Preparing for E-Commerce Peak 2021 – Are You Ready?

Prepare for Christmas

What will Christmas look like for online sellers in 2021? How can you prepare?

Last Christmas, the holiday season saw two years’ worth of growth in a single year for e-commerce. A year on and COVID, winter colds and flu are still concerns, so online businesses are set to take up centre stage once again. After recent fuel shortages, empty supermarket shelves, a shortage of delivery drivers and the impact of a last-minute lockdown in 2020, experts are predicting that concerned shoppers will buy their gifts even earlier this year. Many say they are aiming to tick off most of their list before December is even underway. So, how can e-commerce businesses set themselves up for success?

Be Prepared for Early Shoppers

Shopping early is good news for online sellers. It means that if you manage your stock well, you really can make the most of the season, but you do need to be well prepared for an earlier rush. Dayna Johnson of Etsy is going as far as to advise that “it’s not just the product that small businesses need to be mindful of, as they’ll need to replenish supplies of packaging, tape and labels to get gifts to customers quickly and safely”(Forbes). We’re currently seeing shortages of cardboard worldwide, so do get your packaging orders in early to make sure we have what you need available.

Prepare for Christmas

Address Delivery Concerns

Aside from managing your product stock and your supply of despatch and packing materials, there are a few other things you can do to prepare.  With the much-discussed driver shortages, customers are worried about delivery times this year. Make sure your Shipping information is clear, up-to-date, and easy to find on your website.  Publicise your last shipping date for Christmas widely as it gets closer – on your website, Social Media and advertising.

Get Your Website Ready to Compete

With 2020 a boom year for many e-commerce businesses, it may be a struggle to meet the same figures in 2021.  Although the e-commerce share of the retail market remains high, competition has grown in many sectors.  You may find that you have more competitors this year, and that existing competitors have upped their game.  What can you do to prepare for this? Take a fresh look at your website. Is it easy to buy from on both mobile and desktop? Does it highlight the products you really want to sell? How does it compare to the competition? Are you also ready to sell through Social Media stores which are playing an even bigger role this year?

 

Check Your Marketing Activity is Ready

Marketing teams are working a lot harder in 2021 to compete. Are you advertising in the right places to bring in plenty of sales?  Do you have cart abandonment emails set up to catch customers who get distracted mid-shop? Have you set up delivery time reminders? Do you have strong image and video content for your Social Media channels? Christmas is prime time for “discovery shopping” when people are looking for gifts, but not necessarily clear on what exactly they want (Criteo).  Make sure potential customers can easily discover your products, on search engines, on Social Media and through any offline channels where they might find you.

Upscale Your Customer Service

Customer service may also need ramping up through the next few weeks.  Are enough of your team available to deal with any enquiries? Do you have chat enabled on your website to handle urgent queries? Do you need to increase cover at evenings or weekends?  If you are struggling for staff, what can you add to your website to address common customer service queries? Is there any information missing? Do you need to fix anything that is a common cause of problems?

Let Forms Plus Help

With Black Friday under 6 weeks away and Christmas just 10 weeks away, we are currently well-stocked with labels and packaging and ready to receive your orders. Do get in touch to get yours in early.

Sustainable Packaging – An Introduction

Enviroflute Paper Based Recyclable Padded Bags

At Forms Plus, we work hard to ensure our business decisions have a positive impact on the environment. Living and working in Cornwall, close to the sea and beautiful beaches, we are lucky to benefit from stunning natural surroundings. It is only natural then for us to take a look at the packaging products we sell, and make sure they are selected to be as eco-friendly as possible. 

Over the past few months, we have been researching environmentally friendly packaging options and looking into the claims made around packaging and the environment. This has helped us to see the best way to develop our range, making sure we both provide what our customers need and do the best we can for the environment.  97% of those of you who helped us with our research said that it was important both to you and your customers to use eco-friendly packaging, so we thought we would share some of that information with you to help you make well-informed decisions of your own.

Enviroflute Plastic Free Protective Packaging
We now sell Enviroflute plastic free protective envelopes

We thought we would start by explaining some of the terms we already use on our products’ ‘Eco Benefits’ listings. We chose to keep this simple and focus on five main terms:

Plastic Free -these products do not contain any plastics made from fossil fuels.  Instead, they use natural materials which will biodegrade easily, for example our new Eco Padded Envelopes from Enviroflute. 

Recyclable – this means that a certain percentage of the product’s materials must be able to be made into something else, usually via normal household recycling. Our cardboard Mailing Boxes can be totally recycled. Other products can be partially recycled, for example the paper part of our padded envelopes can be recycled, if separated from the plastic interior.   

Biodegradable – the material in these products is free from toxins and will be broken down safely and naturally by bacteria over time, so will not pollute the environment.  Our Paper Tape is a biodegradable alternative to standard polypropylene tape.

