Should You Smarten Up Your Selling Practices? 10 Ways AI Can Help E-Commerce Businesses

AI in Ecommerce robot

From generating surreal images, to predicting serious health conditions, Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools are helping professionals in many areas of life to save time, work more efficiently and do their jobs better.  We took a look at how AI can help online retailers simplify, speed up and optimise their e-commerce operations.

  1. Personalised Product Recommendations – Where previously you might have added in “products you might also like” manually, AI algorithms can now do this upselling and cross selling for you. Recommendations are based on an individual’s previous purchases, browsing history and product searches. This is how Netflix recommends other programmes you might like, and how Amazon makes each customer’s homepage unique. Shopify Apps that use AI for recommendations, include Wiser and LimeSpot.
  2. Chatbots and Virtual Assistants – If your team spend a lot of time helping with product enquiries, providing updates on order status, or resolving common issues, an AI Chatbot might save you time and money, and improve your customer service by offering support 24/7. The most popular tools for setting up a Virtual Assistant include Tidio and Zendesk.
  3. Inventory Management and Forecasting – Predicting demand and managing inventory levels are crucial to running any e-commerce business, and AI can help here too. Tools that use AI for Inventory Management include Bee Low and Sortly.  
  4. Content Generation – Probably the AI tools that most people are familiar with, generative AI options such as ChatGPT, Gemini and Dall-E are great for helping you get started with blog writing, generating ideas for emails and even image generation. (And, yes we did use ChatGPT to get started with this blog!).
  5. Search Engine Optimisation – SEO involves a lot of repetitive tasks, that are perfect for handing over to AI.  Tools such as Yoast are now using AI to help you write SEO Titles and Metadescriptions. Jasper can generate SEO-optimised blogs and Outranking uses data from top ranking sites to help you find opportunities to rank your pages higher.
  6. Advertising – AI is now frequently used to optimise Pay Per Click Search, Display and Social Media ads. It can dynamically adjust ad images, videos, headlines, and descriptions to the combinations that are most likely to perform, test them, and put them in front of the right people at the right time.  Campaigns such as Google’s Performance Max and Meta’s Advantage+ make heavy use of these types of technologies.  
  7. Email Marketing – AI algorithms can help increase conversion rates from your customer emails by analysing customer data to personalise the content, adjust the sending time and predict which customers are most likely to convert. Omnisend and MailChimp both make use of AI.
  8. Image Optimisation – Worried about the state of your product images? AI image clean up tools can instantly remove the background from product shots, add AI-generated backgrounds and resize your images for a variety of placements.  Shopify Apps to help with image and video optimisation include CreatorKit and Pebblely.
  9. Optimising Packaging Design and Sizing – Whilst our team are great at advising you on the best dimensions, protection levels and product types for packaging your products, AI tools can do that too. Amazon uses AI tools to help select the optimal packaging type for each item, whether that is a mailing bag, cardboard box or an envelope. 
  10. Reducing Environmental Impact – We are of course, very happy to talk you through the environmental implications of your packaging choices, and the eco-friendly options available to you, but this is also somewhere AI is helping.  Smart Packaging options such as sensors and RFID tags are now being used to track and monitor a product’s journey to the consumer, providing data such as humidity, temperature and even how roughly the item is handled. This data then helps optimise the way it is packaged in future, keeping packaging sizes down, minimising waste, reducing carbon consumption and of course, lowering costs.

    When your packaging meets the end of its current life, AI tools help recycle it. AI-driven automated recycling systems use algorithms to identify, sort, clean and process our recycling so it can be re-used with minimal wastage. 

As you can see, AI is already well used by e-commerce sellers, and new tools to increase efficiency, improve customer satisfaction and even increase conversion rates are emerging all the time.  These are great time savers, but do come with risks, so do oversee any work that AI does for you, perhaps as you would for a new junior member of staff!

We hope that whilst AI might make all our jobs easier, by taking away some of the more repetitive or analytical tasks, it will allow us to focus on areas we find more stimulating such as developing our business creatively or spending more time with customers.  Do let us know your thoughts and experiences with using AI for your business and get in touch any time you would prefer to speak to a human!

Is It Time To Update Your Packaging to  Flexi-Hex®?

Flexi-Hex Eco Friendly Bottle Packaging

As Christmas approaches and thoughts move to stocking up with packaging for the busy weeks ahead, we thought we would take a look at why now might be a great time to upgrade to eco-friendly options, and introduce you to the latest products in our Flexi-Hex® range. With 8 out of 10 UK consumers surveyed saying they prefer to receive goods in environmentally friendly packaging materials (Statista 2022), now might be the time to make the switch.  

The Christmas season is a pivotal time to make a lasting impression on your customers. People who come to you for gifts this year could either just buy from you once, or if they are impressed, come back time-after-time with a significant lifetime value to your company.  Online shoppers will be bombarded with parcels between now and December. Your choice of packaging is no longer just about protecting the products you are sending out. It is the first interaction many customers have with your brand. This is your chance to stand out from the masses and be remembered next time they are looking to place an order.

