Borough Kitchen is a London-based cookware retailer with an online shop and four brick and mortar locations, three of which include a cook school. The brand opened their original store in Borough Market in 2013 and they have seen tremendous growth online and instore over the last few years.
Borough Kitchen's online shop experienced tremendous growth during the coronavirus pandemic, as more people spent time at home cooking and started paying more attention to the quality of their kitchenware. In particular, products related to bread making and coffee saw an initial surge, and that extended to the rest of their product range as months passed.
Though environmental circumstances had a role to play in this growth, Borough Kitchen nurtured and sustained that momentum by investing in their online strategy to maximise revenue and brand awareness.
So how did a relatively small kitchenware company triple their online revenue in 2020, and how have they continued to see strong growth since?
Since Borough Kitchen began as community-oriented brick and mortar stores, their eCommerce operations initially sat as an accessory to the physical stores in 2016. They began to invest fully in online advertising in late 2017.
The company's original vision had been set in stone by then - to offer the very best tools for the kitchen and table that they themselves had tested and used. Their expert advice was always tailored to the customer, taking cooking habits and price range into consideration. Every team member was and continues to be trained in product knowledge so they can confidently field questions from customers. This is especially important because many of their products are expensive, and that number needs to be justified in terms of function, quality and durability rather than aesthetic. The goal of their online shop is to replicate this detail-heavy, tailored advice.
This strategy took time and effort to bring to fruition, as online shopping by default is not an interpersonal and social experience. This was especially challenging for high-ticket products like Japanese knives. In stores, for example, they provided customers with carrots that they could cut to see whether a knife was the right fit for them. That experience is not possible online. But by targeting their paid marketing towards customers who are already interested in cooking—and thus already have an awareness of the craftsmanship that warrants higher-priced goods—they were able to skip that question ('why is this expensive?') in order to communicate how a particular product can benefit a particular customer.
According to Google, “the nation has collectively upskilled in the kitchen, as we've strived to recreate items from our favourite bakeries, cafes, and pubs. Searches for 'espresso martini', 'whipped coffee', and 'yorkshire pudding' all spiked”.
The time at home encouraged many to review their hobbies and look at skills they’ve wanted to learn or hone but have never had the time or energy to do so. Customers have turned to Borough Kitchen in this time to help them with their lives, in a time when they may not have done so previously.
In addition to taking advantage of the existing trends according to Google, Borough Kitchen particularly excelled at bringing their customers attention to things that they may not have given much thought to before, such as the difference between a chef’s knife and santoku, what makes a good pepper grinder, the benefits and shortfalls of non-stick pans, and more, all in an engaging and friendly tone that ‘demystified’ this knowledge for the average consumer.
All of this updated communication was possible due to a significant website redesign that put content and communication front and center. So while trends may have brought people to Borough Kitchen, it was the user-friendly website and communication that facilitated trust with the brand and repeat purchases.
Google Shopping developed into the strongest eCommerce channel for Borough Kitchen in 2020. Despite having an extensive catalogue of over 200 brands - a large fraction of sales and revenue came only from a handful of suppliers.
Mauviel are a cookware brand that are world renowned for their high quality copper pans, and was the highest revenue generating brand across the site in 2020.
Previously, the high price point of these pans would have produced a typically low conversion rate across standard Google Shopping. However, as lockdown buyers were more inclined to invest into their homelife, this barrier to purchase became less important, especially as Borough Kitchen invested resources into explaining what made Mauviel pans superior, from graphic design to Instagram stories, as well as dedicating different collection pages on their website to different Mauviel ranges.
This is apparent in the Borough Kitchen’s Google Shopping data. In the first six months of 2020 (compared to the last six months of 2019), the brand only saw a 16% increase in search impressions for Mauviel - however, sales increased by 146% during the same period.
Before the widespread adoption of Smart Shopping, manual bidding was widely implemented across the industry.
Being reactive to changing buying habits was key to Borough Kitchen’s success across Google Shopping during the preliminary periods of UK lockdown and they were able to use manual bidding at the time to do so. Performance based optimisations, search term reporting and campaign segmentation were ongoing necessities across the account in order to keep up with increased demand.
Due to the influx of demand and new customers to the site, Borough Kitchen experienced some distribution and supply issues. This was typical during the UK lockdown as often workforces were reduced.
Google Shopping enabled us to de-prioritise products and brand coverage where supply chain issues were apparent. Being responsive to supplier relationships was critical to overall business functionality, Borough Kitchen initially struggled to maintain the volume of sales during peak periods, and this was especially the case where products were typically a lower average order value. Google Shopping allowed us to utilise campaign priority settings to strategically funnel the account to align with top line business goals.
The brand could push available products with high AOV, and could save low AOV products for times when these more profitable products were no longer in stock.
The final key factor into Borough Kitchen’s growth was the increase in high earners shopping for luxury products, at a time when disposable income was comparatively high for some customers. Where customers would usually spend a high proportion of their income on luxury dining, experiences and travel, they were instead making luxury purchases for their home.
However, ‘luxury’ is a banned word at Borough Kitchen, as that makes their products sound inaccessible, non-beneficial, and purely ornamental. Their products are based on function over form, and with the use of precise language (and usage of SEO terms), especially when adding product descriptions, supplementary blog posts, and meta fields, explained the why behind luxury instead of letting customers take the products at face value.
Whilst some luxury brands struggled in lockdown as some core customers experienced loss in earnings or had to balance money elsewhere, there were other luxury verticals (such as homewares) which flourished.
What are the key takeaways to learn from Borough Kitchen’s growth in 2020?
Not every business struggled during lockdown, some have thrived.
It is important to capitalise on eCommerce early.
Segment your paid strategy to be aligned with your business goals.
Being responsive to buying trends and customer behaviour
Supporting traffic with an easy-to-navigate website that conveyed core messaging around products