So Poundland has finally launched online. And no one could accuse it of rushing things.
It started building its website in 2011, but it’s been stuck in development hell since. It came close to launching in 2013 and 2014, but CEO Jim McCarthy demanded further improvements. Today it went live, so it follows he’s now confident it will succeed. Should he be?
His nerves were understandable. Pound shops have always struggled online because there is only so much fun to be had shopping online for cheap bleach and multipacks of crisps. One of the reasons UK shoppers enjoy Poundland is the in-store experience of wandering in for some batteries and emerging with a basket of random stuff they didn’t know they needed, or that a ‘wow’ value moment might be just around the corner.
That enjoyable unpredictability is hard to replicate online, but Poundland has tried by introducing ‘Shuffle’ shopping. A big yellow shuffle button is surrounded by 20 different products. Click on a product to add it to your basket. Shuffle again for another random selection. It’s a fun mechanic perfectly suited to Poundland’s eclectic, affordable range and it’s just the kind of thing McCarthy knew was needed. Expect it to pop up on rival pound shop websites shortly.
Elsewhere, Poundland has put a mission-based approach front and centre, so shopping for a kids’ birthday party, for instance, is easily done. Clicking on a link brings everything relevant into one place, and you may wonder why other fmcg retailers, other than Asda, have been slow to employ the same tactic online. Tesco doesn’t at all.
As for delivery, it’s been addressed by a flat £4 charge and a wait of up to five days (although McCarthy is keen to roll out click & collect). Whether a customer orders a single tube of toothpaste, or 45 separate 750ml bottles of bleach, it will cost £4. Unless you spend over £50, in which case delivery is free. And although £4 looks hefty, it’s probably safe to assume that enough permutations have been run to prove that £4 is the cheapest Poundland could charge to cover those hugely variable delivery costs.
So, after an age in development, what Poundland has launched is shoppable, affordable, has nice latecomer-advantage touches and the fun factor. It took its time, but it got there in the end.
Now it will be interesting to see the effect on Poundland’s high street sales. As much fun as they can be, the popularity of Poundland’s high street shops can mean very busy stores and very long queues. Maybe McCarthy’s biggest problem won’t be that the website succeeds, but that sales at its shops suffer. Maybe it will even slow down its previously rampant expansion, especially as it focuses on incorporating the 251 former 99p Stores that it just snapped up for £55m into its estate.
Or maybe that Poundland is primarily a volume business means it doesn’t matter whether pallets of stock are shifted online or on the high street, just that they are shifted. And that the only thing that matters is that people keep on spending their pounds at Poundland. The easier McCarthy can make it for them to do just that, the better.