Q&A   /   June 14, 2019

How Outdoor Voices’ vp of technology connects customer data and community

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For Outdoor Voices’ vice president of technology Kevin Harwood, his focus extends beyond building fast checkout into the brand’s app and website.

We’re not looking to have just a transactional relationship with our customer,” Harwood said. “We’re looking to build an experience that highlights events at the community that are going on around you, and also tries to recommend and provide apparel that makes those activities fun.”

Outdoor Voices isn’t the only digitally native brand that is betting on events to help it build a better in-store experience. Sofa brand Burrow, which just opened a second showroom in Chicago, has found that events like concerts and comedy shows have been useful in drawing people to its stores, even if they’re not in the market for a couch. CBD beverage brand Recess in February opened a pop-up space in New York that’s being used for events like yoga classes and wellness workshops. Of course, the challenge then lies in figuring out a way to get people who are drawn by the promise of a free workout class to become customers.

In addition to leading development for Outdoor Voices’ app and website, Harwood is in charge of deciding what tech to implement to improve the in-store experience. This week, Outdoor Voices announced an integration with retail platform NewStore, that will allow the brand to roll out buy online, pick up in-store later this summer.

Harwood discussed Outdoor Voices’ in-store strategy, what kind of results it has seen from Instagram Checkout, and how the brand is thinking about investing in mobile and personalization. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

How have customer expectations around the in-store experience changed?
The rise of Amazon specifically has [raised] everyone’s bar in terms of expecting shipment. It’s common for a customer to walk in and if the product’s not there, a majority of them are comfortable saying sure, ship it to me. They’ve done an online order before, they’re familiar with how that process works, so it’s certainly become more an expectation. Outdoor Voices as a brand is in such a great spot because we built our foundational technology like this, in a way it just makes it easy to [roll out these capabilities] versus being a brand that’s been around for 20 to 30 [years] that has more legacy technology systems, which make it difficult to transition to a more modern approach. We can use our youth to our advantage.

I think the fact that we started online is probably not something that a customer is just thinking about at the front of their mind. They just think about us as a more modern brand and maybe expect more modern functionality, and that’s what we want to make sure we provide. 

Why did Outdoor Voices decide to partner with Instagram on the testing of checkout?
It is an incredibly important channel for us in just communicating with customer — it’s where our brand probably comes to life the most across all of the social channels, so internally it’s just an  incredibly important platform for us. Looking for ways to streamline that experience for the user if they see something they like [on Instagram,] trying to make it easier for them to be purchase that, was just a no-brainer to me.

When a customer buys something through Instagram instead of your own website, you get less data on that customer. So how do you try to balance that — making it easier for customers to buy on platforms they’re already on versus directing them to your own website?
The data angle is certainly important. Obviously, the more data you have on a customer, the more personalized of an experience you can provide to them. But we also believe that our communication style in general with the customer is what sets us apart from other brands. We want to be essentially a friend encouraging you to get into recreational activity. In terms of evaluating partners and platforms, an important part of that evaluation is to make sure that we can [still] find a way to maintain a relationship with the customer. 

How important is personalization to you, and how are you using tech to try to personalize the experience for Outdoor Voices’ customers?
Anything that we can glean from maybe from previous purchases, [like] specific sizes they’ve bought, we try to make sure the sizes are automatically displayed or are just more [prominent] to them as they search around the site. Being able to provide recommendations [around different colors and types of fabrics] is incredibly important, and learning what activities they like to do allows us to potentially share some recreational-specific content that inspires them to go to events and meet people from the community.  

If [personalization] is the only thing you think about it almost becomes robotic. There’s not that flair that we’re looking for in that relationship with a customer where we can be inspiring. We’re not just trying to be an Amazon that’s 100% optimized to show the things that you’re probably going to buy. Our founder Tyler Haney describes it as “we want to be the friend that brings the orange slices on a hike.” And you can’t just personalize all the way through that process, you’ve got to have more of a human connection and a human interaction to drive that home.

What’s Outdoor Voices’ mobile strategy, and how are you thinking about trying to communicate with customers through your app?
Last year we launched the OV Trail Shop, which was about using augmented reality as a way to encourage people to get off the trail. We did a launch for that as just kind of a proof of concept of how we can leverage technology to encourage people to be active. Mobile is an incredibly important item for me, and that’s something we’re working deeply on.

From my perspective you’ve got to follow this content-community-product triangle to create a mobile experience that really resonates with the customer and makes them want to come back.

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