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ARTICLE InspirationOctober 1, 2014

Q&A: Guide Dogs Victoria boosts e-commerce with website relaunch


Guide Dogs Victoria is launching a new website and a new online product range ahead of the 2014 Christmas shopping season. Robert Armour, General Manager, explains why the charity is placing increased emphasis on e-commerce.

Guide Dogs Victoria’s imminent website relaunch forms part of its plans to grow online revenue. Robert Armour, General Manager at Guide Dogs Victoria, explains how the organisation is expanding its e-commerce offering and why it uses SecurePay’s payment gateway for online sales and donations.

When did Guide Dogs Victoria introduce an e-commerce component on its website?

“About five years ago. The old website was basic and functional – our supporters could order online, but it had a lot of products and was not visually appealing. The back-end was also quite manual. We are relaunching the website this month [October], as we go into our massive push for Christmas. The website will lead the way in our marketing drive with a new range of pet consumables, plus our biggest-selling items, such as our calendar.”

How can charities be more effective in how they use their websites for fundraising?

“A website needs to be user-friendly and not have so much information that it overwhelms people. Visitors should be able to find what they want easily and be able to make a transaction efficiently – it should also allow people to flick through the full product list if they want to. Our new website will have imagery of our catalogue, as well. In developing the new site, we utilised some in-house skills but also sought external support from a commercial web development company.”

Robert Armour, General Manager of Guide Dogs Victoria.

How useful has Guide Dogs Victoria’s website been up to now?

“It’s been successful insofar as we have had a reasonable amount of traffic. Less than $100,000, however, is generated in website sales each year. For a $12 million turnover organisation, that is quite poor, and from a merchandise revenue viewpoint, it is a very small percentage. We believe that through a modern, more user-friendly website, we can grow our online sales five-fold.”

To what extent does Guide Dogs Victoria rely on online revenue?

“All donations are important to us, but at the moment we are missing out on an opportunity. In order for us to grow as an organisation and provide more services, we need to find emerging channels to drive revenue. We feel that if we can get the online experience right, that will overtake some of our more traditional approaches to fundraising.”

How do you choose the products that Guide Dogs Victoria sells online?

“At the moment, whatever we sell from a telemarketing point of view, we sell online. That is changing though. Our biggest selling items are our calendar [40,000 sold a year] and Christmas cards [more than 10,000 packs annually). Now, we want to explore pet-related products (collars, dog bowls, leads and so on), as we feel they will sell better online than they will over the phone. Our pet pamper pack will be launched for Christmas, and our target is to sell 3,000 packs this year. Delivery is through Australia Post and payment is made through SecurePay. Often, when buying a product, people will make a donation at the same time. The new website will make that easier as well.”

Where to from here for Guide Dogs Victoria and online sales?

“Our new pet range is the start of a bigger program of new products, and that will be based upon the performance of the Christmas pack. I would expect Guide Dogs Victoria to have a major presence in the retail industry when it comes to pet consumables – this is only the start.”

What does Guide Dogs Victoria do?

Funds generated from the website and other fundraising initiatives allow Guide Dogs Victoria to roll out its programs for 1,400 visually impaired Victorians, including children’s camps held every school holidays.

One recent camp at the charity’s residential facility in suburban Kew involved three days of “playful teaching” via sports, orienteering and fun mobility training.

“These kids might be eight years old and have spent their lives with no vision – but this does not hold them back, because of their energy and willingness to try things,” says Guide Dogs Victoria’s General Manager Rob Armour.

“The biggest thing for them is that they are staying with kids who have similar issues. From sometimes feeling alienated at school or in the community, they feel part of something when they’re all together. The difference in self-esteem is amazing. Sometimes, when parents come to pick up their children, they are in tears at the difference, just through those few days.

“When I asked the kids how they found the camp, one of them said, ‘I just felt normal’. That’s a beautiful thing.”

Did you know?

SecurePay works with charities of all sizes by providing secure payment gateways. This allows charities and not-for-profit organisations to accept secure online donations or to sell merchandise online.

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