Today’s blog is guest-written by Anna Skaya, Online Community Manager, Europe

Meet wehkamp.nl – the number one online retailer in Holland and one of the best and most personal online department stores across Europe. Wehkamp prides itself on turning products and services into smart, innovative solutions and exceeding their customers’ expectations.

“Innovation” was the resounding topic for the first-ever “Wehkamp Online Partner Day,” which Bazaarvoice attended, alongside our Radius partners Endeca, Coremetrics, and Responsys, plus Optimost and Scene7. These partners brought innovation to life, providing aggregated solutions on some of the most forward-thinking ideas of the industry. Discussions ranged from social shopping, viral marketing, advanced social networking, and taking ratings and reviews to another level. Exploring integrations with Scene7 (advance picture navigation on pictures submitted with R&R), Endeca (text mining reviews for relevant search criteria), Responsys, and Optimost (A/B tests on “Top Rated” emails with and without ratings or reviews) were just a few ideas that came of out the sessions. The leadership at Wehkamp clearly saw the need for the web of partners to come together and share ideas – the day was buzzing with thought leadership, creativity, and overall feeling of excitement and innovation.

What has made this unique online retailer number one in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world? According to Wehkamp, it’s a combination of innovation, early adoption, a strong personal brand, and an innate need to provide exceptional customer service to a marketplace they have served, cross-channel starting with catalogues in 1952, for over half a century.

I caught up with Alexander Van Slooten, Manager of Internet Strategy at Wehkamp, to learn more about their vision for the future of online retail.

1. INNOVATION
Two-thirds of the Dutch population have shopped online in the past year, and over 88% have access to the Internet (2nd highest in the world.) You have a great opportunity to be a creative thought leader in the online space. What are some of the ways you innovate?

Being the first online retailer in Holland (we launched our first site in 1995), we have an obligation to stay innovative. Over the years, we were the first to launch a customer self-service ‘chatbot,’ had the first Dutch viral marketing video on YouTube, were the first Dutch retail website that may call itself “Drempelvrij” (our site is also optimized for disabled people who use voice browsers and Braille media browsers). And we were of course the first Dutch website that allowed reviews on apparel.

2. CUSTOMER SERVICE
You pride yourself on being very customer-centric. Your use of user-generated content such as Bazaarvoice Ratings & Reviews is one way to show your customer that you value their opinion. How does having reviews on your site improve your business?

We pull a weekly report for our Quality Assurance department, containing bad reviews which help our buyers in determining their assortment. We have feedback for our suppliers which can be of great use to them. We can see that our visitors read the reviews because they talk about other reviews when writing their own. In six months time, we have over 31,000 reviews which show that customers like this functionality. Through Ratings & Reviews, employees of wehkamp.nl become more involved with the online business.
(See Wehkamp’s reviews splash page – in Dutch! – here.)

3. APPAREL
You have many great apparel reviews – your customers are very happy to discuss their wardrobe, recent purchases, fit, and style. Was this surprising to you to have so much attention given to apparel? Why do you think you customers are happy to discuss this?

There was no website in Holland that allowed reviews on apparel before Wehkamp, so we really had no reference. Most of the time hardware reviews are about meeting expectations. We thought this would also be the case with reviews on apparel. What surprised us was that customers are also willing to describe their feeling. Many reviews on apparel are also about emotions. “I’ve got my self-confidence back, after buying this bathing suite.” “My husband says I look pretty in this dress,” and so on. This fits the trend that people are more and more willing to express themselves online and have no shame at all about telling the most private details, even in Holland, where people tend to be a little conservative.

4. BEHAVIOR TARGETING
We discussed extending the use of customer data to deliver more personalized, relevant content to the end user. What are some of the ways that you imagine doing this, and where do you see the internet space moving with these ideas?

Relevancy is key nowadays. Behavioral targeting is still a technical term, which can frighten some people. We see it as a service; we will only show you things you are really interested in so you don’t have to spend time searching. I think it’s important to have a balance between the things you show based on the customer profile and more ‘organic’ display. The more we know about a customer (also think about profile data from for example social shopping, just show an item one of your friends just bought) the better the suggestions will be. Monitoring the whole process will be extremely important, the theory is good, but never just trust the technique!

5. CULTURAL IMPACT OF eCOMMERCE
Does having an ecommerce site in the Netherlands, targeted at Dutch customers, require you to do anything different? Are there any cultural differences between online shopping behaviors in Holland versus elsewhere?

Dutch customers are used to having their shops very near (within a 20-30 minute drive at the most). This means that to succeed in doing online business in the Netherlands, you have to be even more applicable. Dutch customers (and the Dutch in general) are very much used to direct communication where they just say what they want to say without holding back. This also means that the way of communicating with Dutch customers can be more direct and the feedback you will receive (e.g. via reviews) will be more direct.

3 Responses to “Holland’s largest online retailer shares Web 2.0 vision”

  1. Brett Hurt

    Anna,

    Great job on this interview. I really enjoyed reading it on the plane flight to Huntington Beach, CA for the Shop.org Board meeting and Merchandising Workshop today.

    Alexander,

    Thank you for allowing us to interview you on Bazaarblog. We are very proud to be working with you and the Wehkamp team. You are an extraordinarily innovative company, and we will continue to help you evolve rapidly.

    I hope to see you at Shop.org’s first Global E-Commerce Summit in Amsterdam! (http://www.e-commercesummit.com/)

    Sincerely,
    Brett
    Founder and CEO, Bazaarvoice

  2. Brett Hurt

    Anna,

    Great job on this interview. I really enjoyed reading it on the plane flight to Huntington Beach, CA for the Shop.org Board meeting and Merchandising Workshop today.

    Alexander,

    Thank you for allowing us to interview you on Bazaarblog. We are very proud to be working with you and the Wehkamp team. You are an extraordinarily innovative company, and we will continue to help you evolve rapidly.

    I hope to see you at Shop.org’s first Global E-Commerce Summit in Amsterdam! (http://www.e-commercesummit.com/)

    Sincerely,
    Brett
    Founder and CEO, Bazaarvoice

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