How can a retailer make a very late entry into e-commerce and still turn it to their advantage? Kevin McNall, Director of Digital Projects and Practices at US-based footwear retailer Rack Room Shoes, is a good person to ask. As McNall points out, he’s personally been involved in the business of selling shoes online since the late 1990s, previously at a direct competitor and more recently at Rack Room.
As he points out, Rack Room Shoes didn’t even launch an online shopping offering to its customers until late 2013, by which time it found itself competing against some 250 other companies selling footwear online in the US alone, he says:
Basically, we were about ten to fifteen years behind many of our competitors, right? Our job then was figuring out how we were going to compete. How would we get the market share that we knew we could command and we thought we deserved? So what we did is we took a very deliberate and intentional approach to how we were going to achieve our digital transformation and we called it ‘user-centered design’.
This approach, he continues, is based on three key steps. The first is an early and continual focus on end users and their tasks. The second is a rigorous focus on capturing empirical measurement of user behaviour on the website. The third is iterative design, based on information gathered during the previous two steps. Says McNall:
In all of the projects we undertake, in all of the decisions we make, and in all the priorities we set, we make sure that they tie in with at least one of those three key steps.
A game of leapfrog
In other words, Rack Room Shoes has been able to leapfrog older technologies and approaches and move straight to a more agile, user-focused form of e-commerce. McNall was able, he says, to bring a lot of experience from a previous role that told him what to embrace and what to avoid:
And it also helped very much so that the Rack Room corporate office was ready for digital transformation, right? They were ready for the change and there was buy-in from leadership.
Tools from application and digital experience monitoring specialist Dynatrace play an important role in helping McNall and his team to achieve and maintain their focus on user-centered design. Rack Room Shoes first implemented the company’s technology in 2017, in the form of its AppMon tool, which was more of an on-premise approach, but quickly upgraded the following year to Dynatrace’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings, when they recognized the potential of its Davis AI technology. In 2019, Rack Room Shoes added Dynatrace’s Session Replay tool to the mix as an early adopter of that technology.
A close eye on shopping behavior
So how do Dynatrace’s Davis AI and Session Replay work for Rack Room Shoes? In terms of Davis AI, a digital virtual assistant aimed squarely at IT operations managers looking to deliver on the snappier response times and seamless experience that users of websites and internal systems expect, McNall puts it like this:
What Dynatrace and Davis AI have allowed us to do is identify key touchpoints within the application that we feel are critical to the success of the customer experience, as well as to the success of our conversion rates. So we’re able to set what those key moments are and let the Davis engine start to monitor those key moments and set baselines for us. For example, let’s say our typical response time from our inventory check service is 100 milliseconds; the Davis AI engine can monitor that over time, and if it climbs to 200 milliseconds, Davis will create an alert for us. It basically tells us when certain touchpoints are starting to degrade in terms of service levels, response times, page load times – you name it.
And then, if we do find an issue, what the Davis AI engine also allows us to do is to get right down to the root cause of the issue, including potentially the exact line of code. That gives us clear insight into what the application is actually doing and that’s fantastic, because it saves our team from having to do a lot of digging. We can just work on building new features and enhancing the user experience, because we know we’ll get alerted if what we currently offer starts to degrade.
Session Replay, meanwhile, uses log files in order to track an individual user’s interaction with a digital application. In effect, it captures, indexes and visually replays the complete digital experience that customer had, click by click:
So if there was an issue and a customer calls in and provides their order number, I can go look it up in Session Replay and see exactly what the customer experienced. Or, sometimes, there’ll be a systems issue that we detect with Dynatrace and I can say, ‘Well, show me all the user sessions that were affected by that problem.’ The system will group all those sessions together and then I can go pick one randomly, or view each of them, and see exactly what the user saw during their session. That can help prioritize a problem if it’s visible to users or perhaps it’s not having a big impact on them at all.
This approach has meant that Rack Room Shoes was well-positioned for Covid, says McNall. In the second quarter of 2020 when the pandemic struck, the e-commerce website saw a 260% increase in business, he says.
But we’ve put a lot of effort over four or five years into making sure we offer a good customer experience on our website and Dynatrace has not only helped us with that, but also alerted us when we needed to scale, well ahead of customers being aware of any problems. We feel it’s really paid off for us, because loyal shoppers who perhaps had only ever visited our brick-and-mortar stores are now digital-channel shoppers, too – and either way, they’ll remain loyal to us, because they enjoy the experience we offer.