Written by Scott Thompson
31dover.com founder David Elghanayan talks to Scott Thompson about taking on industry heavyweights and keeping pace with ever demanding online customers
ST: Tell us a bit about 31dover.com and the journey this far.
DE: The business launched in 2013 and we’ve seen very strong growth in the direct-to-consumer online alcohol sector. We’ve worked hard to make sure our name is getting out there and that we’re distinguishing ourselves from other online alcohol retailers by providing a truly unique and seamless shopping experience. This has started to pay off and we’re seeing a real spike in customer retention and repeat orders – a great achievement in what is still a relatively short period of time. Being recognised in the industry at The Drinks Business Awards as the 2015 Best Online Retailer is definitely a highlight and a testament to the hard work and commitment from our team. As we’re only two years old, we still consider ourselves to be a startup, so to be nominated against big industry names like Waitrose and Laithwaites – and then win – is such an achievement.
ST: What are the biggest challenges currently facing your business?
DE: We are 100 per cent focused on best-in-class customer service. Fortunately our logistics partners are as well, so we’ve had good success in that area. The online customer expects immediate assistance and problem-solving which is a bit of a challenge when you’re a growing business not quite ready to take the leap into 24-hour service. Competition will always be a challenge too. While we’re seeing great shifts in the retailing of alcohol (with more and more consumers seeking unique, craft products and turning to online sites to find them), we will always face a certain element of competition from the major supermarket chains that have a bricks and mortar presence and can provide consumers with products instantaneously. However, with that said, we view our offering and target market as very different to that of the big retailers, and want to continue influencing and educating consumers on new ways to purchase alcohol by promoting our personalised service and informative guidance.
ST: What are the biggest opportunities for your business?
DE: The online alcohol sector itself is our opportunity. It’s a fast-growing sector that is taking on more and more adopters every day and we are well positioned as a best-in-class generalist retailer. We’re seeing a big change in the way consumers drink alcohol too, particularly amongst our core demographic of young, affluent adults with a reasonable amount of disposable income. People are starting to expect more from the bottles they buy – they want something fashionable, unique and quirky – something that is a talking point for them and their peers. With that in mind, it isn’t necessarily enough to just pop to the local supermarket and pick up a recognised brand name anymore. People want the latest drinks they see being served in bars and clubs, and as such, are starting to spend more time researching products to make sure they’re buying exactly what they want. Craft and artisanal drinks are also a massive area of growth in the industry. Again, this is borne out of people’s desire to try something special and different. The UK is home to a wealth of outstanding craft distillers and we want to capitalise on this by championing their products and showing consumers the vast array of new products breaking onto the market.
ST: In terms of technology roll-outs etc, what have you got planned for the next 12 months?
DE: We’re looking at moving to the next level of customer service and offering more information for our customers around the products as well as the last mile of delivery. We already know how important this is for consumers, especially when they’re looking for something special, so the more useful information we can provide them with on the products we offer, the more this will translate into sales. Getting better at personalisation and bespoke merchandising for our visitors is important as well. We’re already starting to see more repeat orders from our customers, but we believe this can be enhanced by additional effective marketing tools that help provide a tailored shopping experience every time.
ST: Is the future of retail mobile, online, physical stores or a mixture of all three?
DE: We’re an online player and mobile has always been an important proposition for us from day one. A physical store is not in the plans for now – online is certainly where we see our future. We feel that being online has a lot of benefits. Firstly, it enables us to reach a much wider pool of potential customers and we use a variety of social media platforms to support and maximise our reach. Secondly, it provides customers with a much more relaxed and stress-free shopping experience – there’s no time pressures that lead to rushed purchasing decisions and we can give a wealth of product information to help people make more informed purchases. And thirdly, we can also market products more efficiently to customers based on their previous sales and preferences – all of which combine to make an overall, well-rounded and enjoyable shopping experience.
ST: How would you describe the shopping experience provided by your company?
DE: Our customers rate us 9.6/10 on the Trust Pilot independent review site. The general feedback is that 31dover.com is easy to use, easy to purchase from, full of great products at great prices. We top it all off with amazing gifting and next day delivery across the UK. Our business truly grows with each happy customer telling someone else about their experience.
ST: What are the challenges of delivering an omnichannel customer experience?
DE: We always want to see our business as one channel and provide an equally good, seamless and unified service to our customers across all the platforms we operate. Naturally, retailing across more than just one platform isn’t without its complications, particularly when these platforms are digital and require constant technological support. Things can, and will, go wrong sometimes but we have a great digital team and strong contingency plans in place to make sure we can react quickly and efficiently to any issues that arise – it’s key to providing a good customer service and therefore we answer customers’ wants and needs and make sure we deliver on them.
ST: What online trends do you see emerging in 2015?
DE: The continually growing demand where customers expect the brands and services they use to be ‘always on’. People expect online retailers to be quicker than ever, so things like timed-delivery could be a big trend, particularly when online retailers want to continue competing against bricks and mortar stores.