La Maison du Chocolat's Irresistible E-Commerce Experiences - D2C Discovery #3

[Market Brew] How La Maison du Chocolat crafts luxurious e-commerce experiences that Japanese consumers can't get enough of.

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La Maison du Chocolat’s chocolates are irresistible. Especially in Japan which is the company’s second-largest market. Part of their success lies in crafting equally irresistible e-commerce experiences. Surprisingly, this has a lot to do with extreme sports…

Passionate fans 

Benjamin Costa spent his early career building, among others, extreme-sports e-commerce experiences for adrenaline junkies. Now he crafts e-commerce experiences for chocolate junkies as Director of La Maison du Chocolat Japan.

Extreme sports and chocolate: different ingredients, equally passionate fans.

Today Benjamin reveals his recipe for building e-commerce experiences that wow in Japan. Given the country's burning appetite for high quality, it's not easy. In this article, you’ll learn some of the key requirements such as how to express your brand via e-commerce, what Japanese consumers expect online, and much more.

Today’s post by sub-headings:

  • Introducing Benjamin Costa

  • La Maison du Chocolat’s e-commerce expansion

  • Crafting a smooth user journey

  • Understanding how Japanese consumers shop online

  • Communicating brand via e-commerce

  • Localizing e-commerce for Japan

  • The importance of building a phygital experience

  • The future La Maison du Chocolat’s e-commerce in Japan

Introducing Benjamin Costa - Director of La Maison du Chocolat Japan

Benjamin began his career working for France’s most famous independent extreme-sports store. He developed the store's e-commerce business, attracting online customers from all over France. His success led him to take a position in the South of France where he managed one of the biggest D2C kite-surf businesses. Here, Benjamin again scaled the e-commerce business. So much so that they had to move from a 1500m² to a more than 3000m² warehouse to manage growing stock and orders.

This experience formed my ideas about e-commerce and the user journey. So many companies focus on the digital space alone. But I see e-commerce starting the moment a customer hears about our website. Then everything up to the transport, delivery and aftercare of the product. The website is a part of the journey only.

Eventually, to pursue a dream of his, Benjamin moved to Japan with his wife & daughter. He directed the French Chamber of Commerce in Kansai, creating new opportunities for development outside of Tokyo for a couple of years, learning about the business landscape as he did. Finally, after creating his own international business development agency which he drove for more than 3 years, he was head hunted by La Maison du Chocolat to direct their Japan operations. A key part of his mission: to bring their digital experience up to speed with the rest of the world.

La Maison du Chocolat’s e-Commerce expansion

La Maison du Chocolat was founded in Paris in 1977. Since then the company has expanded globally. It has established a passionate fan base in Japan, the company's second market. Recently they have been striving to expand their e-commerce business.

About 5 or 6 years ago, La Maison du Chocolat launched its global website. Unfortunately, it had some teething problems. We decided to upgrade the website last year in Japan. It’s better now, but there’s more to improve.

Benjamin has focussed on simplicity as a core value for La Maison du Chocolat's e-commerce. This means ensuring the customer's journey, digital AND physical, is smooth like chocolate.

The purpose of e-commerce is to be able to ship good products on a good date for the customer. The premise is simple, so the experience of e-commerce must be simple too. And yet, as we know, e-commerce has become complex.

Crafting a smooth user journey

I tell my staff, my e-commerce manager, my customer experience manager: we must craft a straightforward user journey for our customers.

Benjamin has a profound appreciation of the e-commerce user journey. Building great extreme sports e-commerce experiences taught him every step must be flawless. In La Maison du Chocolat’s case, this includes packaging and storage, transportation, delivery, and the digital ecosystem surrounding the product.

Understanding how Japanese consumers shop online

It’s important to understand that e-Commerce in Japan is a little bit late. It’s still immature here, a few years behind Europe.

This is a paradox because Japan is also the fourth largest e-commerce market in the world.  In 2021 consumers spent over $128 billion online. Yet Japanese consumers are still apprehensive about online shopping.

Consumers worry about making purchases online. It’s changing, but Japan is still oriented to physical retail. Consumers want an experience they can trust. They want products they can see, touch, and feel assured of the quality, delivery, etcetera. So, e-commerce in Japan must account for this.

Benjamin explains that e-commerce in Japan needs to reassure customers constantly.  Websites must restate information and over-inform customers.

