Exploring and Acting on Customer Experience Data with North Face

Alexa Larsson, Senior Operations Manager, North Face

This article has been taken and edited from a speaker’s presentation from a previous Customer Experience conference.

I’m the Senior Operations Manager for the North Face and we had this idea about our customers in our mind, and marketing was constantly telling us saying ‘Our customer is the creative explorer’. But who considers themselves a creative expresser? This was a bit of a challenge we had. We had this customer in our mind, but we knew really, really little about our customer, but we had the impression that our customer loved to sweat, they loved to get dirty, they loved to climb the mountains. But we didn’t really know, and we had a feeling that our customers were changing, but we couldn’t really explain it. We started with our ‘Voice of the Customer’ programme in November 2016, and it has cleared quite a lot of questions already.

First of all, we wanted to understand how the brand was perceived across the markets because we work across all Europe. How does the customer connect with us? What experience do we give with our customers, and are we inspiring our customers, which we think we are? Where are the experience gaps, where are the blind spots and how can we improve those? What are the opportunities across all the departments? Because as we also heard, it’s really sensitive sometimes with the data we get. How can we talk to different departments about it? Ultimately, how can we reduce costs and increase revenue?

This was really what we were after, and most of all to find out who is our customer? Why do they love the brand or not love the brand, why are they shopping with us, why are they loyal?

What We Found

What we started to discover was first of all was that navigation was really critical in our stores. Customers came into our stores and they were completely overwhelmed. It was like in their opinion 200 jackets, but which is the right one for me?
Also changing rooms. They were clearly telling us ‘We hate your changing rooms. They are impersonal, I have to wait 20 minutes to get into it. You have this curtain, so I never feel really safe whatever direction I take it, I feel really exposed, no privacy’. We weren’t available to get customers into our changing rooms, which meant that they didn’t spend as much as we wished for. Customers in the changing room who felt comfortable spent on average 20% more which is of course great for the business and therefore this became a big focus for us.

Additionally, product and size availability was also an issue, this was a real shocker for us when we first discovered this. We found out that one out of five customers didn’t find the size or the product they were looking for. If you multiply this in euros it makes a huge impact, it really helped to show that we had to do something.

Our Response?

Brand inspiration, it varies very greatly across the market. We see for example in the UK the brand is perceived more as a lifestyle brand, while in Italy and Germany it’s still a very technical brand. Those are the differences we are facing. Omnichannel was also a big learning experience for us. We were aware that 30% of our customers visit our E-commerce site, but now we are slowly unleashing the power of this information.
How did we start to evolve? We started with testing. Because of course we are a small team and we said “okay let’s focus on the key learnings”. We started on an iconography trial in stores where we also had cameras, allowing us to really follow up on a customer. What we want is to help the customer to get through the tunnel. This translates into getting the customer into the store, feeling comfortable and finding what they are looking for. Changing rooms, as mentioned, became a big focus for us. We really wanted to help the customer get in, feel really, really comfortable and try on as much as possible.

This is the focus we still have at the moment. We did videos with the trainers to facilitate our store teams, to help them to engage with the customer while they are in the changing room. We also changed some of our fixtures to improve customer enjoyment; the right lighting, nice carpet, and little elements that make the customer to enjoy their time in the changing room.

Windows and Visual Merchandising focus. This starts where we talk in silos a bit. Because of course to approach the VM team and say, “Hey you know what, our customers don’t find what they’re looking for in-store” or “the windows they’re the same one for a whole month”, but we know our customers are coming back several times per month. How can we inject newness into the stores and into the window?’

This was of course our starting point and it’s still a challenge because it’s connected with investments. However, the cultural shift was the biggest challenge we faced. I think what is great in the North Face is that Senior Management has a real hunger for information and that everyone accepts that the learnings we get from the customer experience have to lead our future decisions. It sounds really great practically of course, we are a small team, and we have to now prove the value of the programme.

What we do really well is we engage with our store staff. We know that our store staff are the real brand ambassadors. This is a great starting point, so let’s start with the cultural shift. We are still learning lots of course, for us it’s a great opportunity to learn from others, and take a lot home as well.

Alexa Larsson is the Senior Retail Operations Manager at The North Face. She studied Graphic Design at university, before taking a Masters course in Interior Design in Barcelona. After her studies, Alexa worked as a Graphic Designer and Key Account Manager in different advertising agencies in Italy, Germany and Spain. Before joining The North Face in 2006, Alexa was Trade Marketing Manager at Salewa Iberica, based in Barcelona.

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