A Year In Our New Premises

Outside the new Forms Plus Office and Warehouse

It is hard to believe it is now a year since the Forms Plus team moved into our new purpose-built offices and warehouse. We have been expanding the business significantly since our management buyout in 2012 and, as anyone who visited us knows, we were struggling to fit in our old building.

We didn’t move far but it has made a world of difference to the business. We have room for all our new packaging stock, a much improved warehouse set up so we can process orders even more efficiently, and of course super smart, clean, spacious offices.

We asked the team to let us know how they feel about the new office one year on:

What a difference a light,  clean, purpose-built office and warehouse has made.  As a company we have come a long way in 12 months and that is down to the team and how willing and eager they are to succeed.  It’s surprising how much of a difference the new building has made to our mental wellbeing.

Neil Lawrence

Our office is so light and airy. We really have the space to grow as a team and a business.

Kayley Saunders
Outside the new Forms Plus Office and Warehouse

I remember how trepidatious we were upscaling and moving into a larger building. When we started stocking packaging, we were very hesitant on how it was all going to work. But look at our warehouse now! Only yesterday we shipped out 11 pallets. We have come a long way.

Jayne Wood

We have already expanded so much into our lighter, brighter and more spacious environment and it is all down to our fantastic Forms Plus team, working together to drive our business forward and deliver excellent customer service

Jo Carter

Although many of the team are now working from home, we are all looking forward to the day we can get back together in our smart, new building.

You can read about how Forms Plus has grown over the past few years, learn more about our premises and watch a video of its development on the Forms Plus Expansion Page.

Five Years of Healthy Workplace Status – We Won Gold… again!

Forms Plus Team Walk

The health and wellbeing of our staff has always been a priority for Forms Plus.  For the past 5 years, we have taken part in the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Healthy Workplace Award. We are delighted to announce that we have just been re-awarded our Gold status for the next two years.

At the Awards Ceremony on the 9th March, our team were acknowledged for the extent to which mental and physical wellbeing has been ingrained into our business culture and ethos.  The Award recognises that the Forms Plus Directors are committed to looking after their team and consider staff wellbeing a vital part of running a successful business. 

Like many of our clients, our day to day work is mostly sedentary.  Based behind a computer, taking care of the print and packaging requirements of our customers, it can be easy for the hours to pass by without much in the way of physical activity.  Particularly in the dark and stormy winter months, it is all too easy to go without natural light or fresh air.  At this time of year, we can also easily fall into the trap of indulging in sweet treats, eating at our desks and making our way through pots of coffee! The activities we have introduced to help us win, and keep, our Healthy Workplace Gold Award have given us the motivation and opportunity to break many of those bad habits.

Forms Plus Team Walk
Forms Plus Team Walk

Some of the highlights of our first year as a Healthy Workplace Gold Award Winner have included fun activities and exercises, training sessions to learn more about workplace health, and awareness campaigns. 

“I enjoy the team walks, where you can chat to a colleague from a different area of the business you might not necessarily chat to often. I also enjoy that every month is different – whether it be a team challenge, volunteering or a discussion around a certain topic.” – Sharon

One of the toughest challenges for some of the Forms Plus team was the British Heart Foundation De-Chox challenge.  This meant going a whole month without eating any chocolate, quite an achievement for some of the sweet-tooths in the office.  One member of our team, Ian, who joined us last July and was the only smoker at Forms Plus, took up an even greater challenge.  With support from the whole team, he successfully gave up smoking for Stoptober and now says quitting smoking is the best thing he has done in years – apart from changing jobs!

“The support I received for “Dechox” was great and similarly the support provided to those completing Stoptober was fantastic.’ – Kayley

Sharon and Jo receiving our Gold Award

Other campaigns we have taken part in included the Ask Twice mental health campaign, Sugar Smart and Keep Active.  As part of Keep Active, we ran on “On Your Feet!” day.  On the hour, every hour, the office was filled with the sound of James Brown singing “Get up offa that thing” and the team took part in two minutes of exercise.  Using (safely!) some of our fabulous new warehouse space, we took part in games such as balloon keepy-uppy, Malteser blowing races, target ball throwing and football games. 

Making the most of our surroundings in beautiful Cornwall, we also get outside whenever we can.  Team Walks, to support both our physical and mental health, are a common lunchtime activity. We also took part in a beach clean at Poldhu Beach.

