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Case study: Managing CRO at ao.com (formerly Appliances Online)

Author's avatar By Susanne Colwyn 14 May, 2013
Essential Essential topic

An interview with Matt Lawson of ao.com on their ecommerce strategy

Matt Lawson is Head of Conversion at ao.com.

ao.comIn this interview he describes how they have  grown their business through keeping the web experience focused on the customer through constant feedback, review and testing. Today ao.com are the UK's largest online kitchen retailer with over 4000 large appliances ready for Next Day Delivery.

Their About page is one of the best we've seen for showcasing the proposition and integrating customer feedback and social networking. Taking such care with the About page may not be essential for established high-street retailers, but is important for online pureplays and startups. We also like the way their masthead below the navigation showcases their proposition.


Not that ao.com can be called a startup any longer with annual turnover of more than £50 million. In fact, it was formed as part of DRL Limited in 2000 as an online kitchen appliance retailer by John Roberts, who remains CEO of the company today. Today DRL also provide white label kitchen appliance websites for its big brand clients like Boots, Marks and Spencer, Next, House of Fraser, Debenhams, Screw Fix, Empire Direct, Argos and B&Q including supply, distribution and customer care.

Q. How often do you review strategy?

Our overall approach to strategy is that our actions focus on our objectives. The world and the way we work changes all the time so you must be dynamic and flexible. If you are not dynamic and flexible, then you are going to fail, the world is changing all the time so always keep as up to date and savvy as possible and I think you can apply that to any decent business.

In essence, At ao.com, we put the customer first:

'We strive to deliver what they want in everything we do; from our proposition to the content the see on our site'.

Q. What and how often do you review your marketplace?

Honestly? We very, very rarely look at what our competitors are doing. We always get our customers feedback and work towards what is right for them. It is not about staying one step ahead of the game and always trying to edge out the competition – what’s the point in that? We listen to the customers and reverse engineer our strategy to what is right for them.

Here is a simple example of their feedback loop with a simple Facebook reply:


Q. How do you set your goals each year? What are the KPIs?

The one common goal across our business is gut feelings. It is actions that deliver results and if someone presents an idea and it feels right then we try will run with it. In terms of KPIs, we look at profit and website experience.

Q. The business growth is impressive. What are the strategic success factors from entering this marketplace?

Simple: Understanding the customer

Q. How do you set the right levels of investment?

People often ask why we have such a large team (400+) for an online only retailer and I always relate this back to a physical store – one store could have hundreds of customers a day across the nation dealing with customers – if we were a physical chain of stores then we would need much more staff.

It is about context and we see that in our business.

Q. How important is content marketing for you?

Massive! 60% of the market buy online, do their research online etc. The only reason people would need to go into a physical store is to ask a question and we can still engage the customer and get exactly the same results without that.

Q. What steps have you taken to develop a mobile experience?

We have an extremely dedicated team who focus purely on mobile experience; we have appointed these people to concentrate solely on making this work for us and the customer. We’ve also been getting increased revenue from tablet devices too.

Q. How do you manage conversion rate improvements and the implementation of new features on the site?

We use a range of testing (multivariate, AB testing, etc.). It may not seem ground breaking but what we do is focus on customers and what they are addicted to, and then we simplify it.

Designers design out not in. It’s a simple methodology.

One example of this is testing our customer interaction with our online video testimonials, and we found that when they watch our video, they are 120.5% more like to buy and spend 9.1% more on their order. Watchvideoproduct

So the action is to simply, encourage more customers to watch more videos!.

Q. What is the process for trading review of analytics and sales?

Aside from our analytics and testing tools we have no business reporting in the digital team, all reporting is in commercial. We don’t believe in marking our own homework.

Q. What has surprised you when reviewing consumer preferences and the results of tests?

It’s important to remember that sometimes, what you think will work, and when you really invest in an idea, it can bomb and just go completely wrong.

Always be aware that what you think can work, sometimes just doesn’t for whatever reason. It’s something to always remember and try and be prepared for.

Q. What would you recommend other E-commerce site owners test?

Just give customer perfect proposition and then reverse engineer it so it works for them.

Try and get as much feedback as you can consistently and then work around it, so it can apply to your business.


Q. What would you recommend for someone new in a role like yours - what are the top issues/areas of the site they should focus on?

Collaboration and people are the most important things to remember, no matter what position you are in in the business, I can’t stress that enough. Always remember the customer.

Q. What is your vision for the future of your service?

I do not want an awesome website. I just want a website that works. It sounds weird, but if someone tells me that they enjoyed our website because of all the cool, wizzy features and apps, then I’ll know I have failed.

I want people to use the website and for everything to just fit and be perfect, they don’t always know why it works, but it just does, it’s like the iPhone. That’s success.

Author's avatar

By Susanne Colwyn

Susanne is a Marketing Consultant and Trainer, with over 20 years marketing experience in the public and private sector. She's passionate about supporting companies with practical result driven marketing, to help focus companies on evaluating and driving their marketing forward. Experienced in Integrated Strategic Marketing Planning, Data Segmentation, Customer Relationship Management Systems, Customer Insight and reviewing internal systems, data and processes, to maximise conversion strategies and the customer experience. You can connect with her via her LinkedIn or follow her @Qtymarketing.

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