Using smart ecommerce to fuel the “shop smarter” brand

The Situation

Countdown’s owners Woolworths NZ are undoubtedly focused on leading the way when it comes to operating a customer-driven business. Thus, when the decision was made in late 2010 to gradually phase-out the Woolworths and Foodtown brands in favour of a unified, ‘next-generation’ Countdown brand, it was a given that Countdown would make the move to where its sister brands had been for over 10 years – online.

Ever since they began selling groceries online, Woolworths NZ have understood that the more user-friendly their sites, the more visitors will make the decision to buy – and this notion drives all development decisions. User feedback is genuinely sought from call-centres and other sources, to inform decision makers on both potential, and already made feature additions.

Such information had a lot to do with what went into Countdown online (and the corresponding updates for Woolworths and Foodtown online) says Adam Hudson, Woolworths NZ’s National Online Manager. The new features are all about making the online shopping experience even easier and faster and therefore encouraging online grocery shopping to become a regular, more normal thing, says Adam. “There’s no bleeding edge stuff here. It shouldn’t be fringy or gimmicky”

Continuous improvement of Countdown’s Shop Smarter site

As with any successful technology story, the success really comes from the vision and partnership of the people behind it. Woolworths NZ have filtered their mind-set of continuous improvement though to the partnership with Olympic. Their National Online team works with Olympic on an on-going basis – from gathering requirements, to enabling incorporation of feedback on the fly, to implementation – ensuring best outcomes can be achieved for their business and their customers.

The solution created by Olympic, includes a couple of key components that provide the foundation for Adam’s vision of ‘even easier and faster’.

The first is the use of AJAX technologies, which allows shoppers to stay on one page while sections of information around them change. This ensures browsing through the massive number of grocery items is simple, intuitive and fast.

Secondly, smarter use of shopping recency and frequency information provides shoppers with an experience described as the site “subtly knowing” what you are looking for, says Simon Chapman, Olympic’s Solution Architect. This information is a combination of offline history attained via the loyalty “Onecard” database, and online shopping history. What this translates to, is an auto-generated “My Favourites” section for every shopper – no user setup required – again, shopping becomes easier and faster.

Building from the sites’ last iteration, the smart use of information from the Onecard database helps the all-important targeting and nurturing of first-time users. If they have a Onecard, they will have a comprehensive “My Favourites” section on first use of the site. Personalised service doesn’t get much better!

Various other features were fine-tuned to help further enhance the ease of use for shoppers. One many have noted as useful, is the constantly updated running total of items in the ‘trolley’ – vital for those shopping on a budget. With switches to a cheaper brand or a smaller size being quick and easy,this is a great example of the advantages of shopping online.

The Growth

There has been double digit growth in online shopping for Woolworths NZ over the past year, particularly since October 2010, when the website went live.

“Online shopping is convenient. Customers using our service tend to be time-poor and value the convenience and time saving that comes with shopping from home,” Adam Hudson says, Countdown’s National Online Manager.

Families with children like the site. It’s “popular with parents with small children. It helps them avoid ‘pester power’ for toys or treats and those potential toddler tantrums.”

It’s also popular with businesses running canteens, those with mobility difficulties, parents organising food parcels to be delivered to their beloved students and holidaymakers wanting fresh food waiting for them at their destination or when they return home.

Adam believes the site and how it speaks of the brands general commitment to listening and continuously enhancing the customer experience, had its small part to play in Countdown’s recent accolade of “Most Trusted Supermarket” in the 2011 Reader’s Digest Trust Survey. It’s no doubt that when convenience is of importance, Countdown is a well-recognised market-leader.

The next aim for the site is enhancing interaction. Let them shop fast, but give them an enriching experience. This is a work in progress, with a growing Recipe section currently available and fully integrated into the shopping process. Social media enrichment plans are continually evolving as is continuous improvement of the mobile solution.

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