Case study: Multivariate testing lets Clarks walk in customers’ shoes

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Back in 2010, Clarks partnered Maxymiser to work on their online optimisation strategy. This case study looks at how, the shoe retailer used customer insight and testing to get a 4.2% uplift in conversion and 900% increase in newsletter sign ups. The success of their optimisation strategy is reflected in the number of multivariate tests Clarks has conducted. To date, the company has run around 36 major tests, each delivering incremental improvements. As familiarity with testing has matured, the nature of the tests has become more ambitious. Clarks’ most recent test has 160 variants.

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Brand: Clarks | Sector: Retail | Country: UK | Objective: Build brand engagement, drive sales | Agency/partner; Maxymiser | Format: Email, Display advertising, Multivariate testing

The most effective brand marketing is based on developing a comprehensive understanding of customer tastes and behaviours. Success depends on knowing what motivates a target demographic to buy, and aligning products and services with identifiable customer needs. The question is: how do you secure that understanding? Fortunately, advances in technology mean that achieving robust customer insights need no longer be a challenge. The rapid growth of online shopping is providing retail companies with powerful opportunities to measure consumer behaviour and better understand the customer’s journey to purchase. As a result, online businesses are increasingly developing customer experience optimisation strategies to help them become more customer-centric.

Modern marketers crave the ability to walk in their customers’ shoes. For one of the UK’s most recognisable manufacturers of footwear, a smart multivariate testing strategy has, ironically, provided the chance to do just that.

The business

Clarks is the world’s largest casual and smart shoe company. Not only is it one of the best-known brand names on the UK high street, but with operations in North America, Eastern and Western Europe, India and China, it is also the fourth biggest footwear company in the world.
Whilst the high street remains responsible for the majority of Clarks’ UK revenues, the company has seen an impressive uplift in web-based sales since its online store was introduced in 2008. Today, an increasing amount of sales are made online – with the traffic, revenues and profitability of the ecommerce operation increasing by 60% in the past twelve months. In October 2012, a Which? survey placed Clarks among the top ten online retailers in the UK. As such, the company has identified the online store as one of its key drivers for future growth.

The strategy

In 2010, Clarks chose to partner with online testing experts Maxymiser to develop a structured customer experience optimisation strategy. This ongoing partnership is widely credited with making a significant contribution to Clarks’ rapid online progress.

Clarks’ decision to adopt a customer experience optimisation strategy was a natural extension of the company’s rich customer-centric approach. “Clarks has always been very customer-focused – it’s a major part of our ethos. But having launched the website, we knew that we didn’t yet have the ‘voice’ of our online customers,” says Mark Carlock, Web Analytics Manager, Clarks. “The site was how we wanted it – but we needed to establish whether it was how our customers wanted it. Multivariate testing was seen as the best way to measure – and even disprove – our internal assumptions. The results were immediate and exciting. After just one test, the outputs from Maxymiser were so significant and the benefits so obvious, that we’ve been testing non-stop ever since.”

The strategy’s main objective was to improve conversion by enhancing the customer experience. “We knew people were coming onto the site and viewing products, but we weren’t clear on why people were leaving without purchasing,” says Mark. “What’s more, we didn’t understand whether changes we were making to the site were helping or hindering us. Maxymiser has helped us guide customers through our site more effectively, and made the process of buying shoes online much more user-friendly. And we are reaping the benefits.”

The companies began by outlining a systematic testing strategy that examined all the key aspects of the sales funnel in a logical order. “Maxymiser advised us to start at the very top of the funnel, and work through to the end of it. So we began with the landing pages – wherever users started their journey with us – and worked slowly down the funnel to the checkout. Maxymiser laid out the roadmap for us, and put real structure around it. The approach has driven clear improvements in conversion, and has definitely impacted the bottom line.”

The results

The success of their optimisation strategy is reflected in the number of multivariate tests Clarks has conducted. To date, the company has run around 36 major tests, each delivering incremental improvements. As familiarity with testing has matured, the nature of the tests has become more ambitious. Clarks’ most recent test has 160 variants.

The tests have examined a range of characteristics within the sales funnel, including language, design and even email sign-ups. For example, one checkout test explored a simple change in wording concerning delivery charges. The resulting ‘winning experience’ led to a minor change that has driven a 4.2% uplift in conversion. “This is huge,” says Mark. “The test showed that a small change in phraseology could provide the catalyst for real improvements in conversion. This highlights a major tenet of multivariate testing: little things can drive huge change.”

A further checkout test delivered similarly impressive results – and also underlined the value of the consultative partnership that Maxymiser and Clarks have developed. “Maxymiser questioned why we were adopting a ‘closed basket’ approach during the checkout process. When users reached the checkout, we were not showing them the items they had selected for purchase. They couldn’t see what they were buying. The subsequent test suggested an ‘open basket’ increased customers’ propensity to purchase. It led to a 1.99% increase in conversion. In financial terms, that’s a massive uplift for us.”

The ability to challenge internal assumptions is a key benefit of multivariate testing. This is exemplified by one of the more unusual tests that Clarks conducted, whereby site users who showed frequent interest in key pages would be presented with a pop-up message encouraging them to sign-up to an email alert – enabling Clarks to promote new offers. “The internal belief was that the pop-up may interrupt the purchase journey and have a detrimental impact on conversion. But the test not only showed that the pop-up would not hurt conversion, it led to a 900% increase in email sign-ups,” says Mark. “The sign-up dialogue did not influence customers’ propensity to purchase either way. In the long-term, the subsequent email marketing will drive future sales. Without Maxymiser, we would never have realised those benefits.”

The experience

Maxymiser has helped Clarks establish a culture of testing that, says Mark, is only likely to increase. “Not only do we now test our site more than ever, but the way we test continues to evolve too. If we want to build something new into the website, we can now test it pre-launch – and it makes such a difference. Testing has become part of our culture. We couldn’t do without it.”

Whilst technology sits at the heart of the optimisation strategy, Clarks believes that the key to its success has been the relationship it has formed with Maxymiser. “There is no doubt that the Maxymiser technology is great, and we are spoiled by it – but the biggest success factor for us has been the relationship,” says Mark. “They are experts in their field, but they also work hard to understand our business. We’ve got an open, collaborative relationship based on shared learning. It’s a true partnership, and it’s led to a long-standing, fruitful relationship that we are confident will continue for some time yet.”

The benefits of continuous multivariate testing with Maxymiser have been significant for Clarks. “We are questioning our assumptions more and really putting customers first,” says Mark. “Customers have their own ideas and demands, and we need to be responsive to them. Maxymiser has given us the opportunity to do that. Instead of simply guessing, we now have a clearer understanding of the customer. As a result, we’re seeing definite conversion uplifts and improved metrics right across the site.”

Like a comfortable pair of shoes, the partnership between Clarks and Maxymiser is clearly a good fit. And it’s helping Clarks to walk in their customers’ shoes.

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