Nicolle Sullivan, founder of luxury homeware and linen brand Cultiver credits late-night online shopping with kick-starting her passion for website optimisation. ‘In my previous career, I worked long hours so the convenience of online shopping 24/7 really appealed, and I wholeheartedly embraced it early on. I spent lots of nights exploring online stores around the world,’ she recalls. It was while exploring these stores that the idea for Cultiver was born. Nicolle, who had launched a blog a few months prior to the brand, readily admits her knowledge of online retail at the time was minimal. ‘Through the blog I had a bit of practice in creating a website, but even after that I’d say on a scale of one-to-10, on my knowledge of online retail I’d generously give myself a two.’
The first step was to create a placeholder site with an image and an email sign-up field. Next, came the visuals for launching. ‘The photography for the site was the biggest project before launch. I did a shoot at home and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Thankfully, I worked with a very patient photographer,’ laughs Nicolle. During this pre-launch period, she also reached out to friends of friends to ‘ask for advice on everything from how to import goods through to how to write a press release’ but admits she had to figure out most of it herself.
Utilising Shopify as her ecommerce platform, Nicolle was able to tap into their support network, which helped her find a developer that could refine the site. ‘It was an iterative process, and a lot of my inspiration came from observing what worked or what I liked on other sites’ she says. Stepping outside of her industry at this time was key. ‘I’ve never looked to sites from the same category as us for ideas. I typically would look at fashion sites, as they were more developed and ahead in terms of functionality,’ she explains.
Despite spending time on content, 12 months after launching, Cultiver was receiving minimal organic traffic. ‘I remember asking a friend who had an online business how to change this and was introduced to SEO and how important content on the site is to support that’.
Flash forward four years and Cultiver is now a successful online business with customers across the globe, helped in large part by quality products and constant tweaking of site content, social media engagement and investment in analytical understanding and data insights. ‘We’re on our fourth total site redesign,’ says Nicolle, ‘the changes we’ve made are based on analytics, research and feedback (direct and indirect) and customer behaviours. The biggest changes we’ve made are photography and navigation – smoothing out the customer journey and trying to answer all of their possible questions’. An example of this is the addition of an ‘inspiration’ section which allows customers to shop numerous items from one page of styled images. ‘We were getting a lot of questions about the product in the images when they were just shown as a gallery’.
Nicolle utilises tools like Google Analytics and Hotjar to measure organic search performance, customer engagement with the site and ensure the brand has a good backlink profile. Conducting an audit on what’s working and not working happens daily at Cultiver, with Nicolle and her staff checking the site is intuitive and easy for customers to navigate. ‘When checking details on a product or creating an order (for a trade client) we go through the front-end rather than the back end to simulate a customer experience; searching for items, moving through collections and checking out’.
This attention to detail has been important in Cultiver growing their brand worldwide, including into the US. ‘Our biggest obstacles have been in growing our international distribution and addressing regional differences in sizing of our main category, bedding. This takes away from some of the synergies of multiple markets as it double SKUs, production, website information etc. And SEO is also local, so that needs to be built over time in each new market.’
Now a self-taught online retail expert, Nicolle is looking to expand the brand offline. While Cultiver is stocked in brick-and-mortar stores across the globe, this year marks the first offline venture for the brand itself. ‘It’s a new chapter for us that feels right with what our customers want,’ says Nicolle, ‘and hopefully it brings new customers into our online world. I love converting offline shoppers to online!’