Flexi-Hex Eco Friendly Bottle Packaging

At Forms Plus, we stock a wide range of eco-friendly packaging including lightweight, paper-based, honeycomb protective packaging options from Flexi-Hex®.  With a beautiful, visually striking design, the sleeves, wraps and boxes can even be customised with your own logo or message.

Not just a pretty face, Flexi-Hex® is renowned for its strength and offers exceptional protection for bottles, glass jars, cosmetics or other fragile gifts.  Sleeves are available in four sizes and can be used either with Flexi-Hex® pinch top boxes, caps and wraps or other packaging of your choice. Bottle Kits are also available to carry single bottles, or packs of up to 6 bottles at a time. These are perfect for shipping wine or spirits.   

Flexi-Hex Eco Friendly Bottle Packaging

Flexi-Hex® packaging has impeccable environmental credentials.  It is entirely plastic free, made from sustainable recycled paper, recyclable, biodegradable and compostable. The sleeves and kits arrive with you packed flat, are easy to assemble and efficient to ship, saving you storage and shipping costs.

In summary, sending your customers their order packed in Flexi-Hex® ensures the goods arrive in once piece, look stunning, create a memorable unboxing experience for their recipient and show that your company cares about your impact on the environment. Is it time for you to make the switch?  If you are thinking about it and we can help, do get in touch.  

A Few Of Our Favourite Things – Introducing the Forms Plus Team

Kynance Cove - one of our favourite beaches near Forms Plus

As summer gets underway, we have a few new faces at Forms Plus and realise it has been a while since we shared any team news with you.  Our latest blog introduces the team, and gives you an idea of how they love to make the most of the good weather down here in Cornwall…

In alphabetical order…

Alison Hulley has been with Forms Plus for over 6 years. As our Sales Representative, you may well have spoken to Alison about your labels and packaging needs.

Outside of work, Alison’s summer consists of beaches, gigs and events. She loves the Let’s Rock Festival, time on the beach at Pedn Vounder and barbecues, especially if there is Belly Pork on the menu. 

Our Administrative Co-ordinator, who joined last autumn, Donna Wyeth helps across the whole business, supporting the team as we need her. 

Like many locals, Donna is a bit secretive about her favourite beach (and we don’t blame her!), but she loves walking along the coastal path and enjoying time with friends.  Her favourite summer event in Cornwall is the St Ives Food and Drink Festival where she’ll seek out the barbecued halloumi.

Ian Foster is the Warehouse Manager for Forms Plus. Ian has been with us for about 4 years and his job is to make sure the warehouse operations run smoothly. 

Ian’s summer hobbies include fishing, perhaps around Perranporth or St Agnes, or joining in the summer festivals, such as Mazey Day or Golowan in Penzance.  We think there may be a touch of the Pirate about him, as his Guilty Pleasure is a rum or two in the sun.

Jayne Wood is our Despatch Co-ordinator.  If you have ever called us, you have probably spoken to Jayne. She has been with Forms Plus for 6 years and her role includes processing orders, collecting payments, arranging couriers, answering the phone and helping with administration. If our alarm goes off, as Fire Marshall, Jayne dons the hi viz and makes sure we get out of the building safely. 

In the summertime, Jayne loves the colour of the sea in Cornwall.  On warmer days off, she’ll be found sitting on Praa Sands, where you could easily be somewhere tropical.  If it’s a bit cooler, she enjoys walking her dog Monty on the beach.  And if it’s raining, her Guilty Pleasure is watching Love Island. We wonder if that’s the island she’s thinking of when she is at Praa Sands? 

Jo Carter is our Finance Director. Jo keeps all our finances in order and has been with Forms Plus for an amazing 27 years.

Jo’s favourite beaches are the secluded ones you can only get to by boat. She loves nothing more than tripping around the coastline with her family.  In the evening, Jo loves teriyaki chicken skewers on the barbecue with a glass of red and perhaps some chocolate to follow. Perhaps the highlight of her summer though is dressing up for her favourite event, Falmouth’s famous Pink Wig Party, which raises funds for Breast Cancer Research every summer. 

Karen Melbourne joined Forms Plus this year as an Administrator, processing orders and supporting with other admin tasks. 

In the summertime, Karen loves the beautiful beaches here in Cornwall, especially at Hayle or anywhere with some live music.  She loves Porthleven Food Festival but isn’t fussy at a barbecue and recommends keeping it simple with burgers and hot dogs! 

Nicola Burgess is our Print Co-ordinator. She has been with us for almost 3 years and works on the bespoke printing side of the business, processing customer orders and helping on new projects with customers and manufacturers.

Nicola’s summer adventures include exploring the coves around Rinsey on her paddleboard or enjoying a few beers in the sunshine, perhaps at one of the Sundowner music events that have popped up around the coast. 

