“Lessons Learned” is a series where we ask ecommerce business owners to share their experiences. For this installment we visited with Nick Jenkins, the chairman and founder of Moonpig.com, a ten-year-old custom greeting card company based in the U.K., with branches in Australia and the U.S. The company boasts more than 14,000 card designs, and processes approximately $60 million in annual revenue.
Unlike card companies that email personalized greeting cards, Moonpig actually prints customized greeting cards, and then mails them to the intended recipients. “We developed a way to enable a combination of using the Internet and digital printing to allow someone to create a single personalized greeting card,” said Jenkins, “I wanted to find a way to allow someone to personalize a single card, and we developed a platform to make that possible.”
“Personalization can add value because a greeting card is all about showing that you know that person well enough to hit the right spot. We do things like spoof magazine front covers so you can write witty comments about your friends and upload photographs of them onto it. It seems to be a very popular product.”
The Ordering Process
“When you order a card, you can either have it sent to you or you can have it sent direct. For example, if I’m going to a party, I want to order a card to be sent to me so that I can then write in it and hand it over at the party, or I can send it direct. But, in either case, you get an order confirmation email from us.
“If you order a card before 2:00 p.m., we will post [mail] it by 5:00 p.m. So, the actual process between ordering and posting can be as little as three hours. The longest part of the ordering process is choosing the card because people like to browse. They like to have a look at lots of different cards. Once you’ve actually chosen the card that you wanted, it takes a couple of minutes to order it. Then, about five days after you bought it, you’ll get another email asking how satisfactory that purchase was.”
“We have our own shopping basket. Our company developed it, and it’s written in ASP and .Net 2.0 framework. The basket is behind the scenes, and we then transfer the details to our payment service provider.
“We always want to control our own shopping basket because using someone else’s shopping basket gives you a lot less control over the way that you can show things. Because it’s a personalized product, you need a different kind of shopping basket than you would for a static product that doesn’t change. For example, when something goes into our shopping basket, from there you can change the quantity or you can change from a standard size to a super size card, you can change the address, and you can also see a preview of what you’ve ordered.”
“There are complications when it comes to sending across borders, but at the moment we use an international payment service provider who enables us to operate in the U.K., Australia and in the U.S.
“Fraud is not an enormous issue for us. If you sell products that can be readily resold, then you have a problem. Personalized greeting cards are not readily resold. So, fraud is a very, very minor issue for us.”
Production and Order Management
“We take the orders at the database and it simply sends a report down through to the production system, which pulls together all the elements of the card – the personalized text, plus the photo, plus the original image–and then combines that at the printing press to produce the card. There’s a barcode on it that is read by the system, which then cuts it to the right size, folds it up, puts it into an envelope, and sends it to the right place. We do all the printing in our own factory.
“There’s a unique order number on the back of every card, which relates to the order and also the card within that order. So, from the order confirmation, we can see exactly where it is. Once it’s been mailed, it is in the hands of the U.S. Postal system [for U.S. customers], but our general policy is that if a card hasn’t arrived on time, we just print another one and send it straight out. No questions asked.”
“I was looking for a two-syllable dot-com domain in 1999 and I threw Moonpig into the computer. (It happened to be a nickname that I had at school.) When I put it into Google there was no reference to Moonpig at all. We ascertained that it was a completely unique word, and that’s very important when you’re trying to choose a brand online.
“Taking two words and putting them in juxtaposition–two words that are normally not found in juxtaposition–it makes easy to find your company. You want to have something that when someone is looking for you, they’re going to find you very quickly. The combination of ‘moon’ and ‘pig’ is not a combination that’s normally found. So, when you search it, you’re pretty much going to find us and that’s it.”
“We license a lot of designs that already exist. For example, we look around for greeting cards that already sell well, and then we approach the publishers and we license their designs from them. We also have a team that develops a lot of product in-house.”
“We are very rigid about producing monthly management accounts. We have a budget, and every month we can see where we are against that budget for this month and also for the year to date. So, if things ever get slightly out of kilter, we spot it straight away. That’s a general commercial lesson that I’ve learned along the way: rigid monthly management accounts are really important.”
