Affordable, collectable, cuddly bears wouldn’t seem to be an essential during lockdown, but one company has seen sales of its furry friend rocket by 900%, thanks to adopting an ecommerce strategy that has carried it through the pandemic.
Collectable teddy bear company Charlie Bears was founded by Charlotte & William Morris – Charlie and Will to their bear friends – back in 2005. At the time, most of the collectable bears on the market were at the higher end of the price spectrum. Charlie was upset that people would regularly fall in love with bears they couldn’t afford. The idea for Charlie Bears was born to create highly collectable bears at affordable prices made with traditional methods.
Charlie Bears became the first company to bring affordable collectable bears to the UK. Today, the bears are sold in more than 500 retail stores across the world, with bases in Europe, Australia and the US.
William Morris, co-founder of Charlie Bears, and Rupert Cross, chief digital officer at global commerce agency, 5874 Commerce, share how they developed the consumer side of the Charlie Bears website to make it more attractive to customers and increase turnover by 900%.
Before the website update in 2018, customers only visited the website if they couldn’t access the retailer directly. Seventy-five percent of collectable bear buyers are over the age of 50 and used to buying these bears in store. Therefore, the new website had to be interactive and easy to navigate in order to bring people online.
The teddy bear company also had a ‘Best Friends Club’ on the website that gave members some exclusive perks. However, the old site was not sophisticated enough to provide a great user experience to customers. Due to the community nature of collectors, and ensuring ongoing engagement with the brand, offering this functionality was vital.
Moreover, as the company grew globally, it became clear that it would need a site that was modern enough to manage the different tax codes which vary inter and sometimes intra state.
Charlie Bears was fortunate to have invested in a strong consumer-facing website prior to the pandemic, as it allowed them to mitigate business disruptions during the lockdown period. In the first three weeks of lockdown, 70% of its customers closed both their stores and online platforms. All at a time when people were looking for a treat to cheer themselves up more than ever. Charlie Bears was able to seamlessly transition to selling and engaging with customers on its own site because of the investment made over the last two years.
When 5874 Commerce was brought on board, they were tasked with providing digital and web support, managing inventory across the business, and updating the two OpenCart sites Charlie Bears was originally on.
Rupert Cross, chief digital officer at 5874 Commerce says: “We worked with Charlie Bears to create three new custom-built websites with integrations with Linnworks and ShipStation to help manage fulfilment. We also introduced Vend to give the Charlie Bears team stock visibility across the sites.
“This project really appealed to our team. No one can deny the joy of a beautiful bear and it put a smile on all of our faces. Ecommerce isn’t simply a business tool – it’s a way of creating connections, and this is what our collaboration with Charlie Bears did.”
Prior to the upgrade, Charlie Bears’ online turnover was around £150,000. Today, after modernising their eCommerce platform, turnover is well over £1.5 million.
William Morris explains: “We had recognised the importance of having a modern site that would give us direct access to our customers, a couple of years ago. When the country went into lockdown in March, many retailers realised the need for a robust eCommerce site. During lockdown, we saw a 400 percent increase in consumer traffic and the site coped admirably with the demand. Having a robust and interactive eCommerce platform enabled us to stay afloat. Six months on, 40% of our retailers are still closed, so having this lifeline is a vital asset.”
The project took around eight weeks to complete. 5874 Commerce was able to effectively communicate all the technical elements of the build with Charlie Bears in an easy to follow manner.
William Morris adds: “We don’t speak tech, but 5874 Commerce was very attentive to what we needed and talked us through the entire process in a simple and accessible way. 5874 is not a massive conglomerate so the process felt very personal and they really understood the peculiarities of our system.”
In the last few months, Charlie Bears has seen its business challenged by Covid-19. But the constant improvements they have made to the website in the last two to three years meant they were well prepared for the disruption. Many businesses are timid about investing in a good eCommerce platform.
However, this is very much the future of retail. It is important that retailers continuously evolve their websites to meet the needs of the time. Charlie Bears is already looking to the future with plans to launch tailored specific sites in Germany, France, and Japan.