Searching for shoes for a wedding? A job interview? Maybe a creative black-tie dinner? Chances are, Aldo Shoes, the Canadian retailer with over 2,000 stores -- a quarter of them in the U.S. -- has the specifics you're searching for. With hundreds of products, the 45-year-old affordable footwear brand covers the style spectrum, but often plays second fiddle on Google search pages, hidden below competitors like Zappos or Macy's.
The company is seeking to change that by redesigning its site into more of a marketing vehicle and less of a transactional space -- the results went live this spring. Changes include a new checkout experience and better integration of social content, meant to elevate Aldo's style credibility with consumers. With so many of its stores tied to the long-struggling mall, Aldo hopes its sorely-needed digital enhancements will differentiate the brand from competitors, whose sites are more cluttered and less photography-based.
"E-commerce had been a complementary channel with stores -- it was never a way to expand the experience," said Gregoire Baret, head of experience design at Montreal-based Aldo. "We're evolving to the consumer needs, making sure you can discover the right products through social media, being responsive faster and having more compelling and rich content to support and evolve the experience."
It's a tough climate for retail right now; just last month Payless ShoeSource filed for bankruptcy. And though sales of footwear increased 5.5% to $80 billion in the U.S. last year compared with 2015, according to market research tracker Euromonitor. Aldo is up against a host of competitors including department stores and fast-fashion apparel brands. Though it sells at Macy's and Amazon, it also competes with the in-house fashion lines at such companies.
"[Apparel and accessories] are a shrinking portion of shoppers' wallets these days," said Tiffany Hogan, a senior analyst at Kantar Retail.
Aldo got to work last year, tapping digital product agency Work & Co for the new push.
"It modernizes the brand," said Jon Jackson, a partner at Work & Co., Aldo's digital agency. "The experience can sometimes be overwhelming -- they make a lot of shoes per season -- and we wanted to make that feel more premium and make people look at Aldo differently based on the cool photography and the way the site works."
Aldo has the advantage of being one of the first to market, launching its website a dozen years ago when many brands couldn't even spell omnichannel. But being first doesn't mean staying the best.
E-commerce now represents 20% of Aldo's sales -- half of those are on mobile. Founded by Aldo Bensadoun, a Moroccan-Canadian businessman in 1972, the chain opened its first U.S. store in 1993 and now owns smaller fashion brands like Call It Spring in addition to its namesake label. Revenue estimates reportedly top $2 billion. Aldo's ever-changing, reasonably priced assortment of products keeps consumers returning for the newest trends. Experts expect the digital overhaul to further the advancement of the brand, which only spent about $8.1 million on measured media in the U.S. last year, according to Kantar Media.
"A lot of the stuff [Aldo's] doing is pretty innovative for where they sit in the market," said Hogan. "Brands have done stuff like this in parts and pieces, but to have this re-overhauling of the site and focus on digital in-store is where they can really gain an advantage."
Ironically, this digital marketing overhaul is now being implemented without a chief marketing officer. Last month, Bensadoun's oldest son was promoted to chief executive, replacing Patrik Frisk, a former VF Corp. executive, who had been in the role since 2014. David Bensadoun, who had been president of Aldo Group North America, restructured the marketing department within the company, essentially eliminating the CMO role. Now, marketing jobs are ingrained in all departments, like brick-and-mortar and digital, rather than existing in a separate division.
"We believe we have created an organization where products, experiences and services are becoming the central focus; where design and marketing are now embedded in every department and where agility and innovation are enabled all [the] way through the company," said David Bensadoun in a statement.
When consumers visit Aldo's site, no matter on what device, they'll now see a more social content pulled from users, meant to inspire consumers to spend on other areas, like accessories. Product pages have been updated with more detailed photography to appear more premium than Aldo's low range prices. Instead of being fed blanket forms during checkout, shoppers are asked to fill out forms with more conversational questions that prompt them from page to page, such as "Who is placing this order?" and "Is this meant to be a gift?" moves Baret said adds "a human touch even to the boring cash register."
Brick-and-mortar stores weren't left out. Sales associates are now equipped with mobile devices to offer immediate recommendations and instant updates on inventory availability. The chain is also experimenting with in-store VR.
And Aldo certainly won't be the last brand to push its website in a marketing direction to better engage customers.
"We're getting all of these different touchpoints that are now being integrated together to deliver a true omnichannel experience to the customer," said Sam Cinquegrani, chief executive of ObjectWave Corp., a digital commerce company. "We have to serve our customer on all of our channels in a manner they want to be engaged with and it has to be efficient and convenient."
Clarification: While Aldo competes with other brands at Macy's and Amazon, the company also sells at such stores. This information was unclear in an earlier version of this article.
Correction: Work & Co is not Aldo's first digital agency; that information was incorrectly supplied by Aldo in an earlier version of this article.