Sustainable Materials – sustainable products are made from materials that do not deplete or degrade the environment.  For example, the paper in our Padded Envelopes is sourced within the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification which means that the paper is made from well managed forests that will continue to support their local environment and population for years to come.

Recycled – if a product is listed as Recycled, it means that the materials it is made from have been used before. All our Mailing Bags  are made from 100% recycled material. Using recycled, rather than single-use materials, reduces landfill and cuts down on usage of raw materials.

Using these terms to rank our products, we have now launched our Eco Products Range – do click to have a look. 

There are also a host of other terms you will hear relating to packaging. A few of these are explained below:

Compostable Packaging Logo

Compostable – the material in these products will biodegrade but will do so into organic matter that not only breaks down but does so in such a way as to benefit the environment, improving soil health and acting as a fertiliser.

Plastic Free – many of the new products we are looking into adding to our range, are plastic free alternatives to products such as bubble wrap or polythene packaging. Our research shows that both Forms Plus customers and the public are keen to see plastic free packaging used whenever possible.  However, it is still very hard to find plastic free products that are as resilient, as protective, and as affordable as the plastic version, so we are also working on making sure all our products that do contain plastic have other eco-benefits. This includes being made from recycled plastic, being recyclable or made from biodegradable forms of plastic. 

Current plastic free options in our range include Cardboard Packaging, Board Backed Envelopes and Paper Tape.

Carbon Neutral – whilst once a real buzz word, our research showed that our customers and the public found Carbon Neutral the least interesting of the eco-benefits discussed. Carbon neutrality is normally achieved by offsetting the carbon produced in making products, by funding projects which protect and restore carbon-rich environments such as tropical rainforests. Closer to home, you can help cut carbon emissions by choosing packaging that is the right size for the items you are shipping, saving on vehicle space and emissions by using products such as Book Wraps or Postal Tubes rather than large boxes. 


Overall, our research showed that demand for eco-friendly packaging is on the rise, both from online sellers and from their customers.  In general, every reseller wants to use eco-friendly packaging. The challenge is to find the right products to protect whatever you are shipping to at least the level it is protected now, whilst maintaining costs that we can all bear. 

We are working hard to research and develop our range and will let you know when new items become available.  At this stage, we would like to thank those of you who completed our survey or took the time out for a phone interview with us.   We learned a great deal from talking to you.  In the meantime, if you have any queries about the eco-benefits of our products, or other suggestions to help us develop our environmentally friendly packaging range, do visit our Eco Products Range or get in touch.

 

Improving Your Business – What to Consider When Changing Your E-Commerce Platform

E Commerce Platforms

Are you thinking of changing the e-commerce platform you use but nervous of the migration process? In our latest blog we will look at everything you need to consider, how to decide if you really need to re-platform and the plans you should put in place to make the switch as smooth as possible for your business and customers.

Why Re-Platform? Do You Need to Switch?

Before doing anything else, make sure you are clear WHY you are considering migrating to a different e-commerce platform.

Common reasons for re-platforming include:

  • Costs – If it is costing you too much to run your current platform, and you are not growing to support that cost, it might be time to move.
  • Difficulties with Development – If you have trouble finding developers, the platform is no longer well supported or just can’t keep pace with the innovations you want to make, that is another reason to migrate to something more flexible.
  • Performance – Is your e-commerce platform slow? Difficult for customers to use?  Suffering from outages? None of these need to be an issue in 2021. There are plenty of reliable options you could switch to.
  • Growth – Do you need to improve your e-commerce platform to accommodate more products, more categories of product, more users or users in more territories? All great reasons to change. 

Whatever your reasons are for re-platforming, make sure you have them down in black and white, so you can be sure that the new platform will meet those requirements. 

E Commerce Platforms

How do I Choose an E-Commerce Platform? 

Look at why you are moving and all the options available. Think about where your business is heading and choose a platform that should accommodate you for at least 5 years if your plans work out. 

Ask yourself:

  • Does the new platform meet all our requirements for changing?
  • Does the new platform work with our existing online presence – blogs, other website content, Social Media, marketplace listings?
  • Does the new platform support any integrations we need such as CRM, warehouse management APIs, email marketing, Trust Pilot and your preferred payment methods?
  • How much will it cost? Alongside development costs, consider the ongoing costs. These will include platform subscription costs, fees for Apps or Plugins, processing fees for payments and, for some platforms, hosting fees. 

Get it right this time, you do not want to migrate again. 

Which Are the Best E-Commerce Platforms?

