Source talks to Pat Wood, Stephen Hewitt and Sarah-Jane Porter about how the three online retailers fared during the high street shutdown.
A surge in online retail sales was one of the immediate effects of all non-essential bricks and mortar retailers being closed on March 23 when the UK entered lockdown.
For companies such as TruffleShuffle, Character.com and Moonpig, this afforded a number of opportunities alongside the challenges of how they could continue to operate safely and efficiently.
“We have been busier since lockdown started, made more challenging with social distancing and sanitation, but we feel like we’re on top of things and can happily operate at an increased level of demand for the foreseeable future,” Pat Wood, md of TruffleShuffle tells us. The company relocated all office staff to work from home at the beginning of March, giving more breathing space for its warehouse staff and helping to ease the pinch points of toilets and welfare areas.
“We are firmly concentrating on providing our current customers with a safe and confident purchasing experience at this moment,” Pat continues. “Supply chain issues bear a big risk to us. A lot of suppliers closed down during lockdown which meant we had to make some significant supply chain changes to ensure continuity of stocks. I did an interview at the start of lockdown saying how difficult it was buying stock, and had a flurry of new suppliers contact us – so anyone reading this with relevant stock to sell to TruffleShuffle, please email me.”
Stephen Hewitt, md of Character.com, says that, as an online retailer, it is well placed to survive, but the safety and wellbeing of its staff was always front of mind.
“This meant a huge shift to home working for our office-based staff and a major change in warehouse operations to incorporate social distancing and increased cleaning measures in order for us to keep operating,” he comments. “I think we have seen, over the last few months, a major change in UK retail and the way customers will shop going forward. The push to online/home delivery has taken that final step and is now the first choice channel rather than going in store and I think this will continue post coronavirus.”
Stephen continues: “Despite pulling almost all marketing activity for the last few months we have experienced very strong demand, but we have had to balance that with more limited fulfilment capacity due to social distancing procedures and more limited supply options. Nevertheless we have continued on our long-term growth trajectory with a 40% increase in sales compared to the same period last year.”
Stephen believes that a key conversation the licensing industry should be having needs to be about the structural shift to online purchasing and how permanent that is going to be. He points out: “It’s highly likely that social distancing will be in place until the end of the year including the key Christmas period and that is going to push ever more customers into the online channel – so anyone who doesn’t have a strategy to maximise online sales will struggle.”
Moonpig’s head of cards and licensing, Sarah-Jane Porter says the retailer has seen a “significant increase” in customer demand since lockdown started, with people using greeting cards as a way to stay connected with loved ones. It rolled out a number of product innovations, such as eCards to support instant greetings as well as a new stay at home range which now represents 10% of its sales. “Our app downloads have more than tripled since before the lockdown, including a period where we ranked as number one app on the app store,” S-J adds.
Moonpig’s challenge for the next few months will be retaining the new customers who tried the company for the first time during lockdown, S-J says, so it needs to offer a superior experience and range. “I think the licensing sector needs to be supporting the licensees and retailers getting back on their feet, as I’m sure they will be. Empathy will be key while adjusting to what the new normal might look like. They will also need to explore how they can better support online businesses by facilitating conversations between their licensees and etailers to ensure an online presence.”
S-J concludes: “Business wise what we’re seeing is that the lockdown has accelerated the penetration of online greeting cards by two to three years for the industry which is very exciting for us.”
Lockdown top sellers
“We’ve seen a lot of sentiment driven brands coming through since lockdown such as Me to You and Boofle with editorial such as ‘Across the miles’, as well as superhero cards,” says Moonpig’s S-J. “We had a record-breaking Mother’s Day with triple digit growth while for Father’s Day, Dad’s Army and Star Wars were the best performers.”
Over on Character.com, PAW Patrol has been especially popular, says Stephen, due to the NHS promotion: “Nick Jr approached us about collaborating on a project to raise funds for the NHS and we jumped at the chance to make a contribution. All profits from the PAW Patrol Heroes NHS t-shirt will go directly to the NHS Charities Together and we have had a fantastic response from our customers via email and on social and it’s still selling very well so we should be able to make a significant contribution.” In addition, “long-term strong performers like Peppa Pig and Harry Potter continue to do well for us, as well as others such as Bing and Minecraft,” Stephen says.
TruffleShuffle’s Pat, meanwhile, tells us that it has been selling “lots of pyjamas” with The Lion King and Star Wars selling particularly well.