Perhaps less fun, but just as vital, we have had the opportunity for Health Checks at work, over 40s checks, menopause information sessions and ongoing challenges to keep active and hydrated throughout the day.  Small, sustainable behaviour changes, such as making sure we drink enough water by using marked-up water bottles and encouraging each other to get out for a walk at lunchtime can lead to healthier habits that are life-changing. These adjustments are easy to do but have an important, positive impact on our long-term health.

“Outside of work, I try to keep fit as much as I can and also like healthy eating, so I really enjoy continuing these activities at work. Some of my favourites are the sharing healthy lunch days, team activities such as the Cornwall Beach Games and our regular weight checks.”- Evi

Forms Plus Karting Trip
Forms Plus Karting Challenge

Participation in our Healthy Workplace activities is never mandatory, and we do not pressure anyone to take part but most of the time we do find everyone is keen to get involved and finds it valuable. The activities help us bond as a team and get to know each other, beyond the day to day conversations we would normally have as colleagues.  This then means we can support each other better, through the natural physical and mental health issues that pop up in all our lives from time to time. 

Plans for the next few months, to make sure we live up to our Gold Award, include revisiting sun safety (when it gets warm enough!) and having a look into our sleep patterns.  We are also running a company WhatsApp group sharing healthy recipes and giving each other new ideas for weekday dinners.  This has led to challenges for “Meat Free Mondays” and colourful fruit and veg meals. 

Whilst we are proud of our Award, none of this is about winning prizes or recognition.  What matters most is that the ideas generated by taking part in the programme are helping make all of us healthier, inside and outside of work, and hopefully making us happier as a result. 

Committing to a Healthy Workplace involves more than just the occasional fun event. It needs to be firmly embedded in team culture and is something we discuss even at the employee interview stage.  If you would like to find out more about how we have achieved that, and keep it going, do get in touch. We’d be happy to share our experiences and have a chat about how they might help your organisation.

Read more about the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Healthy Workplace Scheme, and view our Case Study, on their website www.behealthyatwork.org .

Featured Product – Grip Seal Bags

Narrow Grip Seal Bag for Packaging Small Items

This year, we will be using our blog to feature products from our ranges and highlight information that might help you make the best selection to meet your packaging and label needs. This month we are starting out with the humble grip seal bags.

Grip seal bags, also known as zip lock bags, are clear polythene bags with a simple grip lock closure at one end.  Simply pull open and push the two sides together to close the bag, making a robust seal.  As no adhesive is involved, the bags are resealable and reusable time and time again.  Therefore great for the environment. 

Available in 19 sizes from 37mm x 62mm up to 375mm x 500mm, grip seal bags are ideal for packaging all types of products. We have seen them used for everything from tiny earrings, craft items, electronics, vitamins, food products, fashion accessories, books and brochures and even clothing.

With an almost airtight seal, grip seal bags protect your products from moisture, odours or other contamination. If you are sending out something perfumed, they will also keep that smell contained, protecting the rest of the package.   

Ideal for sending out different quantities of smaller products, these small, clear pouches are also helpful for keeping your stock organised and speeding up your picking and packing process. 

At Forms Plus, we have focussed on quality when selecting our grip seal bags.  This means that the closure is sturdy and a good fit, opening and closing easily. They are fully reusable should your customers choose to keep their bags as storage, once the parcel is received. 

Our bags are made from 160 gauge/40-micron LDPE (low density polyethylene) which means they are strong, fairly heavy duty and less likely to be punctured.  They can also be recycled or reused. 

Do have a look at our range of grip seal bags and get in touch if you have any questions.  We think you’ll find them a versatile and cost-effective solution to sorting and protecting many of the items you send out.  We also had some fun choosing products to fill them with for our photoshoot!

10 Things We Learnt When Building Our New Website

Website Development for Forms Plus

Forms Plus had a brand new e-commerce website last year – here are some things we learnt along the way

This time last year, we had just started the process of commissioning the new Forms Plus website (the lovely one you are looking at now).  It was a long and complicated process and we learnt a lot along the way.

Thankfully we don’t plan on building another site any time soon but we thought that seeing as so many of our customers run e-commerce businesses like ours, it might be helpful to share our top tips for website projects.

So, if you are thinking of updating your online store, building a brand new e-commerce website or even just having a bit of a refresh, do read through our tips below. We hope you will find them helpful.

1.Write a detailed brief

We sat down with our own team, marketing agency Sam Amps Marketing and web developers Elephant to ensure we wrote a really thorough brief.  This helped develop a very clear idea of everything we needed and communicated that clearly to our web builders.  As the site approached completion, we went back to the brief to check all our requirements had been met. 

