1-800 Contacts Pushes Tech Partners For ‘Proof Of Concept’

1800Over two years, a lot has changed for online contact lens seller 1-800 Contacts.

“In 2013, we didn’t even have a mobile app,” said its VP of digital commerce, Justin Olson. Contrast that with 2015: “Seventeen percent of our total orders came through the app and about 20-25% of orders come through mobile web.”

Olson, who migrated from Nike’s digital marketing department five years ago, oversees the user experience for more than 8 million customers who have placed more than 30 million digital orders for contact lenses.

Part of the allure was that the 1-800 CEO realized mobile was going to be big, Olson said.

How big? So big that it’s created structural shifts in 1-800 Contacts’ marketing, ecommerce and CRM teams. While Olson first focused on the build-out of a mobile-optimized site and native applications, mobile has since merged with 1-800’s ecommerce group.

One of Olson’s strategies with the digital commerce group is pushing a new proof-of-concept approach with vendor partners to prevent pricey tech investments from collecting dust.

Olson spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: How has mobile growth changed your company’s organizational structure?

JUSTIN OLSON: When I started, 7% of traffic was coming through a mobile device, but now well over half of our traffic is on mobile. When I was first brought in as head of the mobile group, we also had a traditional web, CRM and acquisition group, so there were four specific silos there. In mid-2014, I inherited the traditional web group. 

We realized we were really a silo that was building out mobile web and app experiences based off of what I was seeing was happening on the traditional web/desktop experience. When we merged groups, we could improve the overall user experience, because we know that customers are bouncing from mobile web over to the desktop and even back to the app.

Have any paid media teams come under your wing?

About six months ago to a year ago, my group inherited our paid search team, and then the CRM team, so now we’re all under one umbrella thinking the same thing. We’re definitely seeing [CRM and paid search] come together through efforts like retargeting where we can upload our email list through [Google’s] Customer Match. The one area we can still improve is working with the digital media team that runs our display ads on Facebook and social stuff, as well as the ad networks out there.

How does that change things from a data ownership perspective?

My team – digital/ecommerce/web – has been really good about using data in the past, but we kept it close to our chest to drive testing and optimization for our customer experience, and the CRM team was doing the same stuff. Now that I’ve inherited that group, there’s huge opportunity for us to marry up this data and create a more cohesive customer experience really focused on personalization. We’ve done personalization on our website and app, the CRM team has done some personalization on their side, but now we’re thinking more holistically about a unified customer journey.

What tools are you using to get there? Are you using a third-party data management platform?

That’s really homegrown, but we’re exploring Adobe Campaign and Audience Manager right now, in addition to the site personalization we’ve done with Adobe Analytics and [digital customer experience platform] ClickTale. We’ve worked with other tag management systems and ExactTarget to try and build this central repository, but we struggled with getting the onsite visitor behavior with offline (call center) data married together.

Was that a byproduct of too many tools conflicting with one another?

The CRM team was heading down a path with ExactTarget’s Journey Builder and I was actually going down a separate path with the digital commerce team with Ensighten. Each group had a grandiose vision of pulling in all this data to create this personalized customer journey or experience, and both of us failed, unfortunately. From our perspective, [sometimes things don’t] quite deliver on the promise and vision we had outlined from the technology and data perspective. So now we’re starting over, looking at Adobe, Tealium and a couple others.

Do you prefer to go best-of-breed or whole hog on a marketing stack?

That’s something I’m working through right now. We’re using a couple of Adobe solutions, and pulling in other vendors like ClickTale to help vet it out. Sometimes, [marketers feel like they’ve] been burned by vendors in the past, so if they’re willing to do a proof of concept, we really like to prove it out, make sure it’s solid and we can actually get a return on our investment.

Our team had originally purchased ClickTale’s technology, but a year later canceled it because we were getting zero value out of the solution at the time. But then they they completely changed their model and finally sold me with the “hey, we’ll do a proof of concept.” They knocked it out of the park, so I have this in my mind now that other vendors need to do something similar.

What do you want to do with data that you aren’t doing presently?

My focus is really on the retention side of things, so having that first-party data and seeing where customers are out on the web, and building experiences for them is critical. New customer acquisition, of course, is huge and we want to be more efficient in our marketing spend. I’d say we’re probably more weighted toward driving repeat, returning customers, but we do play on the acquisition side, too.

What are you prioritizing with mobile?

We’re in the process of redesigning our website and our app experience. People have been talking about a mobile-first approach for years, and we’re definitely doing it this go-round. The big thing is translating insights into real execution. We have a lot of data we look at on a daily basis where we make assumptions and educated guesses with that data.

Tools like ClickTale (which drove a 4.3% increase in mobile conversions by streamlining the order and checkout process) make it easier because we can actually see what customers are doing onsite. We want to pull everything – mobile, offline, web – together into one central location and take action on what we learn to create a better experience.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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