Howards Storage World has been synonymous with storage and organisation in Australia since the business was established in 1997. But it hasn’t been plain sailing for the retailer. In 2016, the business was placed into voluntary administration but continued to trade through its 29 company-owned retail outlets. In recent years, much of the focus has been on growing online sales and in 2018, after forming a partnership with tech company BigCommerce, the retailer decided to take its online s
e store to the next level. “Between 2013 and 2016, we were getting an average of about 25 per cent growth in the online business, which outstripped the growth in our bricks and mortar stores,” Henry Uen, chief operating and financial officer at Howards Storage World, told Inside Retail. “Around 2017-18, it was very clear that we were at crossroads – stick with what we had, and suffer the consequences, or move to unifying our systems and replatforming our website.” The decision to replatform the e-commerce site was based on constraints around search and SEO capabilities with the old system. The goal was to have an online representation of the retailer’s full product portfolio, and make it easier for customers to search and find what they needed. “We really targeted the mega menu to make it much easier for customers to navigate. We’ve seen great results from that. Our conversion rate is up about 17 per cent, and I’d like to think that’s very much a matter of us making it much easier for customers to get around and find what they’re after,” Uen said. Fortunately, after working on the project for about two years, the revamped website was launched just a week before the nation was plunged into Covid-19 lockdowns. “It’s interesting, we were able to get the immediate benefits of improved search, better product layouts, mega menus being better organised and easier to navigate. And frankly, if we had not taken the earlier decision to replatform then we would have been significantly constrained through the lockdown period,” Uen said. As was the case for many in e-commerce, Covid-19 lockdowns boosted sales. In the first half of this financial year, Howards Storage World saw a 250 per cent increase in online sales. There has been a 149 percent increase in year-over-year revenue, a 38 per cent increase in conversion rates and a 44 percent increase in users. With the high volume of traffic coming through the site, the retailer did face operational challenges in meeting demand, but Uen said the business managed “to utilise the best of the platform, and deliver the results for the customers”. Tapping into trends Decluttering and organisation has long been a subject of fascination for consumers with The Home Edit and Tidying Up with Marie Kondo among the latest shows on Netflix to pull in viewers. Now, social media is proving to be a powerful tool through which people can showcase their organisation efforts to the masses, with many claiming it to be a stress reliever. During lockdown periods, in particular, many took the opportunity to organise their home and work space. Howards Storage World has positioned itself as a resource for people with its own video, content and imagery to educate and inspire consumers to tackle their organisation projects. “I’d like to think that we’re actually quite instrumental in getting that mindset across this consumer base. We’ve always been about harmonising and storage, decluttering and making sure that people’s environments are well organised,” Uen said. Member loyalty Now, much of the focus for the business is on improving backend systems and the deployment of click and collect. The retailer is also planning to improve the transparency of store inventory so that customers can choose whether they want to buy online or in-store, and which store they want to go to. “All those activities really drive ease of use for customers,” Uen said. The next phase for the business is about enhancing its Inspirations member reward program, which was not part of the website previously, and its integration across the whole business to increase loyalty activity.