Pampered Chef, which sells cookware, kitchen tools and small appliances, relies heavily on consumers who host parties to sell its products. And over the last few years, virtual shopping events have been growing in popularity for the consumer brand manufacturer. When COVID-19 hit in early spring last year, Pampered Chef realized the importance of its selling platform.
“Our model really relies on leveraging individuals to drive virtual and social selling,” says Shiv Dutt, vice president of innovation. “More people were at home and cooking more, so the demand for cooking products started going up. We saw a bump in online sales.” He declined to reveal specifics but says Pampered Chef is still in a good spot in terms of how revenue has been impacted. Digital Commerce 360 estimates Pampered Chef increased its online sales 69.4% year over year in 2020.
And its traffic was buoyed in the early months of the pandemic as shoppers sheltered in place and spent more time cooking at home. From January 2020 to June 2020, web traffic to PamperedChef.com spiked 203.3%, according to data from web measurement firm SimilarWeb.
The retailer’s business model involves both consumers who “host” shopping parties in which a Pampered Chef consultant comes to their home or they may be a consultant themselves. Hosts invite their friends and family to the parties and then they or the consultant show off products and conduct live demonstrations using Pampered Chef products. Party attendees can purchase the products during and at the end of the party. Both consultants and hosts receive perks from purchases such as commissions, discounts on future purchases and other reward incentives.
When the parties moved online, consultants used Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms to connect with shoppers. And those virtual parties accelerated when the pandemic hit, Dutt says.
“On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense for our consultants who sell and consumers who buy to leverage existing, third-party platforms,” he says. “It’s a low-cost way to get people together. But on the other hand, we don’t control those experiences.”
Pampered Chef misses out on customer data and customer behavior trends when it does not control the party experiences. “We would love to understand user behavior, such as how often do people come to the platform, what do they do when they show up, and what drives conversion,” Dutt says. “Getting the data will allow us to create a more personalized experience for customers. It will allow us to understand likes and dislikes and focus on delivering and improving the features that can drive maximum value for customers.”
Thus, the retailer looked into providing a platform for the consultants to use to host the party. This way, Pamper Chef could create a better experience and have access to data to continually improve the experience, Dutt says. Consultants will not be required to use the platform at first but will be encouraged to migrate to it once it’s launched sitewide.
Pampered Chef chose artificial intelligence platform Iterate.ai to help build a scalable model to host the parties in which it could easily add features. After two months of integration, the first version launched in September 2020.
The new platform not only gives Pampered Chef more insights into customer behavior and data, but it also helps its consultants more easily run parties. Most consultants work for Pampered Chef about 10-15 hours a week, Dutt says, so the new platform will improve their productivity and give them a better return on their time invested. What might take them 15 minutes to set up on Facebook will take only 30 seconds on the Pampered Chef platform because all the necessary elements are already embedded, integrated and ready to go, he says.
So far, Pampered Chef has seen improvements in attendance, engagement and conversion, Dutt says, without revealing specifics as it is still in the early stages. The cookware retailer plans to continue to add features. For example, video conferencing is the latest one it added, and it will monitor how often video is utilized and if it helps increase conversion.
After the September launch, Pampered Chef spent three months improving it to have the next version ready around the holidays. It started testing the platform with about 1,000 consultants, and it plans to launch the new model sitewide in Q3/Q4 of this year, Dutt says. In the coming months, Pampered Chef plans to build more consultant productivity tools, such as the ability to create party templates, themes and outlines.
The party platform is built on “low-code,” rather than traditional coding of an application, which means it is a drag-and-drop method like Lego blocks to assemble the different pieces of the application. “Time to market is faster so you can compete better, and it allows companies to experiment quickly. If something doesn’t work, you can literally swap it out,” says Iterate.ai chief digital officer Brian Sathianathan.
Right now, the party platform is on a self-contained site called Table, but Pampered Chef plans to integrate it into its existing site soon. Pampered Chef declined to reveal the cost of the platform’s investment.
Some of the features of its current platform include typical social media features such as chat, likes, comments and notifications, video conferencing, gamification features and a virtual kitchen that it built on the platform so consultants can host cooking shows using Pampered Chef products. These features are built into the platform without requiring shoppers to download any separate apps.
“Instead of trying to build each of these things ourselves, we are identifying great technology that exists and picking the ones that make sense for us that also drive engagement,” Dutt says. For example, its gamification technology uses third-party application software from Dreamify.
Getting consumers to see the benefits of the new platform is a harder battle for Pampered Chef, Dutt says. The new platform will allow for fewer clicks and a more seamless experience for consumers than Facebook, he says. However, consumers won’t know that if they’re already used to attending parties on platforms like Facebook.
“If you’re attending a party, you already are hooked on that social media platform,” he says. “But going to a separate one, there’s a learning curve. So, we will find ways to remove friction and engage shoppers so they can have fun and learn things.”
Pampered Chef is No. 605 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000.Favorite