The perfect playground for CRO

The first thing to say is that, if you’re not familiar with RS, you might not know what a perfect ecommerce website this is for testing and conversion rate optimisation (CRO).

  • Receiving millions of visits per month and 100’s of millions per year, with a large amount of traffic from search engines.
  • RS supplies around 500,000 products from 2,500 suppliers to over 1m engineers worldwide (end-users and purchasing managers).
  • RS is a multichannel business serving customers through the web, phone, fax, catalogues and 23 trade counters.
  • Sales, once dominated by catalogues, have gone from 15% online in 2004 to 70% of EU sales in 2015. 

The problem (abandoning customers)

Despite shifting its model to ecommerce including next-day delivery, RS Components knew that user experience was a hindrance to sales.

Millions of customers were leaving the RS sites with the top customer frustration being site search and product information.

Bold strategy and concrete objectives 

To increase conversion the ecommerce team needed to make buying easier, quicker and stress-free (fairly obviously).

This was a big task involving 60 websites in local languages. 

Two guiding principles determined RS’s approach:

  • 1. Customer centricity: Implementing a robust, UX-led process and delivery, driven by customer data to ensure better commercial decisions.
  • 2. Pace: Increasing the pace of delivery through greater collaboration and the adoption of agile, plus commercial accountability to fuel better and faster decisions. 

The objective was to make incremental improvements to drive a 0.5% increase in overall conversion for RS’s 110m visits in the 2015 financial year.

An obsession with user research

Beginning in early 2014, RS concentrated on customer feedback and user analytics, examining quantitative and qualitative data from all regions, including:

  • 6,000 lines of customer feedback.
  • Online surveys. 
  • Real-time customer lab testing.
  • Internal forums. 

Four main areas were consistently flagged:

  • Search
  • Filtering
  • Usability
  • Content

Adopting agile 

RS launched a whole raft of changes from February 2014 to August 2015, delivered by one team on a modest budget.

By introducing Agile methodology, RS claims to have developed and applied improvements to the purchase journey four times faster than previously.

A user-centred design approach, visualised in the diagram below allowed RS to constantly amend according to real performance and customer data. 

Features were designed both to make the customer’s life easier and also to include elements to delight RS customers.

user-centred design 

Improvements to search relevancy

RS assembled a team of engineers from around the world.

Initially the team worked on search relevance, addressing millions of onsite searches per month – from manufacturer part numbers to more generic search terms.

Site headers

Site headers were redesigned to allow easier navigation from the outset. See before and after images below.

The new header uses click-to-expand and then hover-to-expand categories, whereas the old header was always on show and featured unwieldy click-to-expand category menus.

Old header

old RS Components header

New header (all products)

new RS header

New header (brands)

new RS header for brands

Image-supported predictive search

The team implemented predictive search including images.

An autocomplete functionality is based on positive customer response. So, data feeds back into the system, determining the best images to display in ‘top products’ and categories to suggest.

Predictive search has seen a good uptake, with more and more customers interacting with the new feature and those customers spending more when they do.

RS Components predictive search

Boosting popular categories in search

The screenshot below shows a search for ‘hammer’.

RS presents seven categories at the top of the results page (from mallets to air hammers), with a call to action to ‘go to products’, or the ability to scroll down to view by brand, or a list of all products.

By using data to understand the most popular categories for each product search, these categories have been made more visible. As an example, LED’s have 47 product categories and RS needs to present an appropriate selection of these for searchers.

Category images also enable faster category and product identification.

This popular category search (sticking categories at the top of search) is increasing click through rate.

boosting categories in RS search

Improving search filtering


One of the main complaints from users was the speed of faceted search.

Undertaking 100 hours of customer research, RS duly made its results-filtering facility 70% faster, allowing customers to select several filtering options at once.

Time to select four filters dropped from an average of 10 seconds to 3.2 seconds. RS saw a 40% increase in conversion from search filtering (an 18-month high).

selecting filter on the rs website

Extensive sort functionality

Customers can now sort by a wide variety of product specifications.

The screenshot below shows a filtered search, with clearly displayed filters, number of results and ability to sort.

sort functionality, rs search

Compare function

Users can now easily compare attributes, view datasheets and check stock on one page, see slightly blurred example below.

Products can be added to basket directly from the compare page.

Many customers used the compare functionality in month one, with a conversion rate higher than the site average.

rs product compare 

Transforming user experience

The priority here was to improve ease-of-use, with customers voicing frustration at having to log in and input information for every purchase (which, for SMEs that use RS Components like a warehouse, could be up to seven times per day).

Express checkout

The journey from shopping basket to order confirmation was reduced from two clicks (including addition of delivery and payment information) to one click for existing customers.

Remember me

Customers can now remain logged in and can view bespoke discounts.

RS is seeing thousands of customers select this option per month, with an associated increase in conversion.

Pricing and stock availability

Product pages now see clearer pricing and stock availability (see pic below).

product page with oricing and stock availability 

Parts lists (favourites)

Customers can save their favourite products or create a list, making re-ordering easier, with a ‘save to parts list’ button.

Improving content and design

The product page was the chief domain for layout improvement, following extensive research on how customers use the RS website.

RS redesigned over 50,000 product pages, looking at the following areas.

Larger and more dynamic product images

RS constructed two high quality, professional photo studios, churning out premium-quality product images at a rate of more than 2,000 products week.

Development kit images have been changed from generic pictures of product boxes to detailed photos of contents.

Increased product detail 

RS provided easier access to datasheets and product details, including enhanced technical content.

Embedded videos

Product tutorials and 3D models were included to further educate the customer.

Below you can see a product page with video, technical PDFs and product detail all highlighted in red.

RS product page 

The results of product page improvement

Products with the new layout are experiencing growth compared to untouched product pages. 

  • Conversion has increased.
  • Departure from these pages has reduced.
  • Satisfaction with product pages has increased. 
  • Video content is associated with increased conversion.

Overall success of the project 

The numbers

This project, combined with an increase in web traffic, has seen RS Components hit a 41-month high for ecommerce sales. The company smashed revenue targets for the 2015 financial year by 42% and beat target for the first four months of FY16 by 100%.

Conversion growth (year on year) is at a 4.5 year high, up 10%.

RS conversion rate over time

rs conversion rate over time

Customer feedback

When asking customers what they like most about the RS website, responses echo what the company was aiming to achieve.

The wordcloud below demonstrates this well.

What are the things you like most about the RS website? 

wordcloud customer feedback on rs

The team

RS say their agile approach has led to much stronger internal collaboration between the ecommerce team, front line agents, content teams and IT.

The company is now investing in a new front-end platform that will increase the pace of change yet further.

N.B. Some figures and charts were removed from this article after publication.