With Comet undergoing a major repositioning of its stores towards a more service-based retail proposition, it was only a matter of time before its website got the same treatment. Ben Furfie sits down with web design and development manager Robbie Tutt to discuss just what this change means...

A shooting star

The change to your website has been pretty fundamental – what was the thinking behind the redesign?
We did a lot of customer research that drove the change. We went out to focus groups, to panels, to forums, emailed our customers directly and asked them what they thought of our home page. The overwhelming feedback was that no one really engaged with it and people thought it was cluttered.

This feedback shaped the way we now represent ourselves online. Previously, our homepage was very price and product focused, almost 100 per cent, and whilst price and product are still fundamental in a very competitive industry – we have been working hard towards repositioning ourselves as more service related.

The objective is clear – we want to provide our customers with excellent customer service and advice to select the right products for their needs.

As far as I understand, Comet’s stores are undergoing widespread regeneration; is this redesign part of that?
Comet’s on a journey to establish itself as a specialist electrical retailer. The deep knowledge and expertise of colleagues is a key factor to achieving our specialist position in the marketplace.

To ensure colleagues are able to develop and retain fantastic product knowledge they benefit from on-going training programmes, and colleagues instore are rewarded for achieving deep knowledge rather than rewarded for the amount of products the can sell.

So this means that if a customer goes into store and ask one of our colleagues questions about a product, we aim to give a knowledgeable and accurate answer.

And what sort of response have you seen since those changes?
We’ve had excellent customer feedback. We’ve had customers say to us that they have had very good service from colleagues as a result of the training. The changes that you see on the website are a further example of that.

There is a lot of emphasis being put on the customer experience with the redesign. What would you say best demonstrates this on the new website?
What demonstrates the emphasis we’ve put onto customer service is the amount of real estate on the front page that is dedicated to product and price. It’s probably now about 50 per cent, while the other 50 per cent is dedicated to knowledge and service which underpins our key brand values.

It’s the amount and nature of the content on the page that is very important. Around 52 million people a year come to the Comet website, so to present them with a home page that is balanced 50/50 is probably the best example of a much more focussed customer experience.

What sort of response have you seen? Are more people using the Knowledge Centre?
The Knowledge Centre performs very well. It gets a fair degree of traffic from our customers. Hence the decision to present it in a much more interesting format. We have further plans for the knowledge centre as the year progresses, but that’s – I’m afraid – something you’ll have to watch this space for.

What would you say is the relationship between the website and Comet’s stores?
Forty per cent of customers that go into our stores have done some research online either on the Comet website, or any other website. It is also used to showcase a much wider product range. We really are trying to address every tangible challenge, and take a multi-channel approach, through both online and offline initiatives.

Do you see people who only want to shop instore, to get knowledge/help they perhaps can’t get online?

It’s not that knowledge is not available online, it’s just that customers have a need sometimes to actually see the product – you just can’t get that experience online, especially if you’re looking for something like a TV – if it’s a high definition plasma TV you’re going to want to see how it looks and see what the picture quality is like.

You can do your research on the web and then you can go into a store and tangibly see what you’re looking for and you can speak to one of our colleagues face-to-face for some expert advice to ensure you are making the right purchasing decision.

But then – and this is something that we’re seeing quite a lot now – people will go home, order online and wait for their new product to be delivered – or order online then collect in the store using our Click and Collect Service.

We’re seeing a lot of cross-channel shopping, which is great because we have the infastructure to support that with 250 stores nationwide, a website and a call centre, should customers prefer to make their purchase on the phone.

You said in a recent interview that approximately half of all website purchases use the Click and Collect Service. What is Comet’s opinion on this – does it want to change the ratio, for example?

Ultimately, we want to provide as many services as we can that allow the customer to get the product in the way that best suits them. So we aim to help customers get their products as quickly as they can; for example, next day delivery is now available, so if you order your product – let’s say a washing machine – before 2pm, you can have it delivered the very next day.

Customers’ time is precious – we know and respect that. Customers will choose to shop with retailers who have the infastructure and services available to make their lives a little easier.

Etail is currently undergoing a major upheaval with masses of High Street retailers looking to increase their presence online, but also a small number of the biggest etailers opening their own stores. Would you say the future of retail is most definitely multi-channel – and where would you say the website exist in that future?
There will always be people who want to shop online for convenience and there will always be other people who want to shop instore so that they can look, touch and feel products. Equally, there will always be people that are happy to use either medium so long as it is the most convenient and yes, I do feel that both mediums have a long-term future.

The Comet website has been set up since 1999 and has been transactional since then – it was one of the first multi-channel electrical transactional website back then – and so Comet has a relatively long heritage in internet terms and we fully intend to build on our experience and expertise in this area.

Obviously, with Best Buy on the way – along with its reputation for customer service – do you feel that Comet’s website will be crucial to holding off what will undoubtedly be strong competition?

It is strong competition. Our managing director recently commented on that – and I’ll echo his thoughts on this – and that is that we welcome that competition and the service levels in the electricals industry have had a history of being too low.

We’ve raised our game quite significantly. So yes, we’re looking forward to the challenge that Best Buy will bring, but confident of our own position in the market.

Both you and DSGi are facing a lot of competition from other more general retailers such as Argos and, of course, the supermarkets. What do you feel the specialist retailers offer over these pretenders to the throne?

Comet offers a bespoke service as well as knowledge and advice. We can deliver your product, connect it or install it – for example, we will provide a Corgi registered engineer to install your gas appliance and take away all the packaging. Our service doesn’t stop there. We are committed to supporting our customers throughout the entire lifecycle of their products.

If customers have any problems, we have a very comprehensive and dedicated support and repair team, like the Comet on Call team who will support you with your IT products in your own home too. It’s a different proposition from just popping into a supermarket and picking up a DVD player.

A lot of services launched after the last redesign, but have been brought to the fore with this latest one. Has there been a boost in demand?

Comet on Call now has a lot more prominence on the on the home page – the service we’re offering is continually improving, as is the quality of that service.

Demand has improved a lot since the website re-launch and with the new initiatives we have in the pipeline, we hope to see that carry on as we get them ready for the peak trading period.

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