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By Alan Coleman on 19 Feb 2014

You Did What!?

In mid 2012 we decided it would be a great idea to be our own customer. If we were to open our own online store, we could “hire” ourselves to market it, giving us a good gawk at the work of Wolfgang Digital from a fresh and important perspective. So how did we get from this great idea to flogging dildos and anal-balls across the country?

Well, the objectives for the “be our own customer project” were to:

  1. Walk a mile in our customer’s shoes.
  2. Have a resource which could be a vehicle for our wildest ideas (digital marketing ideas of course).
  3. Have a website for new recruits to muck around with for training purposes.
  4. Break even or make a little bit of money.
  5. Learn, learn, learn.

Our criteria for selecting which retail business to get into was:

  • High search volumes on Google
  • Average Transaction Values above €50.
  • Low degree of big brand competition
  • People are likely to research and then purchase online
  • Availability of Exact Match Top Level Domain (it was 2012 you see)

So we narrowed our potential venture down to 4 options, due to the 2012 SEO methodology (www.iamcalledwhatido.com), the businesses are self explanatory. Here’s how they fared:

Both IphoneCases.ie and TheSexShop.ie satisfied much of criteria, however it was the high ATVs for sex toys which swung it for thesexshop.ie. That accompanied by the fact that people are incentivised to buy online, thus avoiding the embarrassment of a load of hipsters sniggering at you as you scarper down South William Street with your Miss Fantasia bag tucked into your armpit.

Our Sex Shop Philosophy:

Rather than join the legions of purveyors of smut, we chose to position ourselves as retailers of high end, luxury electrical devices. With this in mind, we selected a white minimalist design which was close to the Apple website in look and feel (yes seriously).

Being a classy operation, we made a conscious decision to have no pictures of mickeys or boobs on the website. We elected to avoid the dirty world of porn and focused solely on sex toys.

The pains we felt?

Shopify made getting started really easy and really cheap. However, we weren’t too happy depending exclusively on Paypal for payment and we felt this was one of the main reasons we were starting with a very low conversion rate (less than 0.5%). So we embarked on the mammoth ordeal of getting a merchant account and then a payment processor on the website. This was and continues to be a painful experience and my heart bleeds for businesses dependent on these disastrous processes for their bread & butter.

A related pain point we’ve experienced is the dreaded fraud letter. 4 weeks after a product has been shipped we get a letter from Barclaycard to inform us the credit card holder has signed a doc to say they never ordered the item and therefore Barclaycard would not be paying us the funds. We’ve of course already paid for clicks and shipping the product, so are at a rather large loss. Asking for the product back is no use. As you might imagine, returns aren’t sought after in the sex toy business. It’s not like Littlewoods where you could buy the whole range of rampant rabbits, have a go of each, send your sister some pictures and send back the ones you weren’t mad for. The really sickening part was the “defrauded” customers were often people we’d had email contact with after they ordered and prior to shipping (obviously a case of significant others/family members spotting the 'offending' order - the "Baby, it wasn't me!" defense).  

The funny parts!

Of course it wasn’t all pain and fraud. I can’t deny our online sex toy shop delivered many a giggle in the Wolfgang office. Very shortly after we put a phone number on the website (customer service is king) “The Sex Line” started to ring. First up was the Irish Independent who went on to publish tips from our resident “sexpert” Brendan Almack in an article on sex toys. Hot Press called next and TSS (the sex shop) featured in their annual sex issue. In between journalists and heavy breathers, we’ve had calls from men wanting us to meet them with their order in remote car parks, eh no thanks pal, and a prank (we hope) call from a poor fella who’d put a mini vibe where the sun doesn’t shine and was having serious trouble getting it back out. I wonder how far “Crowning The Customer Supremo” Fergal Quinn would go to help a customer in need?

There was an occasion when we were discussing the ethics of fulfilling a penis pump order requesting delivery to a well known Dublin boarding school, when our landlord walked in behind us unnoticed, paused for a moment agog at what he was hearing, and scampered back out. He never mentioned the event, but he never looked at me quite the same way after. I can only guess as to which parts of the conversation he heard.

Of course everybody in the office has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of sex toys. At the Dublin Web Summit an excited delegate showed me a picture of a small device and said "You will NEVER guess what that thing is.", “Why that’s the We-Vibe 2!” I replied to the startled technologist.

What we learned:

  1. The power of trends: 
    Shortly after we launched, the book 50 Shades of Grey became the most talked about publication on the planet. This meant sex toys were incredibly topical. We utilized this in two ways: a. it was a PR vehicle to get our new name out in the press. b. we put together a 50 shades of gray bondage bundles to monetise the massive searches for the book.
  2. The importance of Average Transaction Value (ATV): 
    When click costs are expensive, ATV is often the difference between a profitable sale and an unprofitable sale. Influencing ATV is key to sustaining profitability. Our 50 Shades packages allowed us to control ATV. We expanded upon this “bundles” strategy at Christmas when we invented, and sold, the worlds first ever “Sex Toy Hampers” - such a proud moment for the Wolfgang crew and our families!
  3. Rural Ireland has a very high propensity to buy online (Hello Tipperary!): 
    Also Galwegians are screaming lunatics for 8 inch realistic dongs with scrotums. I’m not sure what this says about the men of Galway? Check out our infographic on Ireland’s appetite for sex toys.
  4. The importance of depth of product range: 
    Initially, we tried to curate a sophisticated selection of sex toys. Based on customer queries we rapidly realised there is no accounting for tastes, so we pivoted from the limited curated range tactic and we rapidly expanded our stock of sex toys to such an extent that we couldn’t begin to understand how to use a number of the gizmos we were flogging. Conversion rate increased in parallel with product range expanding.
  5. Different industry, different rules:
    We found that product specific keywords eg “jelly jammers butt plug”, didn’t convert nearly as well as generic searches (e.g. sex shop ireland), which any search marketer will tell you is highly unusual. 
  6. Drop shipping is super efficient:
    We started off holding some stock but fulfillment would be a real pain in the arse, and the cock rings kept going missing(!?) 
  7. Retail is labour intensive:
    I don’t know how you retailers do it! Sourcing products, customer care, uploading products, creating unique descriptions, pricing in a dynamic marketplace... Getting the fine detail right across a tumultuous ocean of complex activities seems to be the key to success. It must be a huge relief to find trustworthy partners to shoulder the workload.
  8. Selling Online is fun!
    The euphoria in Wolfgang office on the 20th of June 2012 when our first order came in was indescribable. We’d taken our idea to first purchase inside of four weeks! We’d just sold a strap on vibrator sitting in a warehouse in the UK to a lady in Co. Clare whom we’d never met, and if we could do that, well, we felt we could do just about anything.

So what does this mean for you?

If you are a digital marketer, why not consider being your own customer? It’s pretty cheap and easy to set up a website on Shopify & find a dropshipper. It’s actually a very useful exercise in navel gazing; you’ll be an awful lot more empathetic with the pain points your customers are feeling and you’ll have a deeper understanding of which gaps you can satisfy for them (yeah I meant it).

I had intended to get this blog post up in advance of Valentine’s Day but missed the boat. Mother’s Day on the other hand is coming up soon so have a gander at these if you fancy getting her something a little bit different. And of course if you have any product related questions why not call The Sex Line (01 6853331) and speak to our resident sexperts.

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