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INTERNET RETAILING AWARDS 2014 Lovehoney’s Richard Longhurst explains why the customer matters

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Lovehoney has been nominated for the Internet Retailing’s 2014 Customer Award, sponsored by SDL Fredhopper. Here, Richard Longhurst, Lovehoney co-owner explains why the Bath-based sex toy etailer goes the extra inch for its customers.

The sex toy business throws up some unique challenges – and opportunities for innuendo – when it comes to getting close to the customer. The obvious avenues that are open to other retailers are often closed to us simply because of the nature of our product. Whereas Wiggle customers are quick to show off a new push-bike on Facebook and ASOS fashionistas can’t wait to Instagram that new outfit, it is not entirely natural for Lovehoney customers to post about their purchases on social media. “Look mum, I’ve got a new vibrator!”

The adult business also has historical associations with sharp practice and Soho sleaze so we have to go the extra inch to prove to our customers that we are not like all the rest. That when they shop with Lovehoney, everything is going to be alright forever.

If not forever, then at least for a year – our unrivalled returns policy says that if you are not happy with your purchase, you can return any item for a refund or replacement up to a year after you bought it, even if it’s not broken and even if you’ve used it.

It’s a serious investment. We have three full-time staff working in the returns department. But regardless of the up-front cost and repeat-business benefit, it’s the right policy to have. We want our customers to be happy.

Is there the odd problem? Obviously we cannot resell any item which has been used. Instead, they are recycled at Sweep Kuusakoski in Kent. Do some customers abuse the system? Yes, a very, very small minority do – including one customer who returned everything she had bought in the last 12 months. But that is a small price to pay for the long-term goodwill such a policy nurtures. Most of our customers are decent, honest and fair.

We know other simple things are important to our customers. We go to ridiculous lengths to answer the phone. Ring Lovehoney and you are not presented with multiple call options, you won’t be put on hold – a friendly knowledgeable member of the customer care team will answer the phone immediately and deal with your query quickly and efficiently. This could be anything from an 80-year-old grandmother looking for tips buying her first vibrator to an experienced S&M enthusiast requiring advice on the latest spanking paddles. We cater for all tastes.

We have also created a community on the Lovehoney website where adults can discuss their sex lives in an open environment that’s free of ads for porn and escort services. We now have more than 50,000 members who have created a full profile by choosing a screen name and uploading a photo, with many more lurking just to read. It’s nothing fancy, just an old-fangled discussion forum really, but the important part is Lovehoney’s investment in looking after the members, nurturing the discussions and reacting to what’s said. Putting them, if you will, at the heart of the business.

At the simplest level, community members are our core customers, advocates that are as critical of what we do as they are quick to praise and defend us. We reward them with exclusive offers and discount vouchers at birthdays and anniversaries based on the information they have given us.

They are also involved in the product development process, testing prototypes of new sex toys or tasting flavoured lubes, helping us shorten the product development cycle and increase our chances of making hit products. They test products for us too, helping our buyers decide which new lines from suppliers we should take on.

Particularly enthusiastic in the bedroom, they are equally eager to share their experiences via product reviews. Customers have submitted more than 50,000 reviews revealing the pros and cons of different sex toys. We only edit for grammar and spelling, publishing negative reviews to show that customers can trust the positive reviews. Customers consistently tell us they find this the most useful aspect of our site, helping them make better, more informed buying decisions.

And that, in a nutshell, is why we’re on the shortlist for the Customer Award. Sex is a uniquely intimate business and we have a unique intimate relationship with our customers which informs everything we do. People sometimes don’t know what our products are for (even after they’ve bought them) so we need all our customers’ help to educate and explain. Our business is about couples – long gone are the stereotypes of the sex toy user as a lonely loser in life and love. They don’t leave their common sense at the door, they’re still savvy shoppers. Customers react to offers and they can even lead to them trying something new and exciting in the bedroom (not that they’d post on Facebook about it).

The challenge for Lovehoney now is to recreate this UK success overseas. With servicing customers in Australia, we opened an office in Brisbane so that we can provide 24/7 customer care. We recently launched – our first non-English-language website – and have recruited German staff in both the customer care and content teams. That was the easy bit. Recreating the community spirit will be the hard part.

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