E-commerce innovator Roger Hardy: Audience of one

July 7, 2016 11:28 AM

More than ever, personalization is a buzzword within e-commerce, as many industry executives say they are adjusting their marketing strategies, merchandising philosophy and other tactics to appeal to consumers based on interests they might have, buying history or online browsing behavior.

Roger Hardy, the chairman and CEO of Canada-based footwear e-retailer, has long seen this coming, and in his 16-year career in online retail has built two successful e-commerce businesses that put cutting-edge personalization technology at the forefront of their strategy. He says he has always believed that demand for personal attention would increase as consumers get more comfortable with shopping online. is No. 151 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide.

“We believe consumer expectations will continue to increase in the e-commerce space, specifically around personalization and speed,” Hardy says. “We’re continuing to explore new innovations in both of these areas as well as many others.”

Coastal Contacts Inc. for example, the web-only eyewear retailer Hardy founded in 2000, was one of the first e-retailers to allow consumers to virtually “try on” its products. In 2009, the merchant launched what it called Virtual Mirror, which allowed shoppers to upload a photo of themselves and superimpose eyeglasses in a variety of styles and colors, and share those images with friends to gather feedback.

It was a first-of-its-kind technology then that has since been replicated by competitors in the same sector like, as well as retailers in other categories, such as Neiman Marcus (No. 36 in the 2016 Top 500) in apparel and (No. 832 in the 2016 Second 500) in home décor.

After building up Coastal to be a nearly $200 million e-commerce player, Hardy sold the e-retail company to French eyewear giant Essilor in 2013 for C$430 million (US$335 million). But his e-commerce career was far from over, as Hardy’s investment company, along with a small group of other Canadian investors, in early 2014 acquired Seattle-based and, an online footwear retailer headquartered in Vancouver. In 2015, Hardy added the and Richer Poorer socks businesses to his portfolio, and the four e-retail brands brought in nearly $223 million in sales last year—more than double what and generated in 2014.

Hardy is bringing to the shoe business that same type of focus on technology and personalization that he brought to eyewear at Coastal.

For example, at, Hardy launched in November 2015 an artificial intelligence-powered shopping tool called Smart Shopper that uses images to enable shoppers to find the shoes they want. The tool shows a consumer multiple images of shoes and asks her, “Which of these is closest to what you’re looking for?” Based on the shopper’s answer, the site will show her that shoe, plus other similar products. The goal is that, in time, the technology learns the consumer’s preference and is able to make relevant product recommendations on the site, via email and other marketing methods. “To date we’ve seen an increase in conversion rate, the average order size and a much larger exposure to our catalog,” Hardy says. is also ahead of many of its Canadian competitors in other ways, including on payments technology and omnichannel strategy. The web-only merchant in late 2015, for example, opened two physical stores in Vancouver and Toronto to acquire new customers and give online shoppers a place to try on shoes and pick up their orders.

It’s also one of only a few online retailers in North America accepting payments via a Swedish payments services firm Klarna that lets consumers check out with only an email address. The system recognizes users by their email address, ties that to a delivery address and quickly approves a sale, while accepting payment within two weeks of the purchase date.

“Our mobile conversion rate has increased 50% in the last three months on this,” Hardy says. “It’s from a low base on mobile, but still this is a huge impact on our business.”

Internet Retailer staffers profiled six e-commerce innovators for the July edition of Internet Retailer magazine. For more information on how you can get your free monthly subscription to Internet Retailer magazine, click here.




Top Solution Providers