In this exclusive interview with DAC, we spoke with Craig Hudson, VP of Online Operations at Indigo about the ways omnichannel is reshaping the retail industry, the success of Plum Rewards and how mobile continues to impact the customer journey.
Can you please provide me with a brief overview of your position at Indigo?
I am the VP of Online Operations at Indigo, responsible for the end to end online customer experience. To support this goal, I have responsibilities that bridge to other parts of the organization. I work with our IT department to develop the site and create a better customer experience. I work with our Supply Chain department, to ensure the customer order is fulfilled in a timely manner, and I interact with our Analytics team who provide the data and insights that determine the development direction for the Site and inform us on the performance of our order fulfillment processes. I also coordinate everything in between.
How has consumer technology, mobile in particular, changed the purchase cycle and how has that impacted Indigo?
It has changed dramatically if you look at it from an online only perspective. Upwards to half of our traffic is from “mobile” which includes the combined results from smartphones and tablets. It is an important distinction to split them as we see very different consumer behaviours from the two channels such as what customers are looking for; when they are looking for it; and how they make purchases across devices. Technology is forcing us to re-think our definition of success. A simple conversion metric, for example, is misleading for smartphones. The rate is much lower than other device however, this is not necessarily a bad thing , as the consumer might only want to look for product information on their way to our stores. A purchase from the device is not the metric we use to measure success – it is whether we were able to feed the customer the right information to lead them to the store. The desktop is becoming that main online purchase vehicle – typically used mid afternoon during the work week. The tablet is great for browsing and buying. The consumer itself has been increasing how many different touch points they will go through to actually purchase something. You need to think of all of this as you start to piece it together. This whole concept of online really is being forced to disappear and the old buzzword of “omni” is happening. The retailers that don’t fully understand it and fail to grasp that the customer journey touches all parts of your company are at a disadvantage. You need to ensure that all parts of that journey are seamless. Companies will struggle if they don’t understand and appreciate that.
A lot of retailers are hanging their hats on is this idea of personalization. It’s become a really big buzz word in retail. What is Indigo’s approach to this?
It’s mixed. We are absolutely trying to head further down that personalization road, as the more personalized you can make an offer, the better the chance it will be successful. It’s going to be more meaningful and relevant to the customer. Statistics show that the more targeted our e-mail is the higher the open rate compared to a mass e-mail. And intuitively that makes sense. So we are absolutely trying to head down that road with our loyalty program as we gain more insight into the customers to try and give them a more meaningful set of offers. At the same time, we pride ourselves on our curation. We are aiming to provide the customer with some inspiration that they might not have otherwise thought of which is a little outside of that traditional personalization scope.
As you explore curation and the ability to adapt your strategies effectively, how is your team using content to tie online and offline experiences?
The data itself is coming from our Loyalty team and we are tying that content together to understand the purchasing behaviour in-store and online. Going back to the first question of understanding the whole customer path we are now able to look at what the customers are browsing online and ultimately what they are purchasing in stores. We are hearing of retailers that are able to tie the customer’s in store sales to their preceding online visit and browsing behaviour.
What other tools are you using to really personalize that experience and understand the consumer behaviour with Indigo?
As with the last question, our Loyalty team is working to tie our web analytics data (and the customer’s digital footprint) to their in-store purchases.
How important would you say localization is to your online and offline strategy?
On the offline side it is absolutely something that we look into. For example, what is successful in Vancouver might not be as effective in Montreal. On the online side, we have not yet adopted the localization strategy to the same extent.
I would love to know what are some examples of omnichannel ‘done right’ or some campaigns that you find inspiring today?
We are vigilant about looking into the Voice of the Customer. We have several portals where we hear from customers – from the stores, the online site, Social media and our Call Centre. We listen to what the customers are telling us, and we react regardless if it is a big or small suggestions. And this helps us to drive our strategy – which is now considering various omnichannel experiences. We are really trying to drive at a seamless experience across all our channels…as this is what our customers are telling us that they want.
And that ties into my next question. Stores are a vital component to omnichannel marketing and for a retailer like Indigo, stores are a big part of the customer experience. I will go into an Indigo for one item and it turns into a day event. How important is the brick and mortar experience for both your brand and your customers?
Brick and mortar is absolutely a key part of our identity and is central to our shopper’s experience. The trick that we have had is to emulate the brick and mortar experience, or at the very least the feelings that our customers have in our stores, and translate that to the online experience. Online can be driven by price which starts to take away from any of the same feelings you would have in store.
Regarding your mobile app – I can only imagine how many activations and messages you can filter out especially around book signings, book releases and movie premieres. Is implementing a beacon initiative something you are thinking about?
It is something we are thinking about for sure, just to understand how we could leverage it, if it makes sense and if it is something our customers would like. As you mentioned earlier you could spend a long time in Indigo. We have done surveys and our customers have been loud and clear about how much they enjoy spending time in our stores. But they have also been loud and clear that the stores for them are a bit of an escape from the rest of the world. So we are very conscious not to put too much technology in the stores because then you really aren’t escaping. It no longer becomes this quiet place, a sanctuary. It just becomes this extra bit of chaos around you. So we are in a little bit of a unique position where we have to make sure we are presenting the customer with the most personalized experience, the most advanced experience, but also one that isn’t encroaching on that feeling of sanctuary and losing what is happening in our stores right now.
So what’s next? What can Indigo customers expect over the next months and year?
Well in a couple of months we are approaching the holiday season, hopefully our most successful holiday season ever. In a couple of years there are a few things that we are working towards right now. I can’t necessarily go into specifics but I would say that it is centered around the customer and the customer experience. Knowing that it involves so many different touch points our next steps are very omnichannel focused as well.
That’s really exciting! One final thought – what is at the top of your reading list these days?
One of the big thrillers that has a lot of hype around it is Red Notice. It is based on a true story about a gentlemen who gets locked up in a Russian prison. It has actually received some fantastic reviews internally. One of the great things about working here is that I am actually on the same floor as our book buyers so if there is any interest in books or any interesting genres they are always full of suggestions. But Red Notice would be the big one for myself.