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Lush: A Digital Love Story

We’re about to release a case study on Lush.co.uk, and I hate to spoil the fun, but I just can’t help it. As I write this post I’m on a flight back across the pond from London, where I had the pleasure of meeting, first-hand, the team behind Lush.co.uk. iKOS Digital, one of my favorite agency partners and the strategy team behind Lush.co.uk, co-hosted a Digital Transformation breakfast briefing with Acquia last week. Myles Davidson from iKOS kicked it off, and then Andy Russell and Adam Goswell from Lush Digital stole the show.

If you haven’t yet, take a moment and check out Lush.co.uk. On the surface Lush just sells cosmetics and bath products. But when you look deeper it is clear that Lush is a very unique brand. At 900 + stores worldwide they’re still a family-run business. It feels like they almost care more about pushing their social agenda than selling product. To quote Andy, in his presentation he said, “The bottom line doesn’t drive everything”. In Russia they advocate for gay rights, in America, it’s anti-bullying, in the UK, animal testing. Around the world, Lush has an extremely strong sense of identity and ethics, and they generally don’t give a bath-bomb about what anyone thinks about them. This cavalier attitude plus a genuinely great product has created a following any brand would kill for.

Up until about 8 months ago (March 2014 to be exact) this extremely strong brand personality was only visible in store. Posters and signage pushed their social agenda, while washing stations and an evangelist staff pushed products. As the online channel grew organically for them, they realized they needed take control of it and view it as an extension of their brand, and not just an online shop.

Enter Jack Constantine, son of founder Mark Constantine. Jack decided the company needed a perception shift through a specific focus on digital, including a website that embodied the spirit of the company and extended the Lush voice to the digital space.

Jack’s vision was to replicate the in-store experience as closely as possible. In the absence of smell-o-vision, the Lush Digital team went through great pains to get beautiful photography of every product and each ingredient that went into its creation. In lieu of in-store sampling, Lush Digital used video to give the user an idea of what using the product actually felt like. Since they couldn’t have a sales associate describe to the customer how each product was (literally) hand-made, the ingredient stories were woven throughout the site. Each ingredient has a dedicated page describing in detail how it’s sourced, how it contributes to the product and how it’s beneficial to the skin, and then what products the ingredient can be found in.

Simply bringing these in-store-like elements online wasn’t enough. While many brands would have been satisfied to keep all of this amazing content in one section and the catalog in another, Lush was not. It was a fundamental belief that the replication of the in-store experience should not be siloed from the purchase. The site is designed to have the content interwoven among the products in a seamless and natural way, enabling users to browse, learn and purchase all in the same location.

Then, just as the site was nearing completion they had one more idea. What if the product developers could use Lush.co.uk as a testing ground? What if they could actually use the site to help shape the products of the future? The idea of the Lush Kitchen was novel. It was daunting. It was insisted upon by Jack himself.

In my 10+ years in the commerce world, this is the first time I’ve witnessed an online commerce experience surpassing an in-store experience. Every day the Lush Kitchen whips up a brand new batch of products and posts them on their site and in social media. During their presentation Andy and Adam said they expected to sell just a handful of those products a day. As a privately held company who’s just starting to see the metrics roll in, they’re hesitant to share, but only 8 months in, and they’re selling TONS more than they expected. Sometimes, they sell out within a few hours of posting a Kitchen product online. The most obvious benefit is the product testing aspect. Brands just can’t get this kind of real-world feedback this easily. However, they have unexpectedly created a new breed of Lush enthusiasts hungry for new products every day. Their repeat purchase rate for Kitchen products is through the roof. And they nearly always sell through.

Kitchen isn’t the only bit of Lush.co.uk with astounding metrics. It’s killing me not to be able to share, but during their presentation (and very off the record) they shared MASSIVE increases in visits, sales, time on site and repeat visits. And they’re not done. They’re rolling out lessons learned from the UK site to the rest of their sites globally. They continue to monitor the sites, converse with the customer, and look for ways to improve. They have big dreams, and I have no doubt they’ll achieve them.

I think it’s safe to say, Lush is doing something right. Although they are a pretty unique brand, the problems they faced are not. Everyone out there can learn from what Lush has done, and apply it to their own brands. To make it easy (and because alliteration is fun), I’ve pulled together this handy-dandy buzz-feed-y list:

6 Lessons Learned from Lush

  1. Know your Why. Someone had to say it… Simon Sinek. At this point every brand manager, marketer, intern and even college kid taking an entry-level marketing class has seen Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk. (Don’t worry, if you haven’t seen it yet, go here and watch it on your iPhone in the bathroom. I won’t tell. Promise.) Lush knows exactly who they are, why they exist and have embraced it, almost to a fault (but not really).
  2. Get senior level buy-in. I think Adam and Andy got lucky. Jack was bought in to the digital channel, before they even came on board, to champion digital as Lush's next frontier to Lush's board of directors. He saw (and still sees) digital as the future of Lush and are fully committed to bringing their ‘Why’ alive in every channel imaginable, online and off.
  3. Never Settle. During the Q&A point in the presentation, someone asked Adam & Andy which brands they look up to. They said a little of everyone, a little of no one. When working through their creative vision and digital strategy, they didn’t see anyone doing it the way they wanted. They didn’t have any real role models. They’d never seen soap come alive through video on a website before. At every turn, they were asking themselves ‘how can we do this better’.
  4. Be afraid. And LOVE it. At the end of the presentation, Adam and Andy were asked if the project seemed daunting from the start. Without hesitation they both said YES. They were terrified. They admitted it. Lush Digital's directors had some how convinced leadership to sink a boatload of money into a project they had no idea how to calculate an ROI on. But they knew, just knew this was the right thing to do for Lush. And it was. The metrics prove that today.
  5. Agile agile agile. Agile. Ok, here’s where I get boring. The term ‘agile’ is not just a development term. It’s a lifestyle. At the onset of the project, the team knew they wanted to bring the in-store experience online. They had some ideas of what they wanted, but as the project unfolded, things changed, new ideas came up, some worked, some didn’t. I was shocked to hear that the idea for the Lush Kitchen came up a month before the site was due to launch. And they still launched on time (kudos iKOS).
  6. Organize for Success. Apologies… another boring one, but probably one of the most important (why are the boring things so important??). The Lush Digital team was reorganised internally in order to be successful. The creative team sat with the commerce team, in a space specifically designed to facilitate conversation and collaboration. They were given the resources, reporting structure, KIPs, and organizational support necessary to set the teams up for success.

After Lush Digital’s presentation, Ray Grady, our SVP of Commerce, got up to give ours. One of the first slides in our deck showed the commerce landscape as we see it. Brands on the left are disrupting the market and changing expectations, brands on the right are commoditizing it and it’s a race to the cheapest-fastest seller. Once Ray was done, he and I were chatting with Adam and Andy. “Maybe we should have put you to the left” Ray said. I think he’s right. Lush has gone from disrupted brand to disruptor. I should probably update that slide…

digital disruption

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