Show dormant products that get buried under traditional merchandising Enhance customer experience for loyal hobbyist customers & foster repeat business Streamline website maintenance processes to reduce workload Differentiate in a fiercely competitive market environment
Merchandise dynamically & reduce manual workload AI shopping assistant and drag-and-drop grid builder that takes no time to set up Boost conversion and repeat purchases with a Curated Personal page that automatically adapts for every customer Deliver end-to-end personalisation at every step - on the homepage, PLPs & PDPs
Scale Model Scenery (SMS), founded by Justin and Tina Noble in 2010 and based in Truro, Cornwall, supplies high quality, pre-printed and laser-cut card and paper kits, textures and accessories to model railway and scale modelling enthusiasts all over the world. Visit their website and you will instantly appreciate the company’s mission to offer its customers models that look as close to the real thing as possible, enhancing the enjoyment of their pastime.
SMS has been awarded Hornby’s “Specialist Retailer of the Year” in 2019, 2020 and 2022. Its products have been featured in many magazines such as ModelRail, BRM, Hornby and RailExpress.
At first, Justin focused on downloadable PDF card kits. But he has an innovative mindset and is always looking for new ways to grow the business. In 2014 he invested in the first laser cutter. “That put us on the map, and the business grew like crazy,” he says. His firm now has several precision laser cutters, which allows them to work with wood, wood pulp and plastic as well as card. “We spent about 18 months intensively researching the best materials to provide the quality and detail we were looking for,” Justin says. This in turn has massively expanded the number and variety of products on offer.
Today, more than 90 percent of SMS business is online and it’s vital that hobbyists should be able to find what they are looking for, and order it, easily. SMS has built up a loyal customer base and wants to maintain its excellent relationships with modellers who appreciate accurate and relevant advice and guidance from experts. However, while the Nobles have a team of dedicated colleagues, their time and resources are limited. As Justin says himself, “We’d sooner be designing and producing new kits rather than spending time maintaining the website.” Designing a new kit might take several days of work but if it is competitively priced and appeals to modelling enthusiasts it will typically sell hundreds or thousands of times. Underlining the importance of the community, a lot of suggestions for new products come from customers or editorial coverage.
SMS sends a regular newsletter to 17,000 subscribers and has a closed social media group with 10,000 members. These are key to the success of the business model. “Repeat business is vital to the business, so we need to get new products in front of interested customers quickly and reliably,” Justin adds. It’s a competitive market and while some of SMS’ competitors are fairly niche, others are bigger and well-resourced.
“I’ve tried … but I can’t fool Shopbox”
In 2018 SMS implemented an e-commerce platform with the help of EKM, a leading website platform in the United Kingdom. Then in 2023, EKM was interested in doing some beta testing with Shopbox AI and proposed a project to SMS. “You can do some basic personalisation in EKM, but we were looking for something more sophisticated,” Justin says. Specifically, SMS wanted to be sure that recommendations were relevant to each visitor to the online shop. “Most obviously, modellers work with different scales and gauges so you would not want to put an OO scale kit in front of an N-Gauge enthusiast.”
Justin had a discussion with Shopbox AI about the various categories that are of relevance to customers.
“Shopbox is very good at paying attention to what you’ve browsed before and makes intelligent recommendations based on these observations. I’ve tried really hard to fool Shopbox into showing me irrelevant items like other eCommerce applications do … and I just can’t!” Justin Noble, Managing Director, Scale Model Scenery
He says the implementation was “a piece of cake”: it was just a matter of getting Shopbox to work with EKM’s product feed. Shopbox went live early in 2023.
Now, the returning customer sees two product carousels: one based on items already viewed and the other AI-driven recommendations of “other products you might like”, which tend to be in the same or related categories. It’s all very easy to use, regardless of the customer’s technological proficiency. Even the new product releases that are surfaced are the ones that are most relevant to the customer, based on past behaviour.
“My SMS” – unique to each hobbyist
A second stage was to implement a curated page for each customer, which can be found on the website under “My SMS”, with account details, wishlist, order history and address book as well as the customer’s Reward Points balance. It means that once there is some shopping history, SMS can show items that the customer is really interested in. “It was really easy to create. Much as I like coding, I’d sooner be building new product offerings, so being able to drag and drop onto the page and set it up in no time was great,” Justin says.
Entirely new customers will see modelling essentials and guides – everything you need to get started fast.
“Send me flowers”
Justin provides an example of the power of offering recommendations that are perhaps not obvious, but relevant to the hobbyist. As well as the kits, SMS sells a large variety of scenic features such as flowers and vegetation.
“Before we implemented Shopbox, I ordered these products maybe once every three months from the lady who supplies them. Now they are selling so fast that I place an order nearly every week.”
The results show that the 27% of shoppers who interacted with Shopbox viewed 52% more products and accounted for 58% of online transactions. Conversion rates are up by 200%, the average order value has increased by 27% and sales have increased significantly this year, much to Justin’s delight.
More time to serve the community
“The best thing about Shopbox is that it works. You paste in a couple of lines of code and let it do its thing, whereas the software we used in the past needed regular time-consuming attention. With Shopbox I’m free to spend more of my time designing new products and running the community,” Justin concludes.