The brief really helped us stay on track, but we also needed to be flexible as some areas changed along the way. For example, we made our decision to stock packaging materials alongside forms and labels not long after the site build got underway. 

Website Development for Forms Plus

2. Plan for plenty of time

Plan plenty of time to build your website, especially if you are trying to launch it to a deadline. If you want to rebuild your site before Christmas, start now.

Be realistic with your timelines. Some things, especially writing, proof reading and the final testing, took a lot longer than we thought.

3. Involve your team

Everyone at Forms Plus was involved in the web project to some extent. Listening to the views from people in different parts of the organisation really helped us ensure we had covered all areas and considered everyone’s views.   

Our team were able to provide really helpful feedback from the briefing stage up until final testing.  This helped everyone appreciate the amount of work involved for those closest to it, reinforcing team spirit and making the best use of our team’s wide knowledge and experience. 

Forms Plus’s new website was a great team building exercise for us too!

4. Make a plan for photography and video

A new website won’t really look like a new website unless it has new imagery.  Our products are not the most visually exciting, so we did our research and found a great photographer, Pip Hayler, who was able to help us make the most of what we have. 

Each shoot was carefully planned, with a clear list of what needed to be photographed and how, meaning we got exactly the right selection of images in the sizes and shapes we needed.  It did take a few goes to make mailing bags look interesting though!

Mailing Bags for Shipping Magazines or Books

Our site doesn’t make heavy use of video content, but if yours does the same obviously applies for that.  Know what you want and where you want to use it, then shoot accordingly.  For example, our new video was perfect for showing off our new offices and warehouse.

5. Keep clear communication lines open

Throughout the process make sure you have clear, open and honest communications with your agency.  Both sides need to be realistic about what is possible within time and budget limitations. We had regular catch ups, internally and with our agency using screenshare tools, and used Trello to share information.

Branding and Logos

6. Review your branding

A new website is a good time to review your overall brand.  We realigned some of our products and launched our packaging products, which meant reconsidering our strapline (“print that delivers”) in some contexts.  We also subtly changed our colourways to make the site less pink and green. 

Whilst you want to still look and feel like “you”, this is a good opportunity for an update. 

7. Use the opportunity to declutter

Setting up a new website is a bit like moving to a new house – a good excuse for a clear out.  As well as thinking about what you do want on your new site, think about what you can cut out.  A clean, tidy site without excess content will be easier for your customers to use, and simpler for you to manage.

8. Don’t forget about SEO

We were concerned from the start about making sure we didn’t lose any of our search ranking in rebuilding the site.  Throughout the project, we worked with our SEO consultant Sam Amps, as well as our web developers, Elephant, to make sure this was covered.  For example, any pages that we culled as part of our clear out were redirected to the right place on the new site to avoid broken links.

E Commerce Website Editing

9. Test, test and test again before going live

None of us really anticipated how much testing we would need to do, so we were lucky we had the time.  We all tested the site in-house, on different devices and browsers, and for the different tasks we all use it for.  We also asked some of our customers to help with testing. 

Even once it went live, we still found the odd glitch so plan for that too – you don’t really know it works until your real users are logging in and ordering!

10. Understand it will never be “done”

Finally, there will never be a perfect moment when the site is totally and utterly finished.  Websites and companies evolve so the launch day will not be the last day you change anything.  Your site will need adjustments for issues you don’t spot until it’s live, changes in your offer, new technologies or just better ways to do something that you hadn’t considered – so keep that relationship with your web agency going beyond launch date. 

Best of luck if you’ve read this far because you are working on your site and appreciate the advice.  Do get in touch if you’d like to talk to us further or have any other ideas for improving our site.   

Forms Plus in 2019 – It’s Been A Busy Year!

2019 Round up of Forms Plus Year

It’s the time of year for a good round up. We did think of sending you all a Christmas Letter with the usual collection of achievements and progress through the year. We even thought about writing it in that smug style distant relatives used to use, where every single member of the family has something to boast about and even the dog has won at least one show….

We have been busy, and we do have lots to be proud of, but we are staying professional, so here is a quick recap of our 2019 highlights as a blog instead.

New Warehouse and Office Space

This time last year, we were still visiting our new offices wearing hard hats.  Our purpose-built premises were ready on schedule in March and we’ve been enjoying the smart new space ever since.  We didn’t move far but our new building is a world away from the old office in terms of space, comfort, layout and the amount we can now fit into our warehouse. We now finally feel we have the right premises to support our brand and enable us to work at our best. Our friends at Bad Wolf Horizon made us a video capturing the developments.


