Timberland focuses on online customer experience

After internationalising its e-commerce offering across Europe, Timberland's next priority is refining its online experience

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: CW Europe - November 2014 Edition

After a busy 18 months internationalising its e-commerce offering across Europe, Timberland is setting out its next priority – refining its online customer experience.

As senior manager of e-commerce at Timberland, Dan Mahoney has this tricky job which requires him to drill down on delivering the right kind of customer experience using the Timberland brand.

After redeveloping the UK website and central architecture in 2013 using Demandware’s cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) product, the retailer was quickly able to expand its online presence in a further seven countries across Europe, all with a different language and currency. 

However, the retailer is a little late to the e-commerce game, meaning it also has to play catch-up when creating a seamless experience across its channels.

During an interview with Computer Weekly at Demandware’s European user event in Barcelona, Mahoney says Timberland has yet to truly start the journey of delivering the right brand or content experience to customers.

“The thing that keeps me up at night is working for a wonderful business and not being able to showcase how good our product is to our customers,” he explains, whether that’s through e-commerce, merchandising, or value-added content – including rich video and imagery.

“This certainly has been the year of building,” says Mahoney, who has been e-commerce lead for Timberland in Europe for seven months. “Now we’re really focused on getting over the hump of the new platform and new team to really start trading to the level we believe we should be able to get to while improving our brand experience.”

In 2011, the brand was acquired by clothing corporation VF and the European headquarters moved from the UK to Switzerland. Mahoney explains it has been a substantial era of change for the business, with Timberland recruiting more than 80% of its business in the past year, while trying to figure out how to expand in Europe.

“For Timberland as a brand we’re trying to find the sweet spot between brand, commerce and content – and ensuring they’re absolutely integrated. But it’s also about trying to grow our direct revenue in our direct-to-consumer (D2C) channels in our own stores,” he says, pointing to the 70 physical outlets Timberland has across Europe, which is hoped to increase in the coming years.

“We’re aiming to not have the view of e-commerce as just a fast-growing sales channel – which it is – but also as the home of the Timberland brand,” he adds.

Consolidating legacy apps

One of the reasons the company has found that hard to do so far is because of its multitude of legacy applications.

“We have lots of different archaic pieces of content on different sites, microsites and applications – all of which have been developed through the years, so it’s about bringing that back down to one central experience for our customers,” says Mahoney.

Potentially, suppliers like Demandware could consolidate some of these applications and Mahoney says the company has some really interesting systems for the store and the omni-channel area, where the supplier is making investments.

“They have their in-store system for taking orders on different devices," he says. "That’s interesting for us, but for a big organisation like VF, it’s trying to understand where that can fit in a bigger strategy for systems enhancements as well.”

Mahoney says the systems which are currently in place remain a challenge to what Timberland is trying to focus on at the moment – customer experience. But rather than looking only at large investments in technology, the company is looking at a range of agile systems which allow it to offer a seamless experience to customers.

Rather than a clunky experience while navigating a website, how can you present something to the customer that’s truly engaging and relevant to what they’re looking for?

Dan Mahoney, Timberland

“Behind the scenes there’s a lot of band aids working and potentially some investment to make things happen,” he says. “So our big focus now is trying to find the blend between the quick wins we just need to be getting on with and making longer-term investments.”

Competitive affiliate suppliers

The brand also supplies its shoes, apparel and outdoor wear to third parties including Office and Schuh in the UK, which can sometimes be seen as competitors to the Timberland website. 

Mahoney says he wants to deliver a unique customer experience online which will make visitors want to buy direct from Timberland, rather than buying the same item elsewhere.

“It’s difficult to use the term competitor,” he says. “Because they’re a business partner, not a competitor.”

But if Timberland can begin to engage with its customers on its own website, it can start to use data analytics to understand customer profiles.

The biggest challenge is around data and trying to understand the bigger picture,” says Mahoney. “We’re trying to understand whether people are coming to our website to research a product and then going to Amazon to purchase it, and as a business do we think that’s a bad thing, or is it OK? But that’s so much to understand.”

At the beginning of this data journey, Mahoney says the company is only just starting to get a flavour of how to segment its products and customers to understand them better and learn what they’re buying and why.

Unlike Amazon or Schuh, Timberland’s website aims to not be price-centric or promotional-driven, meaning a lot of pressure on the brand to tell a story which could convert a visitor to a direct sale.

The affiliate partners also have different segments of the Timberland product range. “We’re trying to move to a point where within our own walls and our own shops we can cover everything, and customers can buy every Timberland product going,” explains Mahoney.

The company is also working on growing its e-commerce range of products to offer more than it can fit in a physical store. “That’s got a lot more interesting because you’re selling a story,” says Mahoney. “A customer can be asked if they like a product and then told it's available in four different colourways that aren’t in the store."

“It comes back down to content,” he says. “Rather than a clunky experience while navigating a website, how can you present something to the customer that’s truly engaging and relevant to what they’re looking for? There’s a lot of focus there, but we haven’t got the answer right yet.”

Improving Timberland's mobile offering

Improving its mobile offering is another key strategy in the near future for Timberland. When it launched its UK e-commerce site, it also launched a responsive mobile website. Mahoney says while the retailer is getting some results with the website, it still needs further attention.

“Responsive was a big step forward for Timberland, but responsive isn’t enough and we still need to understand what the right customer experience is for our mobile platform,” he says.

While responsive web is a good start for a company which is just diving into the world of mobile, Mahoney says it is looking towards HTML5 and how it can adapt its mobile site by switching on and off different content and merchandising depending on the application.

Timberland has some changes in the pipeline for before Christmas 2014, but Mahoney says he’s trying to think of mobile as an evolution rather than a project, and all aspects of the business should be thinking about mobile.

“The only person I see playing with mobile is the designer, but I want trading people and merchandising to see what experience is being delivered via mobile, because we’re not far away from having greater traffic from mobile devices than desktop devices,” he says.

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