How Company With Over 120 Years of History Went Online: Kristin Anthony Interview

02 January 2018 1702

If your business sphere interests are not limited just by eCommerce and digital business, you should know that not each and every successful business was started online. It could take some time for an authoritative retailer (or some other type of shop) to decide to expand online, which means putting additional effort into an already existing thing and exploring totally new horizons.


Our today’s item of discussion is a peculiar case pretty young to the eCommerce industry. Anthony’s is a ladies’ clothing company that primarily serves women in 55-60+ demographic. The company is based in South Florida, USA and it has been around for over scandalous 120 years.

The eCommerce outlet of the business, however, was launched only two and a half years ago via Shopify. Their retail chain now includes 14 stores which provide around 150 people with jobs (though only a couple of people works on their eCommerce). 


Kristin Anthony is an eCommerce director and a person responsible for an online side of things who works on the website since its initial launch. Essentially, she joined the family business to build eCommerce for the company and, at the time, lead the movement of expanding the store online.


“A couple of years ago my family figured out that building an eCommerce would be a relevant thing to do considering its ever-growing popularity, so they asked me to build it.” - says Kristin. “So, we went with building the website and focusing primarily on it. The social media was always kind of a side project for us. Our customer base is a little bit older demographic, they are pretty active in social media but not in the same way millennials are.”

Onward to web expansion

Starting an eCommerce part of the store in addition to all the existing retail network stores was a big step for a company. Initially, Kristin wanted to establish an integration between the two kinds which is a very expensive and time-consuming process. Despite that, the eCommerce proved to be a great, long-awaited addition to the business. 


“I do not necessarily think that if you're a small boutique with one store that it would be difficult at all - adding the eCommerce piece to it.” - our hero notices. “It really depends on what you already have set up and how you can implement that and bring it online.”


Getting the initial traction at the store was not really a problem as it had already had an extensive customer base including many loyal customers who purchased there for a continuous period of time.  

“When we were launching it, we had a lot of customers start emailing us saying, “When are you going to start offering online shopping?” - our hero states. “We compiled all those emails and kept track of them and just hit those customers first and said, “Hey, we now offer online shopping”


That was followed by a marketing brainstorm resulting in various email campaigns. As Kristin notes, email marketing is to this day the company’s biggest driver of sales and a primary promotional tool which also attracts much traffic. 


Of course, that is not all. The eCommerce also actively employed Adwords and Facebook advertising. 


“We have turned off Facebook advertising this time of year because we're in slow season.” - says Kristin “But we expect to turn it back on as we approach our peak season - December-January. But we're still doing Adwords because it's quite targeted to what people are looking for specifically and then we do a lot of retargeting which we've seen a pretty good response from as well.” 

Managing the expanded business

The Anthony’s eCommerce is running on Shopify and according to Kristin, this platform has made a process of online expansion much easier. The hardest part of setting up the online store was an integration of all the required systems.


“We spent probably a majority of the first six months working on it, just trying to build that connection.” - says Kristin. “That was probably the most challenging piece because we're using an inventory management system/point-to-sale system in our stores that is a little bit older and operates quite differently than Shopify or any of the newer platforms.” 


The website’s paid search (Adwords) has recently overtaken the organic search in traffic attraction rate. 50% of its traffic comes from email marketing and the least percent comes organically. Adwords proved to work very well for the company’s kind of apparel and activity. 


“Because we are a retailer, we carry a lot of other brands that can be found in other boutiques.” - Kristin notices. “So, let's say a customer goes to her local boutique somewhere in Ohio, for example, and she finds a brand she really likes with a couple prints or a couple colors or they ran out of her size. So she then goes on the web and searches for that brand. They're able to find us and that's where we've had a lot of success - with those specific brand names that we carry.”

For anyone out there hesitating whether to go into the digital business and start a brand new eCommerce, Kristin recommends to just go and do that. The procedure seems to be quite accessible nowadays and all that is needed is your ambition and effort.


