Co-Founder & Director
Richard Longhurst is co-founder and director of Lovehoney – the leading online sex toy retailer in the UK, also growing rapidly internationally as a retailer, manufacturer and distributor.
Give us an overview of your business
We launched in 2002 in Bath, where we are still based, although we’ve since expanded and added additional fulfilment centres and customer service operations in Atlanta and Brisbane. In total we have 240 employees worldwide.
We manufacture around 25 of our own Lovehoney brands, using factories in China. We also have the exclusive license for an official Fifty Shades of Grey range of products, which we secured around four years ago and has been a really big deal for us.
How did you approach getting started with cross-border?
We actually shipped internationally pretty much right from the start. There are different levels of sophistication when it comes to targeting other countries, but on a basic level you can fulfil an order to someone in another country via air mail. We switched on international shipping and looked at who bit, monitored the regions where we were getting the greater share of orders. We launched our actual .com site about four years ago.
You learn pretty quickly too. In Nigeria for example, we found quite a high volume of people not using their own credit cards to make purchases and there are other places where the road infrastructure isn’t particularly good and deliveries go missing.
The general logic behind our appeal for potential customers in other markets is that the internet goes everywhere and people have sex everywhere. Seems to hold true.
Which countries / regions do you currently ship to?
We accept orders from customers worldwide, which is to say we ship anywhere sensible. Our largest market remains the UK, but we have dedicated sites for the US, Canada, Australia, Germany and France. We also have a .eu site that enables shoppers in Europe to pay in euros. Ireland is currently our largest market in the Eurozone.
Any plans for future cross-border expansion (new regions)?
Our next two big launches are sites for New Zealand, which is an obvious extension for us as we can fulfil from our Brisbane warehouse and they speak English, and Spain. Spanish is the missing major language that we don’t serve at present. This will enable us to develop this capability in our platform and potentially scale up to cover other Spanish-speaking countries around the world.
We find that our typical customer segment tends toward being younger, with a 50/50 split of male and female and many are in long-term relationships. We know that because we ask them on the registration form – probably not the kind of data that many other retailers have...
Marketing is also a slightly different prospect for us, as total discretion is important. Customers don’t want our branding emblazoned over the packaging when it arrives and retargeting is also off-limits – people don’t want items they have viewed on a Lovehoney site to follow them around the internet through display ads on other sites. So we have to find more creative ways to market to people.
Do you have any advice for people at early stages of cross-border?
You can start selling cross-border quickly, simply and cheaply. You don’t need to roll-out fancy solutions to start with, you can just send via air mail. You don’t even need to offer a range of currency options until you know demand is actually there and the investment is worthwhile.
Don’t try to build the best option, just suck it and see. It may seem an incredibly obvious point, but it’s also easier to go to places that speak the same language as you. The EU is often referred to as the ‘single market’ but actually it is 27 different countries, many speaking different languages. Whereas the US is a very large single market, with English as the primary language.
What can people learn from your session at the eCommerce Worldwide Summit?
They can get reassurance that they can do it themselves. There is perhaps a tendency to overthink cross-border and make it seem really complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Plus if my business partner Neil and I can do it, anyone can.