Have a look at a range of online shop platforms before making your choice. The most popular in the UK include:  

  • Wix – OK for small stores and beginner friendly if you are building the site yourself.
  • Squarespace  – also mostly used for smaller stores but growing and with more design options than Wix.
  • Shopify – by far the most popular e-commerce platform in the UK. You can choose from many existing themes or have a bespoke designed store.  Integrations with other tools such as Live Chat, Facebook/Instagram and Email are excellent.  Fully integrated payments and options to sell offline too with Shopify POS are also helpful. 
  • WordPress and WooCommerce – can work well where the site is both a “brochure” for your company and needs a shop section, done via WooCommerce. You will also need hosting.  This is what Forms Plus use for our Online Shop.
  • BigCommerce – ideal for growing, purely e-commerce businesses wing. Variety of themes to help you get going quickly or bespoke options.  Detailed reporting and product management processes. 
  • Marketplaces – another option is to avoid setting up a site yourself and build your store on an existing marketplace such as Etsy, Ebay or Amazon.

Most platforms offer a 14-day free trial, so use that opportunity to explore the options and get a feel for any you are considering.

Check How Data Will Be Migrated

A key question for your developers will be how to migrate your existing data.  Do you need to move across all your customer data and sales history?  How far back should you go?  You do not want to inconvenience customers by asking them to set up new accounts on the new site if you don’t have to.   

Can your product data be migrated? Most platforms will give you the option to export all your product descriptions and imagery and import swiftly into the new site but do check. If not, you may have a large job on your hands.

Plan Your Migration Date and Time

Choose developers who are happy to work out-of-hours and make the switch late at night or a time that is quiet for you.  Do not make any big changes at peak times, for example in the months before Christmas. Make the swap when people are around to monitor any issues – early to mid-week is often best. No matter how well you have planned, something is bound to cause teething problems.  There is only so much you can test on a development site. Some issues will need to be ironed out live and you’ll want the team on hand.

Check Your SEO and Advertising

If your current site is getting found by search engines, preserve that.  Work with a professional to ensure your website pages are redirected properly and to avoid broken links when you change platform.

If you are using tools such as Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager or the Facebook Pixel, make sure those are moved across properly so your marketing switches smoothly. Most importantly, make sure everyone involved knows about the planned change so you can work together to prevent and manage any issues. 

Use Re-Platforming as an Opportunity to Upgrade

When you move to a new e-commerce platform, you are rebuilding a large section of your website, if not all of it.  Can you use this opportunity to improve your imagery? Upgrade product descriptions? Check the tools and integrations you use are still the best option?  It may be that the new platform works better with a different email system, means you can run new types of marketing or try different payment methods. What else needs to change in addition to the platform and can you manage that?

There is clearly a lot to consider, but by taking the time to prepare and research for your change of e-commerce platform, you can make sure you make the right choice and migrate your online shop with minimal disruption.  If there is anything we at Forms Plus can do to help along the way, do get in touch.

Improving Your Business – How to Add and Manage Reviews on Your Website

Reviews and Star Ratings

After an extremely busy year for e-commerce, these quieter Summer months before the Christmas rush, can be a good time to address those business improvements that may have been on your to-do list for some time.  This is the first in a series of blogs aimed at helping online sellers improve their business’ performance.  We hope they will be helpful to you.

The first topic we are looking at is Reviews – specifically, why you should have Reviews on your site, how to add them and how to manage them. 

Why Should You Include Reviews on Your E-Commerce Site?

Reviews are a powerful tool in converting browsing website visitors into customers.  According to a survey in 2020,  91% of people read reviews and 84% trust online reviews as much as they would trust a friend. The facts are simple – customers trust reviews. According to Inc.com, simply reading between 1 and 6 reviews can persuade someone to buy. 

For some types of business, such as hospitality, fashion and healthcare, reviews are even more important.

How Do You Add Reviews to an E-Commerce Site?

There are many ways to add reviews to your site. Which options are available will depend on the platform you are using.  Shopify sites have the option of a free Product Reviews App. The App is easy to add and customise, SEO friendly and simple to manage. Other recommended options for product-level reviews include Yotpo, and Okendo .

To make your choice, investigate the pricing, how the App works with your theme, and if you like the look of the management interface.  Some Apps bring in additional User Generated Content, such as photos of the customer wearing your product and most have reminder options using email or SMS.  Many also work with Google, to bring your reviews and star ratings into your Google listings. 

If you are looking for reviews of your business, rather than for specific products, you might decide to use platforms such as TrustPilot, Feefo or Yelp. These have the benefit of being visible both on your site and on the review platforms own listings.

At Forms Plus, we recently started using Trust Pilot.  Our MD, Victoria Andrews told us:

“Trust Pilot reviews have given us useful insights into what our customers actually think of our products and service. We have been extremely pleased with the consistent 5-star reviews we have received, confirming we are good at what we do. It is also always helpful to hear where there is room for improvement or changes that would help our customers.”

For overall reviews of your business, you should also definitely be gathering reviews on Google My Business.   This will help your profile within Google Search and is often the first review someone will see of your business.

