After 143 Years, Helly Hansen Takes Its Story Directly to Consumers

Helly Hanson.

by Loni Stark

posted on 03-31-2020

In 1877, captain Helly Juell Hansen was looking for a better way to outfit his crew. The harsh elements of the Nordic seas made it difficult to stay warm and dry, exacerbating a health risk. In what would eventually become the first in a long history of inventions, Hansen came upon the idea of applying linseed oil to cotton canvas. What he created was a supple, waterproof material that could hold up against the elements. The “oilskin jacket” as it was called, quickly became a hit in the consumer market as well.

After winning its first product award at the Paris World Expo in 1878, the Helly Hansen brand continued its legacy of apparel innovation. In 1949, the Helox waterproof fabric was brought to the world, which sewed a thin layer of translucent PVC onto coats and was worn by the Norwegian delegation at the 1952 Olympic Games. The next two decades saw the very first fleece come to market, as well a technical baselayer — new tech that moved moisture away from the body and kept users warm and comfortable. And as recent as 2018, the company introduced new insulation that was 20% lighter but warmer than the market standard.

Helly Hansen has become the brand of choice for over 55,000 professionals in skiing, mountain climbing, sailing and more. But in order to expand beyond this community and bring professional grade gear to casual enthusiasts, the brand had to evolve. For most of its history, Helly Hansen operated exclusively through wholesale and resellers. There was no direct relationship to consumers and limited ways to showcase a history of innovation. In 2016, the company embarked on its biggest transformation to date, taking the reins back in telling its story and creating an identity in the digital world. With Adobe Experience Cloud as a technology partner, Helly Hansen became an eCommerce force in just under a year, while making online shopping more visual and engaging.

Laying the pipes

For a company with a long history of pioneering innovations in outerwear, eCommerce was an exciting venture for the brand. Going direct to consumers meant launching in 19 countries, with a catalog of over 35,000 products per store. And in the long history of retail, eCommerce is still a fairly recent phenomenon, with complexities in order management to mobile shopping and payment processing. The eventual success of the rollout, however, serves to highlight the progress made in retail technology and its ability to level the playing field between smaller shops and the behemoths. After just 10 months of implementation, the global launch encompassed 55 different sites with seven different language options, payment methods and shipping rules.

And unlike some longstanding retailers, the Helly Hansen shopping experience was built to be mobile-first. It was a stark contrast to past efforts by other brands, who often struggled to add mobile onto an existing framework of physical stores and desktop Web. Helly Hansen understood that consumer habits were shifting. Data from Adobe Analytics for instance, showed that over $50 billion was spent on smartphones in the 2019 holiday season, a new record. By making mobile a starting point, in everything from design to UX, they avoided a clunky, afterthought mobile experience that had plagued retail for years. The product layout was intuitive, checkout was seamless and user profiles were connected. Following launch, the new mobile experience boosted traffic by 48%.

According to Chris Hammond, chief digital officer at Helly Hansen: “2016 was a major turning point for Helly Hansen. We had a long history of innovation, a compelling story and a strong position in the more niche community of hardcore professionals. But digital gave us a new way to own and promote our heritage. We could drive awareness amongst the broader world of causal, outdoor enthusiasts and engage people who might be interested in professional grade gear. Adobe has been an important partner in phase one of our transformation efforts, which shifted from just eCommerce into a global consumer medium for Helly Hansen. The results have been fantastic, and we have seen a 40% growth in traffic and overall revenue more than triple in that time. We went from negative digital growth in 2016 to over 40% growth in 2019. As we look ahead, the next chapter with Adobe will focus on creating deeper ties between content and commerce to drive engaging shopping experiences, while becoming a more data-led and consumer obsessed business overall.”

Road ahead

As with a traditional in-store shopping experience, eCommerce needs a way to drive emotion and excitement. Without an ability to touch or try on the product, the visual experience is nearly as important as the commerce functionality itself. Helly Hansen needed a way to inspire shoppers with the possibilities of the outdoors and deliver instant gratification. It was another aspect of the brand owning its storytelling. Each new season, or product launch, meant ambitious web pages that featured everything from the open seas to high mountain peaks. These visual experiences are fully shoppable, allowing people to easily purchase what they see and read, while also being personalized based on known preferences. The combination of Adobe Experience Manager and Magento Commerce bring together content and commerce, in a way that empowers these kinds of use cases. Helly Hansen has leveraged this joint offering, finding new ways to create a more engaging shopping experience and capture the hearts of the adventurous.

Topics: Adobe Summit, News, Customer Stories