While the COVID-19 pandemic affected all retail sectors, led to temporary store closures and shifted customer behavior, we also experienced extraordinarily positive results from all our digital and omnichannel acceleration efforts. This resulted in higher instore conversions as customers were well-prepared, informed and visited us with a clear intent to purchase.
We also noticed that customers chose their preferred brands and opticians during this time, and were open to adopting new service channels to receive the eyecare advice and products they trusted. Many of these behaviors were an acceleration of existing trends, which reinforced our decision to provide a personalized omnichannel experience for our customers and access to our extensive network of professional opticians and eyecare services.
Our total e-commerce sales grew by 85%, while e-commerce sales at our retail brands more than doubled compared to 2019. We also achieved a significant increase in digitally-influenced store sales driven by omnichannel tools such online appointment booking, our mobile-first website, a store locator and an advanced Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform.
The three pillars of our omnichannel customer experience strategy were responsible for this level of success.
1. Global omnichannel e-commerce platform
Our in-house Global Customer Experience & Digital (CX&D) team designed and developed a scalable and modular global omnichannel e-commerce platform. It was built on a MACH architecture (M= Microservices, A= API-first, C= Cloud-native, H=Headless). Since the platform launched in 2019, it now covers eight countries and 10 retail brands, including:
- Vision Express in the U.K. and Ireland
- Pearle Netherlands and Eye Wish in The Netherlands
- GrandVision in Italy
- MultiOpticas in Portugal
- Synoptik in Sweden and Denmark
- Pearle and GrandOptical in Belgium
In 2020, we enhanced this platform by adding significant features such as prescription glasses e-commerce, rolling out product ratings and reviews, expanding our virtual try-on functionality, and enabling 'Click and Collect' in a variety of markets.
These e-commerce and Content Management System (CMS) platforms allowed our markets and their local marketing and digital teams flexibility to seamlessly run and operate e-commerce business on a daily basis.
We will further enhance our customer-facing platform in 2021 with additional customer features and innovations such as enhanced product images, additional new product categories, feature enhancements to our prescription glasses e-commerce proposition and more payment methods. We will also focus on developing omnichannel functionalities such as our online and instore contact lens subscription proposition, a new feature enhancement to our global appointment booking tool. In addition to new feature development, we will continue to roll out our global omnichannel e-commerce platform to more markets in 2021, including France and Spain.
Can telemedicine replace in-person eye exams?
Telemedicine and virtual consultations are not new concepts, but rapid advancements in digital technology are making them safer than ever.
In countries that allow telemedicine, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated risks with face-to-face eye tests have led to formalizing virtual at-home eye tests.
Virtual eyecare applications are diverse, from a basic telephone review to online refractions and even virtual anterior eye exams. These suit changing customer behaviors and consumer megatrends. They can also resolve consumers' struggle to save time and money while improving health and sustainability. For more information on these behaviors and trends, see section 'The environment in which we operate' in this report.
We are confident that telemedicine and virtual consultations will enhance, and not be replaced by, our instore offerings. This technology will help increase customer loyalty through more avenues to provide care, convenience and satisfaction. It is the future of eyecare and can provide an additional platform in our robust omnichannel customer experience.
2. Global Customer 360 marketing personalization platform
We are adapting our marketing approach to meet consumer trends and behaviors as we develop data-driven, highly personalized digital performance marketing and CRM capabilities. Our CX&D team developed an advanced customer data platform to offer a holistic view of customers, within the allowed boundaries of privacy regulations like GDPR. This enhanced 360-degree customer data platform enables us to use personalization across three categories:
- Marketing: one-to-one CRM marketing and one-to-many digital advertising
- Sales: online and instore sales
- Customer service: omnichannel touchpoints like chat, phone, email and social media
This valuable data helps us to better serve customers' needs by providing them with more relevant and timely information. It includes more tailored eye test reminders, personalized online product recommendations to enhanced customer service channels with a full 360-degree view of the relevant customer information.
