How Harry & David's digital transformation unlocked new capabilities for online shopping

The food and gift retailer digitally transformed via new discovery features, an upgraded mobile site, and more personalized shopping experiences.

MWC19 Los Angeles: How digital transformation impacts the retail shopping experience The retail experience is digitally transforming, and retailers must jump on board to stay competitive.

Harry & David, the premium food and gift retailer, recently revealed enhancements to its website as a part of a digital transformation journey, just in time for the holiday season. 

The new capabilities include a smart Gift Finder tool, easier search options, and enhanced discovery features, said Oscar Castro, the retailer's vice president of e-commerce and digital marketing.  

SEE: Special report: Data, AI, IoT: The future of retail (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

"Harry & David has been around for over 85 years, and the company has a very rich heritage in direct marketing. At one point, it was a mail-order business," Castro said. "But over the past few years, our customers have been migrating away from print marketing and phone ordering, and more toward digital."

In the past few years, Harry & David began its digital transformation experience by redoing the site search capabilities. It implemented a new site search solution that included auto suggesting products based on what the consumer began typing in the search box, Castro said.  

The company also began to pull in thumbnail images of products that would pop up as the user was typing, helping the user visually navigate to the searched product, he added. 

However, the latest advancements take the enhancements to a new level. The digital transformations focused on three key areas: Mobile, personalization, and shopping tools, Castro said. 

Digital transformation initiatives

1. Faster mobile website

The first digital transformation initiative Harry & David undertook involved an upgrade to its mobile site. 

"Roughly half of our traffic now comes to us from mobile devices," Castro said. "Not only are we moving from print and telephone to digital, but digital is now moving more toward smaller screens." 

With an increasing number of customers using mobile devices, Harry & David decided to enhance its mobile site by developing a Progressive Web Application (PWA), according to Castro.

"It leverages browser functionality, but it also gives us a lot of flexibility and allows us to create an app-like experience, without customers having to download an app—and without us having to maintain a separate website," Castro said.

"Ultimately our goal is to provide a faster experience, tailored to the small screen. Not just taking the desktop experience and shrinking it to a phone size, but developing an experience that is custom made for using mobile devices."

The company has been working on mobile for a couple of years. Last year, Harry & David launched a mobile optimized site, which was a customized mobile experience, but it didn't offer the same experience as a progressive web app, Castro said.  

"We were very happy with the results from [the first mobile site upgrade.] But, we're committed to this ongoing transformation," Castro said. "We knew that we had to continue to innovate, to adopt the latest technology, and to make our mobile site not only faster, but also more tailored to the mobile device." 

2. Personalized continuous shopping experiences

With such long-standing relationships with customers over multiple decades, Harry & David aimed to innovate in a way that made the online shopping experience more personal, Castro said. 

"Our goal was to use customer history data to provide a personalized experience and make it easier for our customers to shop with us," Castro said. "We implemented a customer data platform and we connected our customer relationship management (CRM) data with Google cloud and other internal systems to get a 360-degree view of our customers."  

The company is leveraging those systems to customize not only the content that the customers see on the website and on mobile site, but also in their marketing campaigns, Castro said. 

"The foundational tool though is the customer data platform," Castro said. "Within the tool we have the ability to aggregate data from external systems like our CRM. There are also AI capabilities built within the tool and we can leverage for real-time decisions." 

For example, if a user goes to the Harry & David home page, the systems are able to detect how loyal of a customer the user is, based on the level of spend and if the shopper is a member of the site's free shipping program. If the user does appear to be a loyal customer, then the experience will look much different than that of a new customer, Castro said.

And based on what a user is doing on the site, marketing teams can make decisions in real time about what content to show the user, customizing the experience, he said.  

"Before, we weren't able to do things like real-time content personalization," Castro said. "At best, we knew that you came to the site from a specific marketing campaign, and we would just reinforce what that was. But we wouldn't have any other data points."

3. New discover features, filters, and search options

The last major digital transformation initiative from Harry & David involved site navigation, according to the press release

The first feature was Harry & David's Gift Finder. "We're offering customers the opportunity to let us help them find the perfect gift. All you have to do is answer three simple questions: Who is this gift for? What is the occasion? And, what is your budget? Based on that, we'll provide a set of curated recommendations," Castro said. 

"From there, you have the option of further filtering down your selections or making changes," Castro said. "We've been testing that for several months, and we're very happy with the results from that tool."

The desktop site also saw major upgrades on search capabilities, which uses various filters to help narrow down the results, Castro said. The filters allow users to search by occasion, shipping type, price range, ingredient contents, dietary restrictions, and gift recipient, according to the press release.

Lastly, desktop shoppers will receive tailored product recommendations at checkout, along with opportunities to take advantage of flash sales or deals, the press release added. 

"Customers are naturally gravitating towards digital channels. We acknowledge that and we realized that it was imperative for us to improve the digital experience," Castro said. "That's been the focus for us since 2017—trying to make the shopping experience better both on desktop and mobile, as well as employing digital marketing channels to help find our customers and customers like them out in the marketplace." 

For more, check out 10 technologies leading digital transformation in retail on ZDNet.

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