What Cotton On is doing to drive 30 per cent digital growth in 2019

CMO chats with the leader of digital customer experience at Aussie-based value fashion retailer to discuss how an ecommerce rebuild and customer-led approach will provide foundations for growth


Australia-based value fashion retailer, Cotton On Group, has an ambitious mission: To drive 30 per cent growth next year through digital commerce and engagement improvements.

“Historically, we were underdone in digital – we’ve had incredibly strong growth in our stores,” head of digital customer experience, Peter Hutchison, told CMO during a recent interview. “But retail is getting harder and online has been ramping up, so we’ve brought key people in and built up a good leadership structure to drive digital.

“We’re now actively chasing online and expect it to be 30 per cent of growth next year. As an organisation, we’ve always experienced strong business growth, so 30 per cent is a fair bit. That’s to be driven through online, online marketplace and licensees and better supporting the full network, not just our own end-to-end offering.”

Cotton On is looking to adopting a full-funnel approach to digital encompassing four strategic pillars: Acquiring more customers, engaging better and then converting and retaining them at higher numbers.

To do this, the digital team spent the last year re-platforming the ecommerce site onto Salesforce Commerce Cloud. It’s a move Hutchison said was needed to drive efficiency and better technical capability, as well as better engage, convert and care for customers. Cotton On was previously a Demandware (now Salesforce Commerce Cloud).

“We knew the technology we had wouldn’t support us to get to our growth target of 30 per cent online. It literally wasn’t supporting us in peak sale events, but it wasn’t going to support the underlying growth strategy either,” Hutchison said. “We were struggling to get the customer experience we wanted and needed to be competitive. Also, we’re a big business with seven brands, eight including the charity, and there are always new things on the horizon.

“The three goals for replatforming were making sure we support customer demand; to improve the experience and capitalise on the high traffic we are getting; then to improve operations so we can focus people’s energy on the things that matter most, such as crafting really great marketing and experiences through right product at the right time and place.

“I think we’re one-third of the way on that journey. There is a huge amount of gain there for us already, but there’s a long way to go.”

Lifting conversion and experience

Supporting this is marketing technology investment and plans to introduce personalisation in the next 12 months. This sees Cotton On looking to capitalise on the broader capabilities offered through the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

“Marketing Cloud is really acquisition and engagement, with some other channels, while Commerce Cloud is the link to converting the customer – engaging them more at the front of the experience, converting them through the shopping experience, and making sure we do a great job right through,” Hutchison explained.

Cotton On’s group ecommerce team leads digital strategy and drives big picture change, as well as advocates for platforms and how to use them. Brand teams incorporating marketers and merchandisers then drive day-to-day brand strategy, as well as supply customer insights to the business. These help pinpoint missing sales opportunities due to not having the right capability.

An example Hutchison pointed to is discrepancy between multiple product sales for Cotton On Body in-store versus online. The team identified sales of complementary items online were half the ratio of in-store, where items are physically matched.

“We’re missing that opportunity to get add-on purchases and that’s to do with how we present the product on the site,” Hutchison said. “We needed a tech solution for that so we can work together on how to create something we know works in-store online so a customer can easily find the two products going together.

“But a computer is never going to work out those pieces going together at the right time in that shopper journey alone, so we have to understand the shopping journey for the customer and go from there.”

Hutchison saw Cotton On’s connected store network as a competitive advantage in these omni-channel efforts.

“The reason they buy those products together hasn’t got anything to do with the channel. We need to create an equivalent experience digitally to meet that customer need, goal or opportunity,” he said.

Rethinking online’s role

For Hutchison, retailers need to put efficiency first over branding online.

“In online, one of the biggest mistakes I think people make when they’re thinking through their strategy is they do a lot of brand work on the website. With social channels and email being the key engagement channels today, the website is like already like being deep in the store,” he argued.

“Engagement outside of your website is about business development and front window; once that customer comes into the store, they’ve already decided there is something of interest. That is what a website is now.

“Our brands understand a customer coming onto the website already has some reason to engage. Once they are there, it’s about giving them an efficient experience and getting them to great product quickly.”

This mentality also requires assets and visual content that get to the heart of what customers want as quickly as possible.

“The average customer on our site that converts browses nearly 300 products in list view and it takes less than a second to flip past one. They’re on their mobile phone viewing photos at a miniscule size and flicking through. If our photography isn’t bold, really clear or shows the silhouette of that product to give you some understanding of fabrication and design, the customer can’t digest it quick enough and just skips,” Hutchison said.  

“When we redesigned the site, we really tried to understand how we get the customer to the right place, the journey they’re on, and level of intent. If they’re looking for high waisted skinny jeans, that’s a really high intent to purchase and we need to show them the product and information quickly. If they’re asking about what’s new, that’s a different experience.”  

Test and learn

Throughout the rebuild and optimisation process, Hutchison’s North Star was ensuring “perfect wasn’t the enemy of better”.

“By getting in front of the customer, testing it, collecting the data and seeing what customers were doing, we knew what to do next,” he said.

While it’s very early days for personalisation at Cotton On, the team has introduced segmentation to understand customers’ preferences based on product as well as preferred shopping time and whether they visit online or in-store.

“That might then mean sending them a voucher on Thursday night to shop with on Saturday rather than Sunday night when all our online shoppers are most active. It’s being more relevant to the customer,” Hutchison said.  

What should help Cotton On build out this omni-channel personalisation approach is its loyalty program, launched earlier this year.  The other shift has seen brands unifying around the customer, and Cotton On’s adult brands – Cotton On, Cotton On Body and Ruby - all now work under one marketing team rather than potentially competing against each other.

With Cotton On customers less concerned about receiving information from just one brand, and more interested in personal product relevance, the wider team is now has its sights on shaking up email communications.

“We send far too many emails like most retailers and we don’t combine it into one meaningful digest,” Hutchison commented. “We also don’t do suppression rules but I think that’s going to be a big part of the future of the platform.

“Customers go so through lifecycles; some are higher order value customers. After that they may want a break as they’ve led up to a moment or a big order. Do we understand what it means to them if they hear from us the day after with a sale promo?

“We also know customers we grow into more channels and categories are more valuable, so again, we need to get smarter on those lifecycles and adjust our communications accordingly.”

Machine learning tools, such as Salesforce Einstein, are expected to be of particular benefit here, and Cotton On is looking at tools to score the likelihood of a customer responding to an email in the not too distant future.

Other key metrics include growing the customer database via in-store sign-ups, ensuring digital teams engage with those customers, plus tracking conversion, retention and average revenue per customer.

On top of this are plans for a voice of customer platform and adopting Net Promoter Score. For Hutchison, this again is ultimately about insight.

“That’s going to drive our roadmap: Understanding what matters most to our customer,” he concluded.  “I think the missing link is getting the customer feedback in there.”  

- Nadia Cameron travelled to Salesforce Connections in Chicago as a guest of Salesforce.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

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