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Q&A with Julia Simmonds of itchy baby co.

Welcome to our weekly Q&A with Internet Retailing’s 2018 Top 50 People in E-Commerce. See our previous Q&As here.

This week, we interviewed Julia Simmonds, founder and CEO of itchy baby co., an online business selling natural skincare products.

Ranking 20th in this year’s Top 50 People in E-Commerce, Simmonds started itchy baby co. in 2015 after struggling to find suitable products on the market to treat her son’s eczema. Drawing on her background in pharmacy, she developed her own line of natural skincare products and became passionate about educating others suffering from eczema through social media.

Keep reading to learn how a Facebook algorithm change nearly killed Simmonds’ business, and why she thinks it may be time for retailers to reevaluate their investment in social media advertising.

Heather McIlvaine: You started your e-commerce business after realising there was a market for the natural products you made to soothe your son’s eczema. That meant switching from your career in pharmacy to retail. What was that process like? What are some of the key things you’ve learnt along the way?

Julia Simmonds: I started my career in retail at the age of three, meeting customers in my mother’s pharmacy. I started my own career in pharmacy working in community pharmacy and understanding how people wanted to receive healthcare information and services, and how important it is to build relationships with customers.

Starting itchy baby co. meant switching from a retail business where you are always face-to-face with your customers, to ‘e’ meeting them. What I have learnt is the importance of finding ways and means of communicating with your customers through e-commerce as if they were standing in front of you in bricks-and-mortar retail.

HM: How has your business evolved since you started in 2015? 

JS: Our business has evolved through increasing our product range, which has allowed us to grow the business, as well as growing with the children who are using our products. It has also evolved through the education, support we are able to offer our community. Prioritising our customer communication through personalisation both online and offline cannot be underestimated when attributing our growth.

A post shared by itchy baby co. (@itchybabyco) on

HM: You dramatically scaled back your investment in social media advertising this year, after Facebook’s algorithm change hurt your business. Can you tell us what happened?

JS: We were enjoying good growth through Facebook, more so through our organic reach than paid advertising. The change in algorithm was a wake-up call for us to put more resources into other e-commerce channels. It also was a reminder to make excellent use of a channel when it’s working, as you don’t know if that opportunity will present itself again.

When we launched itchy baby co., parents using our products and sharing their experiences gave us social credibility and this was the beginning of our brand awareness. Social media is, of course, constantly changing, and now we are finding that our target market is moving away from Facebook and we need to move with them.

HM: What do you think are some of the downsides of social media? Are we talking about this enough?

JS: Social media enabled our business to really hit the ground running, and hard. We were sprinting the distance of a marathon with social media, particularly Facebook. Social media doesn’t end with a post. The customer communication through comments, messages, sharing all needs your attention so it perpetuates and gains traction, while hopefully growing a following and potential customer base along the way. As a business founder, this means other things are put on hold, given lower priority and this can leave holes in the business which eventually show up and can limit your growth.

We need to talk more about our ROI on social media. When my phone, the portal to my world, isn’t within my reach, I notice myself becoming highly anxious and agitated. Not knowing what has been said about our brand and responding as soon as possible causes me distress. Don’t worry I’m urgently working on this, but it definitely has got to this point. What’s the ROI on all the time and energy we are spending here compared to other channels? Measuring social media outcomes still involves too much attribution, and this is something we need to consider when choosing where to spend our resources compared to other channels.

A post shared by itchy baby co. (@itchybabyco) on

HM: What are you working on at the moment? What are your top priorities over the next 12 months?

JS: Offering more tailored health information advice to our customers. With skincare conditions like eczema, there are certain pain points along the journey where having access to information can reduce the emotional heartbreak and practical challenges families face.

Due to the positive feedback we receive from customers using our products, we are in the process of developing more digital educational resources. There is limited support for families living with chronic skin conditions and this is an area where digital access to information and support can make a big difference.

HM: What new technology or trend are you interested in exploring?

JS: Although it’s far from new, we haven’t fully explored how live chat could benefit our customers. Being able to offer immediate access to health professionals while guiding customers through the process of embarking on a skincare routine for their child is our priority.

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