No doubt, you’ve heard the news: brick-and-mortar is on life support, a priest by its bed, last rites in his hand.
It’s a sentiment that makes for good headlines, and yet … hardly tells the whole story.
Retail isn’t dead. But it is transforming.
Just ask YM Inc. The Canadian outfitter operates an umbrella of well-known retail brands. With more than 600 physical locations, YM’s commitment to the real-world shopping experience has played to legions of shoppers since 1975.
But a look to the future for one of its flagship banners was needed. Urban Planet, a fashion staple for young shoppers, had been online since 2014, though something was missing:
“Our customers are part of a generation constantly looking for that next best thing. And we wanted to bring our retail philosophy — that shopping should be fun, and great fashion should be accessible to everyone — online.”
What Urban Planet and YM’s other retailers needed wasn’t a brand reimagining, but a transformation of their online space: a strategic leap forward that would provide shoppers a digital experience to match YM’s distinctive in-store feel.
Of course, YM’s top brass was not about to rush into a new ecommerce partnership …
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Taking Care of the Backend
YM’s first step was exploring a cloud-based solution as opposed to their previous platform, Magento:
“It was really a matter of evaluating our future needs. We’re always on the lookout for ways to improve our digital footprint, so as we looked toward the future, we wanted a solution that was adaptable and flexible — something that could scale up our ecommerce operations.”
Internally, YM had a clear set of requirements:
“We wanted a comprehensive platform where we wouldn’t have to perform any system architecture work. Hosting, server upkeep, CDN networks — we didn’t want to have to worry about whether or not it could handle our customer load, or serve our growing segment of global shoppers.”
In Urban Planet’s case — where styles change fast — this also meant the capacity to perform instant updates of the website when needed. No wait times, no arduous indexing.
“What we wanted was to focus our efforts and development hours on building out the best UX experience possible.”
Merging a scalable and worry-free backend with a highly customizable and customer-delighting frontend isn’t easy. It’s a dilemma in which many high-volume brands feel trapped.
Putting YM’s backend worries to rest would be wonderful. But wouldn’t its retail players be limited on a SaaS platform with templated themes?
This was a difficult question, one that lies at the heart of not only YM’s business but the future of commerce itself. It’s also a question that’s often misleading …
Transforming the Ecommerce Experience
After outlining its customization and UX needs with one of Shopify Plus’ Solution Engineers, YM enlisted Diff — a strategy and design firm with offices in Montreal, Toronto, and New York — alongside Shopify Plus Launch Engineer Sarah Messer.
As a Shopify Plus Partner, Diff was already well versed in exactly the kind of challenges facing YM’s transformation.
Identifying areas for growth potential was top of mind. And this meant getting detailed about how customers interact with Urban Planet.
Since the lion’s share of Urban Planet shoppers arrive on its site looking for the latest styles or the best deals, the teams began with navigation. To start, clear calls to action were featured prominently in the revamped design, highlighted through NEW and SALE tabs alongside upselling and cross-selling opportunities.
“At every inflection point throughout the experience,” says Matt Humphreys, Diff’s Chief Experience Officer (CXO), “we made it easy for users to engage with and purchase the product they’re interested in.”
The site’s upgraded navigation, with smarter drop-down tabs, makes it simple for visitors to find what they want the moment they want it, without wasted clicks or page loads.
In similar fashion, a robust search experience was needed to set Urban Planet apart. To do this, the site integrated Algolia Search, a Shopify Plus search partner that fills in results instantly, intuitively and visually … displaying relevant products as visitors type.
Another step forward was to reimagine and build upon a “quick add” button, which allows shoppers to add an item, in any size, directly to their cart from the collections page.
“While this isn’t a new feature in the ecommerce world,” says Humphreys, “we’ve fine-tuned the interaction design of this element to take it one step further in simplicity.”
At the big-picture level, Shopify Plus enabled a beautiful, responsive site that could provide the intuitive UX experience Urban Planet demanded for its customers across devices and screen sizes.
Due to the multi-billion dollar opportunities of online-to-offline commerce, mobile was another huge priority.
Because today’s retail shoppers regularly turn to their phones in-store, users expect a brand’s mobile site to be an extension of the full desktop experience, without sacrificing speed or ease-of-use. That means being responsive is just one part of the equation.
The other half is making buying via mobile painless. To do this, Urban Planet integrated a variety of payment methods during checkout:
- PayPal to let customers place orders instantly using their third-party information.
- Traditional credit cards for returning customers with Urban Planet accounts.
- And Shopify Pay for a one-screen checkout through two-factor authentication.
Personalization was augmented with Nosto, an app that customizes each step of the ecommerce experience, leveraging everything from behavioral pop-ups (to increase conversions) to custom Facebook ads (to bring shoppers back to Urban Planet through retargeting).
Instagram shopping was also integrated with Foursixty — a Shopify app already trusted by the Kardashians, MVMT Watches and more — to bring the native feel of social browsing onsite in a completely shoppable way.
During production, no measure of quality control was spared.
Diff recruited eight customers into the YM office and let them test Urban Planet’s new site before it went live, laboring over every click, every action on both desktop and mobile. The site had to perform precisely as designed.
“We like to take a user-centric approach to design at Diff. Before we start any project, we have to know our client’s customers — who they are, what they want and expect, how to bring it all together. We conduct stakeholder interviews, go over user data and research, really take a deep dive into our client's competitive space. It’s our job to find what is unique about their users to create what we’d consider our own informed best practice.”
“The testing proved to be invaluable in confirming all of our assumptions.”
Matt Humphreys, Chief Experience Officer, Diff
Retail Isn’t Dying, It’s Transforming
Migrating and relaunching Urban Planet was more than just a rebuild. It was a targeted rebuild with YM’s philosophy — “shopping should be fun, and great fashion should be accessible to everyone” — at its core.
Urban Planet went live late last month. A wave washed over the YM office. This was the way forward. Over the coming months, two more of YM's landmark brands, Bluenotes and Suzy Shier, will also relaunch on Shopify Plus.
Retail, with the right digital transformation, is not dead. You ought to see it breathe.