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.   

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!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking Outside the Box – The Challenges of E-Commerce Packaging

Packaging for E Commerce

Choosing packaging materials is about far more than simply getting your products from A to B intact.   You will be considering your budgets, shipping arrangements, and environmental impact. Alongside these practical considerations, you need to consider the impact on your customers.  The packaging your products arrive in can help support, or damage, your customers’ opinion of you, encourage loyalty and also advertise your brand to other potential customers, as they see your parcels in transit.

In this blog, we’ll look into the main points to consider when choosing packaging materials for your online store and the different options available.

Choose Packaging Customers Will Like

Research shows that e-commerce customers want their packaging to be simple and clean, to protect the product, have consistent branding and be environmentally friendly.  Would you be happy to drive around to your customer’s house and deliver that parcel in person?

People hate hard plastic packaging or anything that needs a tool to open it. For environmental reasons, consumers are very anti-plastic and pro-sustainability. Can you choose packaging products that they will like? Amazon uses what it calls “Certified Frustration Free Packaging”  and says its goal is to “invent sustainable packaging that delights customers, eliminates waste, and ensures products arrive intact and undamaged.”

Choose Size Appropriate Packaging

Boxes, bags or other packaging should be a good fit, and just enough to protect the product. No one enjoys carrying home an unnecessarily enormous package from the collection point.  Whilst you might wrap your child’s birthday present in a comically large box to disguise it, that is not a great idea when posting goods out to a customer.  You will also find that overly large packaging results in higher courier costs, and a higher carbon footprint to deliver the items.

Make Sure Your Packaging Protects

We have all experienced the feeling of receiving a battered parcel.  Even if the goods inside are intact, it does not paint a good picture of the supplier.  Make sure your package not only looks good but really is well protected in case it is thrown around in transit, gets wet or squashed. This will help keep your customers coming back, as well as getting this particular delivery there in one piece.  From hardback envelopes, to padded bags, cardboard tubes, bubble wrap and reinforced boxes – the perfect option for your product is out there.

Consider the Cost

We have to mention it.  We all know that customers spend extra if shipping is free.  Some will not shop with you at all if you charge for shipping, so packaging costs need to be built in to pricing early on.  How much can you afford? What is the best possible option within that budget?  Can you save money if you order in bulk? Do you have appropriate dry and safe storage space for that?

Choose Re-usable Packaging

Can your customer keep the product they brought from you in the box, tube or envelope it came in? Or peel off the label and use it again? Could the customer remove and reuse the bubble wrap their item comes in, whether to post an item of their own or just as a stress reliever? Any re-use options make the packaging better for the planet and more attractive to the customer. Think of the many uses the blue IKEA bags end up fulfilling!

Take Advantage of the Unboxing Opportunity

Opening your package can be exciting for your customer and is an important touch-point in your relationship with them. Read our blog on Unboxing to find out more about this phenomenon.

Keep it simple but don’t forget to use the chance to remind your customer who they bought from. We can help by supplying branded boxes, mailing bags or envelopes, as well as bespoke despatch paperwork, where you might want to include a personalised offer to further delight your customer.

Using a consistent type of packaging can help as well.  Take the Blue Tiffany Box as an example or Selfridges yellow carrier bags.

Choose Eco Friendly Packaging

Customers are increasingly environmentally aware, particularly when it comes to plastic packaging. It can be hard to judge how eco-friendly a packaging item really is.  To help you out, we score all our packaging products out of 5, depending on whether they are recycled, recyclable, reusable, biodegradable and/or made out of sustainable materials.  Our cardboard all comes from FSC or PEFC approved sustainable sources. Our mailing bags are made from recycled materials. Choosing the right size and weight of packaging will also help reduce the carbon emissions involved in its delivery.

So, it is not quite as simple as just finding a cardboard box.  Selecting the perfect packaging for your e-commerce products can not only make sure they arrive in one piece, but also ensure the customer is happy and likely to buy from you again.  Have a look at our packaging pages to see all the options we have available.

Do get in touch if you’d like us to help you choose yours.

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.