Reviews and Star Ratings
Star Ratings are an important part of every review

Which Elements of Reviews Matter to Customers?

Research shows that the parts of a review that customers pay the most attention to are:

  • Star Rating – A one-star increase on Yelp consistently leads to a 5-9% increase in revenue
  • Recency – when was the review written?
  • Legitimacy – was this a real purchase?
  • Sentiment – is the review overall positive, negative or neutral?
  • Quantity – how many reviews do you have? Customers may read up to 10 reviews before deciding, most read at least 4.

How Do I Get More Reviews?

This one is simple… Ask! According to Bright Local, 73% of consumers who were asked to write a review for a business wrote one.  Make it as easy as possible by sending a direct link to the review platform. If you have a reviews app, set it to automatically ask for a review a few days after delivery (or when you think most appropriate). 

You can ask for reviews by email, by SMS, in person at the point of sale, on your despatch note or receipt, via Social Media, via handwritten notes in your delivery package or over the phone. 

Do be careful however if you decide to offer an incentive for writing a review.  Rewarding customers for writing reviews goes against many review sites’ guidelines and could soon even become illegal in the UK. 

Importance of E Commerce Reviews
What do you have in place to make sure you gather enough reviews?

What Do I Need to do to Manage Reviews?

The main thing is to keep an eye on your reviews and respond quickly.  You may choose to thank people for positive reviews and use them to highlight your strengths. For negative reviews, you will almost always need to reply and to do so promptly.

If a bad review is the result of a known fault or mistake, apologise and put things right.  If you need to, take the discussion to a private platform, but always reply publicly as well, so other readers can see you have responded.  See a negative review as an opportunity to put things right and turn the negative into a positive. Most importantly, be human and try to avoid sounding like a corporation.  You might choose to include your first name in your response, to help the reviewer feel they are talking to a real person who takes their issue seriously.

If the review is unfair, profane, a personal attack, fake or just a troll, don’t be afraid to report it and remove it (if you can). You don’t need to waste your time trying to fix reviews like that.

In summary, reputation management through nurturing reviews should be a major part of your marketing strategy.  Asking for, monitoring, and responding to reviews can be time consuming but can also have a major impact, reduce advertising costs and help you build a loyal customer base.

If you would like to leave a review for us on TrustPilot, we’d be very grateful. You can do so on the TrustPilot Site.

Celebrating Our Team – Together Everyone Achieves More

Over the past tricky year, with many teams working remotely, people on furlough and business as usual so disrupted, it has been easy to feel isolated.  Whatever measures are in place for keeping in touch, nothing quite gives the same feel of team support as being back in the office together.

At Forms Plus we have been lucky to be able to carry on (almost!) as usual through the pandemic. In fact, business has grown, partly in line with our existing expansion plans and partly fuelled by the nationwide boost in e-commerce.   This has meant a few personnel changes and new members joining our team, so we thought we would take this opportunity to update you all.

First of all though, we have some important occasions to mark for existing team members….

Congratulations to Jo and Kayley

After celebrating Victoria Andrews’ 30 Years at Forms Plus a few months ago (with some fabulous photos of her hair dos through the years!), it is now time for Jo Carter, our Finance Director to celebrate.  Jo has now been with the company for an incredible 25 years. We are all so grateful to Jo for her long service, helping steer our ship for so long and keeping us on the financial straight and narrow. Thanks Jo and here is to the next 25!

Jo celebrates 25 years at Forms Plus

Kayley Saunders has been with Forms Plus since 2016 and is a Print Co-ordinator. You might remember her wedding photos, when she visited us in her wedding gown on the back of her grandfather’s classic truck.  Kayley went on maternity leave in January and gave birth to Torvin Michael David on 19th February, weighing 7lb 6oz.  Welcome to the world Torvin and congratulations Kayley.

Kayley and Torvin
Kayley and Torvin

Welcome To Our New Team Members

Alex Kemp has joined us as Telesales Team Leader. Energetic, ambitious and considerate, Alex grew up locally in Falmouth and enjoys playing football, watching football and spending time with his family at the weekends.  His favourite piece of advice anyone has given him is “It only takes one good call to turn your day around.” So, why not give Alex a call soon and ask him how his team got on at the weekend?

Alex Kemp
Alex Kemp

Amelia Labdon is new to the team as an Administrator. Amelia is a West Country girl having grown up in Somerset and is enjoying living in Cornwall, especially sea swimming and watching the sunset.  Her favourite piece of advice is, “When you get stressed or something is bothering you, talk about it, don’t bottle it up.” She describes herself as organised and friendly so we think she should fit right in!  

