Fashion retail is considered a luxury for many – and with 64% of Aussies saying their household income has been or will be impacted by COVID-19, it’s crucial for fashion retailers to meet expectations when customers do choose to spend. Like many, Handsom made the difficult decision to close its physical store with the wellbeing of its staff and the community in mind. For a brand that prides itself on providing a rich experience in store – think lush greenery, a fresh signature scent and friendly staff – pivoting to online-only posed new challenges.
Here, Sam shares how Handsom as a business has overcome the pandemic by meeting customers’ online shopping expectations, learning how digital tools kept business operations running smoothly, and adapting to the way she expects the pandemic might change consumer attitudes for the long haul.
Smarter Business: When foot traffic slowed in the physical store as a result of COVID-19, did you notice a change in the number of online sales during the pandemic?
“Our e-commerce sales usually make up about 20% of our total income, and while it didn't make up for the closure of the store, we definitely saw a spike. Our sales doubled online.”Sam Rush, co-founder of Handsom
Smarter Business: How did you manage this in terms of staff arrangements and the process of fulfilling orders?
Sam Rush: It meant that our retail staff who would normally be on the shop floor serving customers were now packing all the online orders. They were already trained in what to do, so it wasn't a case of everyone's job being completely different – it was just a reassignment of tasks. This year, we've had plans of expansion, and at the start of the year, I was frustrated that we weren't expanding as quickly as we wanted to in terms of having more stores. But I'm quite grateful that our business is the size that it is now, in light of the last few months. There are only four of us in the whole business. There's myself, my partner, our store manager and a retail assistant. We’re all very much across everything, which is great. It’s been all hands on deck. No task is too small for anyone to do, which has sometimes even meant hand delivering our local online orders.
Smarter Business: Many deliveries were delayed across the country as a result of COVID-19. How did you keep customers happy and ensure orders arrived on time?
Sam Rush: We experienced some delays with the courier companies that we were using, so we changed – and then we experienced worse delays and missing items. After that, we decided to deliver all of our local orders ourselves. One of us would do a round of deliveries to neighbouring suburbs each day. Many of our online orders were quite local to our store, which suggested that our customers who would normally be shopping in store were now buying online. It meant that we were able to hand deliver quite a lot.
Smarter Business: How has customer service changed due to the pandemic? Did you find that more or less people were contacting you with customer service queries?
Sam Rush: A lot more. One of our real strengths as a business is that we're quite heavy on customer service. When people come in store, our staff have the time to help people find the right fits and get the right products. With the store being closed, we really encouraged people to contact us with any questions they might have. We know a lot of people in our community and we know how to keep our customers happy by recommending new styles based on styles they've chosen in the past. We know their shape and what styles work well for them. So, we've definitely had a lot of people reaching out, mostly via email, some on the phone and also many via Instagram.
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Smarter Business: Did you implement a rewards program or any incentives to keep customers coming back?
Sam Rush: Part of our brand ethos is that we don't really like to incentivise purchasing through discounting too much and we don’t have a loyalty program as such. We make limited amounts of our products and the price point is at an accessible level. We don't want to encourage our customers just to buy things because they're on sale. However, we were faced with a situation where our competitors were running quite aggressive sales, so we decided to run some promotions to reward our customers. You have to make these decisions sometimes, and being small like we are, it enables us to assess every situation and react quickly.
Smarter Business: Did you adapt to a new business technology or any digital tools fit into the changing business landscape?
Sam Rush: Fortunately, we had all of our systems in place, including software and third-party shipping providers, so it was already quite a smooth operation. It made us realise that all of the systems and digital tools that we have work well and can be scaled up quite easily. It's reinforced that we've got the right technology. For any other retail companies looking to adapt to new technology, I can definitely recommend our suite of digital tools. We have a point of sales system called Vend that allows us to analyse customer history. We use Asana to manage our customer requests and to manage tasks between our team. And now for shipping, we use a service called Shippit, which integrates with Vend, which also integrates with our e-commerce platform. It all works seamlessly.
“Fortunately, we had all of our systems in place, including software and third-party shipping providers, so it was already quite a smooth operation. It made us realise that all of the systems and digital tools that we have work well and can be scaled up quite easily. It's reinforced that we've got the right technology."Sam Rush, co-founder of Handsom
Smarter Business: How do you think COVID-19 has changed consumer behaviours towards online shopping and expectations for the long haul?
Sam Rush: I’m hoping that COVID-19 will have a positive effect in the sense of customers being more conscious about where they spend their money. People seem to be realising that each purchase they make is supporting a business and the people behind that business. Support for local community and small business seems to be more apparent than it was before.