Launching and Growing Canada’s Largest Online Fragrance Retailer

Published: May 6th, 2018
Gary A.
Fragrancebuy Canada
from Toronto, Ontario, Canada
started November 2013
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Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Fragrancebuy is Canada’s largest online fragrance retailer. We give fragrance enthusiasts access to a variety of discounted designer & niche fragrances through an impeccable online shopping experience.

We've come to be known as one of the most dynamic and customer driven companies in Canada. Our professionalism is well known and appreciated, which has enabled us to continue to grow and become a point of reference throughout Canada and the USA.

It may come as a surprise to most, but we’re just a team of three dedicated and passionate individuals managing a multi-million dollar operation. Our secret lies below :)


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Having a background in Business and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, I’ve always had a passion for identifying opportunities and filling voids. Whether it was problem solving, negotiating a contract or simply brainstorming new ideas for upcoming programs and initiatives, I always have viewed life as a series of opportunities waiting to be taken. When I graduated, a saw a huge burst in the concept of warehouse sales and an equivalent explosion in online shopping. That got me thinking of ways to capture an untapped market ...

Customers love low prices online, but what if we coupled low prices with an online shopping experience that was satisfying, memorable and praiseworthy? We started what is now the most trusted online fragrance store in Canada with an aim to answer this fundamental question.

We began with the basic Five P marketing analysis, which in business terms we refer to as product, price, people, place and promotion. We had the product since fragrance wholesale was the crux of our business, and we had great prices due to the extensive network of partners we had developed over 18 years in the industry. We then proceeded with an action plan of adding value at every stage in a customer’s purchasing experience. Promoting our products through several fun social media initiatives and offering an unparalleled customer service experience are all value-added measures that now form the crux of our company’s success in the online ecommerce world.

From the moment they find a rare fragrance, to the moment its unboxed & shared with family and friends, our customers can now feel the unique retail experience through an e-commerce platform.

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

Fragrance wholesale was the crux of our business and we had developed an extensive network of supply chain partners over 18 years.

The most important lesson we learned throughout the process is that the most difficult part is the starting phase but it doesn’t need to be perfect.

But with a deteriorating global economy, wholesale clients were paying late and we needed to adapt to a rapidly changing economy. Using the online Shopify platform, we were able to expand our client base and reach Canadians across the country, and offer the same wholesale pricing we had been before but without the stress of late payments.

Shopify is an easy and intuitive platform that allows flexibility of making a website with minimal technical background experience. The most challenging part was the initial challenge in loading all the products on the website which admittingly took a very long time. But as a word of advice, if the groundwork (which is the hardest part) is done well, its create a solid foundation for the rest of your business. Shopify has now become the place we promote our products. Our cash flow has dramatically improved and we have emerged a stronger company than ever before.

Describe the process of launching the online store/business.

With the Shopify platform, we started with a simple website design and used their inbuilt basic SEO to build product metadata for online exposure.

We expanded marketing with Google Adwords and over the months started gaining a following from users from different online forums. We held giveaways with blog partnerships, built a Facebook following and led exciting competitions and giveaway contests. All of this helped expand our reach and get people truly excited about our company and what we had to offer. Online advertisements and referrals from online fragrance forums of satisfied customers generate the most traffic and sales.

We started the online venture with a personal loan injection of just $1,000 and an all-inclusive monthly expenditure budget of $500. Within a few months we recouped the initial investment. As business grew and conversions multiplied, we then had a significant pool of funds which we reinvested to upgrade the website to add value and enhance the customer experience.

The most important lesson we learned throughout the process is that the most difficult part is the starting phase but it doesn’t need to be perfect. Our first website design was created by us internally using a Shopify free theme template. As business grew, we listened to feedback from online forums and we learned more about website elements that customers expected in trusting an online store. We slowly added new features (and still do even today) through reinvested profits in a strive to work towards a more ‘perfect’ website. Rome wasn’t built in a day and a successful website also requires perseverance, dedication and a whole lot of patience.

Since launch, what has worked to attract new customers?

There is and always will be a fundamental difference between a brick and mortar store vs. an online business and that is the potential for exposure.

