With so much choice, customers are increasingly looking to customise or personalise their purchases. At Queensland-based online retailer My Teddy, customers can choose a teddy and add a special message. Owner Chris Nightingale shares their business story.
1. When did you start My Teddy?
We started trading in July 2004.
2. How did you come up with the concept?
My wife Toni and I both had corporate jobs, but we wanted our own business. We looked at lots of options, but we didn’t have a trade and didn’t want a franchise. My brother in the UK is an embroiderer and he sent my son a bear, wearing a jumper with my son’s name on it. We developed this into a product as an online business and off we went!
3. Describe the My Teddy customer.
Around 95 per cent of our customers are women, mostly aged 25 to 50. It’s a mix of mothers who find online shopping easier than dragging the kids to shops, and professional women who are money rich, but time poor.
Around 30 per cent of our business comes from Western Australia and northern Queensland, where the mining communities have more disposable income.
4. For whom do customers buy a teddy?
We envisaged My Teddy as a gift choice for babies and children. In fact, 60 per cent of our recipients are adults. It makes sense, as adults are harder to buy for. Valentine’s Day is big, as are anniversaries, birthdays, get-well messages, and so on.
5. How did the business grow?
For the first two years, 95 per cent of our time was spent doing markets, expos, Google AdWords and more. It was hard work getting the concept out there. We’ve tried every form of marketing you can imagine. I’ve dressed up in a bear suit, we’ve posted colourful fridge magnets with each order, email marketing, you name it.
After two years, repeats and referrals started to kick in. After four years, we hit 100 bears a week – a landmark. Since then, the rate of repeats and referrals compared to new customers has gone up, comprising 65 to 70 per cent of sales. We’re still hovering around 100 to 120 bears a week, but the spend per sale has gone up. It’s a combination of a small price rise and, as people’s trust in us has grown, they have increased their spend to a “better” bear.
6. How have you maximised your SEO and Google AdWords results?
One of our big lessons was that people don’t search for
“personalised teddy bear”. People search for “christening gift fast delivery” and similar events and needs. Now, if someone searches
for “anniversary gift” or “80th birthday present”, the My Teddy link
will come up and hopefully intrigue them and convince them to buy
We’re also adding a new page for testimonials. Not only does it increase trust with visitors to the site, but also the testimonials are searchable, so it’s good for SEO. If someone writes in saying, “Thanks for the bear! It was the perfect gift for my nanna’s 80th birthday”, that My Teddy testimonial might come up for someone else searching “nanna’s 80th birthday”.
7. How big a drawcard is being able to customise the teddy?
It’s a big attraction; the only drawcard other than rapid delivery.
8. What are some of the most memorable messages you’ve been asked to put on a teddy?
One of our bears was sent to a nun celebrating 60 years of service, which was very well received.
Depending on the season, two or three bears a week are used for marriage proposals. One man who used a bear to ask his wife to marry him ordered another bear to celebrate their first anniversary. One customer sends a bear every year – he’s up to six now!
We also see some real tear-jerkers – bears for adults and babies who have passed away.
9. Do you have any corporate clients?
There’s lots of opportunity in the corporate market and, at the moment, people are turning the My Teddy product into their own solution. A law firm orders a bear for every new staff member, to welcome them to the firm. Another company that has 400-plus women staff members gives a bear to every pregnant staff member.
We’re introducing a smaller, cheaper bear ($39), which we hope more businesses can use for corporate gifts or staff recognition.
10. You offer a 100 per cent, money-back guarantee. While some businesses might consider this a risk, what advantages do you see with this offer?
We are an online business and many people have probably not heard of us before. The guarantee provides a small degree of surety that removes a fair degree of risk for them. In coming months, we’re introducing a preview function, so that customers can see exactly what the bear will look like before they buy it.
11. People can submit photos of teddies. How do you manage that process?
If people email us a photo, we ask them to post it to our Facebook page. This means we don’t have to ask their permission to post the photo on their behalf, plus their friends also see the post – it’s a double whammy.
12. How do you track customer satisfaction?
Three weeks after purchase, a customer receives an email with a request for feedback. We get a 30 to 50 per cent response rate. If a customer says they are dissatisfied, it allows us to address the problem and guides us to a potential area for improvement.
13. How do you manage order deliveries?
Like other businesses, we did the post office dash each day, holding up the queue and taking up time we
could use on other aspects of our business. Once we signed up for eParcel, it was so much more efficient. Enhancements in recent years have made the percentage of problem deliveries fall to below 0.02 per cent. A particularly valuable improvement is that the purchaser receives an email with the tracking reference and a link. No more calls asking where their gift is!
14. What are your goals for My Teddy?
We want to sell 500 bears a week. We’d also like to create sites for other affordable, unique gifts and
15. Do you have any tips for businesses considering allowing customers to customise their purchase?
Make it an easy process. Ours still needs refining, even though we’ve done that many times already. If you offer too many choices, you lose people’s interest, especially men.
16. What are your tips for aspirant online retailers?
First and foremost, you need Google AdWords and SEO. Then, be contactable. Don’t you hate a site that only has an email address – no number, address, anything?
It’s also important to be proactive and honest with your suppliers, especially if you are experiencing cashflow problems.
If you’re working for yourself, you must have a passion for what you do, because you do experience lots of highs and lows.
Useful tools and resources
- MyTeddy offers a variety of teddies, with a personalised message on the jumper and a card.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and the interviewees, and not of Australia Post.
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