The adoption of a plug-in for e-commerce back end system Shopify has allowed UK men’s fashion house Percival Menswear to dramatically grow its revenues internationally - with its international conversion rate increasing by 180%, its total of non-UK orders by 766%, and cross-border revenue by 897% in just seven months.
On the same year-on-year comparison timeframe, the London-headquartered company also saw a 174% uplift in international traffic conversion rate.
Percival has also been able to stop supporting twin e-commerce websites, which its founder and Creative Director Chris Gove saw as the only one way to attempt non-UK expansion.
D2C, yes - but D2C in only one market, no
Based in Hackney, East London, Gove’s company is dedicated to ‘subverting the classic’ assumptions about men’s fashion, and whose business model is to sell direct to the customer to ensure its products are as cost-effective as possible. He says:
The wholesale business model in my industry is that you will design a collection in sample form, make one of every piece that you would like to produce a year ahead of time, then sell that to the buyers. They then they put in their orders and you make a production run which takes about six, seven months…and then you deliver in store.
But the problem with that is it's about a year before you make any money. Doing the production on any run of clothes is thousands of pounds and as we saw with COVID, if all the shops go under there's no way to pay the bills.
Gove - who says his work is inspired by “minimalist architecture, monochrome marble, matte black coffee pots, Japanese wood block prints and David Lynch” - has won huge credit by his clothes being seen on A-Listers like Sebastian Stan, Kit Harington, Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Chris Evans.
However, given his D2C (direct to consumer) business philosophy, it’s been far from easy to match that high-profile with easy access for non-UK based potential buyers.
To offer international customers access to its range, Percival felt it had to set up a parallel US website to its main UK one - the latter handling all international markets except the United States.
But for all non-UK markets except the US, Percival offered pricing only in British pounds, so global shoppers had to estimate the purchase price in their local currency.
All sales made this way were subject to transaction fees and less than immediately transparent because of international currency rates, de-incentivizing shoppers.
A further blockage to non-UK purchasing, says Gove, was that he couldn’t present potential international customers with accurate duty and tax calculations, or even an option to prepay those fees at checkout.
We were seeing a lot of organic traffic from primarily the US and some regions in Europe. And the problem with Shopify is that although it's a great platform for a million things, when you start trying to serve new regions with different price points and trading more globally it doesn’t take into account all the import fees and other shipping fees and things you might incur. It also won't give you a native language checkout - and for conversion in other regions, things like that are really key.
Our conversion was really healthy in the UK, but for abroad it wasn't. We were doing it just natively on Shopify and summing some costs and adding high shipping costs on at the end to account for a lot of things.
All this was making D2C outside the UK expensive, as customers would have to pay extra charges when their order arrived. Finally, the non-US site was only able to offer a limited set of payment options - and if buyers just went to the UK site in frustration, costly international shipping rates posed one last barrier to conversions.
Gove says he knew the situation couldn’t go on any longer, and maintaining a parallel site like this was also a drain on his fast-growing - but still small - company’s resources.
Luckily, he found a solution via a conversation with another dot com entrepreneur who had faced the same international payments problem.
That’s in the form of an end-to-end cross-border ecommerce solution called Global-e. He says:
What Global-e gives you is a native language checkout for every country on the planet. So immediately, the overseas website visitor can trust what you're seeing at their end because there's no confusion over what the subtotal, total, shipping costs, and the T&Cs are.
That's really important, obviously, because when it comes to online shopping, where you're not in the shop, you're not touching the fabrics and seeing the product itself, and those little conversion levers that help the customer really benefit you as a retailer.
‘Selling at a scale we just couldn’t before’
Gove says that the only other way to have offered this localized support would have been to separate URLs with a site in multiple languages, which was not practical for a company of his size.
He also loves the fact that the product allows him to have an accurate pricing ‘coefficient,’ i.e., tailor specific product pricing to a region instead of blanket pricing.
All in all, though, it’s the automatic handling of all the US state taxes and other fiscal technicalities at checkout in international markets that makes his job a lot easier as a non-US based business owner.
Next steps for Percival - named, incidentally, in honor of Gove’s grandfather, who passed just as he was starting the business - is a big push into the New York and LA markets, as the team have noticed a natural affinity of its unique offerings with some audiences there.
Gove concludes he is still very happy with his primary ecommerce engine. He says:
We have Shopify to manage all our product inventory, and the backend is still perfect. We will keep on using this—we just have this very useful piece of cross-border plug-in capability on top and at check out as an application.
We don't really have to do anything with it, we pay the vendor a small rev share—but it's essentially opened up the world for us to sell to at a scale we just couldn't before.