In this week’s episode of the Feefo Spotlight podcast we spoke to Scott McCulloch, co-founder of the TheVeganKind, about the growing veganism movement, their success during the pandemic and how important customer feedback has been to the growth of their online business.
You can listen to the full episode here, or read on to find out more!
Hi Scott; thanks so much for joining us. Can you tell us a bit about the TheVeganKind and what makes you special?
Sure! So, we’ve been going since 2013 and are a family-run business run by myself and my wife, Karris. We’re essentially two businesses rolled into one; we originally began as a subscription box service. The boxes would contain seven or eight products, largely centred around food and drink which were all vegan/cruelty-free/plant-based, taking the difficulty out of going vegan.
We’d gone vegan back then in 2013 and we knew that it could be a bit challenging. There’s a lot of labels to read and a lot of pitfalls. We thought that if we can make life a bit easier for people it would make the transition to veganism easier.
That first product, our monthly lifestyle box, ended up spiralling into our second product, our beauty box which was largely led by Karris who, at that point in time, was doing a bit of beauty vlogging on YouTube. So, we created our bi-monthly beauty box which, same premise as the lifestyle box, ships cosmetics and toiletry products. People don’t know what’s in either of these boxes, but they know they’re suitable and work in an element of surprise.
In 2016 we pivoted slightly. The growth of the subscription boxes had started to plateau a bit - the boomerang growth we’d been experiencing had started to slow down and we knew that we needed to do something else to continue growing the business. After doing a large amount of research on different keywords and traffic sources, we realised that no one was really catering for the growing market of vegan cheese and plant-based meat alternatives, so we ended up setting up TheVeganKind Supermarket. So, now we have TheVeganKind.com for our subscription boxes and then TheVeganKindSupermarket.com which is our supermarket, where everything is entirely free from animals, vegan and plant based.
That’s great that you’ve been evolving with your customers and their needs.
Veganism has had such an explosion. Do you still see it as a movement that continues to grow, or do you think there’s going to be something else coming down the line that will take its popularity away?
No, I think on the contrary! There are lots of different ways to look at veganism. I think going back 15 /20 / 30 years ago, if you met somebody and they said that they were vegan, you would have looked at them in a different light, maybe even a negative light! You would have seen it as something slightly strange. I know I did! But now, veganism is seen as an extremely positive life change.
From my perspective, I see veganism as more of an evolution of humanity. Not only is it an evolution within all of us, the amount of products and brands that are emerging that are replacing meat-based or animal-based products is exploding. At TheVeganKind Supermarket we’ve got over 6,000 SKUs and growing! We’ve got a list of about a thousand more waiting to come on, so I think the only way is up and it’s been a long time coming.
It’s something that we at Feefo see our businesses talking about much more - acting on sustainability and issues that really resonate with their customers.
You obviously use your customer feedback in a number of ways. So, how do you find reviews help with your customer experience?
We’ve always worked really hard on our service and our Head of Customer Experience, Leigh, is largely responsible for that. We have exceptional service, as is testament to the fact we have had such a large amount of reviews in such a short space of time, and the vast majority of them are five stars.
When customers shop online, they need to know that who they’re buying from is going to offer a good service, because there are alternatives for everything now! If you want to buy clothes or food or furniture, there are so many places you can shop now. One of the easiest ways to differentiate yourself from the others is by proving that when a customer buys with you, that you’re going to get it right almost 100% of the time, and that’s what we aim for. Any time we see a negative review, we see that as an opportunity to try and turn that around. We quite often get customers who will amend their reviews based how we’ve handled their negative experience, but in general we know that the perception of the customer has to be that we really, really do care about them. We do still comment on those one-star reviews and like to end that one-star situation with a five-star response from us. Whether the customer will agree or change the review is out of our hands, but we at least want any onlookers to see that we have tried to resolve that situation. We’re very public about our responses and one-star reviews, but thankfully there’s not that many of them! Hopefully when anybody comes across the business they recognise that we do put our customers first.
One of the easiest ways to differentiate yourself from the others is by proving that when a customer buys with you, that you’re going to get it right almost 100% of the time, and that’s what we aim for.
That’s really important. We’re often talking to our customers about not shying away from the negative reviews, because actually that’s your time to shine by taking that feedback and doing something positive with it.
So, you would really encourage anyone listening to seize the day in terms of their negative reviews?