Rafe Webb joined Forms Plus earlier this year as a Customer Service Advisor. You may have spoken to him on the phone with your order. He also helps with data processing and can sometimes be found keeping on top of things in the warehouse.

Rafe’s summer passions seem to involve a lot of cheese. His favourite annual event is Cheese Rolling in Gloucestershire, and his Guilty Pleasure is a baked Brie with bread to dip. Luckily, he also enjoys going for a run in the sun, mowing the lawn and working out!

Sharon Ramos is a Company Director and a woman of many talents, who has been with us for 8 years, having relocated for the North East.  She works on everything from IT support, to HR, Orders, Sales and is also a forklift driver. 

In the summer, Sharon loves an ice-cold Rattler (local cider) with friends on Porthcurno Beach or singing along at the Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival.  Sharon enjoys following Newcastle United football team and her Guilty Pleasure is watching ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’!

Sharon Worden, our Accounts Administrator has been with us for a few weeks now, with the important task of making sure everything runs to plan in the Accounts Department. 

This week, Sharon is excited about attending the Royal Cornwall Show.  For the rest of the summer, she loves coastal walks or runs, or spending time on the stunning beaches near us at Gunwalloe. In the evening, a gin and lemonade takes the pain of the numbers away.

Last, but not least, our MD, Victoria Andrews has been with Forms Plus for 33 years. A very hands-on leader, Victoria has a go at everything and anything the company needs.

When she does get some downtime, Victoria is a big fan of the stunning walk down to the crystal-clear water of Kynance Cove.  She enjoys long lunches in the sun, with friends and family, king prawns on the barbecue and a nice bottle of wine. Or, occasionally, a trip up to Hyde Park for Party in the Park.

Whatever you are up to this summer, we hope that business is going well, and you are getting plenty of time to relax too.  Now you have met us all a little, do get in touch if we can help with anything. 

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. 

Victoria Andrews Celebrates 30 Years at Forms Plus

Victoria Andrews 30 years at Forms Plus

Now trading for almost 40 years, Forms Plus was established in 1981. At the time, we were mostly selling computer consumables alongside pay slips and pre-printed invoices.

A few years later, in September 1990, shortly before Mrs Thatcher left Downing Street, and before seatbelts in cars were even compulsory, Forms Plus welcomed a new Office Administrator, Victoria Andrews. Now the MD, having led a management buy-out of the company in 2012 with Finance Director Jo Carter, Victoria is celebrating 30 years with the company, something not many people can say they have achieved in their career!

When Victoria joined Forms Plus back in 1990, the internet had barely been invented. Tim Berners-Lee had just launched the first ever web browser, Amazon and Ebay were 5 years’ away and it would be 10 years before even the likes of Walmart had an online store.

Very few people had mobile phones, computers were all beige, the internet involved a dial up and every office still had a fax machine. There was no social media. Gradually, through the 90s, e-commerce began and the dot com boom started.

Over time, Forms Plus moved from selling floppy discs and printer ribbons, to the labels, forms and packaging we trade in today, always looking ahead at market trends to make sure we can meet customer needs. 

To mark the occasion and celebrate her 30th Anniversary, Victoria is having a celebratory trip to the Isles of Scilly, for some much-needed rest and relaxation.  Before we let her escape, we asked her for a few thoughts on her career…

What are the main changes you’ve noticed in the company across the 30 years?

From a customer service point of view, proofing and production times have reduced vastly as email really speeds up our workflow.  Within the workplace, I have been really happy to see us grow a positive awareness around the wellbeing and mental health of our team.

Who are your longest-term clients?

Over the years, many of the local independent clients we worked with have been bought out.  Of our larger clients, some of the longest standing include Boden, Brittany Ferries and Mole Valley Farmers. 

What are you most proud of from your time at Forms Plus? 

As MD, it is really important to me that we provide staff with the best environment possible to work in and ensure they feel valued. This led to us moving into our much larger, purpose-built office and warehouse last year.  We have also won numerous Healthy Workplace Awards, including our Gold Award in 2020. 

I am also very happy that as the business has grown and evolved, we have managed to stay true to our core values – providing a competitively priced, quality product with exceptional customer care. 

Forms Plus is quite rare in being led by an all-female team of Directors. What advice would you give to other women to help them grow and develop over a long period with the same company?  

Make a real effort to learn about the industry you are in. Work hard, be adaptable, reliable and have confidence in your own abilities.

Victoria Andrews and Jo Carter

Victoria is not the only member of the Forms Plus team with such staying power.  Many of our experienced staff have been with us for quite some time. Our Finance Director and former Payroll Assistant, Jo Carter is looking forward to her holiday on Scilly, as she has been with us for 24 years.

If we can help you at all with any of your forms, labels or packaging requirements, or indeed if you’d like to ask Victoria just how she has managed her many changes of hairstyle, do get in touch.

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.

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.