“Initially, I was reluctant to get involved with social media because, as a business, I didn’t want to be intruding on people’s personal space. But, we discovered that, if you don’t have a presence on Facebook, then somebody will give you a presence. We had several enthusiastic customers who set up their own official Moonpig Facebook pages. So, we had to put our own page up there just so our customers didn’t think they were joining an official Moonpig Facebook page when they weren’t. So we were sort of forced into it.
“We take a very subtle approach to social media. We don’t like the idea of intruding into people’s personal space when they’re not expecting it. So, we’re there if people want to find us and we’ve got fun stuff on there, but we don’t use it to drive traffic.”
“Customer service is really important to us because, as an online business, the only point of human contact that you have with your customer is when they call in with a complaint. Around 45 percent of our calls are because a card is delayed, and that’s an opportunity to befriend the customer and to really shine and to make them come away thinking this is a fantastic company.
“We like to go a bit overboard with our customer service. If a customer does call in with a complaint, we always try to aim to get a thank you email from the customer saying, ‘Thanks very much. Great customer service.’ It’s the one opportunity you’ve got to really impress them and so we try to take advantage of that.
“A lot of that depends on having the right customer service staff who are informed and have a little bit of flexibility to take decisions and who actually care. They’re not hard to find, but you’ve got to pay a reasonable rate and you got to train them and they’ve got to understand what their job is. For example, we’d rather print another card than try to find out whether or not the card was really late, because it doesn’t cost us much to reprint a card and we don’t want an unhappy customer. We had to explain to our customer service staff that it’s okay to reprint cards even though it’s costing us money. They’re not doing us a favor by refusing to reprint the card. When they understand that we’re very happy for them to do that, then it’s fine. You just have to explain that the company’s priority is to have a happy customer, and they generally get that.”
“We have 80 employees altogether, 40 on the production side and 40 on the website management and content side.”
Search Engine Optimization
“Search optimization is not so critical for us. I think it’s a lot more critical in businesses where a lot of people are looking for products and they don’t know who sells it. There are very, very few people who make personalized cards. So, there aren’t many people looking for them.
“SEO is one of those things we keep an eye on, but in our business it’s very important not to let search optimization dictate the website. The website’s got to function for those people who know who we are and are looking for us. Sometimes, the problem with search engine optimization is that you are told ‘you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that,’ and it makes the website less usable for the bulk of the customers who were going to come visit you anyway. That is the one word of caution I have on search engine optimization.”
“Our main marketing tool is that it’s essentially a viral product. You buy a card and you send it to somebody. It’s a Moonpig-branded product, and people think, ‘Ah, personalized cards from Moonpig.com.’ That’s where most of our business comes from.
“But, we accelerate that through the use of television. We’ve done a series of TV commercials across the U.S. We’re now launching a second wave of and that seems to be working. We use a direct response TV buying agency and so we’re picking up a variety of different slots on network channels and satellite channels and so on.”
“There are lots of things that we’ve tried that haven’t worked; but I never looked at those really as a mistake. Every time something doesn’t work, it gives you a piece of information. It’s just as important to know that something doesn’t work as knowing that it does.
“One thing that we learned along the way is you’ve got to be careful not to spend more money than necessary to find out if something works. So, if you’re trying a particular marketing campaign, think how much money do you need to spend in order to ascertain whether or not this particular channel works. Because, if you can find out for $5,000 that something doesn’t work, then why spend $100,000 getting the same answer?
“We got good in that because we didn’t raise much money at the beginning of the business. Money was tight, so we were very careful with it. For example, early on we tried to develop a business-to-business arm to our operation, offering personalized cards to companies. But we realized that that didn’t work because personalization works very well between two people who know each other very well, but when a company tries it to a customer, it seems overly familiar. So, though the technology works, the human dynamics don’t work for that. So, we’ve had a few mistakes along the way, but I look at those as important learning rather than mistakes. Fortunately, none of them were too expensive.”
“I think we got the brand right from the very beginning. That’s probably one of our biggest successes. A lot of our cards are quite humorous and fun and lighthearted, and ‘Moonpig’ is a name that people want to pass on. If we called ourselves Theonlinegreetingcardcompany.com, we probably would have failed.”