Halfords keeps the UK moving safely with Salesforce
More than 90% of people in the UK live within 20 minutes of one of Halfords’ 750+ locations, and it accounts for 25% of all UK sales of car parts, accessories, and consumables, and 25% of all cycle sales too. Its 10,000 employees understand the value of personal service and, in return, are trusted by millions of customers seeking sound advice and guidance, as well as a great product.
Halfords is rightly proud of its fabulous heritage, but it has both eyes firmly on the future, rapidly growing its motoring services propositions, embracing evolving trends like e-bikes, e-scooters, and electric vehicles, and introducing mobile delivery of services at customers’ homes and at business premises too.
With the support of long-standing and trusted partners like Salesforce, it’s been embracing landmark digital innovation too. Its three-year transformation programme aims to capture and interrogate customer data to create a seamless, consistent, and highly personalised retail experience, whether online or instore.
“I think most people would agree that Halford’s has a great history, with an emotional connection for many people,” said CIO, Neil Holden.
“Many kids get their first bikes from Halfords, most people have a good idea what we offer and regularly visit one of our stores. People trust us and many customers are very loyal. But, in the past, we weren’t particularly forward thinking, certainly in technology terms. You could say that we were a bit of a sleeping giant really, albeit quite a successful one.”
Waking a sleeping giant
Halfords has many strengths as well as endless opportunities for expansion, with extensive national coverage, a large customer base, and great employees who often stay with the business for a long time. Customers appreciate having that friendly face to come back to and many of its employees have excellent product knowledge that customers value.
But despite its fantastic potential, some of its component parts were disconnected and many customers were unaware of the unique breadth of its services. For example, historically only 3% purchased items from both its motoring and cycle divisions, presenting a huge opportunity for growth through awareness raising and cross shopping.
Single, integrated trading platform
When new CEO Graham Stapleton arrived in January 2018, a strategic review resulted in an acceleration of investment in the business, reflecting the uniquely fast-moving retail sector and ever-evolving customer expectations.
The goal was to become a modern, ‘super specialist’ business with a comprehensive, integrated, and convenient services offering, retaining customers for life by proactively taking care of all of their motoring and cycling needs.
At the heart of the transformation roadmap to next-generation Halfords was a single, integrated trading platform, Halfords.com, powered by Salesforce B2C Commerce, a one-stop-shop for all things motoring and cycling.
Pulling data from throughout the business to create a 360-degree view and history of every customer, Commerce Cloud gives Halfords the flexibility to respond instantly to events, trends, and customer preferences, and provide connectivity between the online and instore customer experience. With help from Salesforce partner, Astound Commerce, the solution was implemented and integrated seamlessly, with support and upgrades taken care of.
“As the first manifestation of our new strategy, it was vital to get this right, and at one stage we had 150 people involved in creating the new platform,” said Holden. “We were very, very pleased with the result made possible by Commerce Cloud. It was a fantastic programme and we’re very proud of it. So much was achieved in a short space of time and all the partners involved said it was one of the smoothest transitions they had seen.
“My reaction was that this is how the Halfords brand should be represented online, where, by building and nurturing our relationship with the customer, the transaction follows naturally. And based on the quality of that experience and the product that they buy, they come back again and again,” explained Louise Ford, Head of Digital Product and User Experience.
Commerce Cloud is behind the new e-commerce platform, pulling in data on customers, and capturing information about their vehicle, bike, and even their buying habits, which then feed into Salesforce Marketing Cloud. The solutions are integrated which means it can push through a more personalised email campaign to recommend items the customer may already be interested in.
“When you can combine that with relevant external data, really understand our customers’ needs, and present our products and services accordingly in a high performance, experiential website, that’s the ultimate prize, and we now have the technology and capability to do that,” said Holden.
Plans to launch and develop the new Halfords.com platform in a planned and incremental fashion were abandoned when, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything, for everyone.
The first coronavirus lockdown required an overnight response from Halfords, with the business designated as an essential retailer, required to provide vital vehicle and cycle repairs, and complying with strict PPE and social distancing regulations.
Like many businesses, Halfords experienced an explosion in online activity, with 80% of sales moving online almost overnight. Unlike some businesses, Halfords.com provided the ecosystem, the tools, and functionality for the company to respond.
