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IMRG Online Retailer Interview: Matalan

A Q&A with Paul Hornby, eCommerce Director, Matalan

We spoke to Paul about brand ambassadors, urgency messaging, and the ideal product review score

In your own words, tell us about Matalan

Matalan has been in existence for 33 years now. We launched in 1985, and since then I suppose the mission has been to show that we’re a business who strives to provide outstanding quality and value for modern families. Over that time, we’ve continued to listen, understand, and evolve, to support the ever-changing modern family needs. We always want to provide families with the highest quality clothing, and homeware, for the lowest prices. That’s where we really try to play: in that sweet spot of high quality and great value for money.

We’re lucky enough that 12 million UK families every year trust us to do that. We offer them the range they’re looking for, as well as style, quality, and value. Typically, we play a big role in family life. In recent years, we’ve started to expand that reach branching out of the UK and into the international market. We have 228 UK stores, and 30 international franchises within Europe and the Middle East and the online part of the business, which is the part that’s close to my heart, is growing rapidly.

On top of that, one of the things I’ve been most impressed with since I joined is the charitable work Matalan does – it’s phenomenal. Two big stand-out partners are the NSPCC and the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital Charity. The amount of work that they do to make a discernible difference to both of those charities is excellent. I think it all comes down to the fact that we’re still a family-owned, and a family-focussed business.

What are your biggest challenges in 2018?

Making the most of the rapidly growing omnichannel opportunity. We are very clear that we want to be the leading omnichannel retailer of family value. We work hard to ensure that our online business is growing profitably, adding value for our customers and to the business. That balance is the biggest challenge of 2018.

How do you handle a fast turnaround of product ranges?

We work with a number of flexible suppliers, and we utilise their expertise in different product areas to deliver a quick turnaround, particularly of our fashion ranges.

We have factories that we work with which are based in the Near-East, which enable us to have that quicker turnaround because it takes less time to get that product over. We know we can rely on them for the quick-turning fashion areas, like women’s tops, kids’ tops, dresses, for example.

We also include a percentage of what we refer to as ‘open-to-buy’ products within each season. This is a certain type of product within the range, where we confirm the design, but book it slightly later. We can separate these from the core range and react really quickly, so that we are as up-to-date, relevant, and as on top of the latest trends as we can be.

One of the parts of the supply chain which we’re most proud of, and one which the family has worked really hard on, is that relationship with our factories. We try to utilise their strengths to help us in this area.

How are your brand ambassadors/influencers helping your brand?

In terms of our brand ambassadors and influencers overall, simply through association they are helping to grow our brand credibility and our authority in their areas. For example, Amanda Lamb recently featured on The Show talking about homeware. She’s known for having a huge amount of credibility in that space, so by working with her, tapping into her expertise and having that kudos of her talking about our range, that really shines a light on the credibility of our growing homeware offer.

We’re working with Mark Wright at the moment and anyone who follows Mark knows that he’s a really nice guy who really upholds family values. More than anything else, he’s well-dressed. He’s always the epitome of smart, and he has a fashion style that appeals to a broad spectrum of both males and females. Working with someone like Mark brings a level of credibility to our men’s fashion range, while also offering a level of inspiration: ‘this is how I build outfits from the garments that Matalan offer.’

It helps in a number of ways. Obviously, they give us additional reach to their own followers and fans and help us reach new audiences. It’s been a relatively key part of the marketing strategy, and The Show has been a real big success. As soon as we launch new episodes of The Show, or as soon as we launch any marketing activity where our brand ambassadors are heroing those products, those products fly.

How effective is your urgency messaging?

We have a relatively mature test-and-learn culture now within Matalan: we A/B test pretty much any of the changes we make on-site to the customer journey, so that we can understand the true impact of them and their incrementality against all our key metrics.

This is no different. The hypothesis behind this originally was: we know some of our customers aren’t as fashion-confident as customers of other brands might be, so helping them with that level of social advocacy, where they can see what other customers are browsing and what other customers are purchasing, will give them the confidence to commit and make that purchase.

When we’ve A/B tested on our product detail page, we’ve seen a real positive impact, and we’re now thinking about other areas of our site where we can replicate that kind of mechanic.

Is there a preference amongst your customers for home delivery/click and collect?

Yes. We index more into click and collect than home delivery. Typically, more than 50% of our orders online will choose click and collect as a delivery method. There will be a number of reasons why: we offer free click and collect, so regardless of basket value, that is our free delivery service. In contrast, home delivery is free, but only over £50. That will encourage more usage of click and collect.

We also know that some of our customers like going into stores to pick up the items, and it’s also strategically beneficial for us. We’ve proven that, on average, 18% of customers who go in to store to pick up a click and collect parcel will purchase additional items in the same store on the same day. So, through click and collect, we see a benefit for the customer and a commercial benefit for us.

Do you encourage and/or monitor reviews on your website?

Yes, both. I’m a massive fan of reviews for a number of reasons: firstly, I think it gives our customers that additional social advocacy. Customers will always trust customers more than they’ll trust brands.

Having that consistent rich flow of content where like-minded customers have taken the time to go and review a product, either positively or negatively, will be constantly the most powerful thing that another customer can take into consideration when deciding whether or not that product is for them. It’s something we’re very passionate about, and something we’re encouraging more and more of.

What do you think about negative reviews? Do you publish them?

Oh, 100%. We take all reviews in and we moderate them all. The only reviews which won’t make the website are any that contain any defamation, or any that would fail a normal moderation process. We certainly do not exclude any reviews, positive or negative.

In fact, you can typically see that 4.2 out of 5 is the sweet spot in terms of review score. Customers believe in it a lot more. Publishing negative reviews also provides the necessary stimulus for us within the business to understand that customers aren’t happy with some of our products, which gives us something to respond to, and something to make right. We’re big believers in reviews, and we publish them all.

Tell me about that 4.2 score

There’s been a lot of research done which shows that there’s a sweet spot which is between 4.2 and 4.4 stars. If you generate a high volume of reviews and the rating is between 4.2 and 4.4, customers believe that it’s genuine content, because they can see that there’s been balanced reviews, where a lot of customers have rated strongly, while a couple of customers have rated slightly negatively. It gives customers that context.

Our point of view is simple: we want to receive honesty from our customers. We want to show that they’re all independently written reviews from our customers, and we want them to utilise that content to help inform their purchasing decision.

What are your thoughts on Black Friday?

We like Black Friday because it’s an event our customers like. It’s starting to become a really embedded part of the UK retail trading calendar. As long as it’s something our customers enjoy, and they want us to play in it, then we will continue to play in it, and try and offer them some real compelling, sweeter deals that will make them want to come in and spend some time with us.

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