Virtual try-on sees Bailey Nelson's online conversions lift 400 per cent

Optical retailer's marketing and digital chief talks through the augmented reality solution helping to drive conversion and bridge the physical-digital experience gap

Bailey Nelson has seen online sales conversion lift by 400 per cent in Australia and more than 600 per cent in Canada off the back of an innovative virtual reality-based try-on solution for spectacle wearers.  

Bailey Nelson head of marketing and digital, James Kerridge, told CMO that prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the business had been in-store focused, recognising physical stores as a key touchpoint to meet customer needs. The company operates 80 locations across four countries: Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK.    

Yet having shut stores in every market within a week as a result of the first wave of Covid-19 lockdowns and facing uncertainty around how long the situation would go on for, it was clear ecommerce and digital required significantly more focus.  

“Even despite lockdown, there was going to be an ongoing need for people to access glasses. The goal was to provide a more convenient service to people with eyecare needs,” Kerridge said.    

As well as ecommerce, Kerridge’s team was tasked with developing tactics that could differentiate the brand, as well as close the gap between online and offline customer experiences.  

“We didn’t have a new virtual try-on solution - it was on our list but got pushed right to the top as a result,” Kerridge continued. “I was keen to make a big bet, not just rush this and have the same thing as everyone else. As I looked at what was available, I found a lot of virtual try-on products were outdated in the market, and weren’t leveraging the best available technologies, nor utilising the best facial recognition technologies.”  

For Kerridge, Apple’s TrueDepth facial recognition capability was the leader of the pack. He then came across Plattar, an Australian augmented reality and 3D platform solution provider.  

“Plattar wasn’t doing virtual try-on at the time but had been doing some cool stuff in the augmented reality space. We spoke about giving the most accurate experience in the home, leveraging facial recognition,” Kerridge explained. “It’s critical if you’re going to try-on glasses at home, it’s got to end up the same feel and the same result when it arrives in your home.”  

The companies embarked on an initial trial of the virtual try-on across 60 products from February 2021. Strong business results were immediately apparent, and Kerridge quickly worked to get the full product range up.  

“Australia was performing better with Covid management than our other markets at the time, but still had a bigger presence online, and we saw a 400 per cent improvement in conversion across those using this service,” he said. “In Canada, which had ongoing outbreaks and several waves in most provinces, it was a much bigger market uptake of about 600 per cent.  

“This has enabled us to continue to trade and serve people that have eyecare needs despite the uncertainty lockdowns have presented us with.”  

Even with Sydney’s current lockdown situation, Kerridge said Bailey Nelson has seen nearly 70 per cent increase in sales conversion against a normal trading period, “despite having less customer traffic around our stores”. The company noted 39 per cent of all online shoppers in Sydney today are using virtual try-on.   

The service is now available in all markets and across all products. The company has also committed to enabling virtual try-on with every product release moving forward.  

Three-pronged marketing plan  

Kerridge joined Bailey Nelson two years ago after spending more than seven years building ecommerce from the ground up at Harris Farm Markets. He cited three main marketing goals he’s been working to realise since taking up the role. The first is to grow the brand and broaden the brand appeal, while the second is customer acquisition, retention and “helping people book, browse and buy”. The third is to close the gap between online and offline.  

“This virtual try-on initiative has helped all three things, and it still has legs,” he said.    

The Plattar Saas Solution proved relatively straightforward to integrate with Bailey Nelson’s Shopify website. On compatible iPhone and iPad models, the customer chooses the pair of glasses they would like to inspect by selecting ‘Virtual Try On’. The system registers if the customer is on a supported device, then opens the front-facing TrueDepth camera. Once a face is detected by the camera, the virtual glasses are overlaid on the customer’s face in real-time.  

The capability harnesses Apple’s TrueDepth technology together with 3D using the LiDAR scanner on the iPhone and iPad. Importantly, as prescription eyewear must be positioned correctly on the face to function effectively, the experience also strives to ensure perfect size and fit.  

While the iPhone TrueDepth camera and devices iPhone X and up are the best and most accurate way of using the virtual try-on, the service does work on other devices including Google Android.

It’s a good fit with Bailey Nelson’s current customer case, largely consisting of younger consumers with the highest uptake of smartphones and smartphone usage.  

“However, we are looking to broaden the brand appeal so it’s important to service every customer segment. Everyone has a phone, and iPhones have very high uptake in marketshare. It fits in well with our business objectives,” Kerridge said.  

For Kerridge, the most labour-intensive task has been compiling content on what each product looks like, its shape, colour and measurements.  

“We needed a lot of training virtually and I created a couple of roles to give it the focus it needed. We also work in collaboration with Plattar on this,” he said. “The content is the most time consuming, but when done well, you can just leverage it moving forward.”    

One of the unexpected benefits of turning virtual try-on on has been building brand advocacy. In the last few months, a concerted effort has been made in Australia to push users through to completing a product review every time they shop.  

Of nearly 500 reviews so far, Bailey Nelson is averaging 4.8 out of 5, putting the company in the best optical retailer in Australia position, Kerridge said. The company also has 10,000 5-star Google Reviews.  

Today, 15 per cent of total site traffic is using the virtual try-on solution. One of Kerridge’s current objectives has been ensuring more people know of its existence through the user experience, messaging and advertising.  

“It’s featured in our always-on messaging across email, performance marketing and sits on the website. We’re also looking to make it easy for people to know they have service, and we call it out on all product collections and display pages to make it easy and accessible,” he said.  

Now the content has been compiled, Bailey Nelson will look for ways to include this in the in-store experience. For example, if a product is out of stock in-store but available on the website.  

With ecommerce such a big focus for Bailey Nelson given the Covid environment, Kerridge said selling in the virtual try-on service was a no-brainer.  

“But we did run the trial and that showed story strong business performance. We also knew going into the trial that there would be a lot of uptake benefit to the brand that we would not necessarily be able to measure straight away, as it’s a key competitive differentiator,” he said.  

The company has in the last 18 months rebuilt its website and is in the process of replatforming now. Changes include building its own custom booking system to replace a third-party solution. A mobile commerce app solution is also planned in the next 1-2 years. The virtual try on will again be a core component allowing people to try on directly from the phone, alongside the capability to book an eye test.  

Plattar CEO and founder, Rupert Deans, said the work with Bailey Nelson was a “glowing” example of how visualisation can transform customer experience.  

“Our goal is to enable ecommerce companies to change how they sell and engage online through 3D and AR technologies that allow customers to experience a product as they would in real-life. It is the best way to instill buyer confidence,” he said.  

“It has been a pleasure working with Bailey Nelson to develop a solution that is unparalleled in the optical market category and see their online sales boom as a result.”

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