Amelia at Forms Plus
Amelia Labdon

Sabrina Burton Nicholls has joined Forms Plus as our Accounts Assistant.  She describes herself as social, loving and determined. This is reflected in her own favourite piece of advice – “Don’t give up, you can do anything!” Sabrina grew up in London and enjoys woodwork, making stuff and anything creative.  Like many of the Forms Plus Team, she is also keen on keeping fit.

Sabrina Burton Nicholls

As regular readers of our blog will know, we work hard to look after our team and each other, not only with formal schemes such as the Healthy Workplace Award projects we get involved with, but as friends who have, in many cases, worked together for many years.  Not only does that help with morale and enjoying work, it also means that we have built up a strong core of knowledge and experience that benefits our customers. 

Our new Team Members all look forward to working with you. Do get in touch if we can help at all with your labels or packaging requirements. 

Mental Health: Returning to the Workplace after COVID

Back To Work at Forms Plus

At Forms Plus we take pride in our Healthy Workplace Gold Award and work hard to support the physical and mental wellbeing of our team.  As we adapt to the changes enforced on our working lives by COVID, we have been looking into advice for moving out of lockdown and into the “new normal”.   

A recent survey by The HR Director of over 2000 people found that:

  • 68% believe that we should now have the choice to work from home
  • 76% do not want to go back into an office full-time
  • 41% say working from home helps improve our mental health
  • 50% still do not feel safe returning to work
  • 23% would consider resigning if forced to work from an office full-time

Office-based companies such as Forms Plus, and many of our clients, have had to consider what these responses mean for us, and how to help our staff settle back in after so much change. We thought we would share our research in case it is helpful to you and your teams.

Connection

Connection has been very important throughout the pandemic.  Whilst many of our team did manage to continue working in the office, due to shielding and caring responsibilities, some could not.  We made a real effort to encourage those at home to stay connected.  We included them in office treats, such as “Flapjack Friday” and ensured they were able to keep in touch via calls, Zoom and email. 

We have also tried to stay connected personally, checking in on how individuals are feeling and coping with the pandemic, as well as managing work matters.  That need for connection remains, so we will continue these practices for anyone working remotely, part-time or full-time, going forward.

Back To Work at Forms Plus

Routine

Loss of routine has been a major cause of mental and physical health challenges during COVID. Maybe you didn’t have to get up as early as usual, without a commute to work, or to get your children off to school.  Getting back into a normal routine is hard after a brief holiday. We acknowledge that will be even harder after a year of disruption.

For many, balancing home schooling and remote working led to strange hours at the desk.  Re-establishing a normal bed and wake-up time is important. Sticking to that at weekends too, for a little while, can help you get more rest and feel more able to manage the workday and enjoy your downtime.

Getting back into the swing of a normal routine does not take long but in the early days, some employers are offering flexible start and finish times to help their teams adjust.  Not such an issue here in Cornwall, but varying hours could also be helpful for anyone who is anxious about the infection risk of using public transport at peak times.

Managing “Re-entry” Anxiety

We all want our teams to be confident about returning to work and it is only normal that some will be anxious about coming out of their home “bubble”.  Of course, we have implemented all the COVID-secure workplace guidance for our team. We have also upped precautions to reduce risks from visitors – with hand sanitiser, temperature checks and increased hygiene in shared areas. Making these measures seem “normal” is all part of the job of helping everyone adapt and be relaxed about coming back to work.

Other than that, it is about accepting that everything we have heard on the news, and the impact of illness on our own friends and family, is inevitably going to cause some levels of anxiety.  Some team members may be more concerned than others. We encourage everyone to be open and let us know if they need more social distance, would prefer to keep wearing a mask or would rather not engage with external meetings. 

As always, our Mental Health First Aiders are on hand for chats and walks to talk through any worries and offer support as appropriate.

Covid Thermometer testing for visitors

Finally, Time for a Wardrobe Refresh!

One favourite piece of advice for individuals returning to work is to have a bit of a wardrobe makeover. After a year in sweatshirts and leggings, a couple of new outfits or just the odd piece to refresh your look can be a real mood booster, helping you feel more professional and ready for action. Just remember that feeling of having new school uniform in September and you’ll see where we are coming from!

After the immense disruption of the past year, it is inevitable that people will reassess how they feel about work.  With our own spacious, purpose-built premises in Cornwall, we have been lucky throughout COVID to have the space to socially distance and the ability to enjoy the great outdoors.  We are also lucky that many of our staff have been with us for sometime. We really value their knowledge and experience so will support them all, the best we can. 

We wish you all the best of luck as you adapt to your own team’s changing needs. Do get in touch if you’d like to learn more about our Healthy Workplace strategies – or indeed if we can help with labels or packaging.

For further advice on managing mental wellbeing as we emerge from lockdown, you may find these resources useful:

One Year On – How has COVID Changed E-Commerce?

