Ecommerce Innovation: A Customised Journey

John Williams shares a case study he presented at the World Retail Expo in Paris in 2014.  The case study profiled the journey he undertook while working for a clothing retailer, Quba & Co, towards creating, with Gibe, an award-winning customisation tool for the company’s ecommerce site. The post follows the decision-making process involved in using technology to create a strong ROI, functional suitability and standout customer experience.

Sailcloth Story
Quba & Co. was launched in 1996, in Salcombe, Devon, England. Inspired by a shared love of sailing and the outdoor life, two friends came up with the concept of using reclaimed sailcloth to make unique customisable jackets, bags and accessories. The Quba team searches the UK (and beyond) for precious retired sails, keeping an eye out for any that might tell an extraordinary story. Back at Quba’s sail loft in Devon, the retired sail is unfolded, and so is its story; weathered and sea-worn, each piece brings with it the rich history of a life spent at sea. The sailcloth is given a new lease of life, transformed by the company’s production team into recycled sailcloth items. Every finished Quba product signals the start of a new adventure. From iconic outerwear to rugged holdalls and accessories, Quba items are built to handle whatever our customers choose to throw at them - crossing oceans, climbing mountains or just strolling on the nearest beach.

Offline to online – a journey
This unique collection of jackets, bags and homeware can be produced bespoke to customers’ personal designs. Originally customers would download a PDF document from Quba’s ecommerce site requesting customers to fill out an order form, scan or fax the form back to the production team. This approach allowed customers to design their items with virtually no limitation, often the designs were eligible resulting in manufacturing errors. With no limitation or structure to the design, the items were either extremely expensive to produce or simply impossible to manufacture. It also increased the production time and often made the finished item unprofitable. It was therefore decided to create an online ordering service for this bespoke service to a) increase sales and profitability, b) increase production efficiency and c) improve the customer experience.

Technology decision
The main investment decision was to decide on the right technology to develop Quba’s first online customise-your-own service.  In 2010 working closely with Gibe, we developed the online tool with Adobe Flash, the most widely used technology for interactive web-based applications. Following the introduction of the new Flash online tool, customers were able to design their items with options defined by the production team, visualising each change as it was made. The final digital version of the customised item was extremely accurate, used by the production team to manufacture the item to the client’s exact requirements. It improved the production process considerably, and especially during peak sales periods, ensuring the items were created quickly and profitably. The customer’s user journey was vastly improved, allowing customers to experiment with the design of their item, choosing colours, lettering/numbering and positioning.

Following the introduction of the new online tool, Quba saw 108% growth in customised product sales in 2010. After monitoring the performance of online tool closely we were able to notice that in year two (2011) sales growth slowed to 24%, and by year three (2012) customised product sales had decreased by 26%. After further investigation we noticed that whilst customized sales were decreasing mobile traffic to the site went from 7% of total traffic in 2010 to 32% by 2012. 88% of mobile traffic came from Apple products (iPad 56% and iPhone 32%). Apple, namely the iPhone/iPad, did not support Flash and were therefore unable to access the customization tool. Because search engines could not read the source code for Flash applications the tool was also faring poorly in search results. 

New technology
Pressure from large developers and companies (including Apple) drove the popularity of html5 and led to a drop in the use of Flash. Microsoft’s ‘Windows 8’ operating system offered only limited support for Flash player. It was therefore decided to re-develop the tool to increase its audience reach and to add more products and options to the service. Gibe used an agile approach to developing, wireframing, designing and prototyping the experience to ensure designs would be technically achievable. The new tools themselves were built using html5 canvas technology and JavaScript so that they ran well on web, tablet and mobile devices. The tools provided greater options and design flexibility, with the introduction of badge selectors and additional colour options. Each element was built in a scalable way so that new products and their various options could be added quickly and cost-effectively.

Award-winning solution
The new and improved tool further enhanced and enriched the shopping experience for customers, and increased accessibility across smartphones and tablets. Point-of-sale customisation stations featuring iPads were also rolled out across Quba’s flagship stores, allowing customers to design and order their customised items in-store. Within the first year of implementation Quba saw customised units increase by 70% and revenue increase by 50%. We were proud to be one of the early adopters of html5/JavasScript platform for customisation service, using the latest technology before the more established high street brands. Our cutting-edge solution was recognised by the industry after winning the BT Retail Week Ecommerce Innovation Award in 2013, beating the likes of John Lewis, Arsenal Football Club, Crew Clothing and Nicole Farhi.

What we learnt
As a result of the success of the online customisation tool, the bespoke service has become central to Quba's online proposition, providing clear stand-out from its competitors. The service has also raised awareness of bespoke British manufacturing, providing a great platform for internationalisation. So what were the main things I learnt during this project? Well, the first was to appoint an agency with the ability to bring your vision to fruition cost-effectively. The next lesson was to choose the right products/services to invest in - the tools were built around Quba’s original, iconic products with higher retail value. The importance of good planning also became clear pretty quickly; before embarking on a technology project, it is essential to plan thoroughly and to set objectives, being clear about what you want to achieve, and communicating effectively across the team. However small the use of technology, make sure it is user-friendly, and integrate it fully with other systems to provide a seamless experience. It should also be remembered that innovation does come at a cost, and doesn’t always deliver ROI straight away – make sure you prototype and test with samples of your audience to limit exposure to cost - although that said, it's good to be able to know when to quit, if the project isn’t delivering on its objectives. And finally, I learnt that when the project is completed it is essential to review its performance continuously, as this will provide clues as to how best to improve the piece of development. In parallel with this, it is well worth monitoring your chosen industry for the latest technology, as new techniques and software can also help to enhance and improve the performance of your ecommerce site.


About the Author

John Williams avatar

John Williams, Sales and Marketing

John was once a client who joined the Gibe team for several years to help us with sales and marketing. He left Gibe to return to the world of freelance marketing and is once again a wonderful client for Gibe.