Scents and Sensibility: Inside dusk’s New Online Era

Ally Feiam By Ally Feiam | 15 Sep 2021

The last 18 months have been a rollercoaster of new beginnings for dusk. We sat down with Garry Hamilton-Smith, Head of E-commerce & Digital at dusk to discuss the new website, a change in marketing strategies and what’s next in store, literally. 

From listing on the ASX to the pandemic and its new online platform launch, it’s on the scent for a strong trajectory.

Before becoming the leading candle retailer in Australia, dusk was a single store in Perth, opened in 2000 by David Stratton. In just over 20 years, the retailer has opened a further 114 stores and has a successful online platform. Late in 2020, the retailer floated on the ASX, marking a new era for the candle retailer.

Garry Hamilton-Smith has been in the e-commerce space for over two decades, but the last 18 months with dusk have been his busiest to date. Aside from the initial challenges that the pandemic has placed on retailers, he has observed a series of consumer changes as they developed new habits and changed behaviour.

In particular, dusk, just like many other omnichannel and pureplay retailers, saw significant increases in its online traffic and conversion. This is separated into two distinct parts, Hamilton-Smith tells us. “The first part is the effects of the pandemic on our shopping behaviour and lockdowns, while the second part purely relates to the strategic direction with investment in both team and our technology stack,” he says.

In the background of these substantial consumer behaviour shifts was the development of dusks’ new and improved e-commerce platform. Over several months, the retailer deployed and implemented polished customer communication strategies, marketing communications, and a brand-spanking-new website to tie it all together. The new website launched in August this year, closing out Phase I of the project. “It has been a very smooth transformation with very positive feedback and results to date and is a credit to all involved,” says Hamilton-Smith.

While the website itself is an important step towards creating an excellent customer experience, businesses must listen to customer feedback and adjust messaging to reflect changes in behaviour. “It is so important not to invade your customer’s personal space no matter if they have a connection with your brand or not,” he tells us. “The last thing you want to do is have an engaged, loyal customer unsubscribe and disconnect with your brand.”

When the pandemic was announced in March 2020, the race to online was in full force. However, before the unprecedented circumstances, dusk was already experiencing a shift in customer behaviour. “Over the past few years, we have seen exceptional growth both online and in-store, with a large proportion of in-store customers making the move to online shopping for the very first time,” says Hamilton-Smith.

As such, its omnichannel strategy remained ‘greatly unchanged’, based on its existing understanding of bridging the gap between digital and physical channels. “[T]he customer’s journey and online experience has never been more important,” he tells us. “As an omnichannel retailer, you must allow your customers to shop how they want, when they want, and provide them will all the necessary information for them to make an informed purchase.”

Ongoing lockdown measures have remained the biggest stress contributor. “This affected many areas of the business, from product development, planning, retail operations and online. The two biggest areas impacted were Warehousing & Fulfilment as well as Customer Service,” he says. “One day, your retail stores are open, the next, they are closed.”

via Dusk

So when dusk began its plans to reimagine its online channels, there was a laser focus on experience, its loyalty program, improved visibility of offers and essential customer information, such as delivery, stock availability and payment options. “E-commerce is no longer just about online and digital sales; it is about the entire business, which includes supporting our successful store network and improving the in-store customer journey,” says Hamilton-Smith. “Customers and members regularly visit our online store to complete their research before visiting one of our stores throughout Australia.”

In March 2020, the dusk warehousing team had to change the way they worked, overnight. “There was also a lot of work done around resource and planning to minimise the risk of disruption to the business should a team member become Covid positive,” he tells us. “This was achieved by splitting the existing team and expertise into multiple teams with no overlapping of shifts.”

Customer service requirements increased by a factor of 20 overnight during the initial national lockdown. This requires the team to think outside the box. Within two days, the team implemented a live chat, ticketing system and utilised retail Store and Area Managers to assist Customer Service reps.

Whether digitally native or not, online shoppers are switched on, especially in terms of price, delivery and payment options, products, and value for money. “Our customer base covers all ages from the young to the elderly, so we have made our new website simple and easy to use,” he says. “It is a fact that humans do not like change, they like things to be comfortable and regular, so our new site design was partly based on our previous website design with loads of fantastic enhancements that take it to a new level.

“Accessibility is so important to everybody, including Google, and our design new omnichannel website has been developed with this in mind, from the navigation including burger menus on both mobile and desktop views to clearly calling out the benefits of becoming a [loyalty club] member.”

What did dusk do to improve its e-commerce platform? Plenty. It’s ‘designed with best practices in mind’, with a laundry list of changes and improvements that aim to inspire and encourage shoppers on the website. However, some of the most impressive changes surround its loyalty program. For $10, shoppers get access to the loyalty program for two years. This provides shoppers with coupons, discounts off full-price and sale items, plus 50 percent off delivery costs and extended returns.

The country has undergone extreme strain over the last 18 months, and ongoing challenges remain. For dusk, alongside any other omnichannel and pureplay retailer, is the issue of logistics. “How to get the customer’s purchase in their hands as quickly as possible for a reasonable cost?” he asks us. “Australia would have to be one of the least densely populated countries on earth, and transporting any merchandise that comes in a box can become expensive.” To combat the stress, dusk integrated with Comestri, implementing its Order Management System to manage and support the warehouse logistics.

“The past 12 months have been particularly difficult for everyone with lockdowns and working remotely, especially when building an entirely new platform from scratch. I would like to personally thank my team as well as our partners Adobe Commerce, 18th Digitech, dotdigital, Comestri and Braintree payments,” he shares.

Looking back at these developments and changes, there is one thing that Garry Hamilton-Smith takes away. “One thing is for certain, you need to be agile, think outside the box, and be quick to adapt no matter what business you are in. Your decisions should be made to better serve your customers.”

What’s next for dusk, you may be asking? According to Garry, this is not the end. “This is just the beginning …”

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