Sally Beauty UK is an operating division of the US-based Sally Beauty Holdings Inc, the largest distributor of professional beauty products in the US. It is a global company with turnover of $3.7billion in 2014, with 16,500 employees across 11 countries.

In the UK, annual turnover is around £140m and the business provides both retail customers and salon professionals with a comprehensive range of more than 8,000 hair, skin and nail products.

Product categories include hair colour, hair care, hair dryers, hair styling appliances, nail and skin care and other beauty products. There are 260 stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland and 800,000 hair and beauty professionals are currently registered as trade cardholders.

Online sales represent some 8% of turnover and the company trades through three digital channels: Salon Services (trade), Beauty Express (trade) and Sally Express (retail).

Good Growth was appointed by Sally Beauty in February 2014 with the initial aim of improving the sales effectiveness and conversion of the Salon Services site so that it matched or exceeded the performance of the Beauty Express site, which was then Sally Beauty’s top performing e-commerce site. Delivered as part of a twelve-month Customer to Action® project, it focused on improving product findability and ease of purchase as well as increasing both the value of purchase and number of customers. The project also included the need to embed organisational changes designed to impact e-commerce performance.

Richard Surridge, Head of E-commerce at Sally Beauty, joined the company in April 2014 and took stock of the various challenges facing the business. In his initial observations he noted that, although the business as a whole put the customer at the heart of its operations, there was room for more focus on the customer experience in its e-commerce strategy.

Richard recognised that important e-commerce insights, such as past purchase history, were not being used to their full potential and online service levels needed to improve to match those in stores, for example in increasing the quality and relevance of information presented to customers. Richard’s primary challenge was to boost e-commerce performance in the short-term while implementing longer-term strategic changes to increase effectiveness.

Richard immediately reviewed the work undertaken by Good Growth and was encouraged by what he saw. “I saw a simple, pragmatic and correct approach. From a business perspective, the danger is always to focus too much on the short-term pressures but you simply have to allow yourself the time to make better decisions based on the information and particularly the insight at your disposal.

“One of the particular strengths of Good Growth’s approach was in putting the customer agenda right at the heart of improvements and learning from insight to move things forward. By building hypotheses for improvement and then testing these in a live environment, we could see a clear way forward”.

“Customer to Action® was an extensive and detailed piece of work that delivered an excellent overview of where we were and highlighted where we needed to get to. It brought together analytics and data, but where the Good Growth team were really able to add significant value was bringing additional customer insight to bear to generate a much richer and more detailed view of the bigger picture”, he added.

Building the customer insight platform consisted of five stages that included web analytics, an online survey, page analytics, live customer testing and competitor activity. The key part of this was in live customer testing, where Good Growth’s methodology is unique in gathering insight with live interviews with customers from a cross section of users and which highlights any frustrations or challenges for customers as they go through the sales funnel.

Soon after his appointment, Richard made some important changes to the strategic plan and the business priorities and worked closely with Good Growth to build a commercial model that would drive sales and implement changes that would make a real difference.

A number of tests took place in November and December and the momentum has carried on through to this year. These have included the home page, site banner, product pages, telephone number, failed search, log-in and basket funnel. In each case the alternative Challenger execution emerged as a clear winner and this has so far generated nearly £1m for the business.

“We have been successful in identifying the quick wins and been more aggressive in implementing them across all sites, but there is still a great deal more that we can do. I’d like to see us test even more quickly and also be more ambitious in the type of things that we test”, added Richard.

Since beginning work on the Salon Services site, Good Growth has been engaged to increase online sales for Sally Express and Beauty Express and is developing a number of hypotheses to test and learn.

Asked about the experience of working with Good Growth, Richard commented: “It’s a good, close, very open working relationship with honesty and directness on both sides. They provide great information and insight and there’s great expertise always on hand. They always challenge us, which is a real positive and the fact that they think both very commercially and strategically is a real asset. It’s extremely valuable having a partner who can work alongside us to work through ideas and help us get to an answer”.