A clear vision for e-commerce success: Q&A with Keith Baker, global business director for Clearly

Online eyewear retailer Clearly (formerly Clearly Contacts) has its collective eyes on the prize when it comes to succeeding in a competitive e-commerce market.

The Vancouver-based company bills itself as eye health and vision correction ambassadors:  according to Clearly’s director of global business Keith Baker, e-commerce is a balancing act between innovation and its vision for a consistent experience for customers.

In the latest digital issue of CanadianCIO — available now — we spoke with Baker to discuss the challenges of e-commerce in Canada and how the company defines success.

CanadianCIO: What is your company’s current focus?

Keith Baker, global business director, Clearly
Keith Baker, global business director, Clearly

Baker: For us, the customer is the heart of our e-commerce experience. When we look back at the refresh that we did a year ago, we saw it as an opportunity to change the way our brand showed up in the marketplace. And looking at it from the point of view of getting the product and service right, where technology fits and how the brand experience fits. It was developed with a long-term vision in mind. When you look out to 2050, it is expected that there will be more than five billion people in the world that will have a need for vision correction. Our roots in Vancouver are all about making eyewear affordable and accessible, so you look at where we started from, what the longer term potential is, and understanding there is a need to grow the brand in the marketplace.

Part of it stems from the fact we have been in the business for a while. The original owners were all about embracing technology and innovation and where that could meet the need in the optical industry. And you see a lot of that today in terms of digital transformation. Where we are different is that we are mindful of what our competitors are doing in this space but we are focused on anticipating customer needs — where we are going and how technology helps us get there. It’s looking at our ecosystem and partners in order to make it happen. How technology helps our customers at the end of the day sets us apart.

CanadianCIO: What does e-commerce mean for your business?

Baker: For us, e-commerce is about getting the customer right and giving them choice. We spend a lot of time looking at empowering the customer from an eye health point of view, and we see e-commerce as a way to do that. It’s broader than e-commerce as a sales channel and more about the overall experience for us.

CanadianCIO: From your perspective, how are you succeeding where others aren’t?

Baker: It’s more about blazing our own trail. Technology is changing so fast and you can’t sit around to see what’s happening. Waiting is losing from that perspective; you can’t get distracted by the clutter that is out there and try to apply someone else’s template. For us, it’s about knowing who our core customer is and making sure that we are ahead of anticipating those needs and giving them the best experience possible.

CanadianCIO: How does Clearly drive its brand experience across all platforms?

Baker: Whether someone is calling our vision care ambassadors, showing up in our retail stores, or online buying glasses or contacts, we want to make sure it is one consistent experience across all touchpoints.

What works well for us is that we approach e-commerce from a very integrated, cross-functional team. It’s not about “marketing runs the brand and IT runs the technology” but rather it’s about getting all teams together to have a conversation around what part of the customer experience they own and touch. It creates accountability throughout the whole organization and helps them understand what they can bring to the table to affect the customer experience. When you have everyone rallying around the same vision with the customer in mind, that propels us forward.

Founded in 2000, Clearly's family of online retail websites and physical stores offer an extensive selection of contact lenses, eyeglasses and sunglasses
Founded in 2000, Clearly’s family of online retail websites and physical stores offer an extensive selection of contact lenses, eyeglasses and sunglasses

CanadianCIO: How important is IT for an e-commerce company?

Baker: For our IT teams it’s about obsessing over what the right platforms are and where do we go. It’s a constant state of assessment. We make sure that we treat security and privacy with the utmost importance because you do have a lot of sensitive information with prescriptions. We make sure all of our technology is meeting the highest standards. We have a dedicated team here that is literally just focused on the security of our information.

CanadianCIO: What are your e-commerce challenges at present?

Baker: Currently only four per cent of people with optical needs are actually buying online. So 96 per cent aren’t. That group of customers is still wanting to physically try on the product and see how it fits their face.  And it’s about how do you overcome some of those challenges to ensure customers feel comfortable with their purchase. So we have a style finder which helps identify the right frame based on face shape, or personal consultants via phone. At the same time, we want to make it a risk-free experience so we offer a 365-day return policy so there is no risk in terms of returns or exchanges.

CanadianCIO: How does Clearly define e-commerce success?

Baker: We use the metric of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) as one of our key measures of success. It’s our best way of determining if we are succeeding with the customer. We know we do well but we have real-time feedback depending on where the customer is in the lifecycle of our programs. We are all able to look at that on a regular basis.

This interview has been condensed and edited. This article first appeared in the August 2016 issue of CanadianCIO. 

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