Absolutely! We’ve got alerts set up. We don’t bother getting alerted when five-star reviews come in because there’s too many of them, but anytime a one, two, or three-star review comes in we know about it instantly. We’ve got a Slack channel set up specifically for that. The second a review comes in, various people know about it and we jump right on it. We’ll always hold our hands up and be completely responsible if we’ve got something wrong, but if a customer is going to go and leave a one-star review and then be completely inaccurate in what they are saying, then we want to have our say on that immediately. We don’t want reviews showing us in a negative light when we really do pour our heart and soul into making sure that we get it right as often as is humanly possible.
We've got alerts set up...anytime a one, two, or three-star review comes in we know about it instantly.
If businesses aren’t replying to their one-star reviews, then it’s a huge mistake. I’ve seen businesses with quite a lot of one-star reviews who are almost arguing with the customers who left them! This obviously then worsens the situation! You have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes, understand that they’re extremely angry and frustrated, and that it may well be our fault that we haven’t got something completely right. Maybe they have read between the lines and are putting less than favourable commentary on a one-star review, but you have to take yourself out of the equation and calm the situation down a bit. Just be reasonable with them because those reviews are public, they will remain there and everybody will judge you, not just on the reviews that they see, but on the way that you handle those negative reviews as well.
Transparency is what Feefo is all about, and obviously that’s what we encourage our customers to be as well.
So, how else do you use reviews in your marketing activity, Scott?
We’ve got reviews on all of our product pages on our websites; we have the review carousel on the homepages of our websites; we use reviews in the footer of all of our emails, in our Google Shopping results, and our Facebook advertising. We use them internally in the business as well, so if we see negative or positive feedback about our packing in the warehouse then we will feed that back to the packer in question just to give them some feedback. At the start of every month, we print out a couple of pages of our reviews from the prior month and put them on our staff notice board. We’ve got our awards from the past few years framed on the foyer entrance to TheVeganKind and in our office. If we do any magazine adverts, we’ll put our Feefo Trusted Service badge there. Anywhere we can let our customers know that our service is of a five-star nature, then why would we not? We need people to know that about us.
Anywhere we can let our customers know that our service is of a five-star nature, then why would we not? We need people to know that about us.
That’s really great to hear and that’s the benefit of using a platform like Feefo, it gives you that ability to shout a bit louder. I think what you’ve illustrated there is how you can use it across so many different mediums.
I really like the fact you touched on sharing customer feedback internally – do you use your reviews to motivate your staff?
Staff need to know when we’re getting it right as well as getting it wrong; if a customer complains about something and it’s because it wasn’t packaged right, then of course we need to feed that back to the warehouse - and we do! We would never want our five-star reviews to be forgotten about or lost, so a fantastic way of ensuring they stay in the fore is printing them out once a month and getting them up on the notice board so everybody gets to see that we’re heading in the right direction. The mistakes that we do mention are actually few and far between, it’s just that we have to bring them up when they happen, but the largest proportion of our reviews are for four or five star.
2020 was a year like no other – and many of our customers have been affected by that. How’s it been for you? I can only imagine that a lot of people have become more health-conscious in lockdown, or maybe not – probably one of the two extremes! Have you seen a rise in new customers? Are channels performing differently to previous years because of the pandemic?
We are without doubt a very, very fortunate company. We were growing and heading in the right direction and forecasting plenty of growth this year and next year. However, we can’t get away from the fact that by being an online food and drink delivery business with a next day service, that’s exactly what everybody was looking for at the start of the pandemic, and continues to look for!
I don’t really like shouting about our successes too much, because on one hand I feel dreadfully sorry for the state of the economy right now and the amount of businesses that are really struggling, but the truth of the matter is that throughout Covid-19 our business grew exponentially – three times! We were in a 13,000sq ft warehouse in January; we’d only been there 18 months and expected to be there for another three years, but in September we moved to a 35,000sq ft warehouse – basically three times the size – just in order to cope with demand. I think in one sense, we gave ourselves that platform because we were already doing really well with loads of loyal customers, so that was our own success, but then add Covid to the mix and it grew us even quicker.
We’ve definitely seen an uplift from Covid-19, and to be honest we don’t see any signs of it slowing down.
Wow, that’s phenomenal! It’s crazy that something like a pandemic has really encouraged businesses to adapt quickly, but it just comes back to focusing on your customer experience and ensuring brands meet the needs of their customers
You’ve got smaller businesses that weren’t really at a size to effectively scale up or weren’t big or well known enough, and other businesses that have tried to pivot into an online model when they didn’t have it before, which can be quite challenging. Whereas for us, we were always 100% online; we are the largest player in the 100% vegan shopping space. In terms of our social following, again even pre-pandemic, we have the largest social following in the UK of any trading vegan business. We’ve got a page for TheVeganKind, a page for TheVeganKind Supermarket and actually our largest Instagram page is a page called Accidentally Vegan UK. Accidentally Vegan was a page set up by Karris just to support all the vegan products in supermarkets that people don’t realise are vegan, like for example, Oreos! In total I think we’re at around 700,000 followers on Instagram alone - and that was all pre-pandemic.