Packaging Range Launch

Increasing our warehouse space also made room for us to add our Packaging Ranges.  We’ve learnt a lot along the way, from how to judge if packaging is as eco-friendly as it can be, to the fact that so many different types of packing tape exist. Did you know that “low noise” tape is just one of many options? Neil was the first to become an expert and the rest of the team are now all fully clued-up and ready to help advise you on the best packaging for your products.  Here is our first shipment going out. 

Our First Packaging Order on its way!

Healthy Workplace Gold Award

We’ve always taken both the mental and physical health of our team seriously.  Early in 2019, we took our Time to Change pledge to support Mental Health in the Workplace.  

In March, after working our way up through Bronze and Silver, we were finally able to celebrate winning our Healthy Workplace Gold Award.

Later in the year, we marked World Mental Health Day with additional team training on Mental Health at Work.  We also made use of our new office space to take on some physical challenges in the workplace. 


Doing Our Bit for Charity and the Environment

As well as making sure the packaging and forms we sell are as eco-friendly as possible, we like to get out and about to do our bit for the environment.  We’re lucky to be close to the coast in beautiful Cornwall, and in June we took part in a beach clean at Poldhu Cove picking up plastic and other litter and sorting it for recycling. 

In September, we took part in the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning for Macmillan and raised £141. Some of the snacks were even quite healthy!


Building Our Team

We’re a strong team, and quite a competitive bunch – so where better for a team day out than a Go Karting experience?  We were blessed with dry weather and a fast race track. Who turned out to be the Lewis Hamilton of the day? We’ll keep that under wraps…

Back at the office, a more formal Team Day had us solving challenges, developing our teamwork skills and working on our business plans together. 


Our Website

If you’ve been with us for a while, you may also have noticed that you are reading this on our new website.  Launched late in the summer, the new website was about 9 months in the making and we’ll be telling you more about that process in our January blog.

Aimed at making the online shopping experience simpler, customers say they’re finding it far quicker and easier to order online. The new site has also been a great way to showcase the new packaging products.  Even photographing them all has been a learning experience!


New Team Members

In the latter part of this year, we welcomed three new members to the Forms Plus team.

Ian, an experienced Warehouse Manager, keeps our warehouse safe and ensures our products are all received, stored and despatched efficiently so every order you make is packed accurately and goes out quickly. When not at work, Ian is kept busy by his young family and supporting Watford FC.

Ryan joined us initially as a Telesales Representative and has been promoted to Team Leader. He’s proving a great support to the Telesales Team, working well with customers to identify needs and negotiate the best product and price for your business. Outside of work, Ryan plays rugby and coaches Crossfit.

An excellent listener and well organised problem solver, Helen is also proving a real asset to the Telesales Team. She and Ryan are both helping build the reputation for excellent product knowledge and customer service that sets us apart from competitors. Like many of our team, at weekends Helen is mostly found outdoors – pottering in her garden or exploring Cornwall.

Forms Plus Team Helen, Ian and Ryan
Welcome to Ian, Helen and Ryan!

Here’s to 2020!

2019 has been a busy year for Forms Plus.  Looking back, we’ve widened our offer to customers and made it easier for you to buy from us through the website.  For our own team, we’ve continued to support Workplace Health and develop professionally – and we’re all benefitting from our new office and warehouse space.

We’re hoping for slightly fewer major projects in 2020 but will of course continue to do everything we can to provide the best possible products and services.  We wish you a very Merry Christmas and all the best for the year ahead.

E Commerce Round Up: Top Ten Trends from 2019

Personalisation in e commerce

What was new in e commerce in 2019 and what’s coming up for 2020?

As the TV schedules fill up with highlights of the year, we thought we’d take a look at some of the major changes in e commerce in 2019, and have a sneaky peek at what’s coming up for 2020.  Here, in no particular order, are our Top Ten E Commerce Trends for 2019.

Buyable Pins, Shoppable Posts – Shopping Got Social

Social Media is growing as a Sales Channel, especially with younger shoppers. 31% of people who use Social Media have clicked to purchase direct from a Social Post.  Have you got your catalogue set up on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest so people can buy from there direct?  If not, now is the time.

Taking on the Marketplaces

87% of online shoppers compare what they find on a brand’s site to Amazon. (Episerver Report) It is more important than ever to use your social media, ads and website, even your packaging and paperwork to build strong brand awareness and relationships with your customers, so they come direct to you to make their order.

Hey Siri, Order Me a …..

