They must fit perfectly … but you’re not allowed to try them on before purchasing them.
No matter the item in question, this brief scene is an extremely tough sell. It’s also one that plays out millions of times a day online when shoppers are asked to take a leap of faith and check out despite not being able to try on the item first.
We’ve written previously about the importance of touch and the role it plays in lifting sales, spurring repeat purchases, and even helping athletes perform better. However, shifts in consumer behavior and liberal return policies have helped consumers begin to overcome their resistance to purchasing items they can’t first touch online.
But taking a gamble and purchasing several shirts online is one thing …
The risk increases exponentially when you’re asking a consumer to purchase items that’ll cover them from head-to-toe; gear that’ll play a major role in determining whether the individual is successful in achieving their goals.
“It’s a huge challenge,” admits Kevin Scaringi, the ecommerce manager at Discount Hockey, the largest hockey gear superstore in Los Angeles.
It’s Scaringi’s job to grow Discount Hockey’s online presence. While not everyone visiting the site is looking to purchase a complete set of gear that’ll cover them from head-to-toe, the challenge is still formidable. Hockey players depend on a great fit to perform at their best, but can’t try on the gear before making a purchasing decision. “We have to create one of the easiest shopping experiences on earth.”
The slightest fear at the checkout can cause a shopper to abandon cart. Much is at stake. In some cases, hundreds or even thousands of dollars of gear may be in an individual consumer’s cart.
“We have to quickly overcome the fear that something might not fit before a customer changes his or her mind about checking out,” Scaringi says. “It’s my job to make checking out irresistible.”
It’s also personal for Scaringi.
Scaringi remembers his father taking him into the store just north of L.A. to shop as a boy. “He’d take me and my brother and we’d get try on all of the equipment,” Scaringi recalls, “It was a lot of fun and great to have those memories.”
Hence, Scaringi’s challenge is part personal, psychological, and technical. Would you believe a single blog post would help Scaringi pull off this miracle online?
When “The Great One” Came to Town
When “The Great One” — Wayne Gretzky — was traded to the Kings in 1988 it attracted fans to a game they had previously shown muted interest in. It also meant those fans would need gear so they could get out on the ice and emulate their hockey heroes.
“It started out as a surf shop,” Scaringi says of the brick and mortar location. “But it quickly became a hockey store with the hype Gretzky brought to town.”
Today, the Discount Hockey retail location is a distinguished spot; only knowledgeable hockey players work there. Not only can shoppers try on top brands, but they can also try out equipment like sticks in the store’s shooting alley to be sure they’ve selected the right tool for the trade.
“I get to demonstrate and try out the best gear,” Scaringi explains. “It’s great and we’re a big part of the L.A. hockey community which is actually more like a family.” But can that family-like atmosphere transfer to the digital world? “It is odd to buy skates without trying them on first,” Scaringi acknowledges.
Then again that’s why he was hired. To solve a problem you first have to intimately understand it. It’s why Scaringi and his team focus on creating the best content in the space; they photograph or demonstrate nearly all of the store’s 30,000 SKUs and offer sizing charts to help people select the right fit.
Even more importantly, Scaringi’s team has created a blog post content marketers might call “the great one.”
It’s a detailed piece that outlines exactly how a shopper might go about selecting the right gear for themselves. For instance, a defenseman and a forward have different needs and the post helps shoppers determine what’s best based on their position.
“We answer every question a shopper might have in this one blog post,” Scaringi says. Want proof? Scaringi credits the piece with generating 20% of all the site’s traffic.
In addition to the piece, shoppers can do something that may seem rare in ecommerce today: they can pick up the phone and ask one of the hockey pros on staff for fit recommendations based on their unique body types.
“If someone calls and tells us they have really flat feet we know immediately which skate they need to be their best. We stand out because of our knowledge and use that to empower the consumer to buy the right gear.”
You might call Scaringi’s feat of getting people to purchase bulky hockey gear online a hat trick for the ages.