“The investment for Shopify can be pretty minimal initially” - Kristin notes. “So, you can go for just a basic plan and start there. All it takes is getting the product shot [taken a picture of] and written about, inventory uploaded and you can start selling online that easily.”

Making it stand out

The store has its own VIP club, the members of which are provided with discounts and other retailing privileges. The feature did not really help to get more traction on the website, however. That is because the club was created long before the eCommerce piece and it was difficult to figure out a way to honor VIP customers online as much and as effectively as in-store. 


In order to not ditch this marketing solution, which undoubtedly attracts the attention of active shoppers, Kristin and her team had to come up with something new. Thus, they developed a separate VIP program for online customers.


“It's just like once we have a customer hit certain spending amounts, we go ahead and give them a little something.” - our hero notes. “Basically, a discount code for $25 off or something like that. Unfortunately, at this time we're not able to combine online VIP spending with in-store spending because the systems are so different and the in-store, when it was created, was completely manual.”


Among the other privileges that the Anthony’s provides for its customers is free shipping on all orders over $75. Kristin, as well as other employees of the company, regard that to be a pleasant offer and a marketing advantage simultaneously rather than a significant shipping expense.

“We decided that it only seems fair to provide over $75 orders with free shipping.” - Kristin notes. “We ended up having to implement a return fee, however”.


We initially wanted to be able to offer free returns but the expense of all the discounts that we offer was too great for us to make any money and keep the online store running. We had to come up with some sort of solution for our customers.”


On the subject of returns and exchanges, Kristin also adds:  “We tried to make it as fair as possible.”


“I think we still lose money on 90% of our returns, but we have a processing and handling fee of $3.95 if a customer uses our return label. They're also welcome to send it back on their own and they can avoid that $3.95 charge, but I think most of our customers find out very quickly that the manual shipment is going to cost them much more.”


What makes this store stand out and unique? According to Kristin, it is the widest selection of clothing for 55+ and 60+ women accessibly organized with an elaborate search. The retailer specializes in the style specifically for that demographic.  


“If you go to Nordstrom or Macy's to choose a new dress, you’ll have to go through all these dresses created for the teens, Millennials and the 20-year-olds and figure out what dresses were cut and created for your body type.” - says Kristin. “In our case, every single thing on the site is designed for that demographic specifically.”

Current state of affairs

Kristin is currently a manager of the store and her responsibilities include anything and everything that has to do with an online aspect.


“I am kind of in charge of the vision and the creative direction for the online store and then I participate in photo shoots for the whole company.” - our hero notes. “I do all the writing on the website as well. I take care of our blog.” 

Just this year, the company started reaching out to some bloggers and respective demographic categories in order to get some traction through opinion leaders and influencer marketing.


“We are working on partnerships right now.” - Kristin notes. “We will probably have a couple of things coming out, I would say starting early 2018, where we will be working with them. So it's a new initiative for us.”


The young eCommerce is only a small part of the establishment as there are whole 14 regional stores versus one online store. Kristin’s ambitions, however, are to move further and try to exhaust all the national promotion options before going online full throttle. The great thing is that eCommerce does not limit businesspeople in their aspirations.


The biggest lesson Kristin learned along the path is that just because there is a lot of information out there on the web about starting an eCommerce store and just because something works for someone else does not necessarily mean it is going to work for you. Building up a successful digital business includes a lot of testing and trial and error. 


“I think what we were doing two years ago is a 150% different from what we're doing now because a lot of that consisted of testing and trial and error.” - our hero notes. “But I think that you must get out there and educate yourself!”


We can only wish Kristin and her team the best of luck in further development and finish the interview with our hero’s favorite quote - “20 years from now you'll be more disappointed by the things you didn't do, then by the ones you did”. 


“So throw off the balance away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails and explore your dream to discover success!” - Kristin implies.

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