How Helly Hansen blends commerce and content
Building experiences for extreme customers
Helly Hansen knows how to weather a storm. Established in 1877, the brand was born when a Norwegian sea captain, Helly Juell Hansen, needed a better way to protect himself from the freezing wind and waves of Scandinavia. Captain Hansen and his wife Margrethe launched a business producing waterproof oilskin jackets, trousers, and tarpaulins made from coarse linen soaked in linseed oil. In 1878, they won their first product award at the World Expo in Paris. Over 140 years later, Helly Hansen gear is trusted by sailors on each of the five oceans, worn by explorers climbing the tallest mountains, and workers on job sites around the world. Over time, the brand has grown into a fashion icon, but Helly Hansen is best-known as a pioneer.
“We have a long history of first-to-markets,” says Chris Hammond, Chief Digital Officer of Helly Hansen. Hammond is responsible for transforming the brand into a data-driven, consumer-obsessed business that enables its disciples to feel alive — and stay alive — in the great outdoors. “We were the first-to-market with a technical base layer, the first to market with Propile™ knit, the list goes on,” he says. (Propile™ is a superior type of fleece). In 2016, British-born Hammond, who can usually be found exploring Norway’s mountains and fjords, joined Helly Hansen at the start of yet another pioneering project—a new e- commerce platform. “We started our digital strategy back in 2016 by re-platforming onto Adobe Commerce,” he recalls. “We were the first ever customer to do it. I joined the company the week we went live and we locked ourselves in a room for three months, going to bed at 3 a.m., and getting back into work at 6 a.m.”
A pioneering platform
“We created a solution that allowed us to easily break into new markets,” explains Theodor Tollefsen, Consumer Business Director at Helly Hansen, who joined just before Hammond. “We now have 55 different sites with seven different language options, payment methods, and shipping rules.” Helly Hansen quickly increased traffic by 24 percent, boosted their mobile traffic by 48 percent, and increased their overall revenue by over 45 percent. For a company with a legacy of first-to-market innovations, this move had prepared the company to thrive in new, international waters, whatever the future throws at them.
"We now have 55 different sites with seven different language options, payment methods, and shipping rules."
Consumer Business Director, Helly Hansen
“The first year was pretty rough, but now it’s a fairly easy platform to work with,” admits Tollefsen. Smooth seas don’t make strong sailors, and the eventual success gave the team a new confidence. Hammond explains: “Being on cloud and having the ability to be stable and have good uptime during huge traffic peaks is great. We now have more than 50 stores on the cloud installation in seven languages with 35,000 products per store. Each of the stores has different options, payment methods, shipping rules, localized content, product availability, and e-commerce. We’ve experienced incredible growth.”
Soon Helly Hansen was outpacing the other sports and outdoor fashion brands in the industry. The company’s track record of innovation made it the number-one clothing brand for more than 55,000 professionals. Their gear has been used by champion Olympians and national teams, including Ski Team Sweden Alpine, Alpine Ski Team Finland, and Alpine Canada. But the journey wasn’t over.
"We've experienced incredible growth."
Chief Digital Officer, Helly Hansen
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A mobile-first world
“In 2017 we transformed into a mobile-first business, so everything we do, every decision from media campaigns and creative, to commerce and data is mobile,” says Hammond. “Around 60 percent of our visits come through mobile today and that’s only increasing as mobile devices get better and speed gets faster. We’ve got to a point where mobile is our starting point. Everything we do from design, UX, everything starts with mobile within the company.”
This shift revealed a major problem with Helly Hansen’s content management system. “One of the issues we had with WordPress is that it doesn’t scale easily for a global brand in different languages,” says Hammond. It’s just not great as a solution for doing things quickly and beautifully at scale.”
Becoming experience makers
In 2019, Helly Hansen made the decision to move to a more robust content management system, Adobe Experience Manager. “We’ll now be able to integrate all of our marketing campaigns, and our loyalty program,” says Hammond. “But the big one for us is that we don’t have to worry about doing individual pages and individual languages. Adobe Experience Manager will put the content out in the relevant places at the relevant times, with the click of a button.”
This was a design decision too. “We use Adobe XD for our design system and this is best suited to work with Adobe Experience Manager for our needs and not WordPress,” says Hammond. “We’ve been spending too much on creating standalone content rich brand experiences which should be driving awareness, and we’re just missing out on significant ROI by being on WordPress and not being on Adobe Experience Manager. Moving to Adobe Experience Manager will increase not only our revenue, but brand awareness and purchase consideration."
"Adobe Experience Manager will increase not only our revenue, but our brand awareness and purchase consideration."
Chief Digital Officer, Helly Hansen
"We were extremely pleased to hear that Adobe had purchased Magento,” says Hammond. “This is allowing us to move into a broader suite of application systems and services that were always going to feel separate, and are now very well integrated. So moving onto Adobe Experience Manager specifically for creating experiences, it’s going to save us a huge amount of time and energy, and allow us to produce pages and content while being consumer-centric and to focus on the important things”.
Blending content and commerce
In Now, with each new season and each new product launch, Helly Hansen can build out more ambitious experience pages to show off their latest technology. Like HELLY TECH®—a tough weather-proof outer layer specially designed for the world’s harshest conditions. “Now we can really get content and commerce integrated and deliver all these amazing content experiences,” says Hammond. “But in those content experiences we also have products you can buy, and products that are tailored to what you’re reading, and what you’re into based on your browsing history. So that’s the roadmap. We’ll start with moving content over, then move into cooler experiences and merging the commerce part.”
“We’re prioritizing our consumers and the experience,” says Hammond. “They can go into a physical store and they can have an introduction to avalanche safety. They can then get themselves a recco-enabled product plus a Life Pocket™, which was developed using NASA technology alongside PrimaLoft®, which prevents your phone from freezing and turning off, even in minus-30 conditions. That’s the whole point of what we’re doing. Allowing anyone to stay and feel alive Since 1877.”
The brand has also committed to saving the planet, too. Helly Hansen has announced that it has joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) with the ambition of driving environmental responsibility across its supply chain. As part of its drive to reduce damage to the environment, it’s also attempting to reduce the use of PFCs it uses. “We’ve made a sustainability pledge,” says Hammond, “that’s the next big challenge.”
"Consumers are now the beating heart of the organization"
Chief Digital Officer, Helly Hansen
The next frontier is data
Hammond and Tollefsen remain proud of their achievements. “We went from having minus growth in 2016, to where we are in 2020, having more than tripled the business,” says Hammond. “We have an extremely successful team here, which has grown from an e-commerce team of four people when we started. Today we have a Digital Group of 46 people. We were very focused in the initial part of the Helly Hansen digital transformation around transforming commerce as a channel into a global consumer medium. Now consumers are the beating heart of the organization.” Part two of Helly Hansen’s transformation, predicts Hammond, is shifting focus from channels into a consumer-obsessed, data-led business. “We will be a platform-agnostic consumer brand by around 2022. We’ve made great progress over the last 143 years, but there’s still a lot to do.”