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Showcase #2: If the shoe fits

A multi-discipline approach by specialty web company LeftClick helps retailer Sucklings grow despite the downturn

See also: Creative Showcase is an advertising supplement created by Idealog. For information on upcoming Creative Showcases, call Ben Gibb on 09 966–0997 or email ben@idealog.co.nz

All businesses are facing a future where their very existence is at risk.

Consumer behaviours are changing—and fast. Every day, more people are moving online to research and buy products and services. In New Zealand alone some 2.4 million Kiwis are online every single day. And the result is an overall decline in bricks-and-mortar business.

While this future may seem bleak, it does in fact offer companies the opportunity to reach new customers and grow their business significantly.

The challenge

For Christchurch retailer Sucklings, this change in consumer behaviour had real consequences for its business. The primary challenge was to counteract the decline in bricks-and-mortar sales by driving new customers to its store and to offer an alternative way to shop.

But the website needed to be more than just an online storefront. It needed to extend the in-store experience to online and encourage more one-on-one conversations with customers.

The right partner

Managing director John Suckling’s first step was to find the right agency to design a website that reflected his focus on exceptional customer service. “I knew what I wanted in broad terms,” says Suckling, “but I needed someone with expertise in customer-focused web design to show me what was possible.” After reviewing a number of agencies, Suckling talked to LeftClick founder Alan Cox. “I liked the way they operated.”

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“Choosing the right partner is a two-way thing,” says Cox. “It’s important to have a good fit with our clients; a meeting of minds and a genuine win-win opportunity. If we don’t have this then we won’t engage.”

As online consumers become more sophisticated, web design teams are often challenged to be “innovative”, says Cox. “The problem is that something that’s innovative may not necessarily be valuable to the business.”

Of course, some clients, like Sucklings, have very specific business goals and have great ideas. But Cox says the trick is to be honest, pragmatic and validate design decisions before moving forward.

Driving customers in-store

With the goal of driving a growth in revenue with less advertising expenditure, LeftClick quickly got to the core of Sucklings’ primary value proposition of fitting customers with the right shoe for their needs and foot type. This only comes from an expert understanding—and is something that can only be provided by Sucklings’ shoe fitters. So it was a given that the website would primarily exist to drive more customers in-store.

The unique feature of the Sucklings website is the ‘Find the right shoe’ tool, through which customers can quickly find shoes that match their specific needs. “People want to enjoy their online experiences,” says Cox. “To compete effectively, online stores need to engage customers and feel more like immersive and rich shopping experiences.” The shoe finder is engaging, easy to use and saves the customers’ time. In fact it has received so much praise from customers that it is now used in-store, too.

It’s essential that retailers understand that their customers are all different and to offer them a dialogue with their brand in a way that suits them. The Sucklings site allows registered users to dictate their own communication preferences. Customers can choose to receive special offers and catalogues by mail or electronically. This is not only customer-focused but also results in reduced print costs.

A better design process

LeftClick follows a process that involves various ‘toolbox’ activities to support the specific needs of each job. These include face-to-face workshops, customer research, wireframing, prototyping, visual design and more.

However, the real value of LeftClick’s process comes from the integration of other disciplines that are usually seen as separate from design, such as usability and search-engine optimisation. At LeftClick, these things are fundamental to the design process and result in websites where usability and natural prominence in search are part of their DNA.

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This approach stems from the realisation that the separation of such disciplines is counterproductive to a website’s success.

For Sucklings, the LeftClick process produced a market-leading website with a clear competitive advantage. The website met Sucklings’ business goals with abundance and equally supports its customers needs.

The website is like an iceberg, in that much is hidden beneath the surface. A key part of the project was integrating the website with the product and marketing databases and automating core business functions.

LeftClick isn’t married to any particular platform or CMS and this independence from a specific technology gives more creative freedom and helps build trusting business relationships.

“Our customers get the technology that’s right for them,” says Cox. If that’s something that LeftClick can’t provide in-house, they partner with those that can. For Sucklings it was all about total flexibility and agility, and Ruby on Rails (RoR) was the perfect solution. “We could have chosen an off-the-shelf e-commerce platform or CMS but we’d always be shoe-horning, if you can excuse the pun,” says Cox. For Sucklings, a bespoke RoR solution meant that it got exactly what the business needed and at lower comparative cost.

Real business results

With the launch of the website, Sucklings has successfully achieved its goal of creating another channel through which customers can have a dialogue with the brand. Furthermore, the new website perfectly complements the business’s other channels.

Suckling is delighted that the website supports customers in so many ways, especially in their search for the shoe they want. “They love the ‘Find the right shoe for you’ feature—it’s a great innovation.”

Better still, not only does Sucklings get new business from internet sales, its brick-and-mortar sales have also increased. “Every day people come into the shop who have looked at the site first so it’s really building foot traffic. Our summer sale was up 20 percent on last year, which is down to the website. And this is at a time when most retailers are experiencing a decline in business,” says Suckling.