Sweet smell of online success for perfumery
In Bermuda and around the world millions of shoppers will make the most of online bargains today, on what has become known as Cyber Monday.
It will inevitably mean a lot of residents' dollars end up with overseas suppliers rather than at local stores, however there is another side to the coin.
Bermuda Perfumery, through its Lili Bermuda range, is an Island-based retailer with a sizeable online business, selling to overseas customers through its website.
Owner Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone believes it is probably the Island's biggest online trading business in terms of overseas customers, and the e-commerce side of things is growing all the time.
In order to maintain the prestige of the Lili Bermuda brand the company does not discount for Cyber Monday. Yet even without a sale it sees online orders ramp up at this time of year.
In the approach to Christmas the perfumery, in Queen Street, St George, can find itself dealing with between 30 and 50 online orders a day.
“About 25 per cent of our business is mail order. Our website has seen phenomenal growth. Mail order has been growing by 10 or 15 per cent each year,” said Ms Ramsay-Brackstone.
The Lili Bermuda website was set up 10 years ago. It has evolved with the times and is due to be completely revamped in the new year, underlining the importance the business places on the online side of things.
The majority of online orders come from repeat customers. Many first purchased Lili Bermuda fragrances while on the Island, and they go on to buy more of their favourite fragrances online in-between their Island visits.
Other online customers include those who have received a Bermuda fragrance as a gift and want to try some more, and unique customers intrigued by the “exclusive lure of Lili Bermuda”.
A touchstone for the business is customer service, and this is one of the reasons Ms Ramsay-Brackstone has kept the entire online business in Bermuda, rather than outsourcing it overseas.
It means the perfumery's staff can deal with orders, adding a personal touch and making sure everything is packaged correctly, gift wrapped where required and mailed out on time.
“We have always been about customer service,” said Ms Ramsay-Brackstone. “We thought about doing this business [mail order] from overseas, but if we did that we would not have control of the follow-up customer service anymore.”
When Bermuda postal rates increased earlier this year the business looked for alternatives and eventually linked up with international mail service DHL.
The switch means customers can now easily track their packages and receive them in a matter of days, depending on where they live.
“It's important for customers to be able to track their orders and we have been impressed by the care DHL has shown to our packages, and by how fast they are delivered.”
Lili Bermuda dates back to 1928, however, where once the Bermuda Perfumery sold its products primarily as souvenirs to visitors, today the fragrances are highly regarded and sought-after by residents, Island visitors, and overseas buyers alike.
“We moved the perfumes away from being souvenirs. It is a spectacular product that's exclusively from Bermuda,” said Ms Ramsay-Brackstone, who took ownership of the perfumery in 2004 and created her first fragrance, Coral, two years later.
There is a distinct rhythm to the perfumery's yearly business cycle. During the summer months the bulk of sales are on-Island.
“We have people book their trip to the Island specifically so they can come and make their own perfume at the perfumery,” explained Ms Ramsay-Brackstone.
But as the winter months approach staff begin preparations for the seasonal rise in orders from overseas. Many fragrances are gift wrapped in advance, mailing boxes and packaging are made ready and work priorities are changed to accommodate the flurry of online business.
Most of the perfumery's online customers live in the US, Canada, Britain and the Middle East. Word of mouth recommendations from satisfied customers have helped to spread the Lili Bermuda name.
The company also sells a fragrance library, a popular gift box with 11 small vials containing samples of the perfumery's range. These act as an introduction for customers who perhaps have never been to the Island but want to find out what the collection is like before deciding if they want to buy a larger product.
Lili Bermuda fragrances have also been featured on US television programmes and in newspapers and magazines.
A German magazine recently featured an article about the Mary Celestia fragrance, which is a recreation of a perfume found hidden in the wreck of the Mary Celestia. The 19th century Civil War blockade runner sank off the south shore of Bermuda in 1864. The article sparked a flood of orders from customers in Germany.
Ms Ramsay-Brackstone said any business considering having a website with an online store must be prepared to nurture and work at it.
“You have to look after it full time, and you have to make sure it is kept updated,” she said.
“If you have a product that is unique then you can have a sensational business. There is great potential with e-commerce, and it can be worthwhile. It's a great way of exporting Bermuda.”
The Bermuda Perfumery website is https://www.bermuda-perfumery.com/