Tessa Roberts

Nov 6, 2018

Sam's Club optimizes conversion rate with creative merchandising

Samsclub.com's Senior Manager of Site Merchandising, Robelle Mancilla, joined us at our user conference, BloomReach Connect, to share how a small-but-mighty e-commerce team embraced data-driven merchandising, created a cohesive brand product story, and increased traffic and conversion rates, all in time for the holiday season.

merchandiser Robelle at Sam's Club

Robelle took us through the story of how a team of 5 was tasked with managing everything from the homepage to the category pages - work that was previously handled by an effort of nearly 20 people.

Like many teams today, Robelle and her team were simply expected to do less with more. Delivery expectations remained the same, growth plans didn’t change, and the demand for quality was just as high. These 5 super merchandisers had to step up to the plate.

"Was it scary? Yes, it was really inundating. Overwhelming? Definitely. But was it impossible to meet year-over-year goals with a smaller team? Not at all."

Robelle Mancilla, Senior Manager of Site Merchandising

With the holidays soon approaching, Robelle admits this new challenge was daunting, but she knew the power of her team and reacted with determination, remembering, "Was it scary? Yes, it was really inundating. Overwhelming? Definitely. But was it impossible to meet year-over-year goals with a smaller team? Not at all."

Robelle explained how her team tackled these new expectations and made their approach to merchandising more effective in the process.

Sam's Club holiday gifts

 

She also shared valuable key learnings picked up during this time that can be valuable to everyone in the merchandising space, lean team or not.

  • Starting with the data

In order to be more effective with lean resources, the team's first stop was to analyze the trends around holiday shopping.  

From this examination, they noticed the influence marketing campaigns had on their website traffic. Robelle remarked, "The main thing we saw was our traffic spiking when there was marketing, which is great because that means the marketing works."

However, solely relying on marketing did not seem like a sustainable, robust e-commerce strategy for Samsclub.com. The bursts of customer acquisitions these campaigns brought are great but, in parallel, the team set about building a powerful brand that would drive traffic to the site continuously and regularly.

  • Building a powerful brand

To create this brand the team narrowed their focus to a select number of themes rather than trying to transform their entire offering. Robelle shared that, "One of our goals is how do we highlight and showcase that Samsclub.com is the one stop shop destination for everything people need for the holiday."

Holiday preparations at Sam's Club

The team then reflected on how this intention could be demonstrated through their online experience and Robelle concluded, "for us, it's about the merchandise, it's about the gifting, and it allows us to showcase the breadth of our assortment."

From the customer perspective, they wanted to bring a more personal touch and create "that story of connection with our customers that we are the one destination for all their holiday entertaining needs."

  • Optimizing the customer journey

After deciding their direction from a brand angle, Robelle's team started to make changes to their digital experience with their brand story always at the forefront of their minds.

They examined the data and noted the high traffic web pages - from the homepage to category pages - to look for opportunities to highlight these brand themes.

The merchandisers altered their site to tell visitors (through product suggestions, CTA buttons, and inspiring content) the story of Samsclub.com and in the end "we reduced a lot of friction points," says Robelle.

The team made sure this narrative carried over to every device, ensuring cohesion across their mobile, app and desktop sites to guarantee a seamless experience.

Sam's Club holiday members events

The results

Taking this close, granular approach to the customer journey (with a lot of testing and iterating along the way) proved effective. Robelle shared her metrics with us, reporting "At the end of the holiday, we've seen a good increase in our visits for those specific categories. It was up by 300% and we also increased conversion by around 14%.”

"Because we were focusing on what the key elements of the business and the brand were, our stories were a lot more engaging and robust"

Robelle Mancilla

Robelle put this success down to the strong story Samsclub.com had created, remarking that, "because we were focusing on what the key elements of the business and the brand were, our stories were a lot more engaging and robust. They were focused on the key things that mattered the most for us."

Sam's Club merchandiser at BloomReach Connect

 

Here are Robelle's key takeaways from the experience:

1) Scale back and look at the big picture

"You get used to certain things that you tend to forget to look back at what was your team's mission"

Robelle Mancilla

When trying to do more with less, it's important to shift your focus to the areas that really matter, stresses Robelle. "You get used to certain things and a way of doing things that you tend to forget to look back at what was your team's mission and how does it align with the company's goals?”.

Once you realign and focus mainly on what the company stands for, it's time to make some cuts in your everyday tasks and question, "Do the things that we're doing still matter? Do they still align with the business in general?"

Without strongly uniting over core areas that tie in and are supported by the whole business, it's impossible for a small team to make their mark.

Sam's Club entertaining during the holidays

2) Leverage data

Robelle's team took two angles when it came to examining their data. Firstly, they looked from the perspective of the customer's shopping experience.  Leveraging insights from past sales, they asked the broad question of, "How do customers shop our experiences and how do you optimize those experiences?"

"How does a group of 5 people manage the same demand and workload the 19 people have done before? You can't, it's impossible!"

Robelle Mancilla

Secondly, the team looked at the problem internally. From an operational standpoint they questioned, "How does a group of 5 people manage the same demand and workload the 19 people have done before?" coming to the conclusion that it would be impossible.

To overcome this hurdle, Robelle's team took an effective approach and understood "It was a matter of looking at the 20 percent that's really going to drive 80 percent of the business."

3) Over-communicate

To ensure that everyone in the organization could follow and understand the e-commerce team's efforts, they set about improving communication and ultimately creating transparency on all levels of the company.

One example Robelle gives is an excel sheet that records all of the changes that occur on the website. This included homepage updates and all the different category updates.

The sheet was shared across the organization, with VPs, execs and the people e-commerce worked with on a daily basis like operations, project management, engineering and supply chain.

"They're confident that our actions can drive revenue and growth for the company"

Robelle Mancilla

This document proved a useful collaboration tool as Robelle remembers, "I took the opportunity to present it at leadership meeting to make sure that they are aligned with what we're doing and it aligns with the overall company goal."

The company-wide document also built up the team's and the whole organization's confidence, acting as "a security blanket for a lot of people to know that they have access to what the site merchandising team is doing and they're confident that our actions can drive revenue and growth for the company."

Sam's Club choosing Christmas tree

Next steps

From these lessons and experience, Robelle's team is planning to use the same strategy and improve on it. This holiday season, Robelle's (slightly enlarged) team will follow the same way of thinking, but further optimize and personalize the experience for their customers.

She also added that this time around, the team are looking into the possibilities of site search and how this tool can contribute to the buying journey and help to build out their brand story.

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