WE WANTED TO SPREAD THE LOVE BUT THE LOVE JUST WOULDN'T SPREAD
This week, the BBC reported a survey of online shops with the following deliciously prurient and definitive subheading:
Homebase runs Britain's worst online shop, according to a survey by consumer group Which?
That wound me up, it felt so unfair and so baldly vicious. Which? are famously robust and thoughtful in their research methodology but the core tenant of the survey appeared gigantically flawed in that positioning in the ranking was determined by shopper's satisfaction, what was referred to as a 'satisfaction rating'. Satisfaction is such a one-dimensional metric; it hides large swathes of the story. I'm hugely satisfied by the phrase 'box of noodles' but it rarely influences my choice of dinner. I'm massively dissatisfied with the customer-support at Hotels.com but they are still my absolute preference for booking site. Satisfaction is not preference and high levels of satisfaction don't make for best, just as low levels don't make for worst.
So indignant was I at what felt like an organisation unfairly pissing on the efforts of a different organisation in order to generate publicity for themselves, that it spurred me into cranking up Uncrowd's beta platform tools to see what Friction/Reward Indexing™ might have to say on the subject. And in that, my mission to exonerate, or at least prove Homebase aren't as shit as Which? says, there's a shocking twist to come.
The legend of FRier Tuck
Friction/Reward Indexing (FRi™) measures the effort a customer must put into shopping a retailer versus the gain that customer derives from doing so. It's as simple as it is elegant and detailed.
In short it's arse-ache (friction) versus relief (reward).
There's definitely an Anusol metaphor here but you're welcome to write it yourself.
Already we've established some base legends for FRi, one of which is that customers default to lowest friction options whenever a purchase doesn't matter much, or if that purchase solution, usually a product, has been indisputably defined. I know I want a Bosch 14v Cordless Drill with spare battery and I want that purchase sorted with the least friction, almost certainly, but not always, at the lowest possible cost. But most retail isn't a straight bit of wool – customer on one end, fixed product on the other. Most of the time it's a jumble of wool and the best modern retailers are brilliant at both having a great solution at their end of the ball of wool but also at handing the customer their own end of that same wool and helping them to tug it.
Cathy come Homebase
For this little experiment we ran the analysis on our simplified 'RetailerGrader' and 'FRi Healthcheck' beta tools. You can play with them both yourself at www.RetailerGrader.com where we are adding new retailers all the time. These tools use external data to generate baseline FRi; generally a combination of observation visits, industry reports, our small customer panel and Uncrowd expert opinion. The Enterprise version of our SaaS platform instead digs deep into retailers own internal data sources and does crazy sexy stuff with it to generate insanely powerful and granular FRi.
So with these neat and easy tools I wanted to run three levels of analysis across both Homebase and a range of rivals for bits of, or all of a particular customer mission.
We chose to look at:
- • Homebase
- • B&Q in the shape of DIY.com
- • Houzz.com
- • Screwfix
- • Dulux.com
- • Ironmongery Direct
It's a fair spread of the mainstream to the specialist to the wildcards but representative of where Home Improvement spend might typically wind up online.
The three levels of analysis are as follows
- 1. A control FRi that averages the performance across all friction and reward variables
- 2. A specific customer mission
- 3. That mission but as experienced by customers in a specific need-state combination – what we call an Uncrowd Segment (customers related by actual need-states)
So, our specific mission is this:
"Young family wanting to create a nice family living room. Prepared to learn how to do most of the work themselves but need help."
And we selected Uncrowd 4 which has the following attributes
- • Mildly price sensitive
- • Not at all brand sensitive
- • Very time poor
- • Prefer experiences over things
- • Extremely concerned about sustainability
I chose Uncrowd 4 (and yes, our branding imagination has pretty much run out now) sort of at random but mostly because it's a very common set of need-states among customers likely to be undertaking this particular customer mission.
When we run FRi for clients; we can do so across all that client's critical customer missions (and thousands more if they want) x all of 27 common Uncrowds. This creates a hugely rich matrix of insight but for now we can get down and dirty with the ‘toys'…
Out of the FRing platform and into the FRier
I opened this with my indignation at the branding of Homebase as Britain's worst website. My biases were all up and all pointing at heroically proving that surely it was all unfair and mean.
So here's the twist: I can't be Homebase's hero here, even with that bias in my brain; Homebase's results are pretty much the worst we've ever seen. They are dreadful, truly just pump.
But wait, the power of FRi is that it doesn't just yell SMOKE! I SEE SMOKE and wander off like Net Promotor Score does, the lightweight. No, FRi yells FIRE! And then shows retailers exactly where to point the hose. In my summary I'll go through that for Homebase; there's hope in this and there's a roadmap. But first here's an image that summarises Homebase's control performance across a highlight set of 15 friction variables and 15 reward variables.
The algorithm that generates all this is part of our secret sauce but I promise you; it's both cool as flip and hard as nails.
