When you’re a fashion retailer with a young client base, switching to online shopping is no big deal – your customers are probably already enjoying the convenience of online retail and going online will just increase your number of shoppers.
But older customers might be slower to adapt and therefore businesses with an older clientele might feel that investing in a sophisticated ecommerce website is not really a priority. However, that all changed in the last year, when Covid-19 essentially forced reluctant consumers online, changing their shopping habits potentially forever.
In business since 1909, family-run Galway retailer Anthony Ryans is well placed to comment on the huge impact that Covid-19 has had on the evolution of online shopping over the past year. “Younger people are well used to shopping online but our customer base would be a little older, from late thirties up to people in their eighties and nineties,” says company director Joseph Ryan, the great grandson of the shop founder. “A lot of our customer base would not have shopped online before the lockdown but they’ve since adapted. I think once they have trust in the company and they know that if they have a problem they can just pick up the phone and talk to someone, they’re happy to shop online. And many have commented that they’re happy to be able to continue supporting us during this time.”
Building upon a base
Anthony Ryans developed a website about ten years ago, but kept things small to begin with. “We saw the trend for shopping online and we set up a website over ten years ago. But it was really an add-on to the business, and only accounted for a very small percentage of our business. We started with homewares as we thought these were easier. If someone buys a double duvet cover online, they know it will fit their double bed. But someone might buy a shirt in three sizes and return two of them.”
About three years ago, the company made a decision to develop their website, and with the help of Enterprise Ireland’s Online Retail Scheme, launched their brand-new website at the end of 2020.
“We wanted to develop a site that was fully integrated with our stock control system, as we felt this would be suitable for branching into selling fashion online,” says Joseph.
“We met a number of different developers and took about six months before deciding which one to go with. They were aware of Enterprise Ireland’s scheme and we applied immediately.”
Thankfully, the team had already done their research, and for the application, it was a question then of really looking at their online strategy and pinpointing exactly what they wanted to achieve. “The application process gives you a chance to sit down and really think about your strategy around the whole ecommerce side of the business,” says Joseph. “You also need to be able to prove that you’re worthy of getting the grant and that you’ll put it to good use. Trying to get your strategy across in words to someone like Enterprise Ireland can be difficult and you really have to think carefully about how best to spend the money, but it’s a good process to go through whether you’re successful or not.”
Improving your platform
The plan was to launch the new site in the spring of 2020, but this was delayed when Covid-19 arrived. “We planned to get it ready for March/April 2020, but when Covid-19 hit, our existing website really took off as people were buying a lot of homewares online,” explains Joseph. “We didn’t get to pick it up again until September, and we went live in December. Since then, it’s been working really well. Obviously with a new website, there are always a few issues here and there, but it’s been much busier than our old site.
“With Christmas and lockdown it’s hard to gauge the effect the new site has had on our existing online business, but the increased functionality is really great – it’s easier to operate, easier to use, our customers enjoy it more and we’re getting more traction on it.” says Joseph.
When it comes to fashion, Anthony Ryans isn’t short of competitors, but Joseph says that the business has definitely benefited from the drive to shop Irish. “I think people realise it’s very easy to shop on big hitters like Amazon, but by doing this, they’re not supporting local jobs or businesses. During the first lockdown, we had a lot of customers ring up and say they didn’t realise we had a website, and they were delighted to be able to shop with us still.”
While Joseph doesn’t envisage online taking over their bricks and mortar business anytime soon – the company has three fashion shops and one homewares shop in Galway – he does think that a strong online offering will boost their revenue and certainly provide insurance if the shops were ever shuttered again. “A lot of companies didn’t have websites when the first lockdown happened and no strategy in place. At least we had something there, and our strategy allowed us to scale up to deal with the demand. The new site is now built to withstand the number of transactions and demands that occur during a lockdown, so if this was to happen again, we have the website in place to help us.”