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ChannelAdvisor Catalyst: Chums and why you should consider mail order

By Chris Dawson May 18, 2017 - 6:40 pm

At ChannelAdvisor Catalyst this week there were a notable number of mail order companies. With the age of ecommerce well established, it may seem strange to remember that a printed booklet with items to order still works, but just shake out any of the Sunday papers and doubtless one will fall out.

I sat down to talk to Oliver Swinson who is the ecommerce manager for Chums to find out more about their business. Chums is a mail order business founded way back in 1981 and still going strong. They started with newspaper ads and it wasn’t until the late 90’s they got their first website and then in 2008 started selling on eBay.

Chums core proposition is trousers, although today they also sell a much broader range of homeware, garden and mobility products. Their typical customer is a silver surfer, a 65 years plus and male, although often it will be a wife, child or carer who places an order. Many are still computer illiterate but as the years pass an increasing amount are computer savvy, ordering on their iPads or mobile phones. It’s important to remember that today’s retirees are the first senior citizens who have worked, perhaps for the last 10 years of their lives, in businesses with computers. The retired population is changing with the modern world.

After a few years of marketplace selling, Chums realised that they needed some assistance, stock management was the biggest issue and so in 2011 they signed up to ChannelAdvisor. Oliver tells me that they were professional, but what really swung it was that they came to visit the business and understand what they needed. They’re not the cheapest, but Oliver shuddered at the thought of changing and going through the implementation process again – ChannelAdvisor works for them and they’re loyal customers.

The mail order business still accounts for around 75% of Chums business, with around 20% from their own website and 5% from eBay. Both web and eBay are growing substantially but mobile is growing at the fastest rate of all. Somewhat surprisingly when looking at payment methods, cheques and Post Orders are still a large part of Chum’s business.

Amazon and expansion to the USA and Australia are planned (they already now sell in the EU). Chums plan to start shipping to eh US by Q4 of this year.

The biggest takeaway I got from talking to Oliver is that, whilst we might imagine the Internet to be the best way ever of selling, to ignore the mail order side of your business could be a mistake. Even if all you do is to include a single sheet catalogue with each order it could pay massive dividends with repeat business. It’s also a way of re-engaging past customers who perhaps haven’t made a purchase for a while.

Don’t forget that even the mighty Argos still have a paper catalogue – your customers might not mail in a cheque or Postal Order, but if they don’t have a catalogue in front of them there’s absolutely zero chance of them placing an order unless they can remember your website address. It’s an immediate call to action and one that perhaps many online retailers should be considering.

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