Let’s break this down then. In the image above you can see the control run for Homebase’s friction versus reward. You can also see the relative performances of Homebase’s rivals. Obviously green is good and red is, umm, bad. We’ve not had a result quite this red before. In the box in the lower half of the screen you can see each of the individual friction and reward variables and again the colours tell the tale of the tape. Each of the variables is importance-weighted and it’s the total relationship that’s important here and that generates the final FRi. In the summary I’ll talk about how these results can guide the Homebase team towards a bit of light at the end of the tunnel but first lets consider each of the target retailers.
Homebase1. Control = -4.29
2. Customer Mission Only = -4.20
3. Mission + Need-States = -5.38
-4.29 is a disaster of a result. I wanted this to be better, even my personal biases couldn’t defeat the truths of Friction/Reward Indexing. The image above summarises where those numbers come from. Click on the report link to gain more insight on the specifics of where problems sit and what needs monitoring.
What we see in the second analysis is that the addition of the mission weightings doesn’t change the result very much, although if you saw the underlying maths you’ll see quite significant rearrangements of the priorities and flash points. Measuring-up becomes a big deal in this mission, getting that wrong is a large stress and friction point. Delivery when it’s complex combinations of items takes on another dimension; search becomes critical; price expectations multiply across larger buys and so on.
Plug in the Uncrowd 4 set of need-states to the mission and things get significantly worse. The combination of need-states amplify problems surfaced above, while activating some major concerns on the CSR, transparency and localism elements of reward for this specific Uncrowd. Some Uncrowds aren’t concerned by these last three things very much at all and when clients see this on the full platform, it helps them to understand what things really are, or are not problems.
In isolation, this is bad. Taken in the context of Homebase versus the following rivals, these numbers begin to look like a retail version of the Airplane movie. Except nobody is laughing at Leslie Neilsen here. Over Mucho Grande Bunnings? No! I’ll never get over Mucho Grande Bunnings. That said, in the summary, I posit my honest belief that with fresh insight the Homebase team does have what it takes to turn this around and capture the lush green FRi uplands.Homebase: 3. Mission + Need-States
B&Q – DIY.com1. Control = -1.62
2. Customer Mission Only = -0.63
3. Mission + Need-States = -1.08
There’s not much for B&Q to crow about here versus Homebase, these are still poor results and definitely reflect the relative weakness of DIY.com versus alternatives. Though this specific combination of results is, in a way, a positive for B&Q suggesting that when it comes to actually completing straightforward decorating projects, they come slightly back into play. I strongly suspect though, that if we ran this for a commodity or single purchase, such as buying a job lot of deck planks or a drill, then the numbers would swing the other way with internet specialists nabbing the former and Amazon hoovering up the latter.
Specialist projects too such as kitchens and bathrooms look vulnerable to the likes of Victoria Plumb and Screwfix. Then there’s the Dulux issue; Dulux's own website is incredibly good and one wonders if Kingfisher's staggering arrogance on the ignore-customers-years-of-Dulux-goodwill Valspar deal might finally open Akzo to sticking up the middle finger to retailers and hurling big advertising budgets behind Dulux.com. Certainly in this scenario, our young family aren't terribly fussed about Farrow & Ball price-points, aren’t keen on the DIY.com experience and if they know Dulux.com exists then it will have a very, very, very strong pull on them.B&Q – DIY.com: 3. Mission + Need-States
Dulux.com1. Control = 5.4
2. Customer Mission Only = 7.79
3. Mission + Need-States = 11.06
Where Homebase's control score is one of the worst we've ever seen, Dulux.com is among the best. That score rockets up when you add the scenario and especially when you add the needs of real customers into the mix. Inspiration, curation, trust and product quality all become almost disproportionately important and Dulux delivers on these in spades.
As more and more brands cut out the retailer altogether, Dollar Shave Club (Unilever), Nike (cutting accounts from 30,000 to 30), or cut down their reliance (see: every consumer electronics brand on the planet) then the likes of Homebase and Kingfisher surely must begin to withdraw their inward gaze and properly embrace customers? Choice and price, choice and price, choice and price. Customers are way more sophisticated than that brute-force strategy allows and we can see that right here in the FR indexes. Dulux inserting themselves into not only their own incredibly good web-store but into every photograph appearing on Houzz.com is every bit as clever and just as big a shot across the bows as Walmart's genius deal with BuzzFeed's viral recipe-monster Tasty.
Dulux.com is what happens when retailers fail to add sparkle and reward to the buying experience. Buying paint in store is a grim, inspiration-free trudge. Can’t get somebody to work the mixer machine, trying to look at colours under harsh tungsten lighting, corralled into narrow productivity-return-focused aisles and expected to lug 20ltrs of pain(t) to a cash desk queue; why would anyone choose that over the easy and rich Dulux.com experience?Dulux.com: 3. Mission + Need-States
Screwfix1. Control = 3.55
2. Customer Mission Only = 3.62
3. Mission + Need-States = 4.31
As a massive fan of the uber customer-centric Screwfix, it delights me to see that the mission scenario has no negative impact and that the Uncrowd need-state set even improves results. Put the people into the equation and Screwfix shines even brighter. This is why that business continues to hurl onwards from strength to strength; it is packed to the gills with people who 'get' customers and who make their choices based on whether or not those choices will be loved by customers. It sounds simple but the very fact that so few are able to pull this off suggests that finding this skillset serendipitously is a rare event.