Moving to a bigger warehouse was 100% the right move, but we did it because we were not only heading in the right direction as a business, but our mission statement is to make a vegan lifestyle easily accessible for all. We were looking at the growth of veganism in general, and the way online shopping habits have changed throughout the pandemic. We can meet that mission far better if we’re in a warehouse three times the size. The pandemic could have ended half way through our transition and our sales could have dropped off a cliff, so it really was a big, bold, scary manoeuvre for us, but as we say, when we looked at the overall mission of what we’re trying to achieve with TheVeganKind, we knew we needed to go for it!
You talked earlier about how you put reviews on your individual product pages. Do you find having reviews on specific product pages gives customers more insight?
We put the reviews up as an additional identifier for someone who’s deciding on a product. They can see that others have had it, tasted it, tested it, rated it and liked it, so it definitely helps with add to cart conversion. I think as well, specifically with veganism, it’s something that somebody’s newly adopted or they’re flexitarian and they’ve just decided that they’re going to try veganism, so they might be coming across a lot of products they might never have heard of before or there’s loads of options they want to try. There are 15 different plant-based chicken products - they quickly need to find out which one they want to try because they’re probably different textures and flavours and tastes, so your reviews are the quickest way of doing that and keep a customer on the page. What you don’t want is a customer finding a product and you not having the reviews. They’ll leave your site to go and find out more about the product and then whether you get them back or not you’ll never find out!
We put the reviews up as an additional identifier for someone who’s deciding on a product. They can see that others have had it, tasted it, tested it, rated it and liked it, so it definitely helps with add to cart conversion.
You have recently received your 10,000th Feefo review, and you’re also the owner of two Gold Trusted Service awards – huge congratulations to you. How important are those awards to your business and to your staff?
We’re really, really proud of them. I think we’re due our Platinum one next which Leigh in customer service is really excited about! We display them in the footer of our site, so it just shows a continuity there. People can see that we’ve managed to grow considerably; our review numbers have gone north and we’ve managed to keep those service levels up. Through Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas, as well as World Vegan Month and Veganuary coming up, we are at stretching point in terms of keeping our service levels up. That’s why those badges showing that we’ve been able to do it year on year help. If you do have a blip in your service levels, that could lead to a higher spat of two or three-star reviews over a week-long period. If customers happen to see the feedback from that particular week, it’s reassuring that they’ll also be able to see awards for the last three years, and maybe therefore they’re going to be a bit more forgiving! We definitely use our award badges quite a bit!
One final question, Scott. It’s such an exciting time for TheVeganKind and we’re thrilled to be part of that with you. As you move into the new year and Veganuary, what are the plans for the future for TheVeganKind and how do you see your relationship with Feefo evolving moving forward?
We’ve got loads of plans for next year. In January we’ve got a couple of different things launching. We have got our first range of ready meals coming out under our sub-brand called Love Plants. There are three microwaves meals coming out in the last week of Veganuary, so we’re really excited about that – that will kick the year off with a bang! We’ve also got a loyalty scheme coming out called TVK+ which we’re in the testing phase for at the moment. It’s been a long time coming. That’s going to be huge for us in rewarding our subscribers and giving them something extra – it’s a problem we’ve been trying to solve for a long time so this is a really exciting solution to it.
In terms of our relationship with Feefo, I’m sure we’ll continue growing from strength to strength. We’ll be ensuring we try and get our numbers up as high as possible – I think we’re up at nearly 11,000 reviews now. I would hope that we can come out the back end of 2021 with something like 20,000! I’d really love to double our reviews and ensure that we get another Trusted Service award for keeping our service levels up. If we can get to the back end of 2021 and come out at the end of this pandemic, hopefully having acquired tens and tens of thousands of new customers and continue with our exceptional service, then I could not be more proud of the team. I definitely will be giving some thanks to Feefo as well for helping us along that journey and allowing us to showcase just how good we are to our customers.
Wow, it sounds as though you’re going to be busy for sure! We’ll be watching this space with great interest to cheer you on from the side-lines.
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Laura works in the Content Team, but does way more than write blogs. Specialising in digital copy, she makes sure our SEO is up to scratch and regularly keeps the website flowing with fresh and engaging content. She also plays an active role in Feefo’s charitable efforts as a key member of our charity committee.