Voice-assisted search is growing, with more and more shoppers asking Alexa, Siri or Google to order something for them. You need to make sure your website is optimised for voice search and the terms we speak rather than type, as well as your normal search keyword optimisation.  It is estimated that by the end of 2020 more than 50% of searches will be voice searches according to Quora Creative. Are you ready?

Personalisation in e commerce

Hyper Personalisation

If a customer walks into a store, it is easy for the sales assistant to ask about their interests, lifestyle and budget to recommend suitable products.  E commerce companies do this by making the most of online data.  Using cookies and purchase history, your site and emails can be automated to make personalised recommendations based on data such as search queries, page visits, previous orders and interests, in language most likely to appeal to the customer.

Ultimately data could mean that we all see a slightly different version of every ecommerce site, dynamically set up so it appeals to us as an individual, based on our online history.  True personalisation.

Can I speak to your (human) manager?

Chatbots have joined the workforce alongside human teams in e commerce stores this year.  From handling simple enquiries to discussing complaints, artificial intelligence assistants are boosting customer service for many online retailers. 34% of customers now say they are happy talking to them. (E Commerce Platforms)

Beyond the Product Photo

Technology is providing far better tools for visualising products.  Retailers can now cut down any doubts consumers might have by showing off products using virtual reality, 3D imaging, augmented reality, and at least, engaging product videos alongside high quality photos.  Do you sell sofas? Can you show customers exactly how this sofa will look in their living room? IKEA can.

Getting Dynamic with Data

Aside from personalising the customer’s experience, data can now help retailers respond quickly and effectively to trends and market changes.  We can predict what customers are likely to want and when, enabling more dynamic marketing, that is ultimately more valuable to customers.  For example, advertising and email offers can be geared to the weather forecast to promote products most likely to sell on a snowy/rainy/sunny day.  Woolly jumper/umbrella/ice cream anyone?

Sign Me Up!

Subscription models have been all the rage in 2019.  From Dollar Shave Club, shaving supplies, to BarkBox, dog toys and treats, you can now subscribe to regular deliveries of almost anything. Toilet roll? Laundry detergent? Cheese? Coffee? Just a “hug in a box” once a month? Sign us up!  Could your products work on a subscription model? You’ll be surprised what can.

Eco Friendly E Commerce

Going greener…

Since the final episode of the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 in November 2019, 88% of those who watched it have changed their lifestyle to use less plastic.  Customers are no longer happy to receive a mug, in a box big enough for a freezer, wrapped in layers of plastic.  Have a look at our packaging pages  for protective packaging to suit all sizes of products, produced with the highest environmental standards we could find.

Some retailers are taking this even further and ensuring their items are also delivered by sustainable transport.  Amazon has recently ordered a fleet of 100,000 electric delivery vehicles!

New Ways to Pay

With mobile consumers now making up more than 60% of e-commerce traffic, it is perhaps no surprise that e-wallets like Google Pay, Amazon Pay and Apple Pay are now used by around 16% of UK adults, and growing fast.  “Buy now, pay later” tools such as Klarna are also on the up and helping customers pay in instalments, or only pay once they have decided which items from their order they wish to keep.

And so to 2020?

Many of these changes have kicked in during 2019 and still have some way to go, so expect further developments in all these areas in 2020.  Where to next?  Predictions vary but drone deliveries, major growth in B2B e commerce and the rise of the second-hand e commerce market are all on the cards.  We will share our favourites as we spot them!

 

Are Your Labels and Despatch Notes Working Hard For You?

Bespoke Integrated Labels

Printed materials can really drive up your profits – are you making the most of yours?

Any e-commerce retailer knows why they have to include despatch notes, invoices, returns forms and the other paperwork that accompanies any order.  Getting these materials right speeds up packing and despatch, ensures your returns department runs efficiently and means the order travels from your distribution centre to the customer without any issues.

What you may not have considered is just how much else your despatch paperwork can do for your business.  Here are just a few examples of how you can make the most of your print.

Branding

If you sell on Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Trouva or any of the other Marketplaces, your customers may well not be aware of your own actual brand.  As far as they are concerned, they simply ordered their widget “from Amazon” – which means that if someone asks them where they got it, Amazon will get the recommendation.  If they need another, they’ll go back to Amazon and won’t necessarily choose you as the supplier next time.  Adding your branding to your despatch notes, even something as simple as just your logo and website address, makes it very clear who they have ordered from, who to go to next time and who they should recommend.

Bespoke Integrated Labels
Samples of Bespoke Paperwork

Promotions

As an online retailer, promotions will be core to driving your sales and bringing back customers. Why not use your despatch note to highlight your current offers?  You could update these regularly, with promotions such as a product of the month. You might prefer to keep things simple, perhaps with 10% off your next order, or 10% off a friend’s first order.  Promotions like these can easily be incorporated into your Forms Plus print.

