The Strategy Behind Our Cross Border Campaign Win at the eCommerce Awards

By Emma Moody, 28th September 2023

Following a wonderful night at the eCommerce Awards on Wednesday, we’re thrilled to announce that we brought home the Cross Border Campaign Award for our work with Cole & Son.

A huge amount of work went into Cole & Son’s campaign to make the website the success that it is. To celebrate the win, we’d like to share how Cole & Son’s campaign was delivered, the work and strategy that went into it, and the outcomes that won the award.


Plug & Play on stage collecting the Best Cross Border Campaign Award at the eCommerce Awards

See the full list of winners at the eCommerce awards here.

What is the Cross Border Campaign Award?

This award assesses international marketing campaigns and how businesses have strategically expanded into new markets, utilising marketing strategy and technology to support the move.


Our winning campaign

Cole & Son is a wallpaper retailer that specialises in high quality luxury wallpaper. Before our engagement, the majority of their sales were made through their network of global distributors and they sold a small amount of product directly to their B2B and B2C audiences in the UK.

Having made the decision to transition their business model from selling via distributors to selling direct to market, they needed to improve their customer facing eCommerce store and expand their global footprint. In doing so, they could increase their profit margins and take back control of their brand.

Cole & Son selected 6 territories (in addition to the UK) that were high value to the business and would be their first targets for international growth. These were: The UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden and Norway.


The challenges

To successfully achieve their cross border expansion, Cole & Son needed to overcome a couple of key challenges in their existing digital ecosystem.

  • Cole & Son didn’t have an established digital presence outside the UK
  • They were competing with their own distributors for sales. Their distributors were more established and outranked Cole & Son in search engines and paid campaigns
  • Cole & Son’s website was dated, didn’t reflect their brand and didn’t have the infrastructure in place to fulfil their cross border expansion
  • Their website performance was poor, with a low conversion rate
  • They lacked a strategy to get the website performing and generating sales


Website Mobile Screens of Shopify Web Design

The campaign objectives

The main objective was to grow sales by increasing Cole & Son’s global market share and selling directly to consumers. To achieve this, we set the following goals:

  1. Deliver a website with the infrastructure and supporting marketing strategy to facilitate selling direct to consumers online globally
  2. Implement a global marketing strategy to increase visibility and generate high quality traffic (SEO and PPC)
  3. Increase conversion rate to convert more visitors into customers

The technical review

Before recommending an approach, we delivered a technical review where we conducted a high level assessment of 10 possible eCommerce solutions. This involved scoring each solution against a set of acceptance criteria that had been created around Cole & Son’s requirements. Based on the outcome of the initial review, we dove deeper into the top 3 solutions and created a proof of concept for each solution to test the technology working together.

On projects like Cole & Son’s, there are lots of moving parts, integrations and systems that perform a variety of functions for the business. Before recommending a solution, we test that the technology works together in order to de-risk the project and streamline the delivery process.

We presented each of the 3 proof of concepts to Cole & Son and talked through the pros and cons of each approach. Our recommendation was to take a Headless Shopify approach and use a WordPress Head to deliver the user interface and CMS. Cole & Son were happy with the technology and we moved forward with this solution.


Our campaign approach

We launched an international website with territory specific eCommerce stores, providing the infrastructure and digital strategy to fulfil Cole & Son’s cross border business plan. The new eCommerce website houses 7 different eCommerce stores within it, each targeting a different geographical area, enabling customers to buy local products in their local currency and receive targeted messaging. This approach also provided the opportunity to appear in local search engines.

We delivered the project in 2 phases to rapidly deliver return for the business:

1. Phase 1

Launch a headless Shopify site in the UK to replace the existing underperforming website. Alongside this, we implemented an SEO and PPC strategy to increase visibility and sales.

This phase was designed to lay the technical and marketing foundations for growth. Launching phase 1 immediately increased conversion rate and sales, enabling Cole & Son to start outperforming their distributors in search engines and generating a return.

2. Phase 2

Launch territory specific eCommerce stores under the headless structure, each with a targeted SEO strategy.


The delivery

Phase 1

Why Shopify Headless?

Cole & Son already used Shopify as their eCommerce platform. They were happy with Shopify’s product management capabilities and their product setup was in a good place for us to re-use within the new website. However, Shopify has some fundamental limitations that were in conflict with Cole & Son’s business goals and would hold them back unless addressed as part of the new campaign.

  • SEO is typically limited with Shopify due to the way it manages URL structure
  • Website speed was another challenge – the way that Shopify hosts websites means they typically slow down over time
  • Design flexibility is also limited with Shopify. Cole & Son is part of the luxury and fashion sectors and wanted to achieve an editorial look and feel online. They needed design flexibility beyond what is available as part of Shopify’s package to help them achieve their vision and digitally stand out.


Given Cole & Son’s business objectives and their competitive market, these were major challenges that would impact the success of the campaign. To overcome the challenges, we delivered the new website headlessly. We retained the backend eCommerce platform which would continue to be used for the product management and checkout, then delivered a WordPress website to sit on top of it (‘the head’).

