A browse around the revamped UK website reveals a more eye-catching homepage, a reimagined navigation menu, and a dynamic new internal search, to name just a few things. The updated app is a similar visual feast, with animated background images and swipeable cards that invite the user to explore curated collections of products like packaging-free, ‘Best of bath bombs’ and ‘Best of feeling sleepy’.

The press release about the relaunch gives some peeks behind the curtain into the infrastructure and planning that went into the new site, revealing that it was created in collaboration with Saleor, a headless open-source ecommerce platform. The relaunch was also founded on what Lush calls “digital ethics”, and the brand has gone so far as to publish a Digital Ethics Mission Statement detailing its commitment to using technology in a way that is ethical, transparent and beneficial.

To find out more about the tech now powering Lush’s new digital presence; its refreshed, pared-back design; and how the brand balances ethics with the practicalities of ecommerce, we spoke to Adam Goswell, Tech R&D and Digital Principal at Lush. In the wide-ranging conversation, Goswell talked about content and commerce, headless tech, how Lush has brought the voice of its community into product descriptions, and why it is taking inspiration from Netflix and Spotify in its approach to product categories.

Ben Davis, Econsultancy: I wrote about the Lush website maybe five years ago, and the aesthetic of the revamped site is still very similar – credit to your brand – but I was interested to see how product-focused it is now, for example with fewer ingredients pages and less of the “soapbox-style” content. Was there testing that showed they were taking customers away from your checkout? I seem to remember that there were previously ingredients pages in the checkout – so you could click away to go and read about rose wax, for example.

Adam Goswell, Tech R&D Principle, Lush: The website you wrote about then was a blend of content and commerce; that was our approach to it, and we still want to do that. I guess for the first release of this new platform, we have stripped back and tried to do commerce really well first – which is focusing on checkout, search, the product categories, filtering; all of those things that weren’t as great in the previous site. Whereas the content experience was much more focused-on back then.

So, yeah, the stats did say that customers don’t tend to read that content all that often – but I think we found, anecdotally, that customers like to know the content exists. So, even if they haven’t read the article, they can see we’ve written an article about animal testing, or ingredient sourcing, so they have an assumption that we’ve done the work there. But they might not necessarily go and read the detail.

However, some of our superfans, and journalists, and critics will go into that content and interrogate it, as they should. So, it is there for everyone to see.

With this platform, it is the intention to bring some of our content back [eventually], especially the ingredients stuff, because we’ve put a lot of work into our ingredient encyclopaedia, if you like. And it’s all good information. A lot of the articles we wrote, about our buying, and things like that – they will be back on the platform.

The idea was to make the commerce platform about shopping, and just serve the customer that wants to buy something from us quickly. We’ve also got a separate platform called ‘We Are Lush’, which is kind of our company About page, but a whole website, and that is turning into where we’re putting a lot of that information.

Rebecca Sentance, Econsultancy: I noticed that Lush’s product pages on the refreshed site put customer testimony front and centre instead of a standard product description. What was behind that decision? Did you at some point consciously decide to phase out typical product descriptions, and did you find that the customer testimony was more effective in persuading people to purchase something?

AG: Yeah, completely. We’re of the opinion that the customers can write better than we can… And we’d much rather the community gives you the information about it than we do.

We’ve got a cult following that will write about our stuff for us – we’re very fortunate that, if we put a product out, we’ll get a lot of content back. Historically, the founders of this company have had good relationships with some of our superfans, who have been with us from the start; and of course, we listen to our own community across reviews, Reddit, Instagram, all the places. There’s no shortage of feedback, good or bad, for anything we put out – we just get floods of it, through every channel, the second something goes out.

A product page for the Intergalactic bath bomb featuring customer testimony and usage instructions in lieu of a product description. Image: Lush

BD: I was interested in the fact that the header menu disappears on product pages and as to how confident you were in making that decision. In UX, there’s the whole question of consistency versus predictability, which I’m sure you’ve had plenty of discussions about; did you arrive at that decision after doing lots of testing, or was it a conviction that people would find their way back to the search button or the homepage?

AG: This is definitely a gut feeling one, and it’s something we’ve been trying to push for a while. I think we’ve always felt uncomfortable with standard ecommerce and the way you categorise products; we get a bit weird when it comes to categorising for SEO, and things like that.

