Lessons for us all from the charity eCommerce sector

This week I finally got a charity onto the show. Andrew Grant from The Leprosy Mission joined me to explain how he runs the eCommerce gift shop at The Leprosy Mission to drive profits that go straight into the charity’s funds to help people with leprosy.

Whether you’re running an eCommerce store for profit or for charity much is the same, but there were a couple of key lessons I took from Andrew’s interview that I want to share with you. And I feel that both of these come from the different approach a charity takes to it’s money making endevours…

If you’d like to hear the interview in full, including more details on the below you can listen right now.

The Benefits of Collaboration

I’ve often found that those working in retail for charities are much more open to ideas, and help than those of us in the pure profit sector. Whether that’s because the people who want to work for charities are more open and have less ego, or it’s because they are forced to keep a closer eye on the bottom line – I don’t know!

During the interview Andrew discussed 2 collaborations which are key to making the business successful:

  1. He waxed lyrical about the partner relationship he has with his site builder (Digital 4 Business). Not only are they recommending ways he could improve the website and conversion rate, they are also helping him work out how to make his marketing work harder.
  2. When providing his Tool Top Tip (the excellent Asana) he mentioned they started using this after a recommendation from one of the team at their fulfilment house. It was clear this has made things a lot easier and more effective for all of them.

Just a nice reminder that we should all listen to our partners and suppliers more – that extra pair of eyes and ears can be invaluable!

Clever Ideas for Extra Sales or Margin

It’s easy to assume that a charity retailer would be more follower than ground breaker when it comes to finding innivotive ways to increase sales. That they follow best practice and keep things simple rather than test and try multiple routes to market.

That’s certainly not the case at The Leprosy Mission. Have a look through these ideas, not all will work for every business, but there may be one of two that you could use to up margin or sales…

  • Customers ordering by post.
    Two-thirds of their sales come from customers posting in their order form with a cheque or credit card details. TWO THIRDS. This is partly due to servicing an older demographic – but are you missing out by not enabling your customers to order by post?
  • Artisan Gifts.
    One of their product ranges are gifts made by the people they are aiming to help, they buy the product from the artisan (helping them out), and they sell it at a profit generating more funds for the charity to help further. Is there a way you can achieve your mission twice with a product? (kind of reminds me of the Customer Generated Products process I discussed with Lee Wilcox from On The Tools).
  • Virtual Gifts.
    Another big seller are the ‘Gifts for Life’ – where the consumer can buy medical supplies, or a donkey to give as a gift rather than a physical gift. This is great for the charity because there’s next to no product cost – so that’s really high profit. It’s also popular with the customer because they know exactly where their money is going. Are their different, service-style products that would fit into your business?
  • Niche-wholesaling.
    As well as selling via the website and catalogue, The Leprosy Mission wholesales it’s products to some niche retailers where their products fit in really well. For example, Christian Bookshops, and Cathedral gift shops. In terms of volume and ordering process they’re not that different to manage than consumer orders – so is this something you could explore as an extra income stream?
  • Psuedo-Wholesaling to individuals.
    As you can tell I wasn’t sure how to label this one! It’s a bit like party selling, or the Avon lady – but not quite. In this instance some of their very passionate customers have been given the ability to gather orders together (for example, from their Church) and submit everyone’s order in one go, earning a commission on the sales. The great thing for the charity is that a lot of these agents give the commission straight back to them! Could you employ this process in your business? Does your target market hangout in groups?

A few ideas there to get your brains buzzing!

Keep Optimising!