The WordPress website is used to control what the user sees on the site and is optimised for SEO. This approach gives us more developmental control and flexibility, enabling us to overcome the Shopify drawbacks while still benefiting from Shopify’s ecosystem.

Delivering the website

Our UX design team crafted optimised user journeys, using best practice design strategies to increase conversion rate and introduce cross-selling opportunities. Alongside this, they delivered a fresh design that showcased the brand and aligned with Cole & Son’s target audience.

Our marketing specialists delivered an SEO strategy for the site, measuring the gap between Cole & Son’s existing performance and their potential performance. In measuring this gap, we could determine and plan the actions required to maximise search engine rankings in each territory. This strategy fed into the website and user journey creation, defining entry points to the site to land users on deeper landing pages. This provides a stronger user experience, presenting the most relevant content based on the search term.

Organic rankings can take time to build so we set up a branded PPC campaign to support the launch of the new website, enabling Cole & Son to appear above their distributors in search engines.


Headless eCommerce Website Showcase


Phase 2

We internationalised the website, creating 6 additional territory eCommerce sites (on the same domain). This enabled Cole & Son to deliver regional content and products, and to start ranking in regional search engines. All content is in English so we implemented hreflang tags to help search engines navigate the content, rank it in the correct places, and avoid duplicate content penalties. Consumers can purchase products available in their region in their local currency.

By creating the territory content in this way, it enables search engines to more easily crawl the content and rank the sites in local search engines. Each new market had a unique SEO strategy to target keywords that were relevant to the market and audience.

Longer term, Cole & Son would like to introduce multilingual content to their website and the foundations are in place for them to offer this functionality.



Aggregate results

Across the full international website

  • Revenue increased by 101%
  • Average order value increased by 193%
  • Organic market penetration has increased by an average of 65%, with some territories seeing up to a 170% increase in visibility 
  • Cole & Son’s PPC campaign delivers £10 in revenue for every £1 spent
  • Website conversion rate has risen by 84%


Territory specific results

The following charts show the SEO and revenue results within the first 2 months of each territory launching.

The graph below represents the SEO improvements for each territory, with the the purple bars showing the percentage increase in search engine visibility and the orange bar representing the increase in page 1 rankings in Google.

As you can see, our SEO strategy rapidly kicked into action and the the Cole & Son territories began ranking in search engines extremely quickly after launch. This means that Cole & Son are more visible in local search engines and are able to be found by prospective customers looking for their products.

The graph below represents the revenue increases for each territory within the first 1-2 months of launch. Sweden, Norway and Singapore show limited growth as the territories had only been live for 1 month upon recording the data. The search engine rankings had started to climb but the impact of the SEO improvements hadn’t impacted Cole & Son’s revenue yet.

The Cole & Son rapidly started generating revenue from the new website.


Judges comments

The eCommerce award judges commented “This was a great example of a cross-border expansion enabled by a successful campaign. It was a large-scale project that was a real challenge to take on and deliver. It was genuinely business transformational with a global initiative providing a direct route to market.”



How did you select the technology?

We had a really tight brief from Cole & Son on what they were looking to achieve with the website over the coming years. After reviewing their existing eCommerce infrastructure, we were able to measure the gap between what they had and what was needed to achieve their objectives.

Our team delivers tens of international websites each year and have a number of best practice solutions that work well for different businesses. We started by creating a long list of possible solutions, assessing them against Cole & Son’s criteria, then creating the shortlist of the best solutions.

The biggest risk on a large transformation project like this is in the risk of the unknowns. Systems don’t always integrate and work together in the way that the documentation suggests so we de-risk the process by creating proof of concepts to check the integrations. For example, we might check:

  • Can we send products from Shopify into the WordPress interface?
  • Do orders go into Shopify and Cole & Son’s ERP as expected?
  • Can we modify URL’s at the root?
  • Do we have full content management ability?
  • What’s the ecosystem of support like?
  • Can we create international territories that meet the SEO, usability and functional requirements?


How did you deliver ROI?

We split the project into phases, ensuring Cole & Son could benefit from each advancement as soon as it was available to launch. Our philophy is usually to launch as soon as the new site is better than the existing one. This means that the business is able to start generating return as early as possible. On a project like Cole & Son’s that took over a year to deliver in total, this approach makes a huge difference to performance over the course of the project.

We also drew on a series of marketing levers and channels to drive the business objectives.


What were the main SEO deliverables for the project?

We introduced a strategic approach to Cole & Son’s SEO targeting by assessing which keywords they had a realistic chance of ranking for in search engines for each territory. This means that we’re not always targeting the biggest keywords with the greatest search volumes. Instead, we’re targeting keywords that we can achieve page 1, and ideally #1-3 rankings.

In addition to selecting and optimising for keywords, we overhauled Cole & Son’s website structure and content architecture to strengthen their ability to rank well. We introduced optimised category landing pages that enable Cole & Son to target keywords such as ‘traditional wallpaper’ and ‘green wallpaper designs’. These are discovery search terms that customers search for when looking for wallpaper. Increasing Cole & Son’s aggregate market penetration for this type of keywords has a direct effect on website traffic and revenue.



If you’d like to find out more about Headless Shopify or are interested in discussing international expansion, contact us at [email protected].