How this online retailer is reclaiming the customer through personalisation

Australian brand, The Upside, shares the digital and data technology investments it's making to build personalisation at scale and improve conversion

Personalisation at scale and across each moment of the customer’s journey is a step closer for the team at Australian lifestyle brand, The Upside, after investing in its direct-to-consumer and data technology capabilities.

The Upside brand is based around a love of yoga and an ambition to reimagine workout and athleisure wear for contemporary women. Its head of digital, Airi Sutherland, told CMO that up until a year ago, The Upside had put most of its eggs in the wholesale basket, working with partners to distribute products locally and internationally. This had led to a strong following and exposure through online marketplaces such as Farfetch and Resolve.

The company also ran three websites for its Australian, US and international audiences. However, these lacked the level of control, ecommerce, customisation and automation capabilities that could lift direct engagement with customers, Sutherland said. In addition, the brand frequently releases limited edition products and campaigns.

What’s more, with the demise of third-party cookies and the overall shift towards first-party data and owning the direct relationship with the customer, it was time to take a step back, look at where retail was going and make the investments necessary for long-term growth, Sutherland said.

“This led to putting the focus firmly on reclaiming the individual customer relationship, and to prioritising our investment into digital,” she said. “That led us to look to build out that team, but also to focus on having the right partners and platforms in place to set us up for long-term success.”  

The Upside set itself an ambitious goal: To have more than half of total sales coming through its owned websites by the end of FY22.

“Owning that customer relationship end-to-end is really the most important thing for long-term success. That speaks to the way we are going as online retailers to shifting focus to personalisation, and making the experience unique to each customer, which is contingent on the availability of first-party data,” Sutherland commented. “We can only get that by having that direct relationship with her.”  

Read more: The third-party data party is over. What comes next for marketers?

Working with ecommerce consultancy, Matter Design and Digital, the first step for The Upside was to have the right website CRM in place.

“We also looked at long-term capabilities for integrating with all the amazing tech offerings available,” Sutherland said. “If you don’t get that right, then you are going to have so many issues down the track where you have to invest in development to build customer APIs and integrations, rather than a plug-and-play solution, which is essentially what we have done.”

The Upside settled on BigCommerce, migrating from its existing Magento instance. This offered a SaaS platform and out-of-the-box functionality but also an extensible and flexible platform.

“We can get our own team building out customisations and some bespoke integrations where we need them – it’s the best of both worlds,” Sutherland said.

The shift in December 2020 to BigCommerce immediately led to an improved website experience, triggering a hefty increase in average order size, time on site and higher conversion rates, Sutherland said.

Intelligent search and merchandising

From there, The Upside turned to Searchspring for intelligence search and merchandising capabilities. In both instances, a key decision factor was choosing technology partners with the ability to link and integrate with platforms and partners across The Upside’s technology and partner ecosystem.

Sutherland said the retailer was particularly attracted to Searchspring because of its acquisition of artificial intelligence (AI) powered ecommerce personalisation engine vendor, 4-Tell. This capability would allow The Upside to automate personalised recommendations at scale and right through the ecommerce experience.

“In addition, we could look at ways to integrate that into customer journeys served via our CRM,” Sutherland said.   

Specifically, Searchspring’s merchandising automation and campaign copying rules allow The Upside to control which products are served to their customer in different scenarios. These can be determined by a product’s status, stock availability and its popularity.

The initial focus is on personalising recommendations on The Upside homepage carousel, in site search results and its PDP, which serves up product recommendations alongside a product a customer is currently interested.

“This is bringing dynamic data-driven capability to things are already on the site which were previously not fuelled by any AI and involved manual programming,” Sutherland explained. “Being plug-and-play, we don’t have to do anything new. We just turn the static placements into dynamic products fed by Searchspring’s AI.”

The AI takes its cues off transaction-level data gathered since The Upside sites migrated to BigCommerce eight months ago, while continuously learning and optimising based on what it sees working versus what’s not. As well as letting the algorithms decide, Sutherland said The Upside team can choose to tweak the AI based on previous experiences and knowledge.

For example, rules can be set up so that if stock levels fall below a certain level, a product can be dropped to the bottom of lists, while elevating new products to the top.

“That ability to make sure everything is merchandised as it should be to drive maximum conversions is a huge advantage,” Sutherland said.  

The second big win has been in search functionality. “Where Searchspring comes in is allowing us to serve up exactly what she is looking by learning over time,” Sutherland continued.  

For example, The Upside can put in place synonyms, plus view search results weekly or daily to see what is and isn’t converting, as well as other elements relating to search queries, and plug in suggestions so there is always something for the customer to view.

“With the insights, we can see quickly what search terms feature most frequently to focus our time and attention on for maximum impact,” Sutherland said. It works the opposite way, too.

“For example, if a customer searches for something obscure such as ‘purple leopard print’, and we don’t have anything in that style, we can merchandise so she gets something purple, or something with a leopard print. We can serve up closely related items that speak to one or more search terms, rather than showing zero results.”

Success for The Upside ultimately comes back to what’s driving the most sales impact and increasing onsite conversion.

The results

From its first MVP in Q1 2021, The Upside has already seen four times higher conversion rates from shoppers who use its AI-powered site search compared to those who don’t. It’s also seen four times higher revenue per visit form site search. Sutherland noted The Upside sees revenue per visit of about $16 when a person engages with site search today. For customers who don’t have that functionality served up, it’s $3.

Given how much more engaged people are with search, Sutherland said her team is working on how to make search more prominent on its sites.

The tools are also useful in helping more easily tailor functionality and product recommendations across the three websites to ensure they’re seasonally relevant. The Upside now has a single portal and can duplicate features that work well across all three sites, or otherwise adapt merchandising rules to ensure each site suits a specific region.

“That’s been an advantage and has seen us increase conversion rates across the international and US sites,” Sutherland said.

It’s the tip of the iceberg for Sutherland. Once The Upside utilises personalised recommendations more widely and starts featuring these in emails to customers, she expected the uplift will be even greater.

“It’s exciting to invest in a platform like this and see the results we were promised,” she said. “And it’s great to see we have great access to analytics within the Searchspring management console, so all of our questions about performance are answered within a couple of clicks.”

Greater visibility of what customers are looking has led to insights being highlighted in weekly retail meetings to inform design, new products and what’s coming down the pipe.

“The more we personalise in the moment and show her what she wants, the more times we are going to get it right and get that conversion,” Sutherland said.  

In this vein, The Upside has stepped up investments into data capability and also adopted Lexer’s customer data platform (CDP) over the last year. In addition, the company has transitioned its customer service capabilities from Freshdesk to Gorgias. Sutherland spied an opportunity to build connectors between Lexer and Gorgias in order to serve up relevant information and insights about a customer in the moment of support and service.

As to that big goal of 50 per cent of sales via its own ecommerce offering, Sutherland said The Upside is tracking well.

“It’s an ambitious target but we have all the right things in place and we’re moving in the right direction,” she added. “Because we have given the team the tools and tech, and because we have partners with subject matter experts, they are more engaged and excited about what’s going to be available in future too.”  

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