Cross Selling

“Do you want fries with that?” Well, maybe not fries but chances are there is something else your customer might be interested in hearing about from your product offer.  Those messages could easily be incorporated onto your invoices or despatch paperwork. (While we’re talking about that, have you seen our new Packaging range? )

Branded Despatch Forms for Frugi
Branded Despatch Forms for Frugi

Simple Returns Process

Research shows that a quick and easy returns process is crucial to bringing in customers. 96% of shoppers say they would be more likely to buy again from a retailer who offers an easy returns process  Whether or not your customer ends up returning the order they’ve just received, showing on your paperwork that to do so would be quick and straightforward means they are more likely to shop with you again.

Social Media

Advertising is expensive. Finding new customers takes time and lots of money.  Making sure that people who have bought from you before are following your Social Media channels opens up the way for you to tell them about new products, highlight special offers and build their loyalty with your brand.  Including your Social Media channels on your order paperwork is an easy and cheap way to make sure they know where to find you to keep in touch.  You could also use it to encourage customers to leave reviews.

These are just a few ways that your print can drive up profits.  Aside from the obvious improvements to your despatch process and ticking the boxes you need to tick to get your products to their new owners reliably, you can see there is so much more your paperwork can do for you.  Get in touch with the team at Forms Plus today and we can help you get started with making the most of your print.

Improving Mental Health at Work

Mental Health First Aiders

How Our Mental Health First Aiders Have Helped Support Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace

As you have read in previous blogs, at Forms Plus we take our health and wellbeing seriously.  Earlier this year we were delighted to receive a Healthy Workplace Gold Award in recognition of the actions we have taken as a team to promote good health at work.

Alongside our efforts to improve our physical health, we have also started to pay more attention to supporting mental health at work. With the WHO marking World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September,  and World Mental Health Day coming up on the 10th October, this seemed like a good time to share our learnings.

The Office for National Statistics recently released figures (reported in The Guardian) announcing that the rate of suicides in the UK in 2018 was up 11.8% on the previous year with 6,507 suicides recorded.  Suicide is the leading cause of death in England in adults younger than 50 and the rate is around three times higher amongst men.  For every person that takes their life, another 10–20 will make a suicide attempt.

Very often suicide is linked to an existing mental health condition, but often it occurs following some kind of traumatic experience, which can be related to the workplace. The TUC and the Samaritans have found that contributing factors to workplace stress, which might lead to such an event, include job insecurity, restructuring and downsizing and zero hours contracts.

Healthy Workplace Gold Award

Sometimes the contributing factors can be less dramatic. Issues can also arise from feeling pressure to meet sales targets, hit deadlines or compete with others who seem to be having more success.  Stress, anxiety and depression are the biggest causes of sickness absence in the workplace, so there is also an operational benefit to addressing these issues.

Regardless of whether work is a major cause of someone’s mental health problems, we spend much of our lives at work, so employers and colleagues can clearly take steps to support mental wellbeing, and perhaps, contribute to suicide prevention. At Forms Plus we decided to do that by appointing and training two Mental Health First Aiders.

Sharon and Jo both completed the 3-day course a few months ago.  Focussing on listening and offering direction, the training gave them both the confidence to take on the role and our team have really started to feel the benefit.

Sometimes being a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA), just means keeping an active eye out for someone who may need a bit of extra support.  If a team member looks as if they are having a bad day, the MHFA may email them privately to see if they fancy a short walk and talk.  Sharon tells us that this offer is often picked up right away.  Sometimes the person approached might initially decline, then come back later and take the opportunity for a chat.   The most important part of the MHFA role is then to be a good, calm listener.

Mental Health First Aiders

As well as keeping an eye out for people who may need support, at Forms Plus we also try to pre-empt any problems through our “Well Walks”. The MHFA simply picks a name out of a hat and goes for a short walk with the colleague chosen, which could be anyone.  The walk could just be an opportunity for some fresh air and exercise, or a chat about what they are doing at the weekend, but it also provides a chance to discuss family or relationship issues, workplace challenges, or anything else that might be impacting on mental health.

Whilst the emphasis for the MHFA is on listening rather than solving problems, their role also extends to offering direction as to where to go for support.  When Jo and Sharon come across a problem, they will often do some research and provide links or phone numbers that may help.  Sharon explains that whilst of course the team member could often find that information themselves, having someone pass on a website or phone number might give them the push they need to actually get in touch.

