BUYING "WELSH" ON-LINE
e-Commerce and our contribution to the
Welsh Economy

by Karl Welsher

 It was not to long ago, that there were only two 'easy' ways to get a gift or product from Wales: one was buying when you were on holiday or asking a relative or friend to buy it, pack it, ship it or bring it with them.  Neither of which had much sense of spontaneity nor did they work well for last minute shopping.  A distant third was "catalog shopping". Unfortunately most UK or 'Celtic' catalogs available in the US had few, if any, Welsh products, and if you had a Wales based catalog ordering would either involve an expensive telephone call or an extended wait for service through the postal service.

     A "new" phenomenon has hit the market so to speak, which has changed all of this e-commerce or electronic shopping.  By using the computer and email, one now can shop SAFELY pretty much anywhere in the world, but do we? When it comes time to give a gift, have a hankering for a special taste, etc; Do we think Welsh? /Do we buy Welsh? Are we, as members of the North American Welsh community, doing all we can to support the Welsh economy?

As easy as e-shopping has become, I am still quite surprised at the relative few people who make regular use of it.  So I asked five Welsh business people to take part in an e-mail interview about e-shopping, its ups and downs, and how we, as North Americans, can better use Welsh businesses.  The following interview offers a wealth of information on e-shopping, what you should look for, what you should look out for, and even some suggestions for holiday shopping.  For those people who categorically will not shop online out of "fear", please read Faris' great personal story about ordering something via the telephone!

     In choosing the participants for this article I attempted to find a good cross section of business concerns: several are existing brick and mortar establishments which added or adapted to e-commerce, others are Internet only businesses, and one is an Internet business which is now adding a brick and mortar division. All are business with which I have had previous contact, either by purchasing goods or services from them or through contacts for Society activities. Finally, all of these people and their companies have given good to great customer service in the past and that was one of the top reasons for choosing them. The five are
Barbara Vaterlaws of Cardiau Ty'n-y-Coed, Bridget Shine of the Welsh Books Council, Faris Rauf of Cymru1, Paula Dauncey of Wales Direct, and John Thomas of "John the Grocer".  A list of their websites is at the end of the article.

The Interview:
Is your business/concern only an Internet operation or is it an extension of a storefront or catalog business?

Paula: Wales Direct has only existed online since it's launch in 1998, however, we are about to open our first bricks and mortar shop in Brecon very soon, so watch this space!
Bridget: It is an extension of the Welsh Books Council's book distribution service that used to supply the book trade, but that now enables individuals to order books electronically, through our secure server wherever they may live in the world.
John: My business is the export of traditional groceries to the ex-pat communities all over the world. 70% of my turnover derives from my web-site www.johnthegrocer.com and the rest via telephone orders ++1443 485997 or email john@whatdoyoumissaboutbritain.com
Barbara V: My business was producing greetings cards for retail ou tlets and direct customers.  To the latter I offer personalization.  However, it was not very profitable, although I still offer these services.  I now am mainly concerned with wedding stationery, English, Welsh or bilingual - or any other language!
Faris: We are effectively an Internet-only business, though we are happy to speak to people and take orders over the phone too.

Has using the web expanded your reach into markets that you would not have been able to in the past?  What ways?
P:The main reason for launching Wales Direct was to reach the ex-pats and overseas tourist market that were previously not being served.  We knew that people of Welsh heritage would welcome the opportunity to buy Welsh products without having to visit the country and the Internet provided us with the perfect opportunity.
B:Yes! Recent improvements to our website www.gwales.com have meant that individuals, anywhere in the world, can now buy books directly from us. We have a huge selection of Welsh-interest and Welsh language books that cater to all ages and tastes. www.gwales.com is extremely easy to navigate around, and has a wealth of reviews and catalogues that are useful resources for book lovers.
J:Yes, from an initial 80 items, the website now has more than 600 ideas for items Britons living abroad crave but cannot buy locally. "Did you know there's no dried milk in Denmark, for example, or no flour strong enough for use in bread machines in France?" Read an e-article at:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_east/3006368.stm.
BV:I had hoped to get a lot of business on-line, especially from customers with Welsh connections in North America.  In spite of advertising in Ninnau and Cambria I had very little business, although a small number of satisfied customers.
F:Even if we were not an ISP, I have no doubt that whatever business we were in it would be unable to flourish without being able to make use of the power of the Internet. The Internet has no geographical, physical, religious or political boundaries, which means that we can and do offer our services, or at least some of then, to individuals and businesses throughout the world.

