Beating the retail downturn: three lessons from Dunelm

We are clearly amidst challenging times for high street retailers at the moment, with Brexit uncertainty coupled with increased competition from online pureplays putting substantial pressure on the UK’s retail businesses.

Recent figures from the British Retail Consortium and KPMG revealed that sales growth dropped to 0.5% in the year to March, down from an annual growth of 2.3% a year ago – with consumers showing particular caution around big-ticket items.     

However, against this difficult backdrop, some brands have shown not only resilience compared to their peers, but have also achieved considerable growth. One example is Dunelm, which has seen its sales rise both in-store and online.

Commentators have attributed these good fortunes to a confluence of factors – increased in-store footfall, improved margins through lower rents on out-of-town store locations, and a surge in online orders. Dunelm’s online growth is particularly notable, with like-for-like online sales reportedly up by 32.1%.

But what separates Dunelm from seemingly similar businesses that are struggling to compete? One key factor worth examining, considering their remarkable online growth, is Dunelm’s e-commerce offering.

Analysts say that Dunelm has ‘benefited from its investment in online infrastructure’ – investment that is evident in the quality of their online user experience. Here are three areas where Dunelm is excelling online that other retailers can learn from.

Search visibility and category pages

It’s an ecommerce fundamental that your product category pages need to be prominent and visible on the first page of Google search results in order to generate meaningful levels of organic traffic. For many consumers, who – more often than not – are starting with a generic product search like ‘blackout curtains’, the category page is the first point of entry to a retailer’s website.

In order to achieve this visibility, given Google’s prioritisation in SERPs of pages that demonstrate insight and authority, it’s essential that retailers optimise their category pages with high-quality, unique, relevant content.

Dunelm has clearly invested heavily in this area, with category pages that feature detailed description copy, optimised with a variety of relevant keywords, synonyms and related vocabulary, and containing internal links to adjacent sub-category pages.

Dunelm’s well-optimised category pages will be contributing significantly to the brand’s organic traffic share – and thereby driving conversions and revenues. Yet, at Quill, we see time and again that a surprising number of brands are failing to invest in this critical content type – our 2018 audit of the UK’s top 100 internet retailers found that 24% have no content (or minimal content) across their category pages. This is a significant wasted revenue opportunity for those retailers.

Conversion rates and product pages

Another crucial aspect of the customer buying journey is the content that users encounter immediately prior to conversion – the product pages that inform and influence their purchase decisions.

In the online environment, the absence of a human sales assistant or the ability to touch and interact with the product, means that the content on these pages plays an absolutely vital role in guiding the user toward the ‘basket’. Yet despite this, many retailers treat this content as an afterthought – often providing basic, cursory manufacturer information and failing to fully convey key product features and benefits. Our audits of top UK retailers found this was true of 58% of the brands sampled.

By contrast, this is an area that Dunelm has clearly prioritised. Product pages typically feature high-quality photography, a breadth of user-generated reviews and detailed descriptions. These include a persuasive piece of prose that describes key product features and benefits, as well as a digestible table of basic specifications.

For flagship own-brand products, Dunelm also sometimes includes illustrative product videos – an intelligent way of giving customers the confidence to purchase items that require installation or benefit from demonstration in a live setting.

Conversions and AOVs – buying guides

In a similar vein to product descriptions, buying guides – that is, editorial or visual content pieces that help consumers choose the right product(s) for their needs – play a vital role in replicating the bricks-and-mortar customer service experience for the online environment.

By offering useful advice and considered cross- or up-sell recommendations, buying guides can increase both conversion rates and AOVs, while reducing product returns. A 2017 consumer survey conducted by Quill found that 48% of shoppers have bought something from a retailer after reading a helpful buying guide. In addition, a fifth (19%) have bought a different item to that which they originally planned after reading a buying guide – indicating that retailer guides have the power to steer customers towards better choices; thereby reducing the likelihood of returns.

Despite these benefits – as well as the potential for search-optimised guides to garner organic traffic from relevant consumer Google searches – buying guides remain a neglected form of content for over a third (34%) of the UK’s biggest retailers, according to our research. But again, this is an area that Dunelm has put considerable effort into optimising, with a comprehensive website buying guide section that offers detailed advice across their core product categories.

The work that Dunelm has done to optimise its ecommerce store – ultimately offering their customers a superior, streamlined shopping experience – is being borne out in the company’s strong online revenue performance. To defy the retail downturn and build strong foundations for future growth, other retailers will need to follow suit – or risk losing out.

By Ed Bussey, Founder and CEO of online content specialists, Quill

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