For bricks-and-mortar retailers this is a killer time: phone and tablet apps that allow checking the prize on the go, taxes from which online retailers from overseas are exempted, onerous costs of a physical stores, boom of online sale. Mobile technology for retail is no longer a trend, but a necessary way of doing business.
Kathleen Ho, who runs both physical and online store Matilda Jane Lingerie, shares her knowledge on how to survive in the tough economic times for retailers.
My online retail store complements my bricks and mortar retail store and both have been running for nearly two years. The main products are lingerie and sleepwear with some swimwear, stockings and accessories. Establishing a new retail clothing business takes time, effort and can be a financial drain so the online site is a bonus because it adds extra sales.
Having a bricks and mortar store is a necessity in this business, however, because considerable product knowledge is gained from fitting customers. The satisfaction is seeing repeat customers who appreciate your honesty, advice and service.
Before starting an online business, have a very defined idea of your target market and what kinds of products that target market would be interested in. Without this “uniqueness” or point of difference, you may find yourself with lots of products that don’t sync well together. People who shop online are time poor and a one stop shop is more appealing than having to source products from different retailers for a single idea in mind.
Cash flow – very important! Make sure you have sufficient funds for startup costs, stock costs, advertising and marketing costs, ongoing costs for at least 2 years (yes it can take a long time to build up business), and extra on the side for emergencies.
Stock – make sure you have stock. Drop shipping is fine but you need to communicate regularly with your supplier to ensure stock is still available and this is time consuming. There are so many review sites now that it only takes a few less than positive reviews about your business to affect sales.
Research your competition. If there are lots of online stores selling the same or similar products to what you are selling, then you need to ask yourself how will your approach be different in order that customers can be encouraged to buy from you. Some ideas could be, but not exclusive to, free shipping, a percentage discount from the RRP, a loyalty system.
Know your products and how they work. If you receive customer enquiries, you must have the right answers to give them. Knowledge and honesty is what gets sales – not a pushy sales pitch.
Be honest with your descriptions of items you are selling. Include all the necessary specifications, material composition etc. Returns and exchanges can easily become a costly exercise that will eat into any profit gains plus create a less than satisfactory experience for your customer.
Invest in low cost advertising such as Google Adwords. Learn how to use this as costs can still mount up. Use Google Analytics to determine what keywords draw customers to your site. Read up on how to optimize your site so organic search engine searches can find your site. There’s lots of free advice on the Net so learn as much as you can because seeking paid assistance can be costly.
Your shipping/returns/security policies must be easy to find and easy to understand. They must also conform to state consumer laws so familiarise yourself with these.
Many people make the mistake of thinking an online business does not require a heavy investment in time and can be worked around family demands. Yes, the hours are more flexible but it can still be time consuming and, for much of your efforts, there are no financial rewards. Book-keeping, tax, website upgrades etc can lead to a lot of financially unrewarding hours.
Good website design is not just about ease of navigation but also about the overall appearance. Background colours, fonts, layout, logo design – these are all very important. Remember, customers are time poor and they want to locate items as quickly and easily as possible but poor visual design can have them back-peddling from your site. It’s worthwhile considering some investment in web graphic design.
Join an online business forum such as www.flyingsolo.com.au as there’s lots of free and useful advice on effective business management.
My site was set up by a web developer using a free ecommerce platform. I paid a fee to have the program customised to my needs and it took about 3 months work, including testing before it went live. I have now shifted to another developer who also hosts my site – this type of platform takes up a lot of memory unfortunately so I can’t use any cheap hosted site because the online store will run too slowly – and pay him a monthly fee for maintenance and for any small changes I need done, in addition to the hosting fee.
If I was to start again, I would probably use a shopping cart platform such as WordPress or Shopify or Big Cartel rather than an ecommerce platform. While there are limits to these, they are much cheaper to run, allow the option of using your own domain name, offer in-house SEO that is included in the monthly fee and can be self established and maintained without any programming knowledge.
Visit Kathleen Ho store at www.matildajane.com.au
I’d be interested in your thoughts and observations as always?
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