One of the biggest challenges for any retailer is making its online experience just as good as its in-store one, and Jeff Crook, the Chief Product Officer of outdoor goods retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), has some strong words to say about how retailers are failing.
“I look at a lot of websites — this holds true for some of my competitors — and it looks like an online flyer. It’s not very compelling,” he says. “That’s where the downside or risk to digital is: people just do higher-resolution advertising, and not a lot of customers are saying ‘Hey, I’d love to see more ads from you.’”
“That’s where the downside or risk to digital is: people just do higher-resolution advertising.”
Crook will discuss improving that digital experience, and other aspects of branded retailing, at his session at Dx3 March 12, How The Era Of Branded Retail Will Disrupt The Supply Chain.
Crook credits MEC’s success in this regard to going beyond that “higher-resolution advertising” model.
“We think that one of our greatest advantages is that we are the customer. Everyone on my team is passionate about some form of an active lifestyle. They’re passionate, and that gives us insight into our customers. It helps us understand the market’s evolution,” he says.
In addition to his critiques of how most brands sell online, Crook’s assessment of how they buy is equally blunt.
“One of the things I’m adamant about is if I’m hiring a buyer, I’m going to hire the best climber I can find and teach him everything I know about inventory management,” he says. “In contrast, my competitors will hire a professional purchaser and give them a climbing course on the weekend.”
“I’m going to hire the best climber I can find and teach him everything I know about inventory management.”
As proof of this strategy’s success, Crook notes that “a very high proportion of [MEC’s] in-store purchases are pre-shopped on the website. We define the value of our website far beyond actual revenues based on its role in our operation, distributing the brand, and giving people touchpoints for the brand.”
However, the company remains tight-lipped about the nuts and bolts of the analytics MEC has been relying on to gauge this success, with Crook saying that he’s still in consultation with the company’s marketing department about what information it considers safe to reveal.
Despite this, MEC’s insight about the value of branded retail has been hard-won as a result of its own rebranding initiative in 2013. That’s when it opened up about moving away from targeting hard-core outdoor enthusiasts towards welcoming more mainstream athletes like joggers and yoga buffs. Although initially met with skepticism, MEC’s move appears to have paid off: the company’s net sales in 2013 (the most recent year for which such information is available) were $18.8 million higher than in 2012.
Crook acknowledges both the difficulty and the success resulting from the rebrand.
“It’s challenging, whenever you have a brand that’s been evolving in the same direction at the same pace for 40 years, and characterizing itself in a certain way, to then go about a pivot in a certain way; that’s a big jolt. It’s been challenging but terrific for us now that we’re popping through the other side of it. We’re seeing opportunities for business, but also [seeing it] as a catalyst for increased activity. We’re at an interesting point.”