“The platform performed extremely well under great stress,” commented Ford. “Between April 2020 and March 2021, Halfords.com handled 200 million sessions, 75% of which were on mobile devices, and six million transactions.”
Customers either needed help, with a car component for example, or wanted to make a discretionary spend on a bike to exercise during lockdown. Customers can shop for both car and bike-related products conveniently from one website and, for the car component customer, Commerce Cloud enables them to share information quickly and easily, such as registration numbers and postcodes.
This enables Halfords to fast track them through to products appropriate for that vehicle, and then offer various fulfilment options too, such as fitting the component at a store, at home, or at work, using its large fleet of mobile vehicles and mechanics.
“With discretionary spenders, for a bike or a scooter for example, we can now offer guided selling options, where we ask questions about the customer, their age and interests, and then curate a range of products or services that match that profile,” said Ford.
To supplement these service enhancements, around 5,000 extra pieces of website content were generated and loaded, such as ‘how to’ videos. As well as providing great information, this is part of Halfords mission to share an experience with customers as opposed to a location where a transaction takes place.
“These additional features paid real dividends. Providing customers with choices and a better experience helped us to increase sales conversion rates by 37% - which was remarkable and validated time spent building the platform and its features to provide very specific customer journeys built around data,” commented Holden.
Convenience and control
The new platform also empowered Halfords to respond to the tight restrictions on previously normal customer behaviour, imposed by lockdowns and the public’s desire to keep themselves and their families safe with contactless fulfilment options.
“Providing convenience and control for customers was vital,” said Ford. “For click and collect we introduced a collection slot system, giving customers a precise collection time, minimising their time in store, and helping them to feel safe.”
Recently, Halfords needed to create a web form which would capture customer information for those requiring a service but were not able to find a reservation in their preferred store. Halfords knew that extra capacity would become available and wanted to get back to customers as soon as possible. Over the course of 48 hours, this concept became a fully deployed solution leveraging Service Cloud and Community Cloud. Now, once the form is submitted by a customer, a case is created which is then progressed by an agent.
The Government’s £50 ‘fix your bike’ scheme was also a major challenge, creating huge demand– there were 3.3 million views for the free bike health check scheme alone in the year to March 2021 – and fresh challenges that the company needed to handle overnight to integrate and control all the various aspects. It was tough but a combination of the platform’s agile nature, the increased visibility into user data, and the flexibility and great collaboration between its IT and store teams made it happen. It also provided fantastic data about lots of new customers.
“I think customers recognised our efforts to make it work under difficult circumstances, certainly our Net Promoter Score reflected that,” said Ford.
“We think about the customer’s journey from end-to-end and, armed with the data from the platform, we can see what that means for all of our colleagues and where the opportunities are for them to ‘sprinkle the magic’ as we say, to make that experience personal and memorable.
“Thanks to Salesforce we can curate those journeys, around specific products. If a customer selects a particular bike, we can suggest the right helmet, clothing, or lock appropriate for that bike. These are only options to buy, but customers trust our recommendations and by making it easy to add additional items, our average order value has increased.”
Commerce Cloud is also integrated with the existing Service Cloud solution, providing a seamless experience and single place for customers to shop, and also receive the support they need through features such as Live Chat to offload overall case volume and freeing up service agents to focus on more complex enquiries. Thanks to Salesforce, agents can also view the history of each caller, meaning they can provide advice tailored to the customer.
“Salesforce was also very proactive in assessing the situation and proposing new ways of handling the pressure,” added Ford. “Live Chat is a great example of that, we worked closely with Salesforce to accelerate and automate processes using bots, to serve customers and provide a breathing space for contact centre colleagues to handle complex calls.”
Another highlight has been Salesforce Business Manager, the Commerce Cloud online tool for configuring and managing business to consumer commerce storefronts. In such a fast-moving situation messaging was constantly changing every day and needed to stay relevant and consistent across all of Halfords’ channels, to reflect what was going on in the outside world.
“Business Manager is so simple to use and empowering for our teams, who were under constant pressure, enabling them to stay in control of the experience for the customer,” explained Ford.
Halfords has also leveraged Salesforce Community Cloud internally as part of its Cycle2Work scheme.