Trouva was founded by Mandeep Singh and Alex Loizou in September 2015. It was named one of the top five fastest-growing tech companies in the UK last year and has received more than £7 million in funding from investors.
The shopping platform stocks items from bricks-and-mortar retailers across the UK – from a Lewes store selling handmade oils and balms to a mother-and-daughter run homeware shop in Edinburgh. Some shops make their own products, others stock items by local artists and designers and some sell items by well-known brands. (Most stock a mix of all three.) The result is a diverse collection of items from hand-painted prints to Sandqvist backpacks and homeware from HAY.
Trouva was set up to help shop owners grow their business through selling products online without having to build, run and market a website. The site handles postage and logistics and provides international shipping as well as a click-and-collect service. It even offers one-hour Shutl delivery in certain areas.
Singh says the idea is to help independent shops achieve “an economy of scale that would be impossible if they were working in isolation”. The brand doesn’t charge shop owners an upfront fee to list their products on the site but it does take commission.
Trouva only sells items from retailers with a physical shop. Singh believes this ensures a higher quality of products on the site: “Anyone can start an off the shelf e-commerce website but having a real boutique requires passion, expertise and serious commitment,” he adds. The platform looks for “talented curators” – in other words, shop owners with a knack for finding beautiful and unusual items – and on its website Trouva says stores must have “a distinctive, cohesive style” as well as “good quality products” to become part of its community.
“One of the key criteria is that they have a physical store but we also consider a wealth of other elements, from their brand direction to social channels, product range, brands they stock and any press or marketing exposure they’ve had in the local community or further afield,” explains Singh. Looking at these factors helps Trouva determine whether it will be able to grow a shop’s customer base “and make a real impact on their business”, says Singh – and decide whether or not to work with a shop.
Many of the shop owners who sell products through Trouva are buyers or creatives – retailers include fashion graduates, fine artists and a former ad exec. By restricting membership to shops that have built up a strong brand – and a great selection of products – the site is able to offer a more curated alternative to other online marketplaces and sites where users can buy directly from makers.
There are some great products to be found on websites like Etsy and Not on the High Street but the range of items can prove overwhelming. These sites also appeal to different markets. Not on the High Street is often associated with handcrafted items and personalised products – a custom papercraft print or a necklace with someone’s initials – whereas Trouva seems geared towards people who prefer a more minimal or Scandi-inspired aesthetic.
There is a huge range of products on the site – from botanical and animal-themed wall art to colourful patterned cushions and throws – but you’re more likely to find a concrete vase than a floral one. The lighting section is filled with industrial-looking lamps and the accessories section with leather and canvas bags from the likes of Sandqvist and Herschel. Jewellery includes Braun watches and geometric earrings.
Singh describes Trouva’s customers as people who look to “express their creativity in the objects and products they buy” – people who dislike shopping at chain retailers and prefer to own “products with a story”. Homeware is the site’s most popular category with jewellery and accessories coming a close second.
Around 1000 products are now added to Trouva each week. Buying guides in the ‘edits’ section of the site make browsing a little easier and users can also choose to ‘follow’ individual boutiques. Trouva doesn’t reveal its top performing boutiques but Singh claims that 11 stores have now made over £100,000 through sales on the platform.
Each of the retailers we contacted had so far had a positive experience of selling through the site – though the level of success a store has can depend on the type and volume of products its sells.
Emily Grace Wright is a former buyer at department store Browns and and owner of Stoke Newington store T&Shop. She joined Trouva after investing in a website and struggling to reach new customers: “I built the website, got it all out there and then realised that literally no-one knew about it,” she adds. Joining Trouva has helped her reach a bigger audience and 90% of her online sales now come through the platform.
Junaid and Azeem Ansari – brothers and co-owners of Oxford menswear shop Burrows & Hare – say joining Trouva has led to an increase in online sales and the number of customers coming to the store. “We regularly have customers coming in and telling us that they discovered us online … so the fact that it’s increased footfall is great,” say the pair.
Holly Wilson, owner of London cookware shop PREP, told CR that being able to sell products online without having to invest in a website has allowed her to open a second store. “I no longer had to choose [between setting up a website and opening another branch],” she says.
Alfred Addis – who co-founded East London gift store Eastern Biological – says he sells around 20 times as many products through Trouva as he does through the shop’s own website and took between 20 and 30 orders a day through Trouva in the run up to Christmas. Having a presence on the site has also led to press coverage in Jamie Oliver Magazine and brought more people in to the store.
While Eastern Biological has to pay Trouva a percentage of sales, Addis believes it’s worth it for the other benefits that having a presence on the site brings.
“A small shop like ours doesn’t really have the resources to invest in things like Google Shopping and Google Adwords and having an SEO or a PR expert … so it’s worth it just for that,” he adds.
Addis believes that the site works best for retailers who stock affordable mass-produced products. Eastern Biological sells books, prints and gifts through Trouva – from cactus-shaped vases to illustrated children’s books – but Addis says other retailers producing more expensive handmade products in limited runs might struggle to achieve the same level of success.
“I think we do slightly better than other boutiques in the area … but we don’t sell a lot of handmade items. About 90 percent of the products I stock are mass produced and I’ve got a lot of products on the site – I have around five or six pages of items on Trouva – so there’s more choice for the customer,” explains Addis. “The problem when you’re selling handmade items [for example rugs or furniture] is that it’s more expensive to produce and it sells slower.”
Retail is a fiercely competitive business – 896 independent stores closed in the UK in 2016 – so any service that can help retailers grow their businesses and reach new customers is surely something to be welcomed.
Trouva’s success so far seems to lie in its focus on curation – working with the right stores and selecting the right mix of products for its audience – and offering the same user experience and level of convenience as major retailers and department stores. Trouva has grown its online presence not just through SEO and Google ads but a marketing strategy that is based around championing shopowners rather than “mindlessly pushing products”.
“Over the last two years we have invested a lot into email marketing,” says Creative Director Lucy Ward.
“The content of our emails tell stories [about] where products have come from, the shops in our community and the people who run them. By taking a storytelling approach rather than mindlessly pushing products or offers we aim to inspire our audience to visit the site and uncover finds for themselves. Our audience trust their own judgement and have a fairly strong, intuitive sense of what they like and dislike so it’s about getting them on the site to do their own browsing rather than serving them endless lists of products which might not appeal,” she continues.
Trouva has adopted a similar approach on Instagram, using its Feed to highlight the various independent boutiques that sell items on the site, and now has 29,000 followers.
The brand plans to continue adding more stores to its network this year – not just in the UK but further afield -and Singh says he hopes the site will soon become “the global destination for the best independent shops in the greatest cities and neighbourhoods in the world”. Running a bricks-and-mortar shop is still a tough business but as Trouva’s success has shown, there’s still a strong demand for shops that can offer a more curated and inspiring collection of items than larger retailers.
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