With his technology nous, Scott Weavers-Wright makes the ongoing development of niche multichannel retailer Kiddicare look like child’s play. Joanna Perry visits his new superstore.

The room fills with a child’s laughter as Retail Week meets Kiddicare partner Scott Weavers-Wright. And that’s just his cheeky young son running around the office of this decidedly family business. We also meet his wife Elaine briefly, who is his partner in the business and the company’s chief buyer.

Like most successful specialist retailers, Kiddicare gives the impression that it is a business with a passion for its products and its customers. If you don’t have children, you could be forgiven for not having heard of Kiddicare. The company is more than 30 years old and has been trading online successfully for nine years, but the opening of its 60,000 sq ft, three-storey Peterborough superstore in April – located next to its massive distribution centre – has taken the business to a new level.

The£16 million investment has been bolstered by another£500,000 that has been ploughed into an IBM platform to allow the continual evolution of the company’s e-commerce site.

Weavers-Wright explains that, 10 years ago, Kiddicare was a small family retailer. Its investment in new facilities and technology will ensure it can continue expanding. “We will treble the online business in the next two to three years,” he says. “We haven’t moved here to stand still. Our growth has slowed in the past few years because we were maxed out.

“We are radically changing how we do things. The bottom line is that we have made a conscious decision to be efficient.”

Technology is playing an important part in maintaining efficient customer service at the superstore. Weavers-Wright opted for customer kiosks as a way of allowing shoppers to serve themselves in the giant store, but admits that “it was a leap of faith, because there is no kiosk solution that you can buy off the shelf”.

After picking suitable kiosk hardware, he worked with technology integration partner K3 to create a user interface using the Microsoft.NET development framework, with Microsoft Dynamics NAV as the back-office software.

The kiosks offer a variety of options. Customers can order products in the store for home delivery or choose to queue to pay at a manned desk, or complete their transaction at a kiosk and go straight to the collection point.

The distribution centre serves both store and internet orders, but to make sure that customers who have come to the shop are not kept waiting, they are given priority in the order that goods are picked.

The kiosk system’s content is pulled from a mixture of the K3 warehouse system and the IBM web system. Weavers-Wright is planning the second version of the user interface already, which will make use of the user-generated content it is amassing through its web site.

All customers must order at a kiosk, even if they do so with the help of a member of staff, and about 40 per cent choose to pay at the kiosk; this figure rises to 50 per cent on a Saturday.

User-friendly service

Even more important is the investment that Kiddicare has made in its web and back-office systems, all of which are designed to give online customers the best possible experience.

At the beginning of September, the warehouse will go live with an order picking and packing system developed by K3, which increases the automation of order processing. This is just as well, because Weavers-Wright has plans to fill the remaining spare room in his warehouse with more stock and the new system will be able to process orders quicker.

One strategy to enable continued growth is to keep expanding the range, for instance if Kiddicare were to introduce children’s bikes. Weavers-Wright notes that the age range of products he sells has also risen since the law changed in 2006, which now requires children up to the age of 12 to be restrained when travelling in a car using car seats or booster cushions.

And whether the warehouse is filled with new product categories or more of the same, he sees the continued development of the web site as a necessity if he is to keep attracting customers. He says: “The customer has always been king on the high street. We have decided to make the customer king on the internet, too.”

Working with e-commerce expert Salmon, Kiddicare is using a selection of closely integrating web applications and services to deliver a site where customers can get the maximum value from user-generated content.

Thirteen weeks ago, the retailer went live with PowerReviews and now has 14,000 customer reviews on its site. Kiddicare has already been able to integrate PowerReviews with its Endeca site navigation system. For instance, when you click through to view its range of cots, you can narrow your choice by how highly they have been rated by other customers or even by clicking on specific product tags in the reviews, such as “easy to assemble” or “newborns”. Further developments planned around social networking and site navigation will take this concept further.

Kiddicare has also taken the brave decision to relegate its own product descriptions in favour of what its customers think about its products. In both product lists and on individual product pages, shoppers are presented with customer reviews as the primary content.

The company has been successful in attracting new customers – 57 per cent of the daily traffic to the site is new, unique visitors – and will now focus more on retaining them. Weavers-Wright explains: “We have been poor and allowed competitors with e-mail and catalogue campaigns to get a jump start on us. We have spent so much money on acquiring customers and not enough on retaining them.”

To address this, Kiddicare has signed with a third party to create dynamic e-mail campaigns. These e-mails will, for instance, alert customers to products that will complement what they have purchased already, instead of generic e-mails, which the company has tried and feels do not work.

Weavers-Wright believes that many customers’ perceptions of buying online is still not good. “We only sell stuff on our site that is in stock – and when we say we are going to deliver something, we deliver it. Customers are astonished that we offer quick delivery – we say we will deliver the next day.” He says that either customers do not see this delivery claim on the site or they do not believe that their order will arrive the next day.

Working with its courier company Interlink Express, Kiddicare has developed a service enabling customers to rearrange their delivery via SMS. This has helped halve the number of failed-to-deliver cards that get put through customers’ doors to about 9 per cent of deliveries and the figure is still falling. When goods are dispatched, the customer receives a text message checking that it is convenient to make the delivery and again on the morning of the delivery when the box goes onto the local van. If it is not convenient for the customer, they can rearrange the delivery by text message.

Weavers-Wright worked in IT in the City before being persuaded to join the family business. He says that his IT knowledge gave the company a big advantage over its competitors and the launch of its web site has allowed it to prosper.

He now views Kiddicare as very much a dotcom company, while he adds that “fundamentally, the family are retailers at heart”. If the Weavers-Wrights can continue to combine their retailing and technology heads so successfully, this family business could turn into an empire.

Kiddicare in figures

The Peterborough showroom and distribution centre together cover more than 160,000 sq ft

The site also has a restaurant that seats 100 people

80 per cent of the company’s business is online

Its distribution centre processed and delivered more than 576,000 products in the past year