Launching a British ecommerce clothing website: From trade to retail

Glencroft launched our first retail website back in July last year and it’s been a busy first year, we’ve learnt a lot, changed a lot, but we also have a long way to go.

Glencroft’s main business is trade, we supply fantastic independent retailers all over the UK and the rest of the world with our items in bulk. We’ve been set up for this since 1987, we’ve learnt that online retail works a little bit differently.
Some of these things may resonate with other ecommerce managers, or you may have tips for us that can help us in the future, hope you enjoy the read.

Getting the packaging right

Mailing bags and boxes

In our trade business we use recycled wool yarn boxes that can fit up to 30kgs of bulk country clothing, as well as recycled brown paper and some reused plastic bags to ensure products arrive to our trade customers in perfect condition. We reuse and recycle what we can to keep costs down and reduce the impact we have on the environment, we’ve been doing this since 1987.

However this bulk packaging is not a huge amount of use for retail, where people usually purchase single items – jumpers, gloves etc. Plus reusing boxes isn’t very pretty, that’s fine if it ends up in a shop stock room, but doesn’t compliment a premium high quality jumper or sheepskin accessory.

For the first couple of months we purchased plain grey large plastic mail sacks. We didn’t like them, they were an uninspiring grey, one large size only and they were made of single use plastic.

John Smedley postage box
John Smedley mail boxes

So for the next batch of packaging we bought green ‘biodegradable’ plastic mail sacks of varying sizes to ensure we don’t use any more packaging than absolutely necessary. These are better but we think we can do better as we’re not convinced just how ‘biodegradable’ they really are, plus it’s still plastic.

What’s next?

We’re currently researching and sampling recycled plastic mail sacks, which themselves can be recycled. As well as custom mailing boxes that can also double as sealable return boxes. We’ve been inspired by fellow British clothing company John Smedley, who have a lovely simple box, the perfect size for a Royal Mail small parcel. We also want to reduce the amount of plastic we use, cardboard seems a perfect alternative, although it’s important it is reused as it uses more energy to produce than a plastic bag. Watch this space.
UPDATE 07/02/20We’re now using paper mailing sacks

Gift boxes and thank you cards

The personal touch

Glencroft packaging essentials
Bags, scales, thank ewe cards – Glencroft packaging essentials

In our trade business we pride ourselves on offering fantastic customer service and the personal touch. We try and visit the shops we supply every year; say hello, shake hands, have a cup of tea and chat about how our range can fit with their business, from literally Lands’ End to John O’Groats.

This is harder for retail, and as much as we’d like to hand deliver every order that comes in online, and make sure our customers our happy with their product face to face, that just wouldn’t work, not to mention the carbon footprint of all that travel!

So thinking back to when we’d stay at a friend’s house when we were children and write a polite note to their parents the day after, we created thank you (or thank ewe!) cards. These explain how important their purchase is to a small business like us, and how it doesn’t just support us but the British and Europeans factories and people that make our products and are paid a decent wage.

We also printed compliment slips that whoever packed our products could write a personal note on if they wished

What’s next?

We’re going to start including more about who actually packed our products, what they do and how each product is made. This is through new sustainable labelling we’re working on explaining product origin, and new systems (and stickers!), to speed up the work of whoever’s turn it is in the packing department.

We’re also working on Glencroft gift boxes for our scarves and gloves, reducing the need for plastic bags and helping to make our accessories the perfect present.

Getting our review system working

Review, review, reviews. Whether it’s hotels, restaurants or washing machines, everyone likes reviews, even if they don’t trust half of them.

Google reviews

We needed something that worked and could be trusted so immediately went to the service we knew the best – Trustpilot – and manually sent out reviews to everyone who bought from us each month.

This was a time consuming process so we looked at automating it after a couple of months. Plus most review sites understandably prefer automation because then they know merchants aren’t selectively asking their favourite customers only for reviews and avoiding potential negative ones.

Here it came down to what’s easiest to fit to our website, and cost. We would have loved to continue using Trustpilot but we were quoted £1000s of pounds for anything but the basic package and we couldn’t afford it, so we’ve gone with Google Reviews for now which integrates well with WordPress. We respond to every review we receive, bad or good, so hopefully everyone can have a good experience with us.

What’s next?