When we started operations years ago, the phenomenon of warehouse sales in brick mortar stores was exploding. But we posed a single idea in scoping our marketing SWOT (Strength/Weakness/Opportunity/Threat) analysis: a physical warehouse sale can get max exposure only from those who live near to that actual store, but with an online business, you have the world at your doorstep.

So not only do you have the ability to use traditional means of advertising that local retailers do (including print, radio, localized demographics) but you have the incredible power of social media and vast digital retargeted marketing to reach a customer that’s thousands of miles away.

The key to winning is to always keep ahead of the game in such a way that when your competitors reach the level you are today, you’ve already innovated and are still thousands of miles ahead of them.

We first created a map of all elements in an online transaction and then narrowed in on each element to find a way to add-value to the end consumer during each stage in the online transaction. This involved informing the customer about our company, the customer going through the online process and placing the order, the customer receiving the order and finally the customer’s post purchase experience with the order.

We started with maximizing metadata for products and relevant search metadata to increase SEO. We used Google Adwords/Facebook Ads to market to search terms we thought our customers would search for when looking for their products online. We partnered with Beauty vloggers to host informed giveaways to grow exposure on online forums, Youtube, BeautyBlog websites, etc. Of course we also engaged customers through our social media accounts to let them know about our company and our value added proposition.

We then focused on the customer’s actual process going through our website and identifying obstacles in their purchase completion. We used the power of social proof to build trust and created re-targeted marketing for abandoned carts and getting customers to engage with transactions they left hanging at the final checkout page. We used order follow-up receipt emails and shipping emails to again market additional products and keep the customers fully informed on the process. When customers shop online, there’s an inherent fear of not receiving an intended product as envisioned. To tackle this, we heavily promoted a perfect order guarantee and provided emails from order placement, to order processing, to shipping and finally order receipt. An informed customer, we learned is a happy one!

The next and what we feel is the most undiscovered and underrated part of the online process is physical order receipt - when the customer actually gets their order. When a customer shops in a retail store, there is an excitement in receiving the product including the packaging, the samples, the retail experience if you may call it.

We strived to recreate that retail experience coupled with a lower priced online sale. This involved us investing in custom boxes filled with exciting messages, a personalized CEO letter and of course company marketing. For example, the top of our shipping boxes say "Your latest #fragfaves have arrived. How’s that for excitement". When people receive our shipments, that time between opening this custom box and retrieving their products creates a fascination and excitement that is not only remembered (and shared on social media) but creates a deeply-rooted sense of trust and reassurance to the customer’s psychology that they made the right decision by buying from us.

The final step in our analysis was to add value to the post purchase. This includes engaging customers to recognize us not just as any online discounter, but an actual brand. This is what I call differentiating yourself from the Amazon effect. We realized the way to do this was to recognize and treat repeat traffic to be equally as important as new website traffic.

To drive repeat traffic, we kept our regular customers engaged. We introduced a personalized loyalty program, held fun celebratory events including a virtual East egg-hunt challenge (which now has become an annual tradition) and even created customized receipts when recognizing a customer had returned for a secondary or multiple follow-up order. A lot of companies forget the power of a happy repeat customer. Not only do they add monetary value through repeat purchases but they also become a spokesperson for your brand, without charging an ad fee ☺

How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?

It’s been just four years since we launched and we’re now regarded as one of the most customer-driven and fastest growing companies in Canada. Our professionalism is well known and appreciated, which has enabled us to continue to grow and become a point of reference throughout Canada and the USA (to where we started shipping just over a year ago).

The secret to creating a profitable online business can be summarized in the words of one of my former University of Toronto professors Tim Richardson: "adding value".

If you evaluate your entire business model with a value-added approach, similar to how we did in recreating a retail experience for an otherwise mundane online transaction, you can significantly grow your exposure and build a successful ecommerce business.

By doing this you can distinguish yourself from being regarded by the average online shopper as merely another Amazon/Ebay seller (if you sell on these platforms) or just any regular "online website". Instead a value added approach will help you become recognized by the online community as a truly unique brand in itself. We’re not just any fragrance company, we’re known by our customers as Fragrancebuy Canada!

