Web site climbs to number two sales channel for chocolatier

Last year's headline: The sweet smell of success

Last year’s headline: The sweet smell of success

Synopsis: Victoria, B.C.-based Rogers’ Chocolates is awarded Internet Retailer of the Year by the Retail Council of Canada, which saluted its robust mail order and e-commerce operation. In early 1999, the company database of 50,000 members inspired president Jim Ralph to launch a Web site, where his high-quality boxed chocolates, gift baskets and collectible items can be ordered. In December of that year, the site peaked at 100,000 hits a month, and up to 200 orders a day. Most online requests came from the U.S. mail order, and Web sales accounted for roughly half of business, while the remaining sales were rung up at its five shops (three in Victoria, and one apiece in the resort towns of Banff, Alta., and Whistler, B.C.), two affiliate stores in Quebec and at a select group of retailers across Canada.

One year later: The Internet shop, www.rogerschocolates.com, continues to taste success, scoring another 100,000 hits last December and sometimes receiving ‘hundreds of orders overnight,’ according to Ralph. The chain has four components to its mail-order business: catalogue, a 1-800 number, fax and the Web. While online was originally the fourth largest generator of orders, it has moved into the number two slot. ‘Probably by the end of the year, it will be first,’ predicts Ralph, who adds that Canadians now account for 30% of online shoppers, an increase from under 10% when the site launched. ‘Our bulk came from the U.S. before, because they’re very comfortable ordering online. Canadians have not been, but that’s beginning to change.’

A major benefit of its Web shop is that, on average, orders are about 20% higher than those gleaned via other channels. The retailer promotes the site on ads in lifestyle shelter magazines, such as the LCBO’s Food & Drink, as well as through popular search engines like Yahoo!. Rogers’ Chocolates recently tweaked its online portal, so that it now uploads quicker and the shopping cart is easier to use. However, Ralph doesn’t believe in collecting demographic data on his customers. ‘If they’re making a $5,000 purchase, they don’t mind answering a bunch of questions, but when they’re buying a box of chocolates to send to their girlfriend – we’ve tried it and they don’t like it.’

Offline, the chocolatier, which distributes its product to 700 retailers across Canada, mainly higher-end chains like The Bay and Crabtree & Evelyn, opened a fourth location in Victoria, and is looking for property in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., as well as in other touristy towns. ‘We’re a big believer on location,’ says Ralph. ‘If it’s a corporate store, it has to be in a tourist area. We know our niche in the market and we stay in it.’