Skin-Care Retailer Launches a Cleaner Site

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Skin-care products manufacturer and retailer H2O Plus is giving its online store a makeover.


Stiff competition from brands like Clinique, Lancome, Origins and Biotherm encouraged the Chicago company to redo its site at www.h2oplus.com. Sales at the site are about 20 percent of sales at H2O Plus' 25 stores in the United States and Canada.


"We've visually upgraded many areas of the site to better communicate our story and our emphasis on skin care," said Jim McLaughlin, director of finance and information systems at H2O Plus.


Take the site changes under the watch of Chicago and New York interactive consultancy Elevation Inc.


Checkout was redesigned to make shopping easier. Online infrastructure was upgraded to Microsoft Commerce Server 2002 to cope with anticipated larger volume in the future. Navigation is more intuitive. The streamlined registration process is more secure while offering a quick-shop function.


Also, the retooled home page is more seductive. Not only is navigation easier, there is Flash-animated imagery of a striking woman lounging on the beach sands and another of her dripping wet from a swim. The sound of calming waves completes the picture.


These improvements come a year after H2O Plus ran an online skin-care analysis, integrated its Plus Member loyalty program with the stores and began work on its integrated customer data warehouse.


Understanding the company's business objectives and its customers' goals on the site were key for the changes.


"We find that our online customers most actively purchase replenishment of core products within their skin-care regime, with more trial happening in the stores," McLaughlin said. "However, many of our design projects seek to extend the conversation with the customer to extend their online purchases to more advanced products."


H2O Plus hopes the online experience it delivers gives customers the courage to buy bigger-ticket items without the need for tactile reassurance.


The Plus Member loyalty program's online presence is another way to make customers more comfortable with the online medium. Consumers may enroll in the store, over the telephone or online. They receive offers and benefits while building credit for purchases across all channels.


Elevation's enhancements to Plus Member let members log in to h2oplus.com with their ID. Once inside, they can access their buying record, print a replacement ID card and see their progress toward the Platinum reward tier.


"We find that our customers are very responsive to the program, and to date we're [getting] in excess of 70 percent of customer purchases from registered Plus Members," McLaughlin said.


These accomplishments may not move the earth for major retailers. But H2O Plus is a small brand compared with its more marketing-endowed New York rivals. Founded in 1989 and privately held, it has 89 stores worldwide.


It was only last month that H2O Plus began its first national print campaign with full-page ads in magazines like Cosmopolitan and In Style. Rubin Postaer and Associates, Chicago, handles the account.


Mail and catalogs round off the traditional DM tactics. The company's first catalog dropped in September 2002. It is sent three times yearly, split evenly between purchased lists and the house file. About half of catalog orders are placed in stores, with the rest via online, mail and telephone. The book contributes an incremental 4 percent to 5 percent to combined stores/direct sales.


Otherwise, H20 Plus' online advertising is limited to keyword purchases on Google and Overture, complemented by affiliate marketing through Performics, Chicago.


"In addition to online advertising, segmented e-mails are sent at strategic intervals to ensure that the right promotions and messages are reaching the right customers," said Adam Heneghan, president of Elevation. "Insightful measurement allows us to evolve the online marketing efforts."


Something seems to be working. Sales at h2oplus.com are growing 35 percent over 2002. Popular products include body lotions, mud masks, hydrating treatments, cleansing gels and hand and nail creams.


Elevation also recently concluded the H2O Plus data warehouse implementation. This is crucial to providing integrated measurement and business intelligence metrics.


"I can say that our customer list is growing at a rate 15 percent per quarter, and that we've experienced a 13.5 percent increase in customer purchase frequency since the launch of our CRM initiatives last fall," McLaughlin said.


"One of our more interesting initiatives for next year will be to capitalize on our integrated customer data warehouse through implementation of a customer life-cycle management program and to further personalize their experience on h2oplus.com," he said.


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