Part of our pitch for Uncrowd is that FRi is a tool that surfaces customer-centricity the moment you press the 'go' button and that every retailer can access that power. Homebase want to avoid losing more customers to Screwfix? The detail in FRi tells them exactly how to do that. No other preference metric does that.Screwfix: 3. Mission + Need-States
Ironmongery Direct1. Control = 1.61
2. Customer Mission Only = 3.26
3. Mission + Need-States = 4.1
Obviously Ironmongery Direct aren’t going to be taking the paint, the carpet or a very large share of this particular customer mission spend but it’s a cracking illustration of the disintermediation effect great specialists have on home improvement projects.
This set of results is hugely significant because it shows just how responsive to real customers and real scenarios the nimble, friendly, pragmatic specialists are. Ironmongery Direct's FRi numbers generally sit favourably the right side of neutral but feed in the biases of actually getting a project done, and the needs of real people doing it and the results go from good to very good to great. It's the reason why so many specialists have successfully reached across the home improvement table and whistled a jolly tune while grabbing handfuls of sullen old-world DIY retailer’s dinners.Ironmongery Direct: 3. Mission + Need-States
Houzz.com1. Control = 1.61
2. Customer Mission Only = 4.07
3. Mission + Need-States = 5.63
As with Ironmongery Direct, so too with Houzz.com. Houzz is fast becoming the go-to resource for customers in exactly the type of customer mission we're considering; since introducing Dulux colour matching and in-photo shopping links, they've gone from inspiration-hub to retailer in a single bound. I bought a flipping sofa off them while researching this article (which Emily has subsequently demanded I cancel the order for because the back looks too low - so there we have the fun of split-need states; she a cautious considerer, me an impulsive tart).
Curation, discovery, product quality and trust; these variables balloon for Houzz under this mission and need-states. The site is essentially, though originally accidentally, built to deliver on these massive reward-side goodies.
Again, Houzz's control ratings as a retailer sit pleasingly positive but when fed real missions and real customer need-states, the results rocket. When Houzz finally figures out what it's doing, and right now it's like watching the gestation-period of a classic Hollywood alien 'but it was a clumsy baby half an hour ago, now it's building complex mechanisms and by tea time it will be twenty foot tall and cleverer than all the world's supercomputers combined'; when it figures this retail thing out, it will be a monster of a retailer for the modern design-led, inspiration seeking rising middle-classes.
The FR indexes here should be considered the ancient foretelling of a destroyer to come. I desperately hope the likes of Kingfisher and Homebase read those runes and make their preparations now. Houzz shouldn't win but it easily could.Houzz.com: 3. Mission + Need-States
We’re all FRied now.
We tried to find the love for Homebase, we really did but the maths of FRi are implacable. They defeat bias and sentiment. I feel sad for Homebase but would be lying if I tried to hide our delight at this test having resulted in even the simplified external-data toy-version of Friction/Reward Indexing telling actionable truths.
Do I think Homebase is a bad retailer? No. Are these scarily awful results? Yes. But they are a conglomeration of compromises, small miss-steps, broken perceptions and these then add up to a five-alarm emergency of a result.
Once a retailer is aware of not just the individual pain points but of how frictions and rewards work together in the kinds of scenarios and need-states that customers are bringing with them all the time, then that retailer can target strategy and investment to change the specifics of CX to deliver the right changes. It’s understanding why a customer in a given scenario and need-state likes you that makes it easier to retain that customer and others in the same context. When you know why other customers are flocking to a rival, you can do something about it.
We often think of big things like queues, delivery time and so on as the absolute frictions, as the points needing the biggest investments; yet it is often Team Sky’s philosophy of adding up small moments of ease and small moments of gain that make the difference. It’s Amazon never asking for your credit card CVC (the number on the back); it’s Screwfix taking the risk on delivering to addresses not the cardholders (because that’s often where builders need the things to be). It’s Wiggle throwing a small bag of sweets in the box, or Sephora making the connections for you through simple curation.
The interplay between friction and reward; that’s the true story of your CX. Understanding friction and reward, but critically; indexing them together, that’s a holy grail insight right there. Homebase haven’t set out to make a bad website but it is a bad website because for all the heartfelt effort in it; the friction versus reward doesn’t add up either in control or for at least one critical customer mission.
FRi is special; it’s the key to for the first time, really understanding why a customer chooses you, or chooses your rival. It’s also the first time preference has come with such clear actionable detailed signposting to improving performance. We don’t want to upset or hurt anyone at Homebase and if they’re open to it then we will happily share with them the detailed insight underneath what we’ve shown here.
If you have been affected by the issues discussed in this blog, then help is available in the form of a chat with Rocky and me about how applying FRi to your CX could massively reduce your acquisition costs, save you a ton of lost revenue, and win you armies of new customers.
Note: We have since Written a follow up to this post - read it here.