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Rituals is a cosmetics brand focused on helping people to slow down and incorporate routines and rituals of self-care into their lives.
The company has always focused heavily on the use of physical retail stores, where being able to touch, smell and experience the brand is very important.
The brand still opens an average of two new stores every week, but times are moving on and customers are becoming omni-channel, so its online presence has become a huge part of the Rituals experience.
But replicating the physical experience online hasn’t been an easy task, says Martijn Van der Zee, digital director at Rituals.
“What we try to do is create these little moments during the day, or at least enjoy those three minutes when you’re in the shower, and it seems like something very obvious, but to many people, including myself, it’s not,” he says.
“It’s really important to us, it’s our trademark, and it’s really difficult to mimic online.”
Building an online presence
Part of the challenge of building an online presence for Rituals was recreating a sense of the touch and feel of its products.
It has gradually developed a website to focus on delivering a good customer experience, where it features videos and pictures to “compensate for the lack of feeling” and help consumers understand aspects of the brand’s products such as how to use them, what ingredients they contain and why creating moments for yourself each day is so important.
Using its online platform to deliver the brand’s message has helped to expand its customer base, and Rituals has found that its ethos appeals to a growing number of people – meditation, mental health and mindfulness are now buzzwords in the media that no one had heard of 10 years ago.
“It’s not enough to just show the outside [of the packaging]. We really want people to experience the products through the latest tech. It’s very much focused on appearance, because we know it’s critical for our customers to buy,” says Van der Zee.
Expressing the look and feel of its brand in an online forum has been “really difficult” because part of its message is about giving people a “feeling”, hence the importance of graphics.
The fashion industry has similar problems, according to Van der Zee, as people want to try clothes on or feel the texture of a fabric. He admits some of the inspiration for the Rituals website came from solutions the fashion industry has adopted to solve these problems.
“That’s where we get our inspiration from,” he says, “and we know that at least we’re moving in the right direction to understand that customers have this need. Probably it’s not 100% what we wanted immediately, but at least we’ve tried to evolve it further. People really want to feel it and play with it.”
Expanding its footprint
Rituals has been working with Salesforce to redesign its website, with a greater use of images and videos to get the brand’s message across. The aim is also to simplify the checkout process and inventory management to make dispatch and delivery easier.
Building the website on the Salesforce Commerce Cloud not only allows small, iterative changes to the website to be tested, but it is also helping the brand to expand its reach to places not yet served by its 650 worldwide stores.
“We have countries where we have a big footprint of retail stores, and we have countries where we’re still building that footprint,” says Van der Zee.
“The stores certainly help the online footprint. In cities where we have stores there’s a bigger online footprint. But at the same time, we have built up our capability to find new audiences, and we’re still in the process of doing so.”
The Salesforce platform has helped Rituals to develop its website and make changes across its 25 language sites without the need for content duplication, allowing the brand to launch changes to the site more quickly and develop features relevant to local regions.
“We are now redesigning the website. We have two instances – an active website and one that is going to be launched,” says Van der Zee. “You can do that in sync, so we’re developing both on the active website and the new website, and everything we develop on the active website is automatically being translated onto the new website.”
Personalising the customer experience
Because Salesforce is integrated with Rituals’ existing back-end systems, it also gives the firm a better view of its customers as individuals.
Customers are increasingly demanding the personalised experience this type of data fuels, expecting retailers to know who they are and offer a consistent experience regardless of the channel they use to interact with a brand.
Offering this online is important to Rituals, especially as it offers such a one-to-one experience in its stores, where customers can have a cup of tea, test products and receive a hand massage.
It is this experiential offering that keeps the Rituals stores so relevant. A lot of physical retail spaces are moving towards offering experiences in stores to keep customers interested, rather than focusing solely on selling goods.
Salesforce is integrated with Google Analytics 360 and the Google Cloud Platform in Rituals’ back-end operations, allowing the firm to capture and analyse customer interactions across all channels and adapt accordingly.
It initially adopted Commerce Cloud in 2013, and Rituals’ online business grew by 80% from 2015 to 2016, with returning customers making up around 50% of website traffic.
To further its personalised experience, Rituals is using the Salesforce Einstein platform to offer customers products that are relevant to them based on the data collected about them as an individual.
A soft marketing approach
Marketing is also an evolving beast for the brand, especially as it is initially focused on helping people understand its “slow down” philosophy rather than selling products off-the-bat.
Because of this, Rituals tries not to be too aggressive in the marketing department.
“What’s really important to us is to first tell the story – we are about meaningful moments, about slowing down and creating an experience, rather than just selling products. It would be very weird if we preach ‘slow down’, we preach ‘take it easy’, and then we start to spam people and retargeting them,” says Van der Zee.
“Once people look at a video or click on a banner, then most times we start with explaining the products – not selling, but explaining – and then maybe as a first step we try to sell something, but we do that always in a layered format, because if you start just selling products at the start it doesn’t work for us.”
Trialling future technologies
In the future, Van der Zee thinks people will order goods in the same way you book an Uber ride, whereby a courier will be able to bring you what you ordered on the same day and deliver to your current location.
“Had I said five years ago that we would have next-day delivery in almost every European country, you’d probably have put me in an asylum. Now that’s kind of the standard,” he says.
Van der Zee claims the retail sector is not so far from this kind of customer-driven, precise, instant service for goods, but debates whether the industry is ready to offer it any time soon.
“It’s a very logical step, if you think about click and collect. I just think a lot of the couriers are not ready for it yet, but you see a lot of startups trying to do this,” he says.
But when it comes to pinpointing emerging technology trends that might be useful for the Rituals brand experience in the future, Van der Zee admits it’s “very difficult to say”.
The brand is experimenting with different technologies in different countries. In the Netherlands, for example, internet of things (IoT) perfume diffusers are unexpectedly common, and Rituals has jumped on the bandwagon.
“In some cases, it’s a chicken and egg situation. If you’re one of the first, many people don’t know if they like it or not, so you have to just try,” says Van der Zee. “It’s a typical example. We’re one of the first to do this, and most of our customers probably didn’t know this was possible, but then suddenly it’s very popular.”
Open minds and creativity
Part of ensuring these emerging technologies can be tested and implemented quickly is about having the right people, along with well-structured technology, to enable the brand to adapt and adopt quickly.
“Our hiring criteria is first and foremost people who are open-minded, because this is the most important thing. Not necessarily knowledgeable, but someone who is open-minded and willing to learn how to adapt to these challenges, whatever comes up. Whether the platform changes, or the forum, like voice or smell, we don’t know – everything could be digitised one day.”
Martijn Van der Zee, Rituals
A large part of finding and adopting what works is testing ideas with customers to see what sticks, but Van der Zee emphasises there is also a need for creative people in firms.
“50% is functional and data-driven and mathematical, and the other 50% is putting creativity on top of that to really make it work,” he says.
“Run your data like a military operation, but your creative people should be very different – they should be creative. They should be allowed to think outside the box to really create these immersive experiences, and then combine the two in a team physically in an office.”
Diversity is also important for developing innovations that reflect the customer base, especially in retail where women make up a majority of the buying power in homes.
“I always preach diversity, in every way. Old, young, race, background, but also in this brain, left and right. It’s so important,” says Van der Zee.
This, as well as a good relationship between the technical data-driven side of the business and the creative part of the business, is the key to success, he insists.
“Allow creativity on top of that, and creativity can be exemplified if you do the targeting and the data management really well,” says Van der Zee. “I’m always happy when people get along and they see the strength of the two.”
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