Delivering Quality Customer Service Online and Offline
Ecommerce continues to revolutionise retail and alter customer expectations. Ahead of Autumn Fair, we caught up with ecommerce expert, and Business Development Director at Crafty Arts, Natasha Necati to talk about her experiences in ecommerce.
Few businesses embody the rapid growth of online retail as much as Essex based family business Crafty Arts. Trading for 28 years, the business was traditionally shop based, opening the original store in Honchurch Essex, before opening additional stores in Brentwood and Bluewater Shopping Centre.
Everything changed in 2006 when Natasha’s future husband Jay, setup the online store and “began selling products out of his bedroom.” Natasha recounts the early days of online selling, “One order a month was exciting! Jay left his fulltime job and set up the online business in the upstairs of the Brentwood shop, essentially emptying out a cupboard to use as an office with one member of staff who would run orders to the local post office.”
Now the owners of their own warehouse, this seems a world away, but Natasha fondly explains the excitement of the online business taking off, “I was working evenings and weekends and was really enjoying the excitement of starting up the online business. In 2009 I finally bit the bullet and left my well paid job in tenders to go fulltime in the Brentwood shop. I had always wanted to run my own business and take the lessons I’d learnt in previous roles into this.”
The year 2014 was big for the business, with Crafty Arts finally being able to buy their own warehouse and move the entire business under one roof, with a training room, office and small shopfront alongside the warehouse space. Despite primarily being an online business, they still maintain a small shopfront. Natasha feels this is important, “We can facilitate the shop experience for customers who still want that and we love the simplicity and face to face interaction you get with the shop.”
With competition increasing in the ecommerce world Crafty Arts explained what sets them apart from other online retailers. “We’re Quirky, you can’t not be if you’re called Crafty Arts! But we are also agile and we’re able to react, change, and seize opportunities very quickly.”
One such opportunity is the expansion of private label products. “Our own brand products are really exciting and we want to grow this, we know what sells and what good quality is, so we can take this into our own ranges.” Private label products are a fantastic way of strengthening a brand and they demonstrate how far Crafty Arts has come from its early days as a single shop. This year at Autumn Fair, you can network with international manufacturers in our new Sourcing sector to find the perfect private label products for your brand.
Customer experience is another key topic in retail that Natasha has had experience with. She said, “I’ve found that online customers want the same experience they’d get face to face but less, they want a premium service but order online for it to be cheaper. As business owners it’s hard to find that happy medium. Having systems in place is vital to ensure things flow correctly. If an issue does occur it's important to identify where in the process this has happened and then you can correct this. Systemisation is so important.”
This highlights the importance of technology, as well as organisation, when it comes to running an ecommerce business, and when asked what advice Natasha would give to someone starting their own online retail business Natasha continued on this theme, “Make sure you have processes in place from the very beginning. If you don’t have your processes and systems in place, it's very tricky to go back and sort. We grew very quickly and there’s a few things we should have done early which we then had to go back and sort out. Recreating processes can be very messy.”
The role of technology in retail cannot be ignored and Natasha was quick to add that, “having really good tech from the start means your process is sturdy and provides your business with a fundamentally strong base.” This embrace of technology has clearly served Crafty Arts well with the business able to boast awards such as Family Business of the Year, Best Online Business and Excellent Customer Service Award.
Natasha is always interested in new technology in retail and is currently looking to implement Chatbots, “Chatbots are really interesting. Chatbots seemed way too out there two years ago but now we’re seeing them more and more and I am looking to implement them into Crafty Arts.” With customer service resource often stretched for retailers, chatbots offer an excellent solution for dealing with online customer queries, freeing up staff to focus on instore customer service and trickier issues. Some online retailers even use chatbots to handle the entire returns process.
Crafty Arts has come a long way since its humble beginnings but one thing that has remained is the business’ fantastic customer service as it has adapted to the ever-changing needs of the online customer.
Natasha will be speaking on the Retail Skills Stage on the 2nd of September at 3pm and also be speaking on a panel on the same day at 12:15pm. Register for your free ticket for Autumn Fair here.