Welcome to Country is a not-for-profit online marketplace for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander experiences and products.
First launched as a marketplace specifically dedicated to connecting travellers with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism operators in December 2019, the company pivoted into e-commerce in the wake of COVID.
The range of products and experiences listed in the marketplace assist the organisation delivering on its purpose of creating jobs and economic development outcomes.
Welcome to Country features Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander-owned experiences. It also lists non-Indigenous businesses but only where Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people are employed to deliver the tours and experiences.
For its retail marketplace, the social enterprise lists items that it directly sources from art centres, artists or manufactures that pay royalties.
Tracing Their Roots
Jason Eades, CEO of Welcome to Country, said the inspiration for the launch of the online store was to give Indigenous businesses and artists a platform to promote and sell their products.
“Ecommerce was not in our [immediate] plans, but it very quickly made its way there. We knew that a lot of our experience operators also sold products and our thoughts were around how we could make it easier for customers to purchase,” said Jason.
“The initial launch of Welcome to Country as an experience website was also around the same time the East coast was hit with devastating bushfires, then the floods, and then COVID. It was during the first phase lockdown in early 2020 that the idea of launching an online store came about,” said Jason.
In August 2020 Welcome to Country launched the first version of its online retail marketplace for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander products. The first item listed on the site was Marcia Langton’s guidebook, also named Welcome to Country.
“Within a week of listing the book we sold 100 copies. It was the signal that we needed to accelerate our ecommerce,” said Jason.
Since then, the website has continued to grow. To date, the online store has featured over 1000 products, including homewares, jewellery, clothing, and books, from more than 60 suppliers who are either Indigenous-owned or pay royalties to Indigenous artists.
Scaling up Ecommerce
Capitalising on its sales momentum, Welcome to Country decided to re-evaluate its shipping processes in order to keep up with growing demand.
Welcome to Country needed a shipping solution to help the organisation scale profitably. The answer to this quandary was found on the social media video sharing platform, TikTok.
“TikTok has become a huge platform for smaller micro-business to build their audience and brand awareness. I found it interesting on TikTok to watch how other brands were packaging and sending orders efficiently,” Jason said.
“We had been using the standard functions of Shopify for our experiences but as the ecommerce store started to scale and volumes started to grow, we knew we had to look at other plug-ins.It was on TikTok that I came across a video of a Victorian business packing orders using ShipStation, which then led me to do more research.”
Earlier this year, Welcome to Country launched its new purpose-built ecommerce site with the help of Sydney-based digital agency Elephant Room.
“The way you present and sell experiences is different from selling products. The pages that you’re displaying the sale stock on is different for an experience. When it comes to tours, you’re trying to woo customers with imagery. But having to use that same format and layout for a product was really challenging,” he said.
“We decided to separate the websites and it has since allowed us to enhance the discoverability of products on the site. Almost immediately we saw a shift in the conversion rates that were coming off the site. For the traffic arriving, our conversion rate nearly doubled within a few weeks.”
Jason and the team chose ShipStation during the site’s rebuild due to its comprehensive functionality, ease of integration to connect Shopify with domestic and international postage systems, and its onboarding and customer support.
“The setup process was very easy. ShipStation has a good knowledge base and our assigned onboarding manager made it a breeze to configure and start using,” said Jason.
Optimising shipping operations
Jason credits ShipStaition’s intuitive nature and ease of use for simplifying the shipping process. Since implementing ShipStation, Welcome to Country has:
- Increased efficiency by 50%
- Increased dispatch speed by 80%
- Reduced manual labour by 80%
Split orders and notifications
Two of ShipStation’s most impactful features for Welcome to Country are the platform’s split orders function and customer notifications.
Split orders allows retailers to create separate shipments within a single order, with each shipment containing the items specified. Each shipment also has its own shipment details, tags, notes, notification templates, and packing slip templates.
ShipStation’s customer notification emails include two types: shipment confirmation emails, which lets customers know their order has shipped, and delivery notification emails, which lets customers know their shipment has been delivered.
“Before the new site, we had been sending orders using standard functions in Shopify. But as our volumes started to grow, we began to hit some limitations, particularly for pre-order items such as books,” said Jason.
