Orvis, outdoor clothing and fly fishing brand, has long acknowledged the importance of having a stand-out digital presence. The Orvis team has been spearheading a full website redesign since last year, but when the pandemic hit, the team doubled-down their efforts to build a better online experience for their existing digital customers, and a new segment of customers who previously exclusively shopped in-store or through the brand’s catalog.
From adapting their new customer acquisition strategy to emphasizing storytelling content, here are the digital holiday strategies driving Orvis’ holiday shopping preparation:
What makes the Orvis customer unique?
Dan Corby: Orvis is one of the oldest catalog companies in the country and we’ve been working diligently to build our digital presence over the last year. In the past 6 months, those efforts have obviously been accelerated with the majority of our customer base switching to online and engaging with us in the digital space. We’d already been working on a full platform redesign project—just to add a little fun to the mix in these already chaotic times. Our biggest challenges at the moment are launching an entirely new site, monitoring, and testing customer engagement, and trying to find the right ways to keep folks engaged and offer meaningful content in uncertain times.
Lauren Hatch: Before the pandemic, our customer was somewhat omnichannel, but we do have customers who love to shop exclusively in-store. We attract an older demographic, so it’s been intriguing to watch the people who were 100% in-store, catalog, or even phone switch to digital. We had to learn how to adapt to them and their needs as much as they had to learn to engage with us online. Even with retail opening back up, we’ve seen a continued surge in digital, so I’m very interested to see what the 2020 holiday season has in store for us.
What new customer behaviors have you seen develop over the last six months?
Dan Corby: One of the unique parts of the Orvis brand is that we like to engage our customers through education and storytelling. There’s always been an internal tension between “do we push our products” or “do we tell our story.’ What we’ve witnessed over the past 6 months is how well our storytelling content is not only engaging but also converting. It’s building confidence among our storytelling capabilities and it’s helped shift some of our seasonal plans from direct sales tactics to leveraging ambassador stories to inspire our customers to go try something new.
Orvis’ September website homepage featuring engaging visuals and featured products
Lauren Hatch: We are lucky because we are an outdoor company. Fly fishing and our dog business have boomed since the beginning of quarantine. We’ve been able to pivot and take advantage of that, and help our customers get outside and discover the wonder of nature. We’ve had a lot more engagement with our brand content and we’ve been able to do a lot of A/B testing around how brand content vs shopping content performs and how they push people to shop the site.
Dan Corby: I’m sure a lot of other retailers have noticed it too, but the direct implications of the times we’re in are shaping the popularity of our product lines and our offerings. Anything related to the outdoors has been really successful for us, but we’ve seen a change in our general apparel lines. Some of our key performing products used to be business casual wear, but we’ve seen a shift to more leisure and tech-oriented apparel—items that can be worn on the river and then worn on a video call later when you get back home.
We’re a fly fishing brand and during 2020 the sport became a great outlet for people to get outside and responsibly socially distance. People who were already seasoned anglers had the opportunity to teach a bunch of new folks that want to try and learn the sport. We’ve hosted some fun virtual events like digital casting instructing and got tons of positive feedback from both new and existing customers.
What are the biggest challenges facing your team going into this year’s holiday season?
Dan Corby: This year, I have a feeling we’re all going to be facing the same giant challenge— shipping and cut off dates. We’re all still figuring out what we can do in stores and enable customers to reserve online and pick up in-store. That’s not new for other retailers, but click-and-collect is new for Orvis. We want to still meet the needs of last-minute shoppers and drive traffic in-store, but we’ll have to figure out how to maintain item availability and capacity in stores this year.
The other challenge for us has been creative assets. A lot of our photoshoot plans fell through this year, so we’ve been leveraging internal folks to tell more local stories, especially The Perkins Family, our owners, and our brand ambassadors.
Lauren Hatch: In terms of testing and research, we’re really trying to optimize our front door, which is our homepage. We’ve been trying to balance brand vs. product stories and test different templates and creative. We’ve been doing a lot of A/B testing with auto-personalization and we’ve actually been using Contentsquare’s zone-based heat maps, customer journey analysis, and session replay tools to help prep the creative we want to put forth for the holidays.
Like Dan mentioned, shipping is going to be what we need to deal with this year. We’re trying to put our best offers at the beginning of the season because that’s when we can confidently ship products and ensure they reach customers on-time. We think later in the season promotions won’t be possible or a smart idea, so we’re trying to figure out what our customers want to purchase ahead of time and ensure they’re discounted early on. The new shipping standard has been set in the last 6 months, as even Amazon is taking a week to ship, so that will lend some authenticity behind the way we’re going to market it, but we want to ensure we communicate shipping cut off dates clearly to customers so we meet their expectations.
What are some new ways you are creating content this year?
Dan Corby: We’ve pivoted to tell more local and brand stories. We’ve been building up our ambassador program for the last few years and have really leaned on those creators throughout the pandemic. Our ambassadors are triple threats: they’re models, photographers, and amazing writers. Instead of us having to send a whole team out or worry about how to send a stylist out to a photo shoot in Montana, we’re able to work directly with them.
