Shop Direct has transformed in recent years from a catalogue business, to a digitally-savvy retailer, known for pioneering the latest technologies to improve the online experience for its customers.

Essential Retail takes a look at how Shop Direct has put mobile in the very centre of its digital strategy.

1. Early to mobile

Shop Direct, the company behind Very.co.uk and Littlewoods.com, recently announced that mobile devices accounted for over half (53%) of full-year sales for the first time, while its MyVery app drove just under a third of its mobile sales.

But what makes Shop Direct stand out in an incredibly competitive mCommerce sector?

“We were early to mobile,” says Sally-Anne Newson, customer experience and digital product director at Shop Direct. “We took our first mobile order in 2010, and realised through testing and early growth that smartphones were a huge opportunity. From then on we took a mobile-first approach, which means we design and test the entire customer journey first and foremost for mobile.”

According to Newson, thanks to the retailer’s early focus on mobile web, mobile makes up 69% of sales, significantly up from the figure announced in its latest financial results.

“2012, mobile was just 20%. We’re now disproportionately strong on smartphone, which is where all the growth is coming from in retail.”

2. The need for speed

Recent Google research showed that retailers in the UK had the slowest mobile websites of 11 sectors measured. How is Shop Direct addressing this issue? “We’re always working to improve our site speed. It’s consistently indexed above the industry average. We are always focused on giving our customer the simplest mobile shopping experience, and speed is an important part of that.”

3. A hybrid approach to mobile apps

Essential Retail recently reported on the new Debenhams mobile site and how it is lining up alongside the BBC, Twitter and the Guardian’s Smart Lock as one of the first Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) in the UK. Shop Direct is taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to this cutting-edge technology.

“It’s still early days for progressive apps, but it’s something we’re keeping a close eye on,” says Newson.

“Our MyVery app is a vital part of our mobile-first approach,” she adds. “We launched it on iOS at the end of 2014 and on Android in July 2015. It now has well over one million downloads and, in our last financial year, the MyVery app drove 32% of all Very’s mobile sales, up from 21% in 2016. The five-star rated app started as an MVP and developed from there. We chose a hybrid app to mix new innovation with seamless continuity, and our customers have responded hugely well to this approach.”

4. Earning a customer’s real estate                                         

Shop Direct has added features like bio-authentication, which lets customers use their fingerprint to check out or manage their account securely, as well as the Very Assistant, a conversational user interface for customer service.

“Our apps are our own piece of real-estate on our customer’s smartphone – the benefits of this are huge,” says Newson.

5. Using agile to solve the big challenges

When it comes to a fast-moving sector such as mCommerce, the rewards are huge but so are the risks, disgruntled customers, damaged brands etc. “We’re focused on addressing the big challenges that come with an ever-changing landscape like mobile – whether it’s the difference in browsing behaviour and how we drive engagement with customers in session, or the impact of social and messaging apps on purchase behaviour off platform.”

Shop Direct is also bringing an even sharper focus to mobile through the way it works. “Agile ways of working have been around for some time as a way to develop software and we’ve had some success when applying them to our early machine learning initiatives in customer management. Now we’re extending agile across parts of our retail team.”

This means small teams of people from a range of disciplines and levels, focusing solely on individual parts of the customer journey, such as the checkout stage.

“They use a test and learn approach; trying out new ideas quickly, gathering evidence and improving them at pace to reach the best solution. It means we work quickly and solve the customer problems – including challenges in mobile experience – that really matter. We start with the question, not the answer. We’re still at the early stage of this roll-out, but the results in mobile have been really encouraging so far and it gives us great confidence for the future.”