Pivoting businesses that had predominantly operated from stores to online was something many retailers had to do as lockdowns hit in 2020. In this session luxury chocolate retailer, Hotel Chocolat and US equestrian apparel retailer Farmhouse Tack explain how the pandemic impacted their businesses and their digital transformations.
The closure of physical stores around the world in 2020 meant retailers such as Hotel Chocolat and US equestrian goods retailers Farmhouse Tack had to pivot their business and quickly accelerate their digital transformations.
In this session, Hotel Chocolat’s Director of Ecommerce Martin Bell and Michelle Drum, Ecommerce Manager at US equestrian retailer Farmhouse Tack, outlined the challenges that they faced and explained how they switched their business focus to online.
At Hotel Chocolat ecommerce was around 20% of total UK sales before the pandemic hit and the company had already begun what Bell describes as “as a fairly sizeable digital transformation” but plans were accelerated. “We invested more once the lockdown hit because clearly we had to drive this plan harder and quicker to ensure that we had a best-in-class experience on our website,” he said.
Hotel Chocolat made a number of changes, from reducing its range line from 400 to a core 30 to 40 products at the height of lockdown allowing it to improve capacity four-fold to get products out to customers; to transferring previously store-based functions, such as chocolate tasting to online virtual experiences. “Every function in the business had to pivot but by remaining nimble we have been successful and that real collaborative effort helped us to drive a big result,” said Bell.
At Farmhouse Tack Drum said the business also had to pivot even though as an essential retailer its stores were allowed to stay open. “Everyone had to learn to multitask in a new position that they may not have been used to before,” she said.
Pre-empting customer questions through more pictures and better online descriptions helped replicate the instore experience for those who didn’t want to get to store, she said, while the establishment of a dedicated customer service team for the internet has helped service new entry-level equestrian customers.
Similarly at Hotel Chocolat Bell said building up the customer service team to manage a four-fold increase in demand was also important. “Operationally we were super quick to get our house in order,” he said.
Both retailers said they had seen huge growth over the last 18 months and had invested heavily in technology and processes to manage that growth. And this has meant huge positivity for the future. “The big picture is huge and I’m excited to see what’s in store for us,” said Drum.
Hotel Chocolat’s Bell agreed as he outlined the company’s ambitious plans to become “the world’s most technology activated chocolate brand."
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