MZ Wallace Looks Internationally for Growth
MZ Wallace is a designer, manufacturer and retailer of handbags and fashion accessories. In this interview with YuJin Yong, director of digital at MZ Wallace, she discusses the brand's growth strategy, and why cross-border selling is integral to the company's future.
Total Retail: Tell me about MZ Wallace. What type of products does the company sell, and when was it founded?
YuJin Yong: MZ Wallace is an accessories company launched in 2000. Our co-founders, Monica Zwirner and Lucy Wallace Eustice, are both native New Yorkers with backgrounds in the fashion industry. They started MZ Wallace after realizing that they had been struggling to find a bag that worked for the demands of city life. They needed something lightweight, spacious and stylish enough to carry everywhere, every day. Designing bags and accessories that meet those needs is the core of our business.
TR: When did MZ Wallace begin targeting international shoppers? Was there a particular country or market the brand focused on?
YY: We've shipped to international clients since 2004, when we launched our e-commerce site. Earlier this year, we launched international currency on our site and saw a huge increase in international traffic. Therefore, making sure our global website experience was optimized for international customers became a core focus of our 2018 growth plan.
TR: Did MZ Wallace have a strategy to target international customers?
YY: We didn't intentionally target international clients. It happened organically when consumers started discovering our brand in department stores, through word-of-mouth, and over the course of their own travels. In Japan, for example, consumers were already familiar with us since we had a previous wholesale business footprint in the country. Their familiarity with our brand led them to browse our website more frequently, and that interest converted into sales. We also noticed higher purchase and average order rates because Japanese customers were buying multiple items at once to optimize their shipping costs. We were able to target other countries by using our internal data to identify which markets had similarly high browsing traffic and patterns like Japan.
TR: How did the uptick in international traffic disrupt your operations?
YY: One of the biggest problems we began to see was that duties and taxes weren't calculated prior to shipping, which created customer confusion and ultimately resulted in significantly higher costs and lower conversion rates. This confusion also resulted in a high volume of customer service inquiries from international shoppers who were seeking to clarify the costs related to their order, including tax, duties and shipping costs to their home country.
Other complications for our team were coordinating the fulfillment of international packages, which involved multiple touchpoints to ship an order, as well as returns, which involved a manual process requiring users to generate their own label.
There were also challenges with our wholesale business. Due to a lack of visibility, wholesale rates were sometimes misaligned with prices for individual items on our company’s website, creating friction with our wholesale partners in key international markets.
TR: I understand you began working with Flow, a software that simplifies the management of cross-border e-commerce. Tell us about that partnership.
YY: We started the conversation with Flow in the beginning of 2018, with the goal of optimizing our international site experience by summer 2018.
TR: How did Flow help?
YY: Flow enabled us to create customized experiences that provide customers in 130 countries with localized versions of our website. Each local experience calculates duty, tax and shipping costs for customers in their specific countries, displays the correct product catalog for that country, and provides the locally preferred payment methods.
Flow’s console also updated our international shipping process, resulting in considerable cost savings for us. Shoppers are now presented with clear, localized shipping options and accurate delivery times, which are communicated pre-purchase, ensuring that customer expectations are met.
TR: How has MZ Wallace's international business operation improved since it began working with Flow?
YY: We're now able to reach more markets more effectively, enabling better customer experiences in major markets as well as in long-tail markets where there's demand for our products. We've seen an almost double revenue increase in focused countries (Australia, Canada, Japan, U.K.), and we’ve increased our conversion rate. We've also seen new and increased sales in countries that we've never shipped to before.
Our customer service team also receives far fewer questions regarding transactional problems or administrative issues relating to tax, duties, payments and international shipping. This boost in efficiency and increased cost savings means that we can now spend less time fielding operational and administrative questions and more time executing our global strategy.
TR: How has your international customer acquisition and retention strategy changed since implementing Flow? Do you have more international customers than before, and are you planning to grow that area of your business?
YY: We've launched international digital ads and been able to translate our website into Japanese.
We also have increased site traffic and are seeing more new international customers than ever before. In addition, we're finding that returning international customers are making more repeat purchases due to the ease of the experience.
We plan to grow this area of our business by creating even more personalized experiences on our website for international customers and expanding our loyalty program to reach them.
TR: Do you have any best practices you can share for those retailers that may be interested in selling cross-border?
YY: Take a close look at your company’s data — website traffic, customer service inquiries, feedback to wholesale team, direct feedback from in-store experience — and analyze it in order to better understand any potential hurdles or problems that can be addressed by more efficient processes.
TR: What' next for MZ Wallace? What are some of the company's goals for 2019?
YY: At the end of 2018, we had a fully translated site for Japan. In 2019, we plan to launch international marketing campaigns in support of this global expansion into fast-growing markets like Australia, Canada, the U.K. and Japan. We also plan to extend our loyalty program to Canada in 2019.
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