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Despite everything that’s happened in the past few months – from the forced closure of non-essential stores to changing consumer behaviour and an increased reliance on online services – there’s a small proportion of retailers that are somehow still questioning whether digital adoption’s essential.
I know that if they had their way, the shop doors would reopen and their customers would automatically be there, spending like never before. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that most stores have already reopened and early indications show customers have overwhelmingly chosen to stay at home.
If they couldn’t see the business case before COVID, and they refuse to see it now, I dread to think what new levels of denial they’ll have reached in six months. But with more workers furloughed than in any other sector, they can’t afford to bury their heads in the sand. Retail is changing fast and it’s anything but business as usual.
In the wake of the pandemic I've been speaking with e-Commerce industry leaders who’ve successfully put digital at the heart of their business. I’m keen to find out where they’re been focusing their energy and the impact that’s had on their bottom line.
This time I’ve been speaking to Simon Ruggles, Head of e-Commerce at Autoglym. Autoglym is a British manufacturer of car care and valeting products which are sold in over 45 countries. It’s a family-owned business, and in its 55-year history sales have never been better!
As it turned out, lockdown created the “perfect storm” for Autoglym, which has seen demand for its products increase fourfold since the start of the crisis. But what’s driving the sudden increase in sales?
“During lockdown people weren’t taking their cars out to be cleaned at a car wash, as those facilities weren’t open. Consumers had more time on their hands, either working from home or being unfortunately furloughed, and coupled with the great weather we’ve seen over the past few months, consumers’ love of caring for and detailing their vehicles was reignited.
We’ve successfully maintained the level of demand that used to be driven by high street retail, converting those customers via our own website or via Amazon. Early on in the crisis we hit the reset button and refocused our efforts on e-Commerce and we’ve enjoyed a bubble of upward sales growth since.”
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Scaling the supply chain and the value chain in order to cope with the unprecedented level of demand has been one of Autoglym’s biggest challenges in recent months. Where previously most of its operation was focused on moving large quantities of full pallet product from A to B, it had to quickly figure out a way to move thousands of single units from A to B each week, selling direct to consumer or on behalf of a partner like Amazon. This is how Autoglym plans to change gear:
“There’s very little capacity in the supply chain for brands like ourselves to engage with third-parties, and it’s a difficult challenge to overcome. We’re going to invest in this area by moving into existing property in our portfolio and kitting it out so we can build a new fulfilment centre to meet the new demand.”
Another area that’s benefitted from investment in the past few years is training and development for digital marketing such as paid search. After upskilling and cross training staff in how to deal with Amazon marketing spend and the nuances of that platform in particular, Autoglym’s hard work is starting to pay off as the brand is finding that more people are turning to Amazon to search for its products than they are searching on Google.
It’s this change in consumer behaviour that’s opening up a world of new opportunities for retailers, but Simon cautions against the scatter-gun approach where you throw lots of stuff out there and see what sticks. Instead he favours a more pragmatic approach, looking at the commercial benefit and the ratio of risk versus reward. He also relies heavily on data to guide his decision making.
“Every week we look at what the data is telling us, and this informs our project roadmap. We’re most effective when we concentrate on one opportunity and the impact it will have on the business. Then we put all of our resources into that focus area in order to deliver and effect change quickly. Being laser focussed in how we tick those things off is helping to deliver lots of short-term incremental wins that are having a big impact on our top-line revenue. We’ve found a sweet spot where we can maintain velocity, be agile and get things done, without compromising on the integrity of the brand.”
To Simon, continuing on autopilot and not prioritising customer experience is the worst thing an e-Commerce business can do. Crisis or no crisis. He believes that when a retailer has worked hard to develop a strong digital experience over a number of years, it doesn’t make sense for it to stop evolving its platform. As when businesses stop maintaining their platforms they can quickly find themselves at a commercial disadvantage.
“Over the past few years we’ve learned that although you may not see the benefit straightaway, it’s important not to scrimp and save on the incremental updates to your platform. Our platforms are like living breathing organisms and we should always continually be moving them forward to deliver the best possible user experience. Don’t underestimate the value of an incremental approach to updating it. The risk is that you’d get so far down the line with a platform that doesn’t convert as well as it should because it’s clunky and outdated, that it will take significant investment to retrospectively bring it to where it needs to be.”
For Autoglym it’s been essential that the manufacturer redouble its efforts online, and adapt quickly in order to survive. The advice for any SME that wants to thrive in this challenging climate is clear: stop stalling and accelerate your move to digital before the new retail landscape leaves you behind.
Every business should have access to online marketing that works, and by partnering up with 3-commerce, that’s exactly what you’ll have. Give us a call on 0333 772 9369 to find out how this can work for you.