Does the opening e-markets make smaller ventures more viable?  What support services have helped you (web providers, "PayPal" etc)?
P:The Internet allows businesses of all sizes to have a worldwide presence. Wales Direct is a good example of a small company operating highly efficiently in a niche market.  Wales Direct uses a third party payment provider called SecurTrading, which is essential for our customers' and our own security.  We also use the Royal Mail heavily for all our deliveries.
B:It means that our books are easily available to people who may only want to buy a few books at a time.
J:If you are small then you still encounter the same barriers to entry as in any other business. In my field, however, I do not have to compete with the large supermarket chains, as they have not entered this market. I had support from my bank HSBC and Barclay Card who offer me Internet merchant services at a reasonable rate.
BV:I have not had any support services, except a facility from my bank to accept payments - now discontinued. 
F:Absolutely. By tapping the power and reach of the Internet, a small "ma and pa" company in the middle of nowhere can compete on generally equal terms with a huge multibillion-dollar conglomerate in the heart of a capital city. Low or no-cost internet payment systems such as Pay Pal, WorldPay and similar services are all important, as they mean that you don't have to have complicated arrangements with banks and credit card companies in order to receive payments via the Internet.

How do you give good customer service--when you don't see/speak to the customer directly?

P:Wales Direct place huge importance on delivering good customer service and we manage this in a number of ways.  Firstly, all our processes are clearly explained on the website so customers know exactly what will happen when they place an order.  They will receive several emails from us confirming the order, dispatch and delivery. We actively encourage dialogue with our customers on-line and reply to any requests promptly.  We also offer a telephone help line should customers wish to speak with us directly and in all, our customers seem to be very happy.
B:Oh, but we do speak to our customers - electronically! Customers receive an e-mail from us acknowledging their order and we pride ourselves on a swift dispatch and a prompt response to any queries customers may have.
J:We deliver worldwide with great efficiency. Some examples: - to USA & Canada in approx 4 days, our average to Europe is 3 days and to the Rest Of The World in an average of 5 days. You can order in one country and send to another. Useful if you want to send a box of chocolates to someone at home as you get to pay UK-to-UK postal rates .
Personal service, you can either telephone (++ 44 1443 485997) or email me john@whatdoyoumissabourtbritain.com if you wish to discuss anything.  Many of my customers now just ring me or email me to help me keep up with the gossip. (Valley Boy you see!)
On the rare occasions I do not have the exact brand you order and it will not be in stock within a few days, I will substitute with a similar British product of GREATER VALUE and if you are unhappy with that I will re-credit your card.
I offer a "real" corner shop service to you anywhere in the world. No order is too small and there is no minimum charge. If all you want is one packet of crisps then I will deliver just that! At  www.johnthegrocer.com every order is important. My aim is to give an excellent old-fashioned service TO EVERY CUSTOMER. And if you are unhappy with anything I send you, I will replace, no questions asked.  I am a very proud Welshman and run my business with the values taught to me by my Mam.
Shipping can appear to be expensive as it is calculated on weight not the price of the products. Remember that these products have to come thousands of miles to your door. I price my goods to include the cost of shipping so that there are no nasty surprises once you get into the checkout area. Now if you want to order goods that you feel will weigh more than 3kilos (just over 6lbs) then email me or phone me, as it is better for me to quote you on your order.
BV:Email is very helpful and I feel I have had a personal relationship with customers - perhaps because email is very informal and chatty.
F:The bottom line is that you have to make sure the product is good. But by spending time answering emails, and trying not to use "form letter" type replies, the customer always feels special and appreciated. Which they are!

