Was Competition to Blame for Jeanswest’s Downfall?

Greg Randall By Greg Randall | 29 Jan 2020

Jeanswest has recently announced they are in trouble. It’s never great to hear of any organisation going through this potential end of life, however, when this happens, other organisations should pause and take the opportunity to check oneself.

This is done by understanding what happened to the failing organisation to determine if similar business characteristics exist. And if there are, leap into action to make corrections so as not to share the same fate.

This is the purpose of this article, to help others understand the business characteristics which contributed to placing Jeanswest in the situation they are in today.

The focus of this assessment is on the Jeanswest online channel for two reasons:

Reason #1.

Business wide growth stems from harnessing the power and influence of the digital channel, specifically, working to improve and enhance online experiences. New research from Econsultancy and Adobe’s Experience Index: 2020 Digital Trends report confirms – 

“Global companies leading in customer experience are three times more likely than their peers to have significantly exceeded their 2019 business goals.”

Reason #2.

KPMG (Jeanswest voluntary administrators) made the following statement in the press last week:

“Like many other retailers, the business has been challenged by current tough market conditions and pressure from online competition.”

Every business is continuously under tough market conditions, it’s the second part of the quote which is of high interest and requires unpacking: ‘pressure from online competition. There are a number of issues with this part of the statement.

The ‘pressure’ on Jeanswest – where is it coming from?

After completing a ‘customer experience audit’ on Jeanswest, the standard of online experiences from this retailer is low.

The ripple effect of offering poor experiences is substantial and influences the entire business both online and off. Though KPMG suggests the pressure is coming from competitors, in fact Jeanswest is applying the pressure upon itself by not delivering a high standard of engaging online experiences.

Some examples as to the ‘pressure ripple effects’ a business will feel as a result:

  • Low conversion rates – there is a correlation between meaningful engagement and online buying behaviours
  • Less likely customers will remain loyal – there is a correlation between meaningful engagement and retention
  • Retailers become too reliant on discount-driven offers because that is the only way consumers will endure poor online experiences – to capitalise on deals
  • The cost of acquiring a new customer is high because consumers are being sent to a poorly performing “online salesperson” (this results in a low ROI for marketing investment)
  • Email marketing is less effective because the traffic from these campaigns are also being sent to a poorly performing “online salesperson”
  • The online channel becomes less effective in driving foot traffic into stores – research proves there is a correlation between great online experiences and driving foot traffic into physical store locations

To further illustrate and prove how the issue is less to do with the competition (as suggested by KPMG) and more to do with Jeanswest’s inability to offer amazing online experiences, there are two proof points explained in detail below, these are…

  1. The consumer demand in Australia for ‘Women’s Jeans’ terms
  2. One example of the findings from the Jeanswest experience design audit – analysing filter experiences

Consumer Demand in Australia:

Analysing the types of searches occurring in Australia sheds light on the nature of consumer sentiment and the competitive landscape that exists.

The research was conducted for the Australian region for ‘women’s jeans’ terms only.

The research shows the consumer search trends are dominated by two search themes in the context of ‘women’s jeans’:

  • Style search types: ‘ripped jeans’, ‘high waisted jeans’, ‘flare jeans’ etc…
  • Colour search types: ‘black jeans’, ‘white jeans’

When analysing the next layer of search types down beyond these two themes, there is also the third theme which also stands out: a high volume of style and colour search types combined (‘black high waisted jeans’).

Conservatively speaking, there are over 100k searches per month in Australia for these three themes.

What is noticeably absent when conducting this research was the presence of retail brand terms. This is not to say there is no demand for other competitors, however, the point here is, there is significant volume of searches where consumers are looking for products that match consumer needs.

This is consistent with research conducted by Google where they state, when consumers are in that moment of need, they have greater loyalty to their own need than a retail brand.

This from Google:

“People are more loyal to their need in the moment than to any particular brand.  Case in point: 65 percent of smartphone users agree that when conducting search on their smartphones, they look for the most relevant information regardless of the company providing the information.”

So while Jeanswest representatives state this retailer is struggling as a result of ‘pressure from online competition’ this is in fact not the case in the context of what consumers are actually looking for when she has a need to be fulfilled.

This leads us to the second reason Jeanswest is in trouble: their inability to create amazing online experiences.

Experience design flaws (findings from the audit):

In order for consumers to gain confidence when they are engaging online, retailers must achieve high standards in the creation of amazing online experiences.  But the ability to deliver great experiences comes in many forms.  

To illustrate the standard of Jeanswest’s underperformance in the delivery of amazing online experiences, one example has been provided below:  filtering/refinement experiences.