E Commerce Delivery During COVID

This time last year, the UK was still getting used to lockdown. Our retail experience had disappeared down into the once-a-week trip to the supermarket, queuing to get in, shopping alone and fearful of infection.  One year on and things are looking more positive. As retail opens back up, Forms Plus have had a look back over a year that has changed e-commerce for ever. 

For many shoppers, just a few days into lockdown, the realisation that online shopping was an option had not quite kicked in. It took a while to understand that we may choose to shop online for things such as toilet paper, plants or paint – as well as the small part of our shopping we were used to doing via the internet.  March and April 2020 saw growth in online sales of food and drink, health and beauty, clothing and accessories.  Later on sales of fitness gear soared, home office equipment saw a big boost and parents stocked up on toys and games to entertain and educate their children.  As the year went on, DIY supplies, kitchenware and electronics also boomed. 

E Commerce Delivery During COVID

From the start, for retailers, the challenge was how to turn customer footfall into online growth. Whilst major online retailers such as Amazon and ASOS had the infrastructure in place for the sudden surge in e-commerce, for smaller retailers, both the technology and the logistics of coping with much greater volumes of online sales posed a challenge. Bricks and mortar sellers needed to get online fast, and Shopify was a key platform (and beneficiary) for that sudden growth.  New online tools popped up all over, including Click and Collect options for stores and restaurants, and totally new websites appeared such as Bookshop, which helps independent booksellers sell online.

E-commerce sellers also faced difficulties with warehousing, stock availability and meeting delivery promises.  As online shopping grew more competitive, benefits such as free delivery and no quibble returns became increasingly important to shoppers.  Handling returns, with enhanced hygiene protocols to protect those handling items coming back, was an additional challenge for sellers.

For companies who were able to meet customer needs, the efforts paid off.  Customer loyalty faltered, with shoppers happy to try out any brand that had stock availability and could provide fast, free shipping.  Traditionally, the growth of an e-commerce brand could be expected to be around 15% year on year.  Looking at February 2021 compared to 2020, according to the Drum many online sellers grew 40-50%.

The COVID E-Commerce Boom in Statistics

  • Feb 2020 – Internet Sales made up 19% of Total Retail Sales.  By Feb 2021 that figure was 34.5% (ONS)
  • Shopify’s Q4 revenue in 2020 was 94% up year-on-year!
  • Furlough in the retail and wholesale sector peaked with 1.85 million employees furloughed in April 2020, and by the end of January 2021 was at around 935,500 employees furloughed. (HMRC)
  • In the US, e-commerce penetration grew by 10 years in a 90-day period in 2020 according to data from McKinsey
  • UK Online Sales grew 74% year-on-year from January 2020 to 2021 (IMRG CapGemini)
  • 32% of customers plan to stick to their new online shopping habits -(Retail Economics and NatWest)
  • The giants of retail were the biggest winners and losers.  Amazon reported a 51% increase in UK Sales in 2020 and Primark lost around £650m by not being online.
Retail Opening Up

All the signs show that post lockdown, e-commerce is still predicted to grow.  Retail Economics analysts predict that 53% of UK Retail will be online by 2028.  Part of this growth is simply because so many people have discovered the time-saving convenience of online shopping and are likely to continue with their lockdown habits.  Others remain fearful of infection in crowded streets or are uncomfortable with queues and social distancing protocols. 

Social Distancing

Research shows that older, more affluent customers are particularly sure that they will continue to stick with online shopping.  If you have the right items in stock, and offer free, fast shipping and easy returns, customers are happy to continue shopping online and to branch out and discover new brands – so the market is there for the taking.

Many of course will continue to enjoy the benefits of both online and in-store retail. We have all missed touching and seeing products and the joy of browsing in person. The queues as stores opened up make it clear that the High Street is far from over.

If you need any help with forms, labels or packaging for your e-commerce business, do get in touch.  We look forward to helping you navigate this next phase.

Looking Back on 40 Years of Forms Plus

Floppy Disc - one of Forms Plus first products

What were you doing in 1981?  Bucks Fizz were winning the Eurovision with Making Your Mind Up in their Velcro skirts. Prince Charles married Lady Diana and we all had street parties.

Back in Cornwall meanwhile, a new business was getting started. Initially known as Kerrier Computer Services (after the local county area), later shortened to KCS, it’s first premises was a farm outbuilding and supplied payslips, listing paper, printer ribbons and floppy discs. 

Founded in 1981 - like Charles and Diana
Also established in 1981!

40 years on and KCS is now Forms Plus Ltd. We no longer sell floppy discs, but we do have a wide range of packaging products. Who knows what else will be included by the time we hit 80?

The company itself is not the only part of Forms Plus that is long established.  Our loyal workforce has always been at the heart of our business’s success and we have some serious long service to celebrate!  Victoria Andrews, our MD, joined the business as an Office Administrator back in 1990 and became a Director and Shareholder in 2002.  Jo Carter, our Finance Director was not far behind, joining as an Accounts Assistant in 1996. Jo became a Director in 2012, when she and Victoria completed a management buyout and took over the company.