Our Customer 360 platform was successfully piloted in Latin America in 2019 and extended to Denmark, Sweden and the U.S. in 2020. We will continue to develop and roll it out across multiple countries in Europe in 2021, including Belgium, Finland, Italy and The Netherlands. It will be the foundation for us to use advanced technologies such as machine learning artificial intelligence on our customer data sets, and provide actionable insights for our digital marketing, store sales, e-commerce, CRM and customer service teams.
We also developed an advanced global analytics platform that connects all GrandVision websites. It tracks and monitors a range of KPIs, including website traffic, appointment bookings, page views and e-commerce transactions to help us understand and improve our customers' omnichannel experiences.
3. Our standardized retail store concept and store experience
We have a standardized store concept that we implemented in nearly 2,200 stores across 30 countries. It ensures GrandVision stores worldwide deliver the same excellent service and award-winning customer journey experience. Our stores are the heart of our business and showcase our premium products and expert eyecare services delivered by our GrandVision 'Visionistas' and 'Fashionistas.'
Visionistas include optometrists, opticians and other eyecare professionals who deliver services to customers such as eye tests, comprehensive eye exams, and selecting optical and eyecare products. Our Fashionistas advise customers about frame and sunglasses trends and offer personalized style advice.
In 2020, we upgraded our store concept to further bring together digital and physical environments. This refreshed store concept provides a more engaging instore shopping experience for our customers while delivering a seamlessly integrated omnichannel customer journey, as well as improving the workplace experience for our store employees.
The concept focuses on the transparency of our eyecare offerings, with modern glass-walled eye exam rooms that still provide privacy for customers and opticians. In addition, store displays put our products at the center with clear visual merchandising that showcases our broad range of brands, models and prices. Interaction with our customers is a priority and is facilitated by a communal table located in the center of the store for customer consultations.The goal of our concept is to be replicable enough to achieve economies of scale, and flexible enough to adapt each store for local needs. It gives a real and differentiated expression of territory for our retail brands, our Exclusive Brand and Non-Exclusive Brand products, too. It also underscores our ambition to be the leading eyecare expert in the industry and offer the correct, fashionable eyewear products our customers expect to find.
A rendering of the standardized retail store concept
The goal of our concept is to be replicable enough to achieve economies of scale, and flexible enough to adapt each store for local needs. It gives a real and differentiated expression of territory for our retail brands, our Exclusive Brand and Non-Exclusive Brand products, too. It also underscores our ambition to be the leading eyecare expert in the industry and offer the correct, fashionable eyewear products our customers expect to find.
During the implementation, we preferred to work with vendors that integrated third-party certifications for quality and environmental management and those also working to achieve a circular business model.
We piloted the improved store concept in The Netherlands, Belgium, U.K., Germany, France and Switzerland, and initial customer responses were very positive. In 2021 we will complete the fine-tuning of this concept and start the roll out in Europe to make shopping for eyeglasses, contact lenses and sunglasses even more enjoyable and engaging for our customers.
In addition, we are testing advanced eye test machines, the latest eyecare products and technologies in stores and online in several countries while meeting local laws and to also stay on pace with the latest trends and innovations. We piloted online eye testing in Finland and Poland in 2020. Depending on the outcome of these pilots, we may scale the technology to other countries and provide our customers an option to conduct eye exams from their own homes.
LED store lighting environmental benefits
LED lighting is a required GrandVision standardized store design specification that benefits our company and the environment. More than 3,600 stores (about 58% of our own stores) are equipped with LED lighting, and our target is to equip every store by 2025.
In 2020, we retrofitted 471 stores, which led to an estimated:
- 3.51 GWh less energy consumption
- 1,451 tons avoided CO2 emissions
Since we started using them, our LED-equipped stores have helped us to annually:
- Consume 27.3 GWh less energy
- Avoid emitting 8,845 tons CO2
If we achieve our target in 2025, we can avoid the annual consumption of 46.9 GWh and emission of 14,164 tons CO2. This reduced electricity consumption can also lead to positive financial effects for GrandVision thanks to reduced electricity costs.