Forms Plus lunchtime walk

Normally the relationship between the MHFA and the person they are helping is based on full confidentiality.  The only exception to this might be if the person is seriously at risk, or if the mental health issue could be helped by changes in the workplace. If Jo or Sharon believe that sharing the information with someone else at work might help, they will always suggest the team member speaks to the right person, or ask permission to do that for them if they prefer.

We are really happy to have Mental Health First Aiders at Forms Plus.  Posters in our staff areas remind us that there is always someone to speak to.  They are both very approachable, calm and caring.  Whether we choose to seek out MHFA support or not, having two trained Mental Health First Aiders on our team has opened up discussions and given us all the feeling that it is OK to talk about mental health in the workplace. Sharon and Jo both enjoy the work and especially love seeing the transformation when they have been able to help someone.

If you would like to find out more about Mental Health First Aid training do visit the MHFA website or to download a really useful Activity Pack for Workplaces marking World Mental Health Day ,visit the Time to Change website.

Alternatively get in touch and Sharon or Jo would be happy to talk to you about their experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which is the best e-commerce platform for your online store?

E Commerce Platforms

How do you choose between the likes of Magento, Shopify, Woo Commerce, Big Commerce and Open Cart?

Whether you are a start-up business or have been trading for years and need to change, selecting the best e-commerce platform for your business is a big decision.

With even the bargain budget providers such as Weebly and Wix now offering e-commerce solutions, through to middle-of-the-road choices such as Shopify and WooCommerce, up to expensive and complex software such as Magento and BigCommerce, it’s hard to know where to start.

The answer to our question is, of course, that there is no one answer. The best solution is going to be the platform that most suits the unique needs of your business. We’ve looked at what you should consider when choosing an e-commerce platform, the features to investigate and how some of the leading providers match up.

Value

Perhaps the most important thing is to understand all the costs involved. You’ll need to look at the cost of developing the site, the ongoing costs of license fees and hosting, any commission for the payment methods you want to enable and subscriptions for Apps and Plugins to make the site do everything you’d like. Whilst WordPress/WooCommerce and Shopify offer cheap ways to get started, how long will that package meet your needs? What will it cost to scale up? Would it be worth spending more on developing in Magento and potentially have less ongoing costs?

Integrations

What does your e-commerce software need to integrate with? Must it play nicely with your inventory management system, your POS, your CRM, your email marketing tools, your accounting software? Do you also sell on other marketplaces such as Amazon or Ebay? Can it integrate with those? BigCommerce, Magento and Shopify all have many integrations. Just make sure you understand any additional costs involved.

Customer Experience

How easy is the platform for customers to use? Most e-commerce software is now built on extensive User Experience (UX) research, so there may be little to differentiate between the top providers. Look at sites built on the platforms you are considering and see if they suit your customers’ usage trends? How well do they work on mobile?
Once you have a short list, dig deeper and look at various sites built on the platform. Analyse its features more closely. If there are elements you know you want, for example reviews, a wishlist, abandoned cart emails and easy account management tools, check those are available and whether they require additional spend.

Which sites do you personally enjoy shopping on? How are they built?

Designs and Themes

The UX of an e-commerce site may be less to do with its platform, than its design. If you have a clear sense of your brand identity, does the platform have the flexibility to match that? If you are commissioning a bespoke build in Magento or OpenCart, this should not be an issue. If you are using an existing theme on Shopify or WordPress/WooCommerce, is there a theme that will be in keeping with your brand? Even bespoke templates are now highly customisable, so this is not likely to be a deal breaker but is worth considering.

Ease of Use

You’ve checked how easy the platform is for your customers. How easy is it for you? What is the process for adding or editing products? How straightforward is it to put together a landing page for a new collection such as a Holiday Essentials page for your clothing site? How will you see the orders you’re getting, look at analytics and pull data from the site? Most providers will have training videos you can look at. BigCommerce and Shopify both come with intuitive store management controls and clear, easy reporting.

SEO

You will want your store to rank highly with search engines. SEO has sometimes been a problem for e-commerce stores. Does your platform have the option for a blog? Can you independently edit page Titles and Meta Descriptions? Can you have content other than product pages? Can you choose your URL? Will you have Reviews? All will help with your SEO. Shopify, 3DCart, WooCommerce and Magento all rank highly for SEO but might require specialist help to set up.

Support

You’re going to need a hand to get started. Before you buy, it’s worth checking out the level of support available. What is the onboarding process? How quickly are you likely to be able to get in touch with someone for help? Do you have to pay for that? Shopify for example, have well written training content, a 24/7 support team and excellent forums for advice.

