By Annabel Cooper
You know when a Bermudian is about to arrive – because the packages will get there first! Online shopping for us is nothing new, but online shopping locally is, and it has boomed over the last year because of the pandemic. We speak to a variety of businesses about their online offerings, and the challenges and benefits of operating this service in Bermuda.
When most physical stores began to offer certain online shopping options, some pioneers went all out early on with an online-only business model.
“Soltrino”, an online shop selling sun protective clothing, equipment, swimwear, and accessories, was launched by Linda Cook and Michelle Viera in January 2016 – but they initially struggled to get people to buy online within Bermuda.
“Bermudians and residents preferred to go into town,” explained Ms. Viera who added that people were also “going to Amazon or to an online store in the States before they shopped locally.”
They were on the verge of closing down when COVID-19 struck, and suddenly international shopping became difficult. “No one was going away to shop, and summer was coming,” she continued. “So, I decided to do a pre-order format. Customers went to our vendors, picked what they wanted and ordered through us. We did that all summer and it revived our online business.”
“The compound effect of this was that as more people experienced their products, their mindset slowly shifted, especially when they realised it’s rarely cheaper to buy abroad once you add on shipping and taxes.”
“Popular products include a long-sleeved swimsuit for women and hats with neck protection for children. One of their newest items is the ‘Neso Tent’, which is a lightweight, UPF 50+ beach shade.”
For $5, Soltrino will deliver island-wide, or you can arrange pick-up at certain locations for free.
Another online-only store, which launched in September 2020, is “Royalty Book Store”.
Co-founded by passionate reader and educator, Bryce Williams, the website stocks a variety of recommended books, sorted into different categories. These include ‘A League of Their Own’ which are “the best of the best”; ‘Royal Recommendations’ which are books friends have enjoyed, and a selection of children’s books which “focus on diversity and inclusivity”.
They aim to deliver all books to the customer’s door within 24 hours and rush delivery is $5 island wide. Standard delivery is free. They will also arrange custom orders for books not in stock.
Word quickly spread, and by December, business was busy. “We did the Huckleberry market prior to Christmas and a lot of individuals stopped and said it would be great for their parents who didn’t want to come out because of COVID-19,” explained Mr. Williams. “We delivered to a lot of seniors at Christmas.”
DEPARTMENT STORE SHOPPING
Gibbons Company was one of the first stores in Bermuda to offer online shopping back in 2007, but, said CEO Paula Clarke, “what we discovered early on was that local customers were not interested in shopping from local companies online.”
They closed down their e-commerce business in 2012 but opened it again in 2016 for America’s Cup merchandise which, said Ms. Clarke, was “very successful”. Two years later, they built their own complete e-commerce store, which was rolled out in October 2019 and then ramped up in 2020.
“We were in a very good position when we had to close our retail doors in March 2020. For a period of time, we could fulfil online orders for click and collect. Then came full lockdown. When we opened up again, we continued to build our multi-channel retail,” she explained.
“We put a selection of merchandise online and that enables the customer to browse,” she continued. “Not everything is online because there are thousands of styles available, especially in fashion, and we tend to change those styles very quickly.”
With the exception of large furniture, for which delivery is outsourced, Gibbons will deliver island-wide for $10. “Anything that will fit in a midsize van, we will deliver,” she said. “Even very bulky items – duvets, mattress pads, pillows, boxed glassware, boxed cooking pots and pans.”
She believes the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to online shopping locally, but in her opinion, “it’s never going to take over from bricks and mortar.”
In addition to their physical shop on Bakery Lane in Pembroke, computer and gadget store, Red Laser, has operated an online shopping service for 15 years. It wasn’t until the onset of the pandemic however, that customers really began to use this service:
“For years, our website was used primarily as a reference tool for customers looking to purchase items,” explained Joseph Calauro, co-owner and manager. “Most customers would arrive at our retail location with printed pages of items they had seen on the website. Since COVID-19, there has been a huge shift in the way people shop. Most customers now prefer to place their order online and arrange to have it delivered or collected in order to avoid unnecessary contact with others.”
Red Laser delivers all items for free, guaranteeing same day delivery if your order is placed before 12pm. They have even delivered a $25 iTunes card to Dockyard.
Their most popular products are work and study-from-home necessities such as laptops, monitors, speakers, and printers. During the holiday season LED light strips, smart plugs, gaming chairs, and headsets were also popular.
Calauro admitted it was a challenge keeping the website up to date: “The computer and electronics industry is always evolving, and products tend to have a very short life, which ultimately means we are constantly adding and deleting products,” he explained.
He praised his “awesome team” who share all the responsibilities and added that they will soon be launching a new website, with a “completely new look”.
Bermuda Pharmacy Group, which includes the Par-La-Ville, Point Finger Road and City pharmacies, began offering online prescription orders with free home delivery in March 2020. In October, they expanded their online offerings to ‘front store items’ with a $5 delivery charge.
“Any item you can buy in the pharmacy, you can pretty much buy at our online store,” said Bermuda Pharmacy Group Owner, Kiran Shah. “Also, you can request prescription refills to be delivered to your home.”
Their most popular online products have been health and beauty and he said they will be adding a new range of Vichy and La Roche Posay items in the coming weeks.
As a small business, launching an ecommerce website has had its difficulties and costs, not just in terms of money, said Mr. Shah, but also time, especially for a store that can carry up to 5,000 barcodes. “If anyone knows a way to automate this, please call me!”
He also emphasised that customers can sometimes have an unrealistic expectation on price and product range. “The price of an item on the website is the ‘Bermuda price’ – shipping, duty, overheads all included,” he said. “The world-wide web may have the same product on a website based in a country with shorter supply chain line and larger population where the same item is half the price. We simply are unable to compete on price globally.”
In June 2019, Leanne Evans and Carl Vincent Jr. launched “DropIt Delivery”, an online service, delivering groceries from Lindo’s in Warwick. Suddenly, in March 2020, they were, said Mr Vincent, “forced to grow massively. In staffing, in capacity, in quality control, and it forced us to be able to cater to a lot more people, quicker”.
One of their biggest challenges was maintaining food quality but, he continued “we’ve managed to stay on top of it, by limiting how many orders in one vehicle, and the amount of time an order sits. Overall, by limiting the time between the moment it’s shopped to delivered has been the key principle.”
They are currently exploring an expansion to Lindo’s in Devonshire.
The Marketplace also launched an online shopping service at their Hamilton store in September 2019. Expansion followed quickly, to Shelley Bay and Heron Bay and finally their Somerset and Modern Mart stores by February 2020.
Initially, customers could order online and then pick up ‘curb side’ from assigned parking areas. “Feedback was very positive,” said Vernon Hassell, VP of Purchasing and Procurement at The Marketplace. By March 2020 they were also able to offer a delivery service via Sargasso Sea.
With so many people stuck at home in the first half of last year, demand for their online services quickly overloaded them, but said Mr. Hassell, “we hired additional staff to match demand.”
The website operation is also constantly evolving according to customer feedback. Recently, they included an ‘add to order’ feature if you remember something you need but have already checked out.
Getting high-quality produce is a concern for some online shoppers, but they anticipated this in advance. “We put our produce managers and meat managers in charge of selecting the fresh perishables, so we had the most knowledgeable people in the store select that for the customers,” said Mr. Hassell. “Perishable managers are told not to pick anything they wouldn’t buy themselves.”