Posted: Mon 30th Mar 2015
Here, Antony Comyns, head of e-Commerce at shirt-maker Hawes & Curtis, tells Enterprise Nation how his company went from thriving UK retailer to an established international business selling products in more than 50 countries.
When did Hawes & Curtis decide the time was right to expand internationally?
We launched our online store in 2007 and the initial aim was to see if we could take a million pounds online. We achieved that in the first year and have been increasing the range and growing the business since then.
That makes it sound so easy! What were the first things you had to do?
We definitely focused on the basics first. For a start, we had to work out which markets offered us the biggest sales opportunities. Then we had to ensure that goods could be shipped safely and quickly there.
That meant understanding different customers' online shopping requirements and preferences, and working out how best to use local postal systems, courier services and address formats.
With all that in place, were you confident customers would be comfortable using an English language website?
We'd already seen that overseas customers were readily using our UK site so that helped. But we also soon noticed that foreign customers had different levels of comfort with it.
For example, in Russia we discovered that bloggers had translated all the important sections of our website to help people there use it. It was great, so to thank them we gave the bloggers some free shirts and accessories!
It sounds like the key thing was ensuring the service offered to customers was just as good as the in-store experience in the UK.
When selling internationally, you need to have some points on your website that build customers' confidence. One of those is association with a trusted brand. We use PayPal, which is one of the biggest payments brands; people know it and accept it as safe and secure.
Hawes & Curtis may mean very little to a man sitting in the middle of America but he will know PayPal. That gives him the security he needs to buy from us.
So a lot of it comes down to helping build a good reputation for your business?
Yes, but it's about scale and ease of use too. Today, 25% of Hawes & Curtis' business is conducted online and 45% of that is international.
PayPal has amazing reach and having one payment service provider that covers a lot of countries and is easy to integrate across all devices is key for our expansion. It means we can get to market very quickly. Plus, customers who use it already know the 'rules' and can pay in their own currency. That definitely increases conversion rates at checkout - which, ultimately, is what any retail business is all about.
Finally, what's next for the business?
More of the same hopefully. We are constantly monitoring opportunities in all countries. In the short-term, that means a dedicated site in America. After that, we'll see.