But value-added doesn’t just mean adding value for a customer, its also about adding value to your business and recognizing shortfalls and opportunities in your day-to-day operations.

We incorporated SmileIO’s loyalty widget and Conversio’s email app to generate beautiful sales receipts to get customers excited about their purchases and keep them informed of their shipment every step of the way.

All of the aforementioned are simple apps to automate tasks, or should I say add value to your business. When you analyze your business, look for ways to help you reduce costs and be more efficient. Focus on your core competencies and fill the voids with a value added solution. There are tons of applications/website addons/csv formulas out there that can help you save time in running a business and help you grow your business instead. Examining your business and finding ways to add value this way is the secret to profitability.

In fact, if you’re keen to know, we’ll let you in on our little secret: our company has just three employees and we’re able to efficiently run this multi-million dollar business :)

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

They say you can have the lowest prices in the world, but if you don’t have the customer base to take benefit of those low prices, then having those low prices means absolutely nothing. In the beginning, we were heavily focused on our buying strategy entailing us buying low and selling low to compete. But we soon realized the flaw in such a strategy. Selling low makes you just like any Amazon marketplace vendor and focusing on being the lowest price may never be successful as there always will be someone out there that will try to come in and be lower.

We changed gears and focused on adding value to the customer’s purchasing process and adding value in our day to day operations to get customers their orders efficiently and fast. Now, we find some of our clients comfortable even paying a few bucks extra to us vs a competitor because they feel comfortable knowing that Fragrancebuy is reliable, that we care about the customer experience and that ultimately buying from Fragrancebuy is a memorable and satisfying shopping experience that is second to none.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

In addition to the apps (which all add tremendous value to our day to day operations), the one app which is most crucial and we’ve yet to mention is our search partner, Instant Search Plus (ISP).

When a customer visits a website, they are in search of a particular product, although they sometimes don’t even know what it is. To help them complete their thought we’ve partnered with ISP to create an impeccable search experience.

Customers can perform searches with synonyms so even typos are recognized and corrected by the engine. For example a customer looking for Burberry might accidentally type Blueberry but the system will recognize and present them Burberry in an autocomplete search suggestion. ISP custom created an impeccable refined search page for us that further helps our customers narrow in with smart filters to present to them a product that matches their envisioned search.

Moreover using powerful website search analytics allows us to monitor what our customers are searching for and how we can fill that void between their envisioned search and the final presented search result. The result is a definitive value added to our bottom line.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

When we started our ecommerce business, admittingly there was a point in time we didn’t know where to begin! Thankfully Shopify offered (and still does) blogs and articles to help entrepreneurs analyze their business and directs them to tools in place to meet commonly found roadblocks in strategy execution.

My single point of advice to all readers when it comes to finding information is this: If you don’t know how to do something, someone else likely has had the same problem before. Your roadblocks may be cleared with the help of a single point of advice found in reading a simple blog post or related resource on the Internet.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

E-commerce is a different ball game now than it was 4 years ago. More and more competition is entering the game and it’s only going to get more crowded and challenging.

The key to winning is to always keep ahead of the game in such a way that when your competitors reach the level you are today, you’ve already innovated and are still thousands of miles ahead of them.

Where can we go to learn more?

We hope we were able to inspire you to rethink your business with a value-added state of mind. We’ll leave you with the following custom message which we transcribe on all of our shipping boxes to showcase our commitment to an impeccable online shopping experience:

"Hello Fragrance Connoisseur,

Welcome to the revolution in online fragrance shopping!

Although we trust that you have received your fragrance(s) safe and sound, kindly take a moment to verify that everything arrived in perfect condition. If there is any reason you wouldn’t rate this as a 5-star experience, please contact us right away and we’ll do all we can to make it right!

If everything looks fantastic (just as it should be) we encourage you to leave us some feedback, join our Facebook community, hashtag us on Instagram via #FragFaves, tweet us, be inspired by our pins on Pinterest or upload your box-opening Fragcitement to YouTube.

Serving you great deals and exceeding your customer service expectations is - and always will - be an integral part of our philosophy. We thank you for choosing FragranceBuy. It has been our pleasure to serve you.

Happy Savings!"