Scalability

How ambitious are you for your e-commerce store? Are you going to offer many more products in future? Would you like to sell overseas? Is there additional functionality you can’t afford now but would like to add? Get out your crystal ball and have a look at 5 years’ time. Will this platform still meet your requirements?

There is undoubtedly a lot to consider, and a lot of e-commerce platforms to choose between. Knowing what matters to you, your business and your customers in each of the areas above should help you make your shortlist. Best of luck with your choices and do let us know how you get on. 

If you’d like to talk to us about choosing a platform and how our integrated labels option fit with the different software solutions, do get in touch.  

 

GDPR and E Commerce – One Year On

GDPR Blog

This time last year, here at Forms Plus, like many of our customers, we were working hard to make sure we complied with the imminent introduction of GDPR. The General Data Protection Regulations came into place on 25 May 2018. One year on, we thought we’d take a look at what the impact has been for businesses, and specifically for e-commerce.

How were e-commerce businesses affected by GDPR?

The majority of e-commerce businesses had to invest time and money in improving their practices to meet GDPR requirements.

This included:

  • Educating staff and appointing Data Protection Officers
  • Improving data storage systems and processes
  • Updating documentation such as Privacy Notices
  • Updating agreements with Third Parties who share data, such as delivery companies, email and CRM software providers
  • Reviewing marketing practices, cleaning up email lists and changing sign-up protocols to ensure everyone has given clear consent
  • Justifying any data that is used without unambiguous consent, by being able to show the person has a “legitimate interest” in hearing from you, for example, in case of product recalls
  • Reviewing all the data you collect about customers and being sure you can justify why you ask for each item

If some of this is news to you, you might want to visit E Commerce Guide’s full set of guidance to GDPR. 

For many companies, GDPR led to a huge cut in the amount of people on email lists, up to 80% having to be removed in some cases. Marketers were gloomy about the likely outcomes and saw a tough year ahead. Some firms took even more dramatic actions. Wetherspoons famously deleted its entire customer database. Marks and Spencer hired its first chief digital and data officer. Some US companies stopped selling to Europe entirely. Video games makers had to block EU users from games that did not meet the requirements. It all looked a bit daunting!

So, what actually happened when GDPR came in?

As we all remember, there was a huge rush of activity last May. Many companies sent out “re-consenting” emails and updated privacy policies. As The Guardian reported, some of these were quite comical.

With Cambridge Analytica also in the news at the time, consumers become much more aware, very quickly, of how companies should be handling their data. One year on, and this shift in awareness seems to resulting in a more positive outcome.

A recent report from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) shows that 41% of consumers think GDPR has improved how businesses use their data. 31% are now happy to share data in return for personalised brand recommendations (Smart Insights).

Consumers have shown more trust in marketing communications, with improving email open and click through rates. Less people have been unsubscribing and reporting mails as spam. We might be sending out less emails, but a higher percentage are being read, and even better, converting into sales – so perhaps those hundreds (or even thousands) that had to be deleted, were not worth having anyway.

GDPR has also led to e-commerce companies improving their marketing on other channels. Many are making more use of Social Media, online advertising and other channels. These providers have responded with improved targeting options, such as the possibility to advertise to “lookalike” audiences on Facebook and Instagram, for people with similar characteristics to those who have bought from your website before.

91% of marketers still see email as a major tool, and lists are rapidly growing back up, this time with unambiguous consent.

How should e-commerce businesses be using marketing data now?

As customers, we are all very aware now that companies can track who we are, what we’ve bought or browsed in the past and may know further information about us. In return for allowing access to that data, we expect the marketing we receive to be relevant and useful.

E-commerce platforms such as Shopify and Big Commerce, and email marketing tools such as Klaviyo and MailChimp, make it easy for brands to segment and target their communications. The job for e-commerce marketers now is to ensure they respect the trust those contacts are putting in them by providing their data. Using data wisely and sparingly, for example by sending no more than a couple of Abandoned Cart emails, targeting offers to products people have actually browsed and not trying to sell to people who have either bought already, or are unlikely to buy, are now part of the rules of this new data-driven marketing.

If businesses stick to the rules, then customers will happily continue to allow access to data, open emails and continue to buy – and the business will of course also be safe from the risk of hefty GDPR fines.

There may be further change. 2020 should see the introduction of additional e Privacy rules, perhaps relating to cookies and tracking that are also used by many e-commerce marketers. We will let you know more as soon as we have an update.