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.