We still find it difficult to encourage reviews, good or bad. And we regularly get emails directly thanking us for our personal service. We’re tweaking it regularly. We are also going to try and integrate reviews with our website when we get a few more of them (bad and good!), so visitors can see there and then what customers genuinely think of us and our products. We’re a little bit nervous…

Adding all our products to the website

DB53 baby bootees
Bootees in 100s of colours made from spare sheepskin pieces

Adding our products to our website took a little while, we have about 200 different products and just over 1000 stock keeping units (i.e. different sizes and colours). We also wanted to include useful and thoughtful information about every product, so people could understand they were getting a Glencroft product designed and made with care and attention, and not just an item bought in and sold for a profit (that is important too of course!).

Most products are online now bar a few that still need to be adapted for online sale. We’ve traditionally made quite a few products from spare materials such as our baby sheepskin bootees and mittens; every pair is a different colour and completely unique. They are only available offline for now. Our rare breed sheepskin rugs are also completely unique. Until we can practically photo and sell individual rugs, these are also an offline only product

Ensuring we don’t forget our core business – our trade customers

We’ve all seen the plight of the high street in the UK, shops closing due to the flood of customers now shopping online. If our main business is currently supplying shops, why are we going online and potentially putting them out of business?

Glencroft Trade Customer - Scone Palace
Scottish Castle Gift Shops

Well the retailers we supply aren’t on the high street, they are independent shops or ‘destinations’ across the country that offer their customers something different – great customer service, they curate unique products you can’t find elsewhere, they often incorporate cafes, restaurants, garden centres, livestock, stately homes, castles, tweed manufacturing etc.

They understand that for our business, and most other clothing brands to prosper for the next 30 years we need them and we also need direct to customer retail.

They also tell us that many people who walk into their shops will check their phones for the same products online, and if they find it cheaper, they’ll maybe try it on, but they’ll buy elsewhere.

This is why all products on our website are at our recommended retail price + postage, we don’t discount items our trade customers are selling.

If you’d like the convenience of purchasing direct from us online then great, but we don’t think it should be at the expense of independent retailers who offer a unique experience, which is why you’ll often find our products cheaper in their stores.

There are many more things we’ve learnt in our first year which we won’t go into in detail, as we’ve rambled on enough!

But they include:

Managing stock levels for all items: Our website doesn’t yet ‘talk’ directly to our stock system. We’re working on it, changing software and adapting code. Plus our stock system isn’t perfectly accurate yet, although our investment in new shelving and racking through our website has helped. For now we just keep a monthly eye on what’s out of stock and come in. And apologise profusely when we sell something that’s run out!

Managing returns: Luckily we haven’t had many, which is testament to the time we’ve spent getting our size guides right and the quality of the products we make. We were worried about 50% of products coming back after being tried on or worn for a weekend like you hear in the media for fast fashion sites like ASOS and boohoo which we would have had to cover by increasing our retail prices. This hasn’t happened, people have returned items very rarely and if anything it gives us an opportunity to have a nice chat about what they thought, how we could make the item better next time and improve our communications.

Constantly developing and tweaking the website: We’ve been tweaking things every month since we started, the list is too big to mention but includes matching colours to images, changing fonts, removing bugs, improving automated emails, making all our website more English (‘cart’ becomes ‘basket’!), making it more usable and accessible and improving the back end code for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) purposes.

Parcels are now sent via a daily Royal Mail collection

Local post office to royal mail contract: For the first 6 months we’d drive 5 miles to the local post office and join the queue with our handful of parcels. This just wasn’t efficient or profitable and we didn’t want to charge people too much for postage so we recently started using a Royal Mail business collection. It means we’re still using a very reliable courier, adds full tracking, email and SMS notifications and means we can integrate the website with our parcels to reduce mistakes and increase efficiency.

If you’ve read to here, thank you so much, I hope you’re not asleep, and if you’re starting your own ecommerce website let us wish you the very best of luck!

Coming soon is an integrated marketing and PR campaign to really increase our brand, product and website awareness, that’s after we’ve sold a few more jumpers!

We’ll be back with more updates in a few month’s time with the ups and downs in the digital world, it’s all quite a contrast to the view of a herd of sheep trotting along the road outside our office window at the moment…


Launching a British ecommerce clothing website: From trade to retail