Online sales at Coles are up 25 per cent year-on-year, driven by a commitment to customer service says Stuart Freer, GM Digital IT and User Experience at Coles.

“At Coles Online we are actually growing at 25 per cent annually. That’s something that we are managing very carefully, because when you are seeing 25 per cent growth in ecommerce it always presents a number of challenges to how you deliver those great services,” Freer said during a presentation at the IBM Customer Engagement Forum in Sydney last week.

According to the most recent Online Sales Index from NAB, online spending grew by 13.5 per cent in the 12 months to June 2016. Growth in the broader retail market is stagnant, according to the ABS retail spending rose 2.7 per cent in July 2016 compared with July 2015.

Discussing the drivers behind Coles’ online growth, Freer emphasised the need to get the customer experience right from the first delivery, making sure meat and produce pass the ‘would I buy it?’ test.

“Customers try online for the first time and they either have a really great experience or they have an appalling experience. So what Coles tries to ensure is every customer that comes to us has a great experience,” Freer said.

Freer also highlighted Coles’ ‘deliver to bench,’ promise. Addressing the often problematic last mile, Coles has promoted its delivery drivers to ‘customer service agents.’

“Having it [the delivery] come to the kitchen bench and unpacked, I think is a really strong proposition. People hear about that, they talk about that and that naturally drives quite a bit of growth,” Freer said.

Freer argued it’s this commitment to service that will shield Coles from possible competitors such as Amazon Fresh, or closer to home, Aldi.

“Australians are proudly Australian, and I think with businesses like Coles they will support us as long as we give them great service. As long as we give them great service, we give them great value and we give them great choice,” Freer said.

“Amazon is a phenomenal business, we’ve all used it but we also have Aldi in the marketplace who are limited ranged discounters, 2500 SKUs [stock keeping units] and they really do fight hard. But we are focused and it’s about customers, it’s about range and it’s about value.”

Coles plans to continue innovating by offering more frequent deliveries, faster shopping options and more products.

Accessibility in ecommerce design

Freer also outlined how Coles redesigned and relaunched Coles Online to improve the shopping experience overall, as well as for 357,000 blind or partially sighted Australians.

“Several years ago we didn’t have accessibility in our DNA, and we certainly didn’t have sites that I would say had a great experience,” Freer said. “What we have done is we’ve built a new version of Coles Online that we call Swift Shop. The reason we call it Swift Shop is it is a lot faster than the last one — thank god.”

If it takes one minute to search and add a product to a shopping cart, the time taken to complete a grocery shop online quickly adds up. Now imagine how long that would take if you were blind and relied on a screen reader that converts text to speech to navigate the website.

In 2014 Sydney woman Giselle Mesnage, who has been blind since birth, sued Coles in over difficulties placing online orders, which could take up to 14 hours hours over two or three days. The case was settled in February 2015, with Coles agreeing to make online shopping more accessible. Mesnage now works with the supermarket to make its processes more accessible and these days can do her shopping in two to three hours, adding and swapping products in her online cart over a few days.

The new ecommerce site was built on IBM Commerce Suite 7, integrated into Coles’ existing Abode analytics platform. Freer said they ran the design and build over 38 iterations and two public betas. “We launched the first beta in April and the second beta in June and recently we’ve launched as of, September 6th, our full release,” he said.

The redesign was focused on simplifying the shopping experience and reducing the time it takes to complete an order online.

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