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IR 2012 PREVIEW Interview: Richard Longhurst of

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In today’s preview of our annual conference, Internet Retailing 2012 (IR 2012), to be held in London on October 9, we have our latest in a series of interviews with speakers at the conference. Richard Longhurst, co-founder of sexual happiness ecommerce website , tells us how the company is approaching international expansion – and what it has learned as a result.

We have always shipped anywhere sensible from, and over the years we’ve expanded that to as many countries as possible.

We launched last November. This was our first site that was ‘translated’ into American English. All the pricing and offers are in dollars, and the wording uses US terminology such as shipping rather than delivery.

Our plan is to launch through Europe, with Lovehoney France, Germany and Spain. That might be at the start of next year. For our market it’s very interesting researching the different national and cultural attitudes to sex and sex toys. We need to understand that in a way that you might not if you were selling bicycles.

Something we learnt very quickly at, is that you do need very hands-on local people just to express yourself properly in a local way. The idioms that people use in American English is so different to English English. Then if you add in a different language to that then you’re into a whole different world of challenges.

We have a local team in the US. We have an office and warehouse in Dallas and we can produce local content.

But we still ship from Bath to the US because there are some amazing deals on transatlantic shipping. We can deliver next day to the East Coast, or two days to the West Coast of the US from Bath.

Our plans for expansion across Europe will stay based in Bath. We don’t envisage local offices yet but we certainly want to employ nationals from each territory.

We can see people from overseas coming to the site: we can see basket sizes and conversion rates immediately. Neither are going to be as good as a UK visitor so when we think about what you can do to improve that, to make people understand our offering and be more likely to buy, we start thinking about translating landing pages, help pages, product descriptions, multinational product videos, all that kind of thing.

It’s natural organic development and I think the challenge for us is to plan and manage it sensibly so we can do it without too much risk.

My advice for others would be to do your research and have a go at the easiest one first. We learn as we do and we don’t plan in enormous detail: for us the very nature of the web is that your website’s never finished, you’re going to keep developing it and adding, so you might as well get started and get something up then develop it. It’s almost like growing up in public.

I think you can be paralysed by too much planning and wanting something to be absolutely perfect before you launch then you end up not launching anything.

For us the first step of the site was to work out how we build the systems to have multicurrency product descriptions, pricing, offers system and so on. All that work is now done behind the scenes and can be applied to different language websites as well. Then we need to research what the different words for vibrator, dildo and butt plug are in the different languages.

Now the investment is in people, bodies sat at desks, translating, writing original copy, presenting the product videos that we have in the local language. Then it’s managing special offers, doing the customer care in different languages. None of it is different work, it’s just more work in a different language, with all the cultural sensibilities that goes alongside that.

I think this should be seen as a big opportunity. The incremental work to go international shouldn’t be as big as the work you’ve already done to set up the business in the first place. The competition will be tough but why not have a go?

Richard Longhurst will be one of the panellists discussing Balancing local engagement with a global experience across borders, in stream two of Internet Retailing 2012. The discussion starts at 2pm.

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