Rituals is overhauling its app to compete with the likes of Amazon, but it's treading carefully

Cult beauty lovers will be au fait with Rituals, touted as a “young brand with an old soul”

In a landscape where retailers see third-party sellers such as Amazon as both a friend and a rival, luxury cosmetics and home brand Rituals has revealed plans to overhaul its app with a focus on direct-to-consumer sales and brand loyalty.

Its global digital director, Martijn Van Der Zee, who oversees the brand's e-commerce function, said it's a process he's handling with great care, and a goal that his team will be working towards over the next 12 months.

The app launched in 2015, and for now it is primarily used as a storytelling platform. It has no native checkout tool, instead directing users to a web browser to complete purchases. However, it is regularly updated with magazine-style content and meditation programmes, which align with the brand's 'Your Body, Your Soul' philosophy.

"The end goal is that the app will be the glue between the store and the customer," said Van Der Zee, noting that an inbuilt CRM programme and omnichanel sales tools will be key in helping the firm advance towards this goal.

Cult beauty lovers will be au fait with Rituals, touted as a “young brand with an old soul”; the retailer has opened 550 bricks-and-mortar stores globally since its launch in 2000. It sells everything from verbena and petitgrain-infused body scrubs to almond oil candles, and over the same time period it has noted a 40% annual increase in turnover.

Digital, said Van Der Zee, now accounts for more than 7% of sales, but in order to increase this to a “soft target” of 15%, the brand is beefing up its display ad and social media capabilities along with the app.

Nailing the basics

Van Der Zee, who formerly held senior e-commerce roles at KLM for 14 years, was candid about the need for the Rituals to nail "the basics of e-commerce" first before investing more time and money into direct-to-consumer capabilities within the app. His team will prioritise logistical functions like payment and fulfillment in 2018; the latter of which is extra significant.

"We really want to have next-day home delivery available for consumers in most countries, but this is a challenge because you have to ensure there's stock everywhere, and IT connections," he added. At the moment, such a service is limited to a few countries including the Netherlands and Sweden, and it will be coming to the UK next year.

"We are a high-end brand, and people love us, but if it takes a week for something to get delivered it's simply not a good experience."

These bad experiences, he agreed, can drive consumers to third-party sellers.

“Amazon is simply very competitive in that way, but also in the UK and Holland there are some very competitive companies offering next-day delivery," he said. "It's really part of the game, so we'll focus on that because otherwise it would just make more sense for customers to go to a store."

Though it is a retailer in its own right, Rituals has several lines of business, including as a wholesaler – which is the way Van Der Zee describes his relationship with Amazon. For now, he said, their partnership remains very much a buyer-seller one.

"I'm not ruling out that we might have other collaborations in the future," he said, when questioned on whether the brand would ever embrace deeper integration with Amazon as the likes of Unilever have done.

His comments follow on from a recent Astound Commerce study, which found that in the US 55% of customers prefer buying products from brands rather than multi-product retailers. While the trend has previously been confined to FMCG brands, it's something that giants such as Nike have been investing in of late.

Meaningful moments

On top of all this, Rituals is currently trialing an in-app CRM initiative in Belguim, which sees customers get early access to products, meditation programmes and store parties in exchange for handing over their email addresses.

Van Der Zee noted that initial results, and a desire to make the loyalty drive more than an "economical instrument", have shown the benefit in connecting the dots between online and in-store behaviour. But he admitted the company is also approaching a wider European rollout with trepidation, for now.

"We are a loved brand – we don’t want to screw this up," he said. "We want to be sure that the CRM programme is appreciated. The problem is we don’t want to be aggressive [in our marketing] because our brand is all about meaningful moments and slowing down."

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