Executive Director of Planning
Trendy retailer Urban Outfitters has been experimenting with technology in its stores for years, using its retail stores for additional fulfillment for online orders and rolling out mobile point-of-sale (POS) units last holiday season. Urban Outfitters ecommerce executive Holly Devine spoke with eMarketer’s Christine Bittar about mobile retail tactics, online sales and the upcoming trends in ecommerce.
eMarketer: Urban Outfitters is one of the more advanced retailers with its use of technology, especially mobile technology. What insights have you gleaned over the recent selling seasons that you’d like to use in your business going forward?
Holly Devine: I think initially people thought of smartphones as utilitarian, but that’s not the case. They’re not simply time killers—they’re engaging and offer inspiration.
Mobile has two slightly different definitions—the smartphone and the tablet—and we want our customers to have appropriate interactive experiences on either device. Old-school thinking would have meant scaling down desktop functionality to a mobile device. Now, however, our approach to design and functionality means tailoring to a device—instead of merely scaling down.
“Consumers’ expectations are much different than two years ago. Amazon.com is great at fulfillment—and we aspire to be Amazon.”
eMarketer: Are there aspects of your mobile presence you would like to change, and are there changes you have recently instituted?
Devine: We think in terms of two things: aesthetics and the utilitarian parts of the mobile experience, which would be rudimentary functions like sorting, checkout, payment options and form fields. On those functions we’ll think about whether something is working equally well for a new customer as well as an engaged, hyperactive customer.
Consumers’ expectations are much different than two years ago. Amazon.com is great at fulfillment—and we aspire to be Amazon. We’re not Amazon, of course, but we are thinking about how to get toward that standard.
As for enhancements, we’re in the process of making fundamental changes to both our app and mobile web, and should have PayPal enabled by the end of the year so that the mobile buyer will be able to pay with PayPal.
eMarketer: Is there a priority on smartphone or tablet?
Devine: We’re trying to do it with both because, honestly, both of them are somewhat equal in their meaningfulness to the percentage of sales they represent. Still, there are many more sessions and much more engagement on smartphones, although tablet traffic and engagement is growing—just not as fast as on a smartphone.
eMarketer: You’ve been investing heavily in POS systems, including mobile POS. Where is that most helpful, and what insights have you gleaned from using those mobile systems?
Devine: We use mobile POS to get to customers wherever they might be in the store, and also during peak periods so customers don’t have to wait in a long line.
We’ll also use the system as a way of servicing customers on the spot by, for example, finding merchandise in another color or size. That allows us to save the sale and make the best use of the inventory in the entire chain. It also allows customers who have been on our website to [see if a particular item is available at their local store]. Most of our stores in the US are fully integrated, and we’re converting the rest of our Canada and Europe stores now.
eMarketer: Urban Outfitters had been talking about online order pickup at stores. Is that available at this point?
Devine: We are piloting that this fall with some of our smaller brands, but we’ll more likely take a better look at it in the new year. One of the issues we have is that there are many different stores and product SKUs, and we carry a lot of products online that we may not have at a given store.
“Many of [our customers are] extremely visually engaged, which is why Instagram, Vine or some of the more visual media are much more important to us than the sites that require more reading.”
Still, we’d like to be able to have store pickup of online orders in 2014 so that a customer can ship an item to a store or reserve it to pick up, rather than waiting for an item to be shipped to the home.
eMarketer: Why would customers want to pick up an online order in a store? Isn’t the point of ordering so that you don’t have to go to a store?
Devine: It’s convenience and urgency. A lot of our customers are college students, and their dorm may not accept deliveries, or maybe there’s no one at home to take a package. We want to give them the option.
Amazon has been doing it with Amazon Locker, and it gives the buyer more control. I think there are other segments of the retail industry doing this better than apparel. We’ve been slow to facilitate it, but we know it’s important—and we’re getting there.
eMarketer: You’ve adapted to the newer social media platforms quickly. Why does that make sense for your brand?
Devine: Our customers are at a stage in life where they’re extremely curious. Many of them are very literate, but they’re also extremely visually engaged, which is why Instagram, Vine or some of the more visual media are much more important to us than the sites that require more reading. Still, we know we need to be in all of these places, [including Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr], and just tailor the messaging for the social media outlet.
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