“With ShipStation, we’re now able to break up an order if it includes a pre-order item. We can send the tracking for the available items and then we’re able to ship the remainder of the order once it arrives. That really creates value for us because when you’re a small team it’s really important to be able to keep track of those orders. We can easily see it on one screen and know when it can be sent to the customer.”
Batch shipping solutions
Another feature that has increased the team’s efficiency is ShipStation’s batch shipping function. Batch shipping allows retailers to organise multiple shipments into customised groups.
“The team loves the batch functionality because it helps them pick and pack orders really easily. They also love hitting the ‘end of day’ click and seeing that number pop up of how many parcels have gone out.”
Welcome to Country has also saved on shipping costs by combining shipments. The combine shipments function allows retailers to combine multiple orders from the same customer into a single shipment, providing a better customer experience as the customer receives one delivery despite having ordered them on separate occasions.
ShipStation’s automation functions, including service mapping, have helped Welcome to Country save time, while also reducing manual errors.
Service mapping automatically sets the shipping service and package type in ShipStation based on the customer’s choice of shipping option during their checkout, such as standard shipping or express shipping.
In addition, Welcome to Country has implemented insurance automation with the help of the ShipStation team, which has further enhanced efficiency.
Internal inventory management
ShipStation has also provided Welcome to Country greater visibility on stock levels.
This has been thanks to ShipStation’s internal inventory management, which allows retailers to set product inventory levels and track stock counts as orders are shipped.
“ShipStation provides a great visual on where stock levels are at as you’re packing orders. It will tell you how much stock of that item is remaining and as the person who’s responsible for ordering it’s a good prompt for myself and the team to let me know if we’re getting low on an item,” said Jason.
“Retail can be such a funny game. You can be out of stock one day, get a new order in, think you have a month’s worth of supply and then it’s gone in a week. If you’re not watching [stock] constantly it’s easy to run out of products. As a small team those reminders are really helpful.”
Developing an efficient shipping process has allowed Welcome to Country to focus on growing the business and expanding its product range, while also continuing to deliver on its social and economic purpose.
“Our objective is to drive economic outcomes for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and so for us, increasing the product range goes hand-in-hand with increasing the number of suppliers that we have and therefore the breadth of support,” said Jason.
“We’ve been fortunate that we have been able to pivot in a way that we have, and there have been some real success stories with our suppliers because there’s a lot of crossover between the experiences and the products that we sell.
Making a Difference
Welcome to Country’s online shop has also been able to create additional revenue streams for its suppliers during lockdown.
“One business we work with that runs tours and experiences was forced to shut that side of the business when COVID hit. They then decided to collaborate with a jewellery maker in Sydney and we started selling their earrings. Initially, we were selling wholesale over $2000 a week of those earrings. The royalty payments to that artist meant that they didn’t have to worry as much about not operating the [tourism] side of their business because they had a steady stream of income coming in.
“During this most recent lockdown, we placed an order with one of our suppliers based in Victoria, which was equivalent to two months’ trade for them. They’re small and during COVID all of their business partners they work with haven’t been open so they haven’t had as much opportunity to sell their product. It’s quite moving that we are able to deliver on our purpose and keep their business open and their staff employed.”
According to Jason, there are currently around 600 to 700 line items listed on the website.
“I think back to when we started with one supplier and one book. We now have more than 60 suppliers that we work with. As much as COVID has interrupted so many aspects of our lives, it has also brought a lot of opportunities for us,” he said.
Scaling to Succeed
The time Welcome to Country has saved by automating its fulfilment process has helped the organisation continue to focus on growing its social impact.
“Over the next 12 months we’re striving to scale by 10X,” said Jason.
“As a social enterprise we enjoy philanthropic support, but our ultimate goal is to be self-sustained like any business. We’ve set ourselves targets over the next three years which are quite ambitious, but they’re targets about how much we can return to our suppliers.”
Jason advises any ecommerce business struggling with their shipping processes to not be afraid to ask for help.
“The best thing is to reach out to others. Like the TikTok video, if others have worked out how to solve the problem, then don’t be afraid to ask them for help.”
He also recommends businesses invest in long term solutions to help drive growth.
“We will continue to make sure we have the right tools in place to help us scale and solutions that can grow with us, like ShipStation. You don’t want a solution for now that you will have to redo in 12 months’ time because the world has changed so much.”