By Miika Malinen
Finland is a beautiful country, marked by thousands of lakes and streams. It’s no wonder that so many people here love fishing. They’ve even formed a very close-knit online community to share their love and knowledge of the sport. In these communities, fishing enthusiasts interact with one another, sharing their thoughts and opinions. And this is where my company, Oy Hong Kong Import Ltd., which owns and operates 24 Hong Kong Department Stores across southern Finland, saw an opportunity.
Our stores sell a vast range of merchandise: gardening, tools, outdoor equipment, housewares, electronics and appliances, accessories and toys. In an effort to grow our business within the Finnish market, we took our business online with a new retail site that specializes in fishing equipment. Our goal was for this store to supplement our existing outlets, while making Hong Kong Department Stores a credible name in the fishing community.
To ensure the authenticity of our retail store, we went directly to our customers for feedback. We engaged 200 fishermen from two of Finland’s largest online communities. We partnered with these online influencers by providing them a preview of our online store before its official opening. We encouraged these participants to evaluate the site and provide feedback on site design, product selection, and overall experience.
The response was incredible! The communities with whom we worked wrote more than 3,000 product reviews in one month and provided valuable feedback on how they wanted the site to look and behave. With their insight, the powerful product ratings, and reviews capabilities integrated into IBM’s e-commerce platform, we were able to provide our customers with a premiere online experience.
That experience has transformed our commerce operations. In the six months since the online store launched, it outsold the fishing departments in our physical stores. But that’s not all. Sales in our physical stores have not declined; in fact, they have increased. By raising awareness of our expertise in fishing equipment online, we actually brought more customers into our fishing department stores. The site also serves as an advertisement for Hong Kong’s expertise in this market sector.
Since the site went live, we began using IBM web analytics capabilities to gain a deeper understanding of customer activity on the site. We found that the conversion rate for customers who read reviews is 250 percent higher than that of customers who didn’t read a review.
We recently went live with a new site in Sweden, entering a new market for Hong Kong Department Stores, using fishing equipment as the foundational business. Our partner, Descom Oy, developed the site and linked it to our back-end systems so that our personalized shopping experience is also as efficient internally as possible.
As we expand into new markets, we’ll look to imitate our success in Finland and continue to create an enriching online experience for our customers. The first building block of our online stores’ ideology is to make the customer succeed in fishing. By doing so, we are seen not just as a store, but as a service provider, and that goes a long way in strengthening our brand and improving sales. Who could ask for anything more?