Blacker Yarns 2017 Customer Survey results

Sue Blacker's picture
25 September, 2018 - 16:48 | Sue Blacker

This report is somewhat late … but in time to review prior to our 2018 survey which will be circulated in November.

One reason for the lateness is that we had a very large number of responses: our mailing list is over 10,000 and we had 1,020 responses and there were over 30 questions.  While some of the questions are easy to analyse, because the answers can be graphed, those with a free choice of wording take quite a bit of work!  Please note that due to rounding not all of the percentages given below will add to precisely 100%, but it’s simpler to present things without too many decimal points.

So here is a digest of the findings.

Who answered our survey?  What do they make?  How much do they spend?

We had a total of 1020 responses although not everyone answered all questions – there was a fall-off towards the later questions in the survey so we will be asking fewer questions this year!  Also some questions slightly duplicated so we will be streamlining them as well – even though this then makes year-on-year comparisons less easy.

Inevitably, most people know Blacker Yarns, with the time distribution very even: 19% have found us in the last year, 34% have known of us for 1-2 years, 29% for 3-4 years and 18% for over 4 years.  It is good to know that we are still finding new people!  Meanwhile, 24% have not yet bought Blacker Yarns, less than 1% do not intend to do so, 60% buy from us occasionally and 16% buy regularly.  So we hope to encourage people not just to look but also to try our yarns!

Price is not a deterrent of itself in terms of buying, since of the 893 people who answered our question on pricing, most felt it was fair as shown by the chart below.  See also below about some timing on projects.

Key demographic data were the age distribution and the crafts undertaken, have not changed much over the years we have been doing this survey, and of course the crafts  are scarcely surprising given our audience!  Indeed, one aspect of the results overall is that we are asking enthusiasts so their views are skewed by this.

Projects undertaken have moved steadily more towards smaller items since 2015, with shawls and wraps increasing in particular, while the techniques used have increased, although we have also changed the questions over time, to reflect a wider selection of options.

A further question on techniques which would deter people from a project confirmed these preferences, and while more than 50% are willing to try most things, there was a corresponding dislike of brioche, intarsia and steeking from 20% of people and 10% on sewing up seams, reflecting the additional popularity of top-down garment patterns.

In terms of projects undertaken, our audience is prolific!  Some 52% of people make between 6 and 15 projects a year, with 12% doing less than 6 and 36% doing more than 15.

Also they spend a reasonable amount of money on their projects.  We do believe that working with real wool, with quality and provenance is important to people who have spent time investing in craft skills and these results confirm this – the spend per project has risen since 2015 but grew at a slower rate in 2017 compared to 2016.  Around 23% would spend less than £50 on larger projects, but 61% would spend £51-100 and the remaining 15% would spend more.  For smaller projects, the range is wider, and of course we left the definition of “large” and “small” to our customers!  So 36% would spend up to £15, 51% would spend £16-30, a further 9% would spend £31-50 and the remaining 4% would spend up to £70.

What yarns do they like?  How do they choose?

Our customers have a very wide range of yarns and brands from which to choose and they named a total of 361 brands, with 20 well-known brands, 15 smaller brands and 9 independent dyers named most frequently and accounting for half of all responses.  It is clear that the ability to sell online is enabling many smaller companies to set up with an individual offering and these are increasingly popular with the people who also buy Blacker Yarns and similar brands.  Since everyone had a first, second and third choice, we had 2,900 responses to review though not unexpectedly Blacker Yarns took 20% of these, and 36% of the first choices.  Analysis by country of origin showed around half were British brands, a quarter were independent dyers and the remainder split fairly evenly between the USA, Australia and rest of the world.

When it comes to selecting a yarn, the first criterion is colour, which ranked as important or very important for 90% of responders and is unchanged from previous years.  This also emphasises the growing interest in independent dyer yarns.  Yarn durability and customer service were next in ranking, followed by named breed and price, while lesser considerations were uniqueness and reviews from a trusted source and least rated was the availability of patterns, which was not considered important by 31% and only slightly important by a further 33%.  Thus although independent dyers are generally supplying unique products this is not therefore a first criterion and while pattern support is seen as important by our stockists and certainly stimulates sales on the basis of Ravelry awareness, it is also not the first reason to buy a yarn from these results.

We asked more about colour to inform our yarn shade palette plans and found that after a few years where naturals have been less prominent they are now more sought after.  We were pleased to see that our palettes seem to fit with the preferences stated.

This is further illustrated in the preferences for the more “natural” styles of colour, with muted, variegated and heathered shades the favourites.

