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Matthew Curry is Head of E-commerce at adult retailer Lovehoney, and he'll be speaking at our JUMP event on October 10

He'l be talking about how offline PR affects online sales, after the company were featured in a recent Channel 4 documentary. 

I've been asking Matthew about his presentation, the effects of TV coverage, and his approach to user experience. 

What will you be speaking about at JUMP? 

I'll be talking about the PR that Lovehoney has had in he last 12 months, how that has affected us online, and how we track it all. In fact, a lot of it is covered in the following Q&A. Spoiler alert!!!

The most obvious example of offline PR for Lovehoney was the C4 documentary. How did that effect you in terms of traffic / sales? 

On the day (and the day after), LOTS. We had a rough idea of how much traffic to expect, we were replacing Facejacker in that time slot which had 700k viewers. So, we battened down the hatches, provisioned server resources, cached content like it's never been cached before, we had everything ready for when the wave hit.

The programme was a little bit more successful than C4 expected it to be. Our site was like a house party, where we had invited a certain number of people, but they all brought their mates and trashed the place.

We had people in the office during the show, keeping our servers up, but it was a little stressful. We had 1.3m viewers during the initial broadcast, then it all started back up again for C4+1.

During all this, we were the number one trending topic in the UK, and soon after number three in the world. None of this helped our servers or my sanity.

In terms of sales, yes, of course it was good for us, lots of newbies being converted into customers. The day after broadcast was unsurprisingly our busiest in history.

Was the effect confined to a brief period around the screening of the doc, or has there been a more lasting impact? 

Every month-end since, I've been presenting my executive report, being the voice of impending doom, saying that the comedown will have to happen soon, but it hasn't happened yet.

Brand searches have been up each week, and whilst it's stopped growing based on the show, it's at a permanently higher level.

It's also had the knock-on effect of improved CTR on AdWords, and I suspect organic listings too, though that's harder to tell as Google's ranking algorithm has been pretty messy for adult terms or what seems like months now. 

What did you do to make the most of this free PR? 

It's interesting, because the Lovehoney logo is only visible a couple of times during the show, the rest of the time it's blurred out (at vast expense, I hear).

Well, firstly, for me is converting all these new people. We made our homepage as "newbie friendly" as possible.

We put together discounted introductory packs, that  showcased some of the best toys we have to offer, and at the same time started up a Welcome pack program, where new customers during the two weeks after the program received a collection of freebies, a mini-catalogue and advice guide. 

In terms of marketing, obviously this give journos permission to write about sex toys (which doesn't happen often!), so we made sure we got plenty of coverage.

We hired a PR company a month or so beforehand, knowing that this was too important to try to handle ourselves. We had features in nearly all the tabloids, most major news sites, including HuffPo and MailOnline and made sure that the show was pick of the week in as many TV mags as possible.

Not super easy when the show was still being edited until the last minute. 

It was a bit cutthroat however. A big competitor tried to ambush our coverage by publishing the results of a survey they carried out with a relationship charity on the same day as the show.

Papers will only carry a limited number of sex-related features, and so I presume they were hoping to knock us off. Unfortunately for them it had the reverse effect, and sadly the charity didn't get the exposure they would have had otherwise.

We learnt afterwards that the competitor complained to the Sunday Times about leading with our story instead of theirs.

We had another competitor who decided to leave insulting comment spam on any online article we were mentioned in. I'm never been so efficient in filling out abuse report forms. 

Have you seen a Fifty Shades of Grey effect? 

Balls. Balls Balls Balls. It's all people are interested in. Yes, we've seen a big increase in sales of certain products. Ben Wa & Kegel Balls mostly. Interestingly, in the book they're referred to as "jiggle" balls.

Cue pretty much everyone in the industry hastily renaming their products! Other than that, nipple clamps have been hugely popular, and not just the plastic ones, but the big metal grabby clamps - customers have been pretty daring! 

We were the first UK adult retailer to stock the book, and had it available for pre-order beforehand. We bundled it with some freebie toys and set up ads on PPC before pretty much anyone, if I remember.  

We're quite heavily involved with the Erotic Literature market - we sponsored Eroticon this year, so we knew some time in advance it was going to be big. 

