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EXCLUSIVE: Hawkins Bazaar gets ahead online

By Retail Technology | Wednesday November 27 2013

Head of online at novelty gifts and toy retailer speaks to about its developing e-commerce business based on a strategic technology platform

Hawkins Bazaar has grown from a mail order business in 1973 to a successful multichannel retailer today, with 34 shops and a relatively young e-commerce presence.

Managing this transition has been essential to stability of the business, according to Gavin Aldred, Hawkins Bazaar head of online, who exclusively told how its Magento Enterprise Edition e-commerce software powered website is an important strategic factor.

Aldred said the company operates its online business “quite autonomously”. “Although the products are shared and we market them in very similar ways, we do have quite a degree of autonomy in the way we can communicate with our customers,” he said.

“We made a decision to grow the online element of the business without contacting our direct mailing database.” He said the focus was on converting more of its existing online customers, communicating with them using more sophisticated digital methods and supporting more organic growth.

Finding a scalable e-commerce platform 

The Norwich-based gift and toy retailer took the decision to replatform its online store late in 2011 and relaunched its Magento transactional website in summer 2012 following a venture capital funded management buyout. 

Aldred said there were several reasons behind this decision. “The first was to grow our organic traffic, where we knew Magento had a good standing in terms of search engine visibility,” he explained. “Secondary to this was that we had often experienced performance issues with the platform we were on, mainly around the two big Mondays in December.”

In evaluating a solution, which also involved looking at the supporting IT infrastructure underpinning its legacy e-commerce system, the retailer decided to find a new scalable e-commerce platform that could handle heavy user loads at peak shopping times.

“Magento is quite flexible in terms of what we do,” he added. “It has so many out-of-the box features we can use that might have had to be added to the budget we discussed with other vendors. That, added to the scalability and flexibility, meant it didn’t really require any custom development.

Hawkins Bazaar carried out the replatforming work with Magento solution partner, Redbox Digital. “We manage Magneto in-house,” Aldred confirmed, “but they give us a lot of support.” And it has since upgraded from version 1.12 to 1.13 just after it was released, delivering further improvements in site stability and performance.

The Magento developer ecosystem was also appealing to the retailer in terms of overcoming any challenges integrating the new e-commerce platform with other existing business systems. “Many other developers are building for Magento and there are so many extensions and modules, so it makes it easier having discussions with other vendors and integration relatively pain-free,” he said.

Maximising future online growth prospects

Given its focus on organic growth, Aldred highlighted the customer targeting capabilities of the e-commerce software as particularly beneficial to the business in the months following the relaunch. “It has been really easy to start to segment our customer base within Magento and then retarget them with promotions,” he said. “That was built into the platform, where it seemed more complicated when we discussed it with other vendors.”

Referencing its search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts to raise the Hawkins Bazaar digital profile with organic searches, Aldred observed: “We went to an SEO agency, which did a technical audit of the site when we first launched. It highlighted a few little technical issues that could be improved on. 

“But when we’d gone to our previous [e-commerce] suppliers, it seemed like massive structural change was going to be necessary to implement the more Google-friendly changes. But with Magento, it almost became a non-issue, in terms of just changing a different module to plug in or some configurations options. We managed to get all the technical SEO issues sorted out in a couple of months. And now we really are reaping the benefits this Christmas.”

Looking to the future, the retailer is looking to capitalise on its current growth through mobile development. “We already made the site responsive to all devices,” he reported, “which was again, a relatively pain-free process, helped by the Magento technology and well managed by Redbox.

“In my mind more people are using m-commerce and I am a great believer in talking to our email database frequently and in different ways, so part of the growth plans for next year is to actually make our emails responsive as well,” Aldred concluded.

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