As an example, we had a problem with our website. The items that customers put in their cart weren’t summarized after they completed the payment information and before final payment confirmation. This was effecting the drop-off rates on the payment page and we received some complaints after purchasing as well. It was important we changed this. Customers needed to see the items they’d put in their cart again, even if they viewed their basket. One extra confirmation before the final confirmation.

This affects everything about a website. Product pages should contain a lot of detailed information. There should also be a lot of photos so customers can see every aspect of the product. Stock levels for products should be clear so customers don’t worry. The more detail the better when it comes to Japan. The same can be said for just about anywhere in the world really. 

Japanese consumers are sensitive to allergen information. People don’t imagine Japan worries about this, but consumers want reassurance. The same applied to delivery dates. In Japan, the delivery network is exceptional, and e-commerce must reflect this. Consumers need options to choose dates and timing of delivery and be able to change this.

Communicating brand via e-commerce

Benjamin explains that e-commerce must articulate a brand’s values. Especially for luxury products like La Maison du Chocolat.

Consumers in Japan want to feel part of a universe. If they invest in a brand, they want to be a member of it. So, the website must embody the brand. Our website has a classy design, with copywriting that evokes our product's luxury. We take care to emphasise our core values and let customers know that we care for them - at every step of the way.

Ensuring that the brand’s universe stays constant on and offline is key too. La Maison du Chocolat uses high-quality packaging for example. When customers unbox their chocolates, the box communicates a sense of luxury.

Our packaging is the emblematic La Maison du Chocolat brown. The boxes are high-quality. Inside there is the leaflet that introduces the chocolates. It’s like dining at a fine restaurant. The temperature of storage and transport is optimal so that products stay perfect. It’s not easy with Japanese summers. But it’s essential, and it’s another point we communicate clearly online.

Localizing e-commerce for Japan

La Maison du Chocolat did research into why consumers buy their chocolates. They found the most common reason is as a gift.

This revelation helped us improve our e-commerce. We are working on new options to separate the delivery address and the invoice address. We also added options for noshi (a Japanese festive ornament), message notes, and gift bags. It's the same kind of extras you get at a department store in Japan.

The importance of building a phygital experience

For La Maison du Chocolat, e-commerce is also about marrying physical and digital (phygital) retail. 

I have pushed for our e-commerce and physical stores to work hand in hand. When I took my position, I remember our website didn't have a store locator for a couple of years due to a system problem. But e-commerce should funnel customers into physical space and vice versa. Each space has different strengths. When customers visit our store they can talk to our staff, and feel a human connection to our brand.

La Maison du Chocolat has also launched products that are only available in stores. Pastries are one example.

We can't sell our pastries online. But we do use our website to advertise our patisserie products to customers. We use beautiful photos and enticing words to encourage them to visit our stores. It adds an extra element of La Maison du Chocolat experience. We also have a newsletter which we use to connect consumers with our website and physical store. There are seasonal goods for example that are only sold in certain stores.

For Benjamin, creating phygital synergy has operational benefits too. La Maison du Chocolate has established cross-service information sharing to share stock. They also track user volume by geographical location in Japan.

We can see that we have a lot of shoppers in Hokkaido for example. So this data can help us make decisions about where to open our next physical location.

To meet increasing demand, La Maison du Chocolat is continuing to increase the number of physical stores and pop-ups in Japan. At the same time, Benjamin is crafting omni-channel experiences that marry digital and physical. Be it online or in-store, what is certain is both spaces deliver the same luxurious La Maison du Chocolat feeling.

The future of La Maison du Chocolat’s e-commerce in Japan

In addition to reinforcing the connection between digital and physical stores, Benjamin plans to develop La Maison du Chocolat’s membership offering.

Membership is really important in e-commerce these days. In Japan, consumers really love to be part of a community. We are planning on developing our membership offering, “Le Carré des Passionnés, to deliver a truly excellent experience. This means developing premium content around our premium chocolates - offering online seminars, training, and interviews with famous chocolate makers, for example.

These exclusive benefits are important to strengthen the relationship between our customers and our brand. They are benefits that elevate the chocolate experience through education, while also feeling exclusive.

As we discussed last week, investing in exclusive content for members is effective for turning customers into fans of your brand and products. The result is an enriched consumer experience that translates into higher customer lifetime value for a business.

That’s all folks

We hope you enjoyed indulging in this interview about how to create a luxury chocolate experience on e-commerce. We would like to say a huge thank you to Benjamin Costa and La Maison du Chocolat for supporting and interviewing with us.

See you next Thursday when we’ll be exploring why more and more F&B companies are turning to crowdfunding to launch their products!

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