We've also managed to use this in our PR pitches to promote some amazing authors like K D Grace, Portia da Costa & Justine Elyot, whose work we've been championing for ages. I was so pleased when last week on the train I saw someone reading Portia Da Costa's In Too Deep! 

Our sister company Coco de Mer is involved in the launch of the "real life" Fifty Shades of Grey story, The Diary of a Submissive by Sophie Morgan, so it will be interesting to see if that gains a similar following.

How else have you used offline to drive online sales? 

We normally shy away from traditional offline marketing. We were burnt a little bit last year with our TV ad. We wanted to introduce the brand, but were so softly, softly about it that what we actually did as a company was lost.

Monitoring the responses on Twitter, a lot of people thought we were a dating site. We have since run some direct response advertising, in the form of a shopping channel. This worked really well on a couple of channels, and exposed us to a different, slightly older audience. 

You've been at Lovehoney for two years now. What have you changed (from a web/UX perspective) since you arrived?  

Lots - obviously the executing the rebrand had the biggest effect. There was always a focus on differentiating at Lovehoney, first on customer service, then on community, then content, but visually there was nothing to distinguish us from the hundreds of competitor shops.

Now we have a visual identity that really works for us. 

Do you remember what we used to look like? Compare and contrast... 




Lovehoney is fiercely independent, we have our own home-built platform, our own warehouse, we don't out-source customer service, everything gets developed in-house - we'd rather do it ourselves and learn along the way than get third parties to do it and learn nothing.

The two cases where we do outsource we've A/B tested their effectiveness vs a homegrown system first (funnily enough neither was anticipating us doing this, which is worrying for the industry). We're also probably their most demanding client!

I'm really excited about some of the things we'll be doing over the next year, the ability to plug directly into services like SendGrid will mean a huge level of integration for us. 

We now test exhaustively. A single homepage graphic alone can have 20 or so variations. I've also been fortunate enough to be given the freedom to challenge conventions. We've recently moved away from mega-menus for example. 

For me, the biggest change I've introduced was warehousing. Essential moving away from "here's a curated selection of products" to "here's everything". We've always shied away from being just a warehouse of products, since we're so much about the customer service, the advice & guides, and no-one wants to be in a race to the bottom.  

However, we've come up with a fantastic way of getting everything that's special and different about Lovehoney, and bolting it to a warehouse structure. It's been incredibly good for our conversion rate.  

It also means we can build on the warehouse structure. We record vast amounts of meta for everything we sell, so hopefully you'll be able to facet and filter based on any piece of meta, such as if the product has a suction cup, whether the control is remote or wired, and so on. 

I still don't have the one-page combo basket and checkout I designed a year or so ago, but I don't think the world is ready for that yet.

Which other sites do you look to for inspiration? 

At the moment I'm working on the redesign of Coco de Mer, so I'm looking at a lot of luxury sites. Burberry is by far my favourite, I love everything about that site. 

For Lovehoney, I don't look at other adult sites - they're still playing catch-up with us. Obviously I like a lot of what ASOS do, I'm looking forward to seeing what they do to better integrate the Marketplace with the main site. 

We're currently building a responsive version of Lovehoney, and good examples of responsive e-commerce sites are few and far between. 

Nowadays, I find myself being more inspired by different ways of operating rather than visuals or functions. Lovehoney has quite a unique, organic relationship with our customers, we rely on them to help us sell products with their reviews, we ask them for advice in what to stock (for example, the PANDER TO ME! thread in our forums), and we can call on them for opinions and responses to surveys.

In return we're on hand for chats, advice, all sorts. I'll often dip into the forums and answer questions, and those folks know I'm not there to just shill Lovehoney products. 

You wrote a post for us last year about the difficulties you had due to the prudishness of Facebook and Google. Are you still having these problems? 

Yes, very much so. We managed to get our Facebook presence back, due to several political connections we have, but it was very much a case of who you know. Smaller players would still struggle. 

Google is contrary as ever, but now we're on pretty good terms after putting some resources into a G+ presence. We've also now got The Rules about adult content down here, it's part of the process.

We're currently having an issue where a competitor is breaking these rules (showing pornographic content within one click of a landing page), and Google appears to be turning a blind eye, but we'll keep the pressure on. 

Graham Charlton

Published 4 September, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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