But it’s all for naught if Discount Hockey’s customers can’t easily checkout. Doing so was next to impossible on a mobile device for a time.
Not only did it land the company in the penalty box … but it cost Discount Hockey an untold number of sales.
What about head-to-toe? The content Discount Hockey created to reassure shoppers they’re getting the right fit has been a success in regard to selling one-off items like skates.
But what about entire kits for people new to hockey?
It’s an entirely different prospect trying to sell head-to-toe gear collections to someone who may not know what they need to become ice-ready. Combine that uncertainty with the fact that a novice might be asked to spend several hundred dollars for gear they can’t first try on, and Scaringi and team have another formidable challenge on their hands.
That’s why the company created a custom gear builder tool; a hockey gear shopping guide that offers nine different starter sets of gear based on a player’s position, age, and size. It’s designed specifically for shoppers who may not know where to start, feel overwhelmed by the myriad choices, and prefer a simpler way to outfit themselves or their children.
“It’s really a buying guide that offers shoppers everything they need to get on the ice fast and easy,” Scaringi says. “It makes getting suited from head-to-toe an easy and enjoyable shopping experience.”
Discount Hockey credits Bold Commerce, a digital agency that helps merchants increase sales, with custom creating the gear building buying guide. Scaringi and his team discovered Bold after replatforming with Shopify Plus, an enterprise-level ecommerce solution for high-volume merchants.
“We were on Magento but it was hard to manage and wasn’t very user-friendly. We switched to Shopify Plus, in part, because of its great POS system.” Shopify’s point of sale system (POS) allows Scaringi and his team:
- To have pop-up sales in the retail store’s parking lot and easily check out customers with a mobile device
- Travel to ice rinks and sell in real time to hockey players in need of gear immediately
- Use mobile devices to walk with customers throughout the retail store, access live inventory counts and offer customer real-time stock levels
- Check out customers the moment they’re ready to purchase regardless of where they are in the store
“Shopify’s POS system is fantastic,” Scaringi says. “It’s mobile, allows us to offer a better customer experience, and lets us sell virtually anywhere.” Speaking of the customer experience …
Discount Hockey recently noticed its mobile conversion rate plummet and tapped Bold Commerce for help once again:
Bold ran a heat map on Discount Hockey’s cart page and noticed just 45% of shoppers were actually scrolling down far enough to see the “Checkout” button.
Bold hypothesized moving the button up — so it would appear on a customer’s screen without any scrolling necessary — might lift conversions
So Heman Wasil, Discount Hockey’s Account Manager and conversion strategist, ran a split test to measure the difference between Discount Hockey’s current design and one that more prominently displays the “Checkout” button.
The original is on the left & the variation on the right:
The results? Simply moving the “Checkout” button up yielded the following:
- Mobile conversions increased by 26%
- Purchase completion after clicking the “Checkout” button went up 38%
- Revenue rose 52% (or $4,000) over the eight-day test
“They’re really the reason we’ve been so successful. No matter how undoable our request, they always find a way to make it work.” Impressive, but Discount Hockey must now overcome a world where the hockey gods may not always smile upon Los Angeles.
Ambassadors & Kings
When the Kings win … Discount Hockey wins too. “We see a big uptick in our brick and mortar business when L.A. wins the Stanley Cup as it did in 2012 and 2014,” Scaringi notes.
The growth stimulates interest in youth hockey programs which trickles down to equipment sales for Discount Hockey. Still, another challenge exists. What else can they do to drive interest in hockey, since the Kings can’t be counted on to win a championship every year?
Details are scant since they’re still being ironed out, but Discount Hockey is preparing to launch an Ambassador Program with the goal to lift sales by selling in bulk to entire hockey teams or leagues.
Whatever form the program takes, expect Scaringi and team to double down on content creation to grow the company’s online presence in the years to come. “The roadmap is all about creating amazing content that leaves no customer question unanswered. We’re trailblazers in our space in terms of content and we think selling online will be the breadwinner for the business.”