Noel Eves, CMO at Swoon Editions, says that balancing an inspirational, technologically innovative brand with “long-term consideration” is the ‘Holy Grail’ of online retail.
Founded in 2012, online luxury furniture retailer Swoon Editions has been built on the arguably contradictory tenets of a “rebellious spirit” and “lofty ambition”. According to Noel Eves, the company’s chief marketing officer, being both a challenger brand and an established player requires a particular business approach.
The quest for the Holy Grail
“My biggest focus in my role is building an inspirational brand that builds on long-term consideration,” he says. “That’s the Holy Grail within the space. But it needs to be built on measurable marketing activity where the customer unit economics are strong.”
Swoon Editions’ product line-up spans the full gamut of furniture, from chairs, sofas, and ottomans, to tables, beds, accessories, and lighting. It’s a brand that operates in a market that includes players such as made.com.
Compared with its bricks-and-mortar rivals, online furniture players boast a number of cost-cutting benefits. Not least of these is the fact that retailers do not need to house stock in expensive warehouses, instead taking pre-orders from customers, allowing items to be supplied and manufactured according to demand.
It is a model that allows some of those cost-savings to be passed on to consumers, who can enjoy lower prices compared with those charged by traditional retailers.
“So much of our focus is on giving customers the confidence to buy online without the need for stores, educating them on the benefits we offer, including design, innovation, and price,” Eves says.
While for Eves, e-commerce is about those “fundamentals”, technology allows online retailers to augment their offerings, to “add value and create disruption in the market to add value to the customer”.
“So this means we can be braver and more innovative on design and also that we can offer lower prices to customers because we take less risk around stock,” he says. “It wouldn’t be possible without the tech we have in place to run it.”
The ‘fundamental tangibles’ of marketing
While many online retailers rely heavily on tactical approaches to marketing such as retargeting to bring customers back to their sites, Swoon Editions instead focuses on “fundamental tangibles” that will “make people interested enough to come back”.
“Probably the best example we have on that is that we launch new products almost every day, as a result of which we see really good engagement with our e-mail sign-up and with open rates,” Eves says. “Many customers are constantly on the lookout for something new and something interesting, so they follow us in terms of the new designs we’re launching.”
Meanwhile, social media plays a major role in promoting the brand, with activity appearing on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter, while a blog channel on the site carries articles on subjects as diverse as brass-studding, what “your crockery says about you” and the hottest trends from Milan’s Salone Del Mobile trade fair.
Eves stresses that creating a seamless experience across social is key.
“First, it’s about brand and it’s about making sure that the visual identity and tone of voice is consistent across the two and gives a frictionless experience,” he says.
“And then the second thing is really about recognizing where customers are in their shopping journey and reflecting that in terms of where you bring them into the site.
“Many customers on social media, particularly on Pinterest, might be quite high in the funnel and they need to be brought through to part of the site that’s more about the business and the proposition and the history before you push them towards product, price and a purchase journey.
“However, other customers are responding to a product they may have seen in the interiors press and want to be pushed further down the funnel so they can check the product out with a seamless experience.”
Swoon Editions is also working increasingly with online influencers, who create “great content” that the company can post and repurpose for its site. “And we’re testing new ways of display targeting where there are some really new interesting technologies,” Eves adds.
Beyond its adtech, Swoon Editions is also innovating in its approach to channels.
“So since the business was founded in 2012 we’ve launched new channels every year,” Eves says. “The best example we’ve got in the last 12 months is that we’ve launched a referral programme that now accounts for hundreds of new orders in every month.”
Online furniture retail is not proving attractive only to customers. The interest shown by venture capitalists is a testament to the extent of its commercial rewards. Accordingly, in 2014, Swoon Editions raised £4m thanks to a Series A investment led by Octopus Investments, with Index Ventures also onboard. The two firms had already raised £1.2m for Swoon Editions the previous year.
But in spite of its popularity among investors and growing consumer demand, Eves admits that the biggest challenge in the online furniture space is that there is still a reticence among many customers to buy their furniture online.
“It’s a £20bn market and only 6% is through online,” he says. “That’s happened because fundamentally the propositions haven’t been good enough. It’s largely traditional retailers who’ve gone multichannel but they’re still hamstrung by the things that affect traditional retailers — slow design cycles, high costs of holding stock and high overheads.”
Pure-play online firms like Swoon Editions are, conversely, more nimble. Accordingly, Eves is clearly excited about technology and some of the emerging tools across areas including virtual reality, visualization, and AI. Yet, it’s a degree of enthusiasm that is tempered somewhat by the realization that much of that tech is not commercially viable at scale.
“Fundamentally for us, the focus is adding tools and technologies to our website that give customers the confidence to buy online without the need for stores,” he says. “We’re really going to focus on adding the things that add value to that.”