New York & Co. puts the enjoyment back in customer engagement

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During New York Fashion Week in 2016, New York and Co. hosted a runway show featuring its new Eva Mendez collection. The women’s fashion apparel and accessories chain created a shoppable video of the show for its website; the goal was to launch within several hours of the show’s start.

“The runway show started at 6, and by 8:55, the experience was live on the site,” says Paul Carroll, vice president of creative for digital and ecommerce. Five minutes after that, 2 million customers had received emails inviting them to shop the collection.

The retailer’s IT team could have spent months building and coding to make the rapid video production possible. Instead, New York & Co. used the Creator tool from content-creation software firm Zmags.

Carroll began working with Zmags in the fall of 2014 to create a digital version of New York & Co.’s print catalog for the holiday season. The retailer’s existing online platform offered no streamlined process for moving print content online. While researching options, Carroll came across a compelling digital catalog Zmags had helped another retailer create.

He contacted Zmags, invited its representatives in for a presentation and conducted a pilot that November through January. “I was able to turn that print catalog into a shoppable experience for both desktop and mobile in time for the holidays,” Carroll says.

Focused on experience

Zmags has two platforms; its digital catalog solution, Publicator, allows users to upload, digitize and add interactivity and functionality to catalogs and other print assets.

Creator is Zmags’s “shoppable content platform,” says Lindsay Moore, vice president of business development and strategy for Zmags. It “allows anyone in marketing, merchandising, ecommerce and design to design and publish interactive, fully shoppable content without writing a single line of code.”

Rather than simply uploading images and product-detail pages, Creator enables companies to, for instance, create online experiences. A beauty brand could demonstrate “how to get the best cat-eye makeup for your skin tone with step-by-step guides and embedded videos,” Moore says.

Moreover, it typically can be completed within several hours. “It’s a complete game changer for retailers, who can interact with customers in a completely new way,” she says. They can create online experiences that are engaging and shoppable but not completely commercial.

Many people enjoy in-store shopping experiences, which often engage multiple senses through sights, sounds and even scents. Online, however, the experience can take a backseat to simply transacting business.

“It’s called ecommerce, not e-shopping,” Moore says. The focus is on the purchase rather than the overall experience. Zmags can help change that, she says.

A home-accessories retailer used Creator to develop an online interactive tutorial to help customers design a pillow mix. Instead of wading through thousands of products, shoppers start with a selection based on their color and style preferences. From that, they can mix and match pillows to see which look best together. Once they’ve finished, customers can purchase the pillows they’ve chosen directly from the page.

No coding required

Once retailers complete a one-time implementation of JavaScript code, they can drag and drop images and other content onto their websites and add animation, action, fade-in, fade-out, zoom and other features.

“I’m a designer. I have zero coding knowledge,” Carroll says. Zmags is “created for designers who don’t have backend coding experience but want to create beautiful images and experiences.” He says he learned the software in a few days. Since Creator is a cloud-based platform, updates are automatically pushed to all users, freeing retailers from the need to dedicate internal resources to manage it.

Creator helps retailers better design mobile and desktop sites. New York & Co. offers both; Carroll originally designed its lookbooks as a series of pages that customers would click or slide through to see the next page.

Creator’s dashboard showing real-time user interaction indicated an “alarming” drop-off in the number of clicks by the second page, Carroll says, with only 10 percent to 15 percent of users clicking through to it.

About two-thirds of New York & Co.’s traffic now comes from mobile users; of this, 54 percent is from smartphones rather than tablets. Most mobile users prefer to consume content vertically rather than horizontally. After Carroll placed the designs on one page that users could scroll vertically, “clicks and the engagement soared,” he says.

In some cases, dresses toward the bottom of the page outsold designs higher up.

Significant impacts

A variety of retailers use Zmags’s systems, although Moore says they tend to be particularly applicable to retailers of fashion, home goods and cosmetics.

Creator doesn’t create new pages or manage page templates or navigation. Instead, it works with content management systems, including both those built into ecommerce platforms and external CMS programs.

Carroll uses Creator monthly when shooting fashion trends and lookbooks specifically for New York & Co.’s website. Its celebrity collections with Eva Mendez and Gabrielle Union can be viewed on dedicated site pages that are “focused and customer-attention-grabbing experiences,” he says. “We’re basically saying, ‘Hey, we want you to look at this. We think it’s special, and we hope you think so, too.’”

The impact of a more engaging, interesting online experience can be significant. At one point, Carroll took images from the catalog, turned them into website product shots and created a traditional grid of images for which his team tracked customer engagement.

A week later, Carroll and his colleagues went live with a Zmags online experience for the same products, again tracking engagement. Among other changes, customers spent seven minutes longer on the site, and conversion jumped by about 20 percent.

Rapid response

Around the time Beyoncé released her 2016 album, “Lemonade,” New York & Co. happened to have a line of clothes that featured lemons. Within 24 hours of the album’s release, the store had an interactive, shoppable campaign page showcasing the items, Moore says.

On a practical level, Carroll and his team can use Creator to quickly update New York & Co.’s site when an item sells out or is restocked. Prior to Zmags, these updates could consume 12 to 24 hours, he says; the task now takes several minutes.

Carroll continues to expand his team’s use of Zmags. As the 2017 holiday season got under way, he planned to use it for gift guides and holiday dresses, both of which are big categories for New York & Co. “The holiday gift guide for the dress boutiques and holiday trends are all going to be [produced by]Zmags Creator,” he says.

“Zmags sort of took the straightjacket off us as creatives,” Carroll says. His time, and that of his team, no longer is limited by the need to spend months coding and planning.

“It gives us incredible freedom as designers to create great shoppable experiences,” he says, leading to customers who are excited, engaged and loyal.

Karen M. Kroll is a business writer based in Minnetonka, Minn.

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