For many e-commerce companies, SaaS and cloud-based systems offer not-insubstantial improvements in productivity and efficiency. An example would be Redmart, which improved its order filling rates by 50 per cent after using a warehouse management system (WMS) by supply chain solutions provider Manhattan Associates.

For brick-and-mortar companies that have e-commerce as a sales and engagement channel instead of a full business model, looking towards SaaS and the cloud is even more logical. E-commerce enablers and platform providers give non-tech companies a chance to carve out a space for themselves on the internet without much hassle, doing away with the need for managing servers and payment gateways themselves.

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One could reasonably expect premium tea retailer TWG Tea to get an outside provider for its first foray into e-commerce. In a forward move, it has chosen to eschew a website, launching an m-commerce service with mobile apps instead.

According to Maranda Barnes, Co-founder and Director of Communications and Business Development, TWG Tea, the decision to start with m-commerce is based on the increasing ubiquity of mobile usage among luxury goods customers. “A  huge deciding factor in launching these digital assets was a desire to share our tea knowledge and enable our customers to better understand our products,” she said, adding, “We wanted to give our customers information about tea at their fingertips, and from research we found that the best way to do this is through a mobile app.”

Keeping it in the company
Given the innovative approach TWG Tea is taking, it certainly makes sense to get someone with experience to build the system. However, this is not the case. In a break from the recent trend towards outsourcing, cloud storage, and SaaS, TWG Tea has opted to keep its new m-commerce platform in-house, developed partially in-house and with the help of a Singaporean developer team.

Barnes notes that the reason for TWG Tea’s approach is to let them maintain brand recognition with customers. “The TWG Tea unique brand experience was conceived entirely by the company founders, never by any external agency or consultant. The result is a brand that immediately communicates a strong vision and leaves a lasting impression,” said Barnes.

She compares TWG Tea’s approach to that of many high-end firms, which keep business processes in-house to ensure quality and clarity of mission. “In order to continue to offer new and innovative products and experiences to customers while maintaining consistent branding, it is almost imperative today to keep all activities in-house under the influence of those who understand the brand best — exactly like how luxury fashion brands centralise all creative processes under the careful watch of their fashion designer,” she added.

The process behind the development of the app was straightforward. “The entire conceptualisation for the app started three years ago with photography and art direction. The actual development of the app took about a year. Around five people from various departments in TWG Tea worked with the developer to build the app,” Barnes noted.

She continued, “The inspiration behind the functionality, the content and the imagery of the TWG Tea mobile app was by our in-house team. These ideas were then given to our developer, who then created a made-to-measure design and format which communicated this experience to our customers and users.”

In addition to development, TWG Tea also manages its app. Barnes shared, “We are particularly keen to protect the security of our customer’s information, which is why both, our developer and our in-house team are implicated in the day-to-day maintenance and updating of the app.”

Not for everyone
That said, Barnes does not recommend TWG Tea’s approach for most companies starting their e-commerce efforts. “I do not think that this arrangement is suitable for startups or new SMEs unless they are already particularly IT-savvy. For such companies, I would suggest outsourcing and getting input from reliable and trustworthy sources and experimenting with a few small IT projects before hiring an in-house team,” she explained.

Since its launch in early February, over 10,000 users have downloaded TWG Tea’s m-commerce app. The development team plans to add in more interactive elements in the app, letting TWG Tea connect with their users on an emotional level, and contributing to their goal of reaching 100,000 downloads by the end of 2014.

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