Two of our ambassadors, Gillian and Rob, are a husband and wife team who are currently featured on our homepage. They live in the Idaho-Montana region and were able to shoot everything locally in their own backyard. No one had to travel, so we could prioritize the safety of all our employees. It just goes to show how important long-term partnerships are. If you align yourselves with the right people around you, when tensions get tough like this, you’re able to get scrappy. As a brand, we don’t want to go out and shoot on random models. It has to be people that actually live and breathe what we do.
We give them a vision and they go out and capture the creative themselves. We’re shifting the majority of our bigger seasonal photoshoots to these small niche one-offs and driving them with a story. We don’t just tell them to go out and capture assets, we encourage them to tell a story—their story—that aligns with the larger narratives we’re using throughout the season.
How do you expect Black Friday / Cyber Monday to differ from previous years?
Lauren Hatch: We’re used to people buying and wrapping for themselves, but I think this year we’ll see an even heavier emphasis on gifting and sending gifts directly to other people. We’re thinking about how we can add gift wrap with personalized notes, as well as offering really unique gifts that you can’t find anywhere else. We’re curating those gifts so they’re easier for our customers to find.
Dan Corby: On the inventory side, one of the biggest things to keep in mind is wording. Going into this year, the last thing you want to do is create more urgency or panic in anybody. The reality is that there are going to be inventory challenges and shortages this year. Last year, we hosted a lot of one-off-sales that said, “This is the best deal you’re going to get on this sweater this year. It’s available for one day only.” That created some urgency—we’re not saying you can’t get it later, but this is definitely the best deal you’re going to get.
But to build that confidence with your users, they need to believe it. Watered down marketing language can create mistrust with users at times and cause them to think, “Is this really the best deal I’m going to get? If I wait a little longer, I might get a better offer?” One of the awesome parts about Orvis is our Great-Catch Guarantee which guarantees 100% customer satisfaction, it assures customers that they can order a product with confidence and make a return if needed.
How are you helping bring the in-store experience online?
Dan Corby: A lot of the testing we’ve been doing around our replatform project incorporates elements of the in-store experience. In stores, you can see all our products laid out on a table. You can see every color an item comes in, as well as touch and feel the products. A big part of the redesign of our PDP is about the scale and size of our main product images. We want customers to be able to see the stitch, the knit, and the color of a product so they feel like they can touch it, smell it, see it right in front of them—even online. Some of the pages we’re trying to launch this fall will have elevated, large-scale product photography. The photos will be bolder and you won’t have to zoom in as much to really get to know the products.
We‘ve also been toying with making our customer service reps your guide to the Orvis store, to virtually take the place of our in-store associates. We take a lot of pride in our in-store associates—they’re really well-versed in our products so we’re trying to carry that expertise and experience over to our general call center. We have a broad array of products—from fishing to general men’s and women’s clothing to dog—so it’s hard to find someone who knows everything about everything. We’re segmenting out our customer service team so we have experts who can answer specific questions in detail. We want to quickly get a customer to a product specialist that can answer their questions and give them the confidence to make a purchase.
Lauren Hatch: Content and product should be weaved together. If you have a strong brand that you believe in, you should mention it as much as possible, whether it be through copy, through photography, or through the product detail description—like why you chose a specific fabric because it holds up really well on the river. Obviously, conversion is important, we need to make money to stay in business. But the reason why we are where we are is because our customers trust us to design great products they can incorporate into their lives.
Dan Corby: It’s the one time customer vs. repeat customer scenario. Which one you’re trying to get? Are you looking to make a sale or just get that lifelong customer?
What are some ways you’re helping new Orvis customers discover and learn about your products online?
Lauren Hatch: In the past year, we’ve done a bunch of testing to ensure our navigation structure makes it easy to get around the site. On top of that, we’ve worked within product recommendations to enhance our algorithms to allow that natural product exploration to happen so that you don’t always have to be clicking into every single product, but that your suggestions are matched back to the way you’ve previously shopped with us. We’ve been really looking for ways for it to be intuitive for customers to get to products. If it’s hard for customers to find and get to our products, then we’ve already failed.
Dan Corby: I think the key is optimizing the journey. Email is one of our stronger channels and it’s a great opportunity for us to introduce product stories to users, especially if you know they aren’t going to browse and bump into it organically in a store. Oftentimes an email is a customer’s first exposure to a particular product and allows us to tell them a story that we usually depend on our in-store associates to tell.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to create a general email sign up that stands out to a new user. Every company is going to give them a 10 or 20% off coupon, but what you follow up with will help your brand stand out. We have a five email series that starts with the discount and then launches right into brand story-telling. We don’t push products right off the bat, we try to get new users to understand who we are, relate to us as a brand, and inspire them to keep coming back.
This interview is an excerpt from Contentsquare’s ongoing Fall Semester webinar series. In addition to Orvis, we’ll be sitting down with digital experts from other leading brands like e.l.f. Cosmetics, VF Corporation, and more.
Click here to register for the next Fall Semester session or watch previous sessions, like “Digital Agility: Adapting to the New Holiday Season” with Orvis.
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