What would you say to the "scared of e-shopping" person who really wants to buy that gift from Wales?
P:Wales Direct provides reassurance every step of the buying process and as we know that many people are still nervous of providing their credit card details on-line or may not even have a credit card, we offer a variety of payment options, including payment by cheque, etc.  We have prompt delivery levels and if there is any problem with the goods we will replace them or refund your payment immediately.
So if you really want to buy that special gift from Wales, you can be assured that you will be looked after by Wales Direct.
B:Ordering books on-line from www.gwales.com is extremely easy and very safe. You are able to see whether or not the books you want to buy are in stock before you order, which avoids any later disappointment. Why not order with a friend? That may save you something on the postage!
J:Only deal with traders who are prepared to put their full postal address on their site. There is a link on my front page for you to find out all of my business details and links to BBC and Telegraph articles about me.
Banks insure you against Internet fraud and they are able to recall funds from the trader if your concerns are reasonable.
Remember that my merchant bank have gone through a whole security process to enable me to receive funds. They have done personal checks on both me and the security of information transfer on my site. They have access to my whole banking history in this process. Banks insist on a level of encryption of 40 bit, my site is 128 bit encrypted which is the highest currently available.
BV:Sorry, I can no longer help as my on-line payment facility is discontinued.  However, they can email me, the difficulty being payment.  One customer sent me US dollars in the post, which is OK as my husband travels to the USA frequently.  The sum was so small I was not worried about non-arrival.
F:I will answer this by telling you a story. I once ordered something by credit card over the phone. The store was actually quite close to me and it was arranged that I would go and collect the item once it had arrived at the store (it was out of stock). I went to collect it on the agreed day (I was in the area, so I hadn't called to make sure it had arrived). When I arrived and identified myself, the salesman took a scrap of paper from his pocket and said "oh yes. This is you isn't it (showing me my details and credit card number)? Sorry. It hasn't arrived yet". Fine. But the next week I had a call from my credit card company. My card had been used fraudulently. Luckily they were on the ball and the purchases had been declined. I went back to the store the next week. The item had arrived. The salesman put his hand in his pocket to look for -- you guessed it -- that same scrap of paper so I wouldn't have to give all my details again. But he'd lost it. It must have dropped out of his pocket at some stage. And the bad guys picked it up and used it.
Now compare this to an Internet transaction. A lot of the time the company you deal with doesn't get close to your credit card number. This is all processed by computer, completely and utterly securely. Human beings don't even see it. They don't have to write it down. They can't lose it.
Sure, there have been reports of company X accidentally revealing customer information from time to time, in rare cases with credit card numbers and so on too. But this is RARE, and is always dealt with in such a way as to ensure the customer is always protected from potential fraud.
The moral of this story is that, in my opinion, ordering goods over the phone is actually less secure than doing so on the Internet. But you have to use common sense in picking the companies you deal with, both on and off the Internet!

Can you give me a suggestion/recommendation of a good "Welsh" Christmas idea and when should folks from the US have their orders in?

P:Wales Direct has a vast array of lovely Christmas gift ideas from hampers and tableware through to books and toys with a Welsh theme. We've already started taking orders for Christmas and will be busy now right up until a few days before.  However, if you live overseas, you should really get your order to us by the first week of December to allow for any delays in shipping due to the Christmas rush.
B:How about organizing a Welsh book circle? You could cover a range of subjects including history, the classics, and contemporary fiction. It would be enormous fun! We would recommend placing orders by early November to avoid disappointment.
J:I am in the process of compiling a Christmas Shelf, Christmas Hampers and Christmas Cake Making products now in September. My shippers tell me that hampers can be delivered right up to Christmas Eve and therefore ordered on the 20th of December. I would do it at least 10 days before that if I were you.
BV:I can make Christmas cards with a Welsh flavour, bilingual, Welsh or English.  I would think, as a guideline orders should be in by the beginning of October if the customer requires a fairly large number of cards, which would have to be posted by surface mail.  If the customer is ordering something not on the website they may want samples in advance, which will take more time.
F:Errm, well, how about a vacation in Wales :-) Other than that I'd have to plug our own products and services, of which maybe domain names (www. [yourchoice].com and [youraddress]@[yourchoice].com) come to mind as being good options. Add a -cymru to the end of the domain name (e.g.mychoice-cymru.com and you have an unique Welsh domain name you can keep forever if you want.


Websites:
Wales Direct:  www.walesdirect.com
Cardiau Ty'n-y-Coed  www.welsh-cards.co.uk/
Welsh Books Council  www.gwales.com/
John the Grocer  www.John the Grocer.com/
Cymru 1 www.cymru1.net/