How sex toy retailer Lovehoney is engaging customers

love honeyAs ecommerce continues to drive retail growth, retailers are increasingly recognising that optimising customers’ online experiences can have a sustainable impact on customer engagement, conversion and revenues. Moreover, leading online retailers are discovering that a robust customer experience optimisation strategy can not only increase conversion, but it can also provide them with critical tools and insight to answer key strategic business questions. And in the process, can enhance customer satisfaction and drive brand loyalty.

The business
Lovehoney is the UK’s largest online supplier of sex toys, lingerie and adult accessories. Founded in 2002, the business has grown rapidly and now boasts an international reputation as a retailer, manufacturer and distributor. The company’s operations are purely online, but its focus on exceptional customer service, product innovation and website usability has helped transform the sex toy industry from its stereotypical and dated ‘sex shop’ image.

Lovehoney remains at the forefront of developments in sexual wellbeing and ecommerce, and continues to win major awards for customer service and internet retailing. This year, Lovehoney beat companies such as eBay and Amazon to win the Internet Retailing Award 2013. Similarly, its recent award for Best Customer Service for online retailers at the eCommerce Awards for Excellence saw the company commended for its ‘clear understanding of customer shopping needs’.

Lovehoney attributes much of its success to an organisation-wide culture of testing and its ongoing commitment to customer engagement. This approach has been led by a sustained customer experience optimisation strategy with Maxymiser – who were recently cited by Forrester Research as a ‘leader in online testing’. The partnership has helped drive impressive growth at Lovehoney and, importantly, continues to enhance the user experience.

The strategy

The partnership began in January 2013 when Lovehoney opted to use Maxymiser’s full-service methodology to test proof of concept. “Prior to this, we’d experimented with a succession of third-party platforms but had found them to be limited, unstable and unreliable,” says Matt Curry, Head of eCommerce at Lovehoney. “We were stranded, and had begun to lose faith in the culture of testing. Our work with Maxymiser has not only renewed that faith, it has transformed our operations and enabled us to answer important business questions.”

The strategy, underpinned by a roadmap of campaigns informed by user testing, in-house analysis and Maxymiser’s best practice experiences and expertise in the retail sector, has examined the customer experience in its truest form. “Our focus has not been solely on increasing conversion rates but on looking at ‘emotional design’. How can we design our site to play on the emotions of the people who visit it? This approach has helped us to identify key hypotheses and develop campaigns designed to answer critical questions in terms of how our customers want to use the site. And by finding those answers, we have really driven conversion,” Matt explains.

The campaigns

The first business question Lovehoney sought to answer was around customer reassurance. How much did the company need to reassure its customers that their purchasing experience remained confidential? “Our customers are typically conscious of privacy and need to be sure that discretion is maintained at all stages from purchase to packaging and delivery. But how much reassurance did they need on the site?” says Matt. “We developed a campaign to test whether they needed continual reminders that their privacy is protected at all times, or whether, as retailers, we should just get out of the way and allow them to go through the process as quickly as possible.

“The campaign included variants ranging from experimenting with reassurance padlocks, right through to stripping content out completely. We also developed a variety of messages and copy, and explored different ways of displaying it. The results surprised us. We learned that our customers were not as cautious as we’d imagined – and that in every case, the variant where we didn’t offer reassurance provided a more effective customer experience. In fact we were able to conclude that reassurance was actually inducing fear in our users, reminding them that there may be an element of risk. This first campaign not only served as a real proof of concept for testing with Maxymiser, but its findings led to a fundamental – and highly instrumental – change in our whole approach.”

The need to reduce content has emerged as a clear trend through Lovehoney’s multivariate testing campaigns. For example, one campaign sought to establish whether the Group and Category pages were overcomplicated with unnecessary pagination. It concluded that, by removing certain calls-to-action and viewing options from the warehouse section – and thereby not getting in the way of the customer – an increased number of users would click through to product pages. The campaign led to an uplift in completed order conversion of over 4 percent.

Although conversion is clearly a useful metric, Lovehoney’s philosophy is to look beyond that. “There is so much more to it than conversion – we need to be thinking about how we can increase the average order value or customers’ frequency to the site. How many visits do customers need to take before they make a transaction? And how do we increase the value of that transaction? Loyalty is linked to customer experience,” says Matt.

Lovehoney’s key objective, therefore, is to understand how it can support customers to make the best purchasing decisions – and in doing so, encourage them to return to the site again. And with a clear aim being to increase the average order value, the company has conducted a number of campaigns designed to answer a critical question: how can it optimise every customer visit to drive the highest possible transaction value? A good example of this is a campaign that examined the crucial ‘cross sell’ opportunity – promotion accessories at the point of sale. Once again, this campaign delivered some surprising results.

“In keeping with the trend for removing unwieldy content, the campaign led to us introducing ‘cross sells’ as an overlay – a new barrier which forced customers to think about whether they wanted any accessories. And more often than not, they did,” says Matt. “As a result, customers began to add significantly more items to their basket. This had a great impact on conversion, but it also had an interesting side-effect: although customers were buying more products, the average order value was not increasingly significantly. People were buying more, but spending the same.

“This campaign led to the revealing conclusion that another consumer emotion is at play – frugality. Customers visit our site with a ‘mental budget’. And so we are now conducting follow-up campaigns to find out how we can encourage them to spend more money.”

The outcomes
Beyond the steady stream of awards for customer service and eCommerce capabilities, Lovehoney continues to receive widespread international plaudits for its online service – not least from its customers. “Customer satisfaction metrics show how that our users are really happy and that their online experience is consistently positive,” says Matt. “This is also reflected in sustained increases in frequency and, of course, a steady uplift in conversion

“So it’s clear across the board: our customer experience optimisation strategy with Maxymiser is helping us deliver business-led outcomes that are increasing customer loyalty. It’s not just about judging one layout against another – it’s about answering actual business questions that deal with real customer emotions. It’s a fascinating process – and it’s really working. We have generated a significant amount of revenue thanks to Maxymiser, and that’s because we are massively and continually enhancing the customer experience. We like to think of ourselves as leading the online customer experience in not just our sector, but amongst online retailers generally, and it is through working with the leading provider of customer experience optimisation solutions that we are able to achieve this.”