often the first call in customer research or responding to advertising. We encourage customers to use the stock checking facility to ensure products are in stock in their local store before travelling.
What does your e-commerce team look like? Do you develop the website in-house or via external specialists?
We have a commercial team responsible for trading, a merchandising team responsible for product, a content management team who maintain images and promotional material and a development team who work with internal stakeholders and Salmon, our development partners, on site changes and improvements.
When goods are reserved online and purchased in store, how do you ensure that these sales are credited to the correct channel?
Products reserved online are paid for in store which gives stores the incentive to look after the customer. We keep track of sales generated through this channel and they form part of our budget.
You recently introduced more user generated content onto the site, such as reviews and the Q&A section – how are these performing?
There has been a very positive response from customers and we are really pleased with how quickly the reviews have come in. We have had a similar response in Q and A's and this insight has been really useful in making sure we have the right information on the site. Our most popular products have hunderds of reviews and we are seeing encouraging improvements in conversion from customers who use the UGC content.
How does the Q&A section work? Are answers moderated to avoid any misinformation?
Answers can come from other site users or from experts within our business. All reviews, questions and answers are moderated before publication.
Do you have any plans for a mobile version of the site? Do you do anything with mobile at the moment?
We use mobile to confirm orders and reservations and to confirm product despatch. We recently introduced a text based service for oil, bulbs, batteries and wiper blades offering the right item for your car in response to a text with vehicle registration number.
We are keeping a watching brief on mobile use and have seen more customers browsing our site on iPhones in particular recently which may lead us to developing a mobile version of our sites.