Working in a technology-led field, we have always needed to be ready to flex and innovate.  Our initial product range changed radically when dot matrix printers were phased out and replaced by laser and thermal printing. Later on, as the dot com boom kicked in, we changed again to support the needs of e-commerce.  With the massive growth in online shopping over the past 12 months, we have quickly evolved even further, refining our offer and developing a more eco-friendly range to meet the growing demand for sustainable print and packaging products. 

Looking back over 40 years in business, there is a lot to be proud of.  For our customers, we continue our mission to be a trusted, knowledgeable and efficient supplier that you can always rely on.  With 40 years’ experience behind us, we are confident we know what we are doing.  We have won multiple large, national corporate contracts and kept them for many years. 

From a business-point of view, it has been hard work, as it is for anyone operating independently in a changing market.  Victoria and Jo were delighted to be able to take on the company through the management buyout. Since then, the business has really thrived, with turnover doubling in the first 5 years under their management. 

Most importantly perhaps, we are proud to be able to offer an excellent workplace for local people.  Our staff are valued and treated well, with many staying with us for years and years. Victoria remembers at least 5 staff weddings and 14 babies to celebrate! We strive to provide an excellent working environment, this is reflected in our Workplace Health achievement of moving up from a Bronze to Gold award over the past 5 years. 

Our logos through the ages!

Looking forward, we would love to continue to grow and empower our staff.  We also aim to expand our share of the markets we operate in.  As part of that, we will be developing and launching an even more defined eco-packaging range – so watch this space for updates.

In the 40 years since we were established, we have come a long way from that farmhouse building.  After moving offices and stores 3 times, we are now in our own 8,000 square feet purpose-built premises, with brand new offices and warehouse space.  Who knows what the business, or the world, will look like in 40 years’ time? We would love to be around in some form or other, continuing to employ local people and provide superb service to our customers – although we suspect Victoria and Jo would love to be comfortably retired quite a while before then!

Thank you for your custom and support as the business has changed and grown, especially to those of you who have been with us for such a long time and through many of those changes.  If we can do anything to help, or you have any questions, do get in touch

10 Facts You May Not Know About the Humble Cardboard Box

Cat in a Cardboard Box

How has your recycling pile been this past 12 months? Yes, the wine bottle collection might be larger than usual, but we’d also predict you’ve been drowning in cardboard packaging!

Online shopping and home deliveries have led to unprecedented demand for cardboard boxes.  As reported by the BBC, e-commerce companies, including Forms Plus, have worked hard to source sufficient quality packaging to meet this demand.  Whilst we have always managed to supply what our customers need, it led us to pay closer attention to the humble cardboard box. Here are a few facts you may not know…

10 Facts you may not have known about cardboard boxes:

  1. Whilst paper has been around since around 2AD, cardboard as a packaging material was not really used industrially until 1817 when Sir Malcolm Thornhill made the first single skin cardboard boxes. 
    
  2. Corrugated cardboard was first developed as a way to make tall hats stand up straight, with a British Patent issued in 1856. About 15 years later, we start to see corrugated cardboard being used to make boxes stronger. It is made up of paper, fluting (the wavy bit!) and lining layers.  Different fluting levels are available, which determine how thick the box walls will be. 
    
  3. One reason for the current shortage of cardboard boxes, is that during lockdowns, people are tending to store packaging in their homes or garages, rather than take it to the recycling centre. As many of the packaging items we sell are made from recycled cardboard, this has led to shortages as the raw materials have been less available.
Postal Boxes 3
We stock a wide range of postal boxes and cardboard packaging
  1. Most cardboard boxes are made from softwood trees that have long fibres, such as pine, spruce and fir trees.  The type of tree used can impact the eventual colour of the box with trees from Scandinavia often producing darker brown cardboard than those from Brazil, which are light brown, or China, which are more yellow.  The Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) helps take care of these forests and their stamp of approval indicates that the cardboard is from a well-managed forest.  Many of our products are FSC-certified. 
    
  2. “If it fits, I sits” – we all know cats love cardboard boxes, but why? Ethologist Claudia Vinke of Utrecht University has actually run some research with cats in an animal shelter. The findings suggested that cats stress levels were considerably reduced by providing them with a box to hide in, whatever size it was.     
If it fits, I sits
  1. Unlikely to go as viral as a cat meme, but a question we get asked all the time, Royal Mail PIP (Pricing in Proportion) box sizes may well be important to you when deciding on postal boxes, so here they are:

Royal Mail Box Sizes

Box SizeWeightLengthWidthDepth
Large Letter750g35.3cm25cm2.5cm
Small Parcel2kg45cm35cm16cm
Medium Parcel20kg61cm46cm
Large Parcel30kg1.5m
Royal Mail PiP Box Sizes – for more info visit the Royal Mail Website
For large parcels, length and depth combined must not exceed 3m

We stock a full range of PiP Royal Mail postal boxes.

