Tech priorities at Vision Direct in 2019

It’s been a rollercoaster year for UK-based contact lens pureplay Vision Direct. The firm that sells lenses, solutions and eye care products enjoyed record Cyber Monday sales of over half a million pounds in one day, but also had thousands of customers’ payment details stolen in a major cyberattack. Here Vision Direct chief marketing officer Ashley Mealor lifts the lid on the firm’s tech priorities, discusses that hack and the way ahead for the company in 2019.

What new customer-facing website functionality is Vision Direct, piloting or planning for use in the near future?

Being an online-only business, our customers’ experience on the Vision Direct website is super important. We’re always trying to improve this. For example, one of the most important upcoming functionality updates will result from the integration of Salesforce. This will allow us to bring in full personalisation, so we can learn more about our customers’ wearing schedule and talk about relevant services, thanks to observing their behaviours on site and on other channels. The benefit of this is being able to show customers only relevant results that fit with their wearing schedule. On a much smaller scale, we’re in the process of A/B testing static banners vs carousel banners. Based on how they will be received, we’re likely to adopt one or the other.

Does it have any new back-end systems to enhance supply chain, order or order fulfilment?

We’re adopting a comprehensive suite, which also includes a new PIM and several integrations to current and new fulfilment, stock and pricing tools. Moving forward, this will give us enhanced ability. We will also have better insight into what people are searching for, so we can understand which lenses they’re after and make sure we have them in-stock. This last part is extremely important because stock is what allows us to fulfil orders in a speedy manner. For example, in the UK we have next day delivery for orders placed before 9PM on the day before and we would not be able to do that if we didn’t know what to stock.

What ambitious plans does the company have for 2019?

From a strategic perspective, we’re planning to continue our growth in all markets (2018 saw a 27% YoY growth) and cement Vision Direct as the most reliable and trusted retailer providing customers with high-quality products and customer service. From an operational point of view, we’re automating text messages, a service that notifies customers that they are running out of contacts. By simply replying “YES”, we will automatically process customers’ orders and send them out the next day (if we have in-stock). We are also putting in place a discontinued decision tree model that will show recommend other lenses when a lens becomes discontinued.

What was the highlight of 2018 for Vision Direct?

We’ve had quite a few. The first was the launch of a new warehouse in Girona (near Barcelona), which now allows us to better serve our Spanish and French markets. We then launched a 24/7, 7-day-a -week customer support service in English speaking markets, so our UK and US customers can reach us any day, any time. Finally, the year ended with a record Cyber Monday, when we managed to achieve a total sales figure of over half a million pounds in one day.

What steps have you taken to calm customer concerns following the recent cyberattack and security breach on your website?

The incident was very peculiar in terms of the level of sophistication it used. Despite having protection in place in the form of a patch provided by our web platform provider to prevent this form of malware, the incident was a derivative against which the patch proved ineffective. Since then, we’ve stopped hosting payments on the website, making it impossible to shoplift financial details in the same way. We have also installed three new security patches to make sure that we have much tighter control on the website. Finally, we have hired professional security experts to see if they can hack the website so we can improve our security.

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