Interview by Sarah Carroll (SC) with Niamh Barker (NB), Managing Director
The Travelwrap Company sells the most beautiful Scottish cashmere wraps and accessories and recently started selling internationally online. Our main revenue streams are from online, retail and corporate through bespoke gifting. We won international luxury gift of the year a couple of years back so that helped with that. A lot of the growth recently is from export – we sell online internationally.
SC: Which markets did you choose to export into online?
NB: We have done and we still do quite a lot of work with UKTI, so we do a lot of the international showcases, the embassy and I’ve done a couple of trade missions this year. I realised that our products had quite a high potential for exporting – for wholesale exporting rather than direct sales – so it was the other way around really. They really like our Britishness abroad, and as far away as Japan we might get online orders, but the USA and Germany are our biggest audiences – our travelwraps sell well there, so that’s where we tend to target. So we did it the other way around, we looked at our wholesale potential abroad and then just started building up promo websites and the websites for selling direct. But I think we are still in the very early days in our journey and I think that it is very hard work sometimes.
SC: What routes have you taken for exporting online?
NB: We’ve now got our own language websites in place and we’ve got three different currencies people can transact in, and we just keep trying to remove barriers to different countries. For example in America, we discovered that a lot of Americans only have Amex so they don’t use other credit cards. And we resisted using Amex to start with just because it was going to cost us so much. But we now do have the facility for our customers to use Amex. We just keep learning through our customer experience, removing those barriers as we go.
The other thing we did which helps enormously is the girl who was our agent in Germany also does some PR and marketing for us on the ground so we were in German Cosmopolitan last month for example. She speaks to bloggers in German and gets them to talk about us in German on social media. So that I think works very well for us. Germany is one of our biggest audiences at the moment. I think that you’ve got to have the big media presence on the ground as well as just with the e-marketing and social media.
SC: What would you think the one most important adaptation you had to make to your online presence would to make the most difference?
NB: It’s got to be language – you quoted a statistic in your introduction Sarah about customers being four times more likely to buy in their own language and that’s very true in our experience. And getting that right. And also we’ve got somebody in Germany now who will go on our German site and who will do customer service stuff which is one less barrier again, when they know there is somebody there to answer enquiries. But to start with we used the google translate thing and it’s just a joke. I think everybody’s done that.
SC: How much content did you translate on your website at the beginning?
NB: To start with we re-did the homepage and the contacts just to get going. Because you know it’s a lot to take on at once to translate a whole site – and then absolutely, all of it needs to be translated to make it convert to and it all helps with SEO. We did it in parallel really.
SC: Do you sell in different currencies on your website and how did you set that up?
NB: We’ve got three different bank accounts in dollars, euros and pounds. We were quite stressed early on about whether or not to charge people VAT, and we’ve done both – we’ve added VAT and included everything and then we’ve taken it off because for some customers that’s another barrier to them buying. In terms of setting up technically the different currencies – I have handed that all over to our web people!
SC: Did you have to think about how to promote your website in other countries?
NB: The German’s call our travelwraps ponchos! We have somebody else selling online in Germany and she sells our travelwraps as ‘ponchos’ as they didn’t have a word for travelwrap, as they don’t really in the UK. It seems to me like a very different product, but there we are! When in Rome, you do as the Romans! So we tried AdWords and we got our fingers so badly burnt, probably up to my wrists almost! I don’t do AdWords at all now. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. We did quite well with SEO organically – I think what helped us most was the whole geotargeting and SEO thing. We took the UKTI services – the export communications review – that was a very prescriptive, step by step, what you need to do to get the basics right before you even think of going to the starting line – and I think that was the best tool we had to get the SEO and the geotargeting and the domain names and all of those things sorted before we even began to try and sell internationally.
SC: How do you deal with international delivery?
NB: We don’t charge for delivery anywhere in the world, which sometimes costs quite a lot. I mean we’re a very high ticket price item and our travelwraps are priced in the UK up to £249, so we absorb the delivery cost. We use FedEx international for all our international delivery, so they get there relatively quick but sometimes it can cost a fortune – we almost lose all our margin just on the cost of delivery. But we’ve seen the rise in sales when we don’t charge for delivery and you’ll find a lot of high end websites don’t charge delivery charges either. The US is fine because FedEx is an American country so it doesn’t cost very much at all to send to the US, you know overnight, in fact sometimes our priority delivery is cheaper than the economy. But to send to somewhere like New Zealand that can be up to £65 to package and send a travelwrap. It still only takes a matter of days – so delivery times are always really good and we always do well on that. So we don’t charge for delivery.
SC: Have you had to change the way that you work within your company to cater for international sales?
NB: Communication with customers – around 60% of our business around Christmas is gifting and you get people phoning up – they like that we offer gift wrapping, we write notes and everything to people, and there’s often things that people want changed so we have a virtual office which we run 24 hours so if people want to phone up from wherever in the world on their timescale they can do that, leave a message and we’ll get back to them. So that’s been quite good as well. But there’s lots and lots of things to consider.
SC: Do you use any other online marketing to keep your customers engaged with your brand?
NB: We segment our email data, very crudely, but we know that there’s a certain section which is American data and we’ll target an email to that data. And we do lots of social media, blogging and email marketing.
We’re on just the basics: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. We do get international visitors – we get a lot of German because we get mentioned in German blogs and things. And so for example this week on Facebook we posted a picture of some German customers wearing our travel wraps in a German shop that we sell to. So we do put on a lot of international stuff.
SC: What would be your biggest challenge and your best bit of advice?
NB: Traffic and sales are the biggest challenges, in that order. I think, and maybe our business is a slightly different model to everybody else’s, but our wholesale market is our biggest way of testing a market overseas. So we found out the countries where wholesale works for us and then we’re selling into retail online as well – which kind of makes sense doesn’t it?
I think services from UKTI are terrific as they do export reports on the market for you without you having to visit it – you just brief them as to what information you want. Also some of the embassy showcases abroad that UKTI run are terrific for just putting your toe into a market and test it in little ways. Because to go off and do a trade show for example in a country, unknown and untested to us, is thousands and thousands of pounds that we can’t afford.
Extract from Open to Export webinar