  1. Cardboard packaging is currently the most environmentally friendly protective packaging solution on the market. It is biodegradable, non-toxic, recycled, recyclable and can be cut to the correct shape and size for your parcels to take up less space during shipping, saving on carbon emissions. 
    
  2. The UK has amongst the world’s highest recycling rates for packaging.  The latest figures available from DEFRA indicate that in 2017, 70% of UK packaging waste was either recycled or recovered, including 4.7 million tonnes of paper and cardboard.
  1. There are a few things to consider when choosing the right cardboard carton.  Apart from choosing the best size for your packages, you will also need to think about thickness.  Boxes are available in single or double wall. Double wall boxes add an extra layer of protection around your products, are more likely to stack without crushing and are better suited to fragile, heavy or valuable shipments.  They don’t weigh much more than single wall boxes, so are unlikely to add to postage costs. 
    
  2. The Kellogg brothers invented the first cardboard cereal box in the early 1900s, but originally the cereal was loose in the box and a heat-sealed wax bag was wrapped around the outside. These boxes are now collectors’ items and can sell for thousands of pounds

If you’d like to find out even more about cardboard boxes, visit our Cardboard Packaging pages or get in touch – or once we can travel again, you might want to visit the Cardboard and Printing Museum in Valreas in France (yes it exists!).

Has COVID Cancelled Christmas? Not if you work in eCommerce…

Christmas eCommerce 2020

With gatherings of more than 6 people looking unlikely and many Christmas events cancelled, it would be easy to think Christmas might be cancelled this year.  To the contrary, a recent survey from Yieldify showed that 34% of us plan to increase our spending year on year, across Black Friday (27th November), Cyber Monday and Christmas itself.  Despite fears of unstable household income and lockdown restrictions, we are clearly still very keen to celebrate. Sending gifts to loved ones who we cannot meet up with in the usual way, will play a major role in that celebration.  

With COVID-19 serving as a catalyst for rapid growth across many eCommerce sectors, delivery companies have been building their teams to cope with a permanent increase in demand. In September, Royal Mail announced that parcel volumes are up 34%, with 117 million more parcels sent in 2020 than last year. DPD, Hermes, Amazon and DHL have all hired thousands of new delivery workers to cope with what DPD’s CEO described as a “tsunami of parcels”. 

Christmas Delivery 2020

On the flipside, high street retail has been hit hard, with 125,000 jobs lost in the UK as retailers closed stores and, in some cases, went into administration. Whilst the high street has started opening up again, with local lockdowns, long queues and unease around travelling to shop in closed-in spaces, it seems that Christmas is not cancelled. It has just moved online.

Research from eCommerce platform, Magento shows what online shoppers are looking for this season. Their main concerns are:

  • Ethical eCommerce and philanthropy
  • Safe shopping
  • Ways to re-create the “in store” experience
  • A joyful online shopping experience
  • Great mobile eCommerce experiences

Magento “Unwrapping the Gift of Christmas” guide for 2020

The Yieldify report also looked into how retailers are approaching their marketing.  Despite the consumer growth predictions, only 45% of marketers feel positive about the season ahead.  Decisions are being made much later than normal and around one third have decided not to participate in Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  This could mean great opportunities for those that do step forward confidently.  If you are planning to go ahead with discounting, shipping offers, free gifts or other promotions, now is the time to get organised. 

Christmas eCommerce 2020

Our recommendations for preparing for peak season 2020 under these unique conditions are:

  • Use your existing email lists to keep in good contact with your customers, letting them know about upcoming offers and holiday promotions. Keep these going throughout the seasonal period.
  • Highlight any ethical or sustainability messages you can. For example if you are using our eco-friendly packaging, make that information clear on your site.
  • Get going now with any last-minute work you can, to make shopping on your website easier and more enjoyable. If you also sell in-store, is there anything from that experience you could add? Is your site easy to use on mobile?
  • Check you have optimised the way you capture leads, so you can continue to market to any new customers you gain over the holiday period. Email sign-ups with a discount for the first order are a popular and effective way to do this. Plan now what you will do with those addresses once you’re through the festive season.   
  • Contact your suppliers to make sure your inventory will be available and ready for shipping around the peak holiday dates. You may well sell more than you expect.  While you’re doing that, check you have enough forms and packaging too.

In conclusion, whilst the pandemic has posed huge challenges for all types of retail this year, the peak season ahead clearly offers an opportunity for eCommerce.  We wish you all luck embracing that opportunity and will be here to help along the way. 

Do get in touch if you need any help with your packaging and print needs or have any questions along the way.