A further more detailed question about yarn qualities drew a wide range of ideas, some of which are slightly contradictory, so that, for instance a very soft yarn would not fit the durability requirement or indeed necessarily the stitch definition requirement.

Patterns are interesting: only 20% of responders always use the yarn recommended in the pattern, while 50% do so usually or mostly and the remaining 30% say it is rarely or sometimes.  Similarly people take varied actions when a new pattern comes out, as shown below.

As regards pattern designers, of course there were very many names, but probably around 40 appeared regularly, with Kate Davies, Marie Wallin, Ysolde and Isabel Kraemer appearing with more than 30 mentions amongst the first choices.

Looking at yarn types, there was no great difference in preferences for woollen or worsted yarns, with 58% using both although 22% were not sure.  Breed specific yarns were unfamiliar to 30% of responders, but very familiar to 25% while 45% were quite familiar, which again supports the findings of more small and independent producers being known and names.

For prefered yarn weights, the growing trend to prefer finer yarns continues, but Aran is making a bit of a come-back, with most  people naming at least 3 specifications.

Finally in this section we asked which of the Blacker Yarns ranges were prefered and the answers are shown below.

This is interesting in that it is not entirely reflected in yarn sales, where we do sell out of Gotland, for example, and we do not sell anything like as  much of the limited edition British breeds yarns as we do of Tamar, Blacker Swan, Blacker Classic and Lyonesse.  This of course is also the problem of analysing 1,000 plus responses!  When we come to the freely worded answers, this is even more challenging – people like and want jewel, bright, muted and pastel colours!  They also want some of these colours on bases which will not deliver them … which of course is why we have more than one base.

Finally, what do you think of us and how can we improve?

Here, as with the colour preferences there were many, varied and contradictory responses, so we do know that, despite our efforts we cannot please everyone all the time …

We asked three questions around customer experience and what we could improve, and mostly around two thirds of people persevered in answering them – and we will definitely try and streamline these using the key themes mentioned, to simplify analysis in future.

The chart below summarises the key themes and it was great that amongst the two thirds who answered, nearly a third were simply happy!  Indeed 72% were 90% or more happy and only 3% were less than 50% happy.  Obviously we can and should improve but this was very encouraging.  Indeed 47% would recommend us, compared with the industry average of only 13% and this ranking has seen a steady improvement since 2015.

Key findings were:

  • An issue was raised about non compliance with consumer regulations, which we of course remedied at once, relating to returns, which we now pay for
  • Most people liked our customer service and yarns, our ethics, our expertise and the unique qualities of our yarns
  • Some people think postage is too expensive, interestingly this was mainly those for whom the overseas shipping costs still make the total order cheaper than for those who have to pay Value Added Tax in the UK and EU
  • On the website and branding, there were comments that photography could be improved, though 20% said it was something they liked, though people want us to bring back the swatch photos (however we are also conscious that the pages can become crowded) and some people wanted greater variety as well as better stock levels, which is pretty challenging for a business of our size – though we sometimes think people think we are bigger than we are!
  • There were requests for free samples, gifts and special offers, which we agree would be nice but would probably force us to raise our prices, as would subsidised shipping – wool is bulky and although we could compress it and therefore ruin the appearance, we are generally charged twice the carriage price for the weight due to this factor
  • There were requests for both more yarns and fewer yarns!  And for more patterns, more interesting patterns and the return of our older patterns, which are gradually being updated and re-published.  We are working on all of this!!
  • Some people found our British Breeds too chauvinistic while nearly half said this, along with the stories behind the yarn and the provenance, was an aspect they treasured!
  • People wanted information which is available on the website and on the inside of all our ballbands, such as washing care and animal welfare, but obviously we have not made it sufficiently accessible
  • There were requests for more metres/yards per ball, but also for smaller balls and also for cheaper packages – clearly we can make larger packages, but they would cost more, and we can make more length, but this would usually mean a finer yarn!
  • As requested, we have added a request to be notified when items are back in stock and hope people will find it helpful – it also helps us to monitor what yarns and colours are most popular within our ranges

We know that people have found less stock availability than usual in recent months, so we are encouraged that in this age of instant everything, some people are still prepared to wait, as shown by their expect actions when an item is out of stock. 

Mostly people did seem to manage to find what they wanted.

Overall, therefore we are encourage by the survey results and we feel that our customers have given us good advice.  We have done a more detailed powerpoint report, should you wish to delve further!

We shall look forward to preparing and analysing our 2018 survey.

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Blacker Yarns

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The Natural Fibre Company

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