Small steps in online journey

How Wild Oats in Bristol has gone about launching an eCommerce site to meet the expectations of its loyal customers.

Case study

How does an independent health store go about embracing the brave new world of online shopping, something we must consider if we are to keep up with customer expectations in a changing and challenging retail environment?

Does a store call in a team of experts, appointing new staff or contracting out, or take a deep breath and do it all in-house and save a lot of money?

We took a peek at woats.co.uk, the website for Wild Oats in Bristol, which is a good example of an independent taking baby steps in a big journey that will ultimately help steer the business through the pandemic and beyond. At the time of going to press, Mike Abrahams’ online store was focused on supplements for various health requirements before building it to reflect a mission to supply ‘everything you need to live a healthy and low-waste lifestyle.’

The store’s marketing manager Jordan Clements picks up the story...

In-house or contracted out?

The design was done in-house by our team. We first created a wireframe* of our existing website and after plenty of research, a wireframe of the new proposed website. Then it was easy to see which pages needed updating and which new pages needed building. We chipped away at implementing the new website over the course of a few weeks rather than taking the website down for maintenance. The reason behind this was that we didn’t have that transactional feature already in place so we wouldn’t have been impacting sales.

The move from an informational website to eCommerce wasn’t too dramatic. We launched with a select few bestselling products to give us time to test the functionality of the website via a soft launch. Then when logistics allow, we can expand our product offering online to match our huge in-store range.

Third party platform?

Like many small businesses, we use WordPress for our website and the WooCommerce plugin for the online shop. It was a no-brainer to use these platforms because they’re so easy to use, especially if you’re not into coding. But it definitely works in your favour if you have a basic understanding of PHP, CSS and HTML.

Responsive design**

Just under half the users of our website come to us from a mobile device. And nearly 10% from a tablet. Our site needed to be responsive to make sure the customer journey on all of these devices, including desktop, was optimised for each user. A responsive site also means there’s less work for us as we don’t need to housekeep a dedicated site for mobile users. That’s a win-win.

One thing we’re concentrating on now is reducing site load time on both desktop and mobile. With every additional 0.5s it takes to load your site, it drastically increases the percentage of visitors that will leave a site.

Supplying from stock?

We are using our stock and will continue to until it becomes untenable to do so. We keep as much as we can in-house so we can control every aspect of the sales process and maintain our ethical standards from start to finish, from using the most environmentally friendly packing material to limiting the amount of travel between packing and posting.

Delivery charges and fulfilment?

Too often you see people abandoning their cart at checkout after seeing a hefty delivery charge. We, of course, don’t want that to happen which is why we offer free delivery on orders over £30 and a small delivery charge of £3.95 for orders under £30. All via Royal Mail.

Fulfilment is managed by one member of staff at the moment, freeing up the rest of the team to concentrate on giving tailored advice to customers in-store. As our eCommerce store grows we may need to re-evaluate the process in-store to meet the demand, but that’s something we’re aware of for the future.

Pitfalls and advantages?

We have seen a lot of businesses big and small launch an eCommerce site over the last few months, so one thing that takes a lot of thought is how do we stand out in an extremely competitive market? Our niche as a small, independent business is that we know what we’re talking about when it comes to your health. We want that to reflect on our website through really informative content and that takes a lot of planning. But educating our customers and informing our community is at our core, so it’s something we’ll always dedicate a lot of time to.

It goes without saying the big advantage is we’re able to reach customers across the country, especially if we spend our budget wisely in terms of Google ads.

Costs versus potential profit?

The great thing about redesigning the website in-house and on a platform we already use is that we were able to keep costs down to a minimum. Bar a few paid plugin upgrades to maximise usability and a small PayPal fee with every transaction.

When we expand the eCommerce store and really compete in the online health store market we’ll see a change in our bottom line. We’ve obviously got big players to compete with when it comes to online shopping, so we’re relying on our Department Managers’ in-depth knowledge of the market to help us pinpoint the products our customers want to see and want to easily buy online.

What do your customers think?

The feedback we’ve had from our customers is they miss the connection of coming into the store and speaking with our expert staff.

We offer the same products as many of our competitors, so we’ve found people who are unable to come into the store phoning us first and then placing the order online. Most of our online business has gone out to the local area. We’re exploring how we can replicate that level of service to complement our eCommerce outlet.

* A wireframe is a skeletal outline of a webpage, acting as a jumping-off point for the design process.

** Responsive design allows a website to display automatically in its best visual format on different devices, whether desktop, tablet or smartphone.

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