Retailer Spotlight: Green Trousers
One subject that is always sure to split opinion in the industry is internet-only retailers. Is it possible for an online retailer to marry up the customer service requirements demanded in the industry on a digital platform? THIIS caught up with David Lynch, CEO of Green Trousers, to find out how the company has tried to bring a personal service to an online world.
Green Trousers, named after the green coloured trousers worn by occupational therapists, is a website selling a wide range of independent living and mobility products.
The website officially launched at the end of last year but founder David Lynch is no stranger to the industry. In 2009, he launched Lynch Healthcare, an award-winning manufacturer of patient handling and bathing equipment aimed mainly at public sector customers. The company achieved an impressive seven-figure turnover in its fifth year of trading and are on target for a 60% growth in sales this year.
If at first you don’t succeed
Following the success of Lynch Healthcare, the entrepreneur turned his attention to his online venture but told us that Green Trousers was not his first bite at the digital cherry.
“The initial concept is one we came up seven years ago and we tried something similar back then; just with a lot less experience,” explained David. “We added e-commerce to our website at the time but it didn’t quite work for us so we decided to wait until we could do it right.”
With Lynch Healthcare growing steadily, the private market growing and a successful round of fundraising, David decided to use the knowledge gained from the first attempt and refocus his attention again on building a comprehensive online store in late 2015.
Discussing the development process of Green Trousers, David told us: “We understood the level of time and investment needed to make it a success, so we spent six months looking for the best e-commerce platform. Eventually, we invested in one of the UK’s best bespoke platform developers. Importantly, we chose to go down the route of working with a partner that had experience in scalable e-commerce websites.”
The build of the website took around 12 months from start to finish and it was during this time that David also found a mentor with a background in successfully launching e-commerce sites whose advice and experience proved invaluable.
Using the experience and expertise from a number of different sources, the new website successfully launched in December 2016.
“It took a long time to build because it was essential that we didn’t just have a website that looked good, but most importantly, had the functionality needed to ensure a good experience for our users,” said David.
It would seem it was worth the wait, with the website receiving good traction early on with customers and being shortlisted after only four months for two key business awards; the North-East Business Awards Digital Media Award and Innovation Award.
David explained his short-term goals for the website: “Our goal in the first year was to develop a customer base that was going to repeatedly purchase from us. Happily, we have started to see this happen as people who use the site understand how trustworthy it is. It is important to us that when we say we will deliver something, it gets delivered on time.
“Over the next half of the year, the plan is to scale the business up in terms of attracting new customers and also increase the order frequency of existing customers.”
The importance of trust
In an industry where the products being sold can play a major role in the quality of a users’ life, being able to trust the person selling the goods is of the utmost importance. This matter of trust becomes even more prevalent when it comes to the internet, which has a natural level of distrust associated with it.
“Digital marketing is an area we have really embraced and although I can’t give away all of our ideas and secrets, I can definitely say that social media is a big one for us” David Lynch
For David, this was a fundamental issue that he was keen to overcome.
“Making sure that trust is there is key for us. First impressions count and I think when people come onto the site, there is an immediate level of trust here because of our professional industry experience. We put a lot of effort into making sure people know the team behind the website; our faces, stories and experience are all visible.”
Showing the team’s faces and backgrounds helps remove that shrouded, veiled nature of an internet-only seller and displays a degree of openness and transparency which help build customer trust.
A personal service in a digital world
One of the most unique and important elements of the Green Trousers website is the addition of a live chat feature, which aims to provide the valuable advice, guidance and support to customers online.
“Having the live chat available from 7 am to 11 pm every night, 365 days a year, gives people the chance to ask questions and adds a very personal touch to the website.All of us who contribute to the customer service and support side has vast experience in the industry.” David told us.
“The feature really is used a lot, often by those early on in their buying process. They take us through their needs, measurements, situation and environment before asking for suggestions and recommendations for the best solutions to meet their needs.”
As well as the live chat, David explained that Green Trousers also aims to respond to emails as quickly as possible, provides a 30-day, no quibble returns policy for customers making higher-end purchases and also operates a phone service for shoppers to talk through their needs.
Discussing the need to find the right balance between service and scalability, David said:”It was a bit of a dilemma; companies like Amazon, for example, are almost impossible to get on the phone and from a business perspective and scalability, I understand the reasoning. Given our industry, however, we knew that having that personal phone service was vital if we wanted to provide a good service to customers.”
Realising that sometimes certain situations and products require face-to-face interaction and installations, Green Trousers also works closely with the team at Lynch Healthcare, passing on enquiries to their team of fully trained assessors who cover a wide amount of the UK.
“We also have something called the ‘Green Gloves’ service,” mentioned David. “The site is set up to use a courier service for the everyday, simple assistive technology products on the market. For equipment that is bigger or more complex in its nature, we offer a service where our own employees deliver it by hand.”
The service comes at an additional cost, however, David says feedback from customers has been great and it gives customers the freedom to make their own choice about the level of service they want.
Getting innovative online
One of the biggest learning curves since launching the website for the company has been understanding how to grow and develop online.
“The experience has been very different to the way we grew offline with Lynch Healthcare, especially with the approach we take to our brand and our marketing for Green Trousers,” said David.
“Digital marketing is an area we have really embraced and although I can’t give away all of our ideas and secrets, I can definitely say that social media is a big one for us and we are doing a lot of informative blogs, including guest blogs from well-known figures like our brand ambassador Matt Hampson.”
Informative blogs give Green Trousers the opportunity to really show off their knowledge to the website’s users and again, build that all-important degree of trust. The company has also identified key dates in the year which they tailor their content around.
“For Children for Need, we put a picture of Pudsey Bear on the website wearing green trousers and donated an amount from the sales generated that day to the cause,” added David.
“We really are trying to be innovative and different in the way we are doing things and think we are certainly embracing digital marketing in a way that many companies don’t in the industry.”
In the future
Now eight months into its first year, David’s second online attempt at a comprehensive e-commerce platform is proving popular as he looks to work with more suppliers and vastly increase the product range.
“One of the things we learned over the last eight months is we need suppliers who are able to work with us as we scale up. We are finding that there are a few products on the site where suppliers are not really geared up to be able to meet our lead times and give us the reliable service that we promise our customers.
“Ultimately, the main goal is to become the largest, most comprehensive online store in our industry.”
Has Green Trousers managed to find a way to merge the needs of customer service with an online focused business model? It would certainly seem they are taking all the steps necessary to argue a good case for it.
The website for the company is www.greentrousers.com