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Website Case Studies: Swahili Imports


Meet Swahili Imports.
For nearly 15 years, Swahili Imports has supplied retail stores across America with a broad range of modern furniture, home decor, gifts and personal accessories handcrafted by artisans across Africa. With clients ranging from tourist giants like Disney, the Smithsonian Institute and the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the most remote specialty boutiques across the U.S. and around the world, Swahili Imports currently offers over 1500 high quality and competitively priced fair trade African products.

Swahili Imports works directly with African artisans in Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Mozambique, Uganda, Sudan, Mali, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Senegal. Extensive traveling in Africa is vital to the development of the Swahili network. Owner and chief product developer Leslie Mittelberg spends between two to three months yearly working with artisans on new designs and seeking out new faces for the Swahili network. Without this ongoing personal connection to Africa's crafting scene, Swahili's selection would never have developed beyond its initial box of sisal kiondos.

Project Overview
Swahili Imports has offered e-commerce websites catering to wholesale and retail markets since August 2000.
In November 2008, they took a big step and split the retail and wholesale sites. While they had previously shared a database, requiring descriptions to be vague enough to apply to both store buyers and end consumers, each site now could work from separate image and copy databases, allowing Swahili to tailor each site to its respective market.

Smart Stuff Swahili Does
Using the site overlay function in Google Analytics, in January 2009 they determined which elements of swahiliwholesale.com were used the least, and stripped those away. Swahili approached the revision from the mindset they've witnessed through the past 15 years at trade shows: wholesale buyers are busy, short on time and want the facts, not the fluff.
Swahili continues to enhance the visual appeal with better photography and more detailed copy, and are considering additional aids for  buyers, like printable product information cards and online video trade shows. Email campaigns through Constant Contact include a weekly SALE or DISCOUNT, and after only a few weeks, they have experienced a fabulous response to that initiative.  

We added the ACCOUNTS module to the Swahili site so customers can now access their order history, check the status of orders and print inventory check in sheets, complete with product images, making the process of ordering, keeping track of shipments, checking in arriving inventory and placing re-orders a snap. This enhancement gives Swahili Imports a major advantage against many of their competitors, and buyers love their ACCOUNT sections.

 And the Result Is.....
Wholesale Thrives: An unexpected benefit of the new-and-improved wholesale website came in the form of inquiries from buyers around the world who found us in search engine listings. In the past, Swahili relied heavily on trade shows for new customers. They hardly expected to get more new accounts from the website than from shows, but as the inquiries continue to roll in, their reliance on trade shows (with their incredibly high overhead) began to decrease. Swahili now has a growing list of registered buyers that exceeds 2700 accounts, many of which ordered Swahili Imports products for their stores without first seeing them in person.

Separating Retail and Wholesale Successful: Perhaps the biggest step Swahili took in turning dueling online presences into complementary sites intended to reinforce Swahili Imports as a brand came in the last wholesale newsletter, when, for the first time, they invited wholesale buyers to visit their retail site. In the past, they had kept the retail site "on the down low",  unsure how buyers would perceive this duality. They were thrilled to find no negative response to the retail site, and if anything, an increase in wholesale orders for items featured on the retail site.
New Features:

The retail site contains these new features/sections:
  • Locate a Retailer - helps consumers find Swahili Imports products at stores in their area and in turn encourages consumers to suggest stores in their area that might benefit from their selection
  • Press - displays media appearances and includes an online press kit for interested writers and bloggers
  • Book Reviews - allows customers to read additional information and reviews about books offered on the site
  • Artisan Profiles - a chance to learn all about the people behind the products
  • Resident Artisan Gallery - a venue for local African artisans to present their creations
  • Employee Profiles - gives shoppers a chance to see who does what at Swahili Imports
  • Swahili Stores - provides information about the brick-and-mortar retail stores in Eugene and Portland
What they say:
According to Darla Robbins :
"I've been working directly with the site manager on a daily basis for the past four years, and I love it. I've learned a great deal about tailoring my pages just by getting in there and playing around with the html editors on each page.
"All-in-all, Swahili Imports has benefited greatly from our relationship with Dive In Designs. We have always prioritized the personal side of business, and Dive In brings that same philosophy to their clients. "
Dive In Designs, Inc.
Website Design
4660 Main Street
Building D, Suite 600-1
Springfield, Oregon 97478
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