We’ve only just started this, and it will need a lot of tweaking and adapting as we get the stats back in, but the intention is to categorise our products a thousand ways. Much like Spotify or Netflix will have playlists of content – that are either community-generated or generated by the platform – it’s that kind of world we want to get into: the community, or ourselves, are bucketing those products by whatever they feel is a good way of bunching them together. Which our superfans and shop staff do anyway – but we want to try and represent that in ecommerce.

In terms of standard commerce, compared to our last site, you’re not going to get the classic categories that you might have been used to. You’re going to start seeing things that are a bit unusual, or not expected – which will get people more exposure to the full range of products, rather than our greatest hits of ‘bath bomb’, ‘shower gel’, ‘hair care’, things like that.

We’re definitely going to experiment to see how this goes; we’ll have a page like ‘bath’ because that’s what Google is looking for, and that’s a good ranked page, but then we’ve also got ‘bathing’, or ‘sleepy’, or ‘vegan’ – we decided, ‘let’s do loads of categories, and see what happens’. We’re excited to see what the stats say, because it is still early days.

‘Best for feeling sleepy’ as a swipeable collection of product cards on the Lush mobile app. Image: Lush

BD: What was the rationale for moving off Drupal as a CMS during the replatforming? I read an article that mentioned that it had something to do with headless – is there a reason you weren’t able to use Drupal for that?

AG: Drupal was really good for us for quite a number of years – we’d had that platform since 2014. We’ve done really well with Drupal – but Drupal has always been a CMS that kind of has ecommerce added on. So, we’re now moving to a pureplay, open-source headless solution, which is much more flexible.

For us, it was the flexibility that headless commerce brings, coupled with the fact that Saleor, a start-up that we got working with during the pandemic with a few prototype builds, has led to that platform you see with the UK website launching – that is very much our MVP [minimum viable product] of it.

We see that [platform], plus other things, powering most of our digital business across retail and ecommerce, eventually. We’ve got the commerce part of it now with Saleor, which is great – we’ve also got our own, in-house, custom-built point of sale system that we created a few years ago, and we’ll bring that onto Saleor as well, so that it powers everything that’s a transaction – whether it’s on a shop or online. And it will hold all of our product information, so that it can serve product content wherever we want.

There’s a lot of tidying-up of systems we’re doing, in and around Lush, and consolidating into these headless platforms.

What headless commerce means for marketers and CX

BD: In terms of the ethical consideration, was that purely about the fact that Saleor is an open-source solution?

AG: The ethics is always there, and with every big purchase or move, the ethics is our guiding principle, so we have to adhere to that. In the case of Saleor, we like the open-source end of it, and we’re investing in them as well: we’re funding them in a collaborative way to invest into the open source part of Saleor. We’re pleased to be doing that. We’re adding a statement about open source to our mission statement, so we’re putting the open source principle front and centre for customers and ourselves.

The benefits of Saleor – headless is flexible; they’re very new, so they’re kind of building the platform, in some cases, around us. That’s been a big benefit for us – rather than going for one of the big players, where it’s great, but it’s always a job to get the big, monolith platforms to work for your business.

BD: Outside of open source, I know that Lush has mentioned things like green energy; are there any areas that you feel like you have to compromise in order to be ethical? It can be anything from last-mile, next-hour delivery to things like content delivery networks… Are there any areas where you think, ‘we’re not ready to get rid of that, yet’ or ‘it’s too big to build our own one of those’?

AG: From an internet infrastructure point of view… we picked Google Cloud because they offset their carbon output – so they are carbon-neutral from that point of view…

…we will try and pick providers where they’re either using their own cloudless hosting, or they’ve picked something like Google Cloud.

In terms of delivery, we are beholden to the providers that we can use in whatever market – particularly in the pandemic, we’ve had to go with whoever’s got capacity to deliver our product, because everyone was over-subscribed, so it wasn’t easy. But we are starting to have chats now with providers who have an interest in last-mile delivery methods. There’s one we had a chat with the other week that, as part of their network of services they offer – which ranges from motorbikes to people in cycle bikes – they have people on foot that take public transport to get your parcel to the customer, which I thought was really interesting.

Those kind of pseudo-ethical things are starting to appear, and it’ll be great to add that to mix. But you’ve got to give the customer the choice, because if they want it next day, and DPD is their preferred provider, then we have to offer that.

For more on ecommerce, visit Econsultancy’s ecommerce hub