Research has proven when filtering/refinement experiences are executed to a high standard it adds full percentage points to online conversion rates.

The example below is done on smartphone screens due to the dominance of this device type.

Jeanswest Filtering Experiences:

When consumers land on the Women’s Jeans category they are presented with what’s shown in Figure 1 below.

via Greg Randall

When consumers select the ‘Refine’ element (seen in Figure 1 above) they are presented with what’s shown in Figure 2 (below).

via Greg Randall

The manner in which these elements are presented comprises a number of issues…

  • Each filter type is too close together risking incorrect finger selection
  • The font should be darker to accommodate bright lighting environments 
  • There are no visual cues such as a ‘tick box’ to prompt the selection of a filter
  • The full presentation of all filters pushes down relevant filtering options – for example, the ‘Colour’ filter is not in view

Once a consumer selects one of these filters they are immediately taken back to the ‘Women’s Jeans’ category. This is a mechanical issue with the e-commerce technology. Consumers should be given the chance to make multiple selections and then be given a call to action called ‘Apply’ to activate multiple filters.

By assuming the consumer only wants to make one filter makes more unnecessary work for the consumer because she needs to go back into this screen to make another selection. Making more work is known as increasing a consumer’s ‘interaction cost’.

When the consumer is taken back to the category after selecting one filter, they are presented with what’s shown in Figure 3 below.

via Greg Randall

During this review, the ‘Skinny and Super Skinny’ filter was selected. Once the consumer is forcibly brought back to the Women’s Jeans subcategory page, (shown in Figure 3 above) there are no visual cues to suggest the ‘Skinny and Super Skinny’ filter has been activated.

How does the consumer know they are only looking at a selection of skinny jeans?

One of the basic principles on experience design is presenting visual cues to inform the consumer the system has activated a selection of any kind (‘the system’ = e-commerce technology).

This is known as ‘system status’.

The only change seen in Figure 3 is the ‘Results’ count has changed, but not many consumers would notice this subtle change.

This absence in visual validation (no system update) increases a consumer’s ‘mental effort’.

If consumers wish to now go back to the filter screen to adjust their selection, verify their selection has worked (due to the confusion of no visual update) or make another selection, when they again select ‘Refine’, they are taken back to the filter screen and presented with what’s shown in Figure 4 below).

via Greg Randall

There are three issues with what’s being presented in Figure 4.

  1. There is no visual validation for the ‘Skinny and Super Skinny’ filter being selected – in fact, this filter option has disappeared 
  2. The absence of the ‘Skinny and Super Skinny’ filter prevents a consumer to deselect this filter option – simple ‘deselection experiences’ are crucial to online experiences
  3. The filters the consumer viewed previously (seen in Figure 2) has now changed

The filter experience is designed in a way that suggests consumers conduct the right filter selection the first time and they don’t return to make changes.  This is not real life; deselecting and changing filters occur continuously throughout journeys.

The purpose of this article is not to gang up on Jeanswest. However, the issue of blaming competitors for poor online performances is endemic in online retail and it needs to stop.

Competitors are everywhere and increasingly coming from international sources. While it’s important to have awareness of these threats, it should not consume business focus.

If a business is prepared to invest in accelerating services and online experiences around the target consumer’s needs and wants, it greatly reduces the risk of being in a position Jeanswest finds itself in today.

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2 Comments

2 thoughts on “Was Competition to Blame for Jeanswest’s Downfall?”

  1. Joe says:

    Disclaimer of possible conflict of interest: Greg Randall is managing director of Comma Consulting. He is a senior digital strategist whose specialty is fixing underperforming digital/ecommerce channels and directly benefits from the creation of fear in the digital UX community.

  2. Greg Randall says:

    Hi “Joe”,
    Thanks for taking the time in making your views known. Even though your comments seem to be more about myself than the article itself, we will have to “agree to disagree” with your comments RE conflict of interest for a couple of reasons…
    Firstly, my passion is on knowledge sharing and educating the business community so they don’t need to rely on my services to be successful online. This is why I am a published author of 5 books on eCom/Digital best practice and I publish two new articles each week on LinkedIn (and in my blog) with tips on how to achieve success online.
    Please connect so you too can benefit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/greg-randall-5817434/
    Secondly, the Jeanswest article broke down a specific UX issue in heavy detail so those reading could take away learnings and hopefully apply the necessary change on their own: knowledge sharing.
    Thanks again for your feedback, it allowed me to clarify my position for others who may feel the same as yourself.
    The next time you would like to comment about myself and/or my content, you are welcome to use your real email instead of the “[email protected]” address used when making your comment above.
    Thanks,
    Greg

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