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Eight stylish steps to a grand online retail site

Friday, 23 August 2013 | By Melinda Oliver

The big players of online retail appear to have it made. Look at international apparel sites such as netaporter.com or asos.com – they boast a swish product offer, sophisticated websites with impressive images, and hefty turnovers.

 

Think of Australian sites, such as wine e-tailer vinomofo.com, or furniture site milandirect.com.au. They’ve got a distinct product offer, professional customer service, smooth delivery operations and engaged consumer communities.

 

From the outside, the success of these companies may appear daunting to emulate. Even for well-established businesses, e-tail can still trigger challenges for management used to dealing in the bricks-and-mortar world.

 

However, there is no need to lag behind your competitors when it comes to turning clicks into sales. If you set up a quality content management system, a niche product offer and well-oiled delivery operations, you are off to a good start.

 

Ahead of the Fashion Exposed trade fair, launching in Melbourne this Sunday, August 25, SmartCompany spoke to presenters at the event on how to catch up with the leaders in the e-tail sphere.

 

Simon Goodrich, co-founder of e-commerce platform provider Portable, and Jean-Claude Abouchar, chief executive officer of multi-brand fashion e-tail site The Grand Social, offer eight steps to get up and running.

 

1. Just do it

 

Businesses doing well in traditional bricks-and-mortar retail may have resisted the online push for fear it could stretch their resources.

 

“I think people feel a bit down being behind the boat in online retail,” says Goodrich. “But in the recent period there have been some really exciting methodologies and examples for people to use.”

 

Goodrich says people can be “scared” to shift online, as they don’t know what platforms to employ, or what content to generate.

 

“If you have a (physical) store, and you’re open, and you’ve got salespeople in there, people walk in,” says Goodrich.

 

“You’ve got a lot of other items within that built environment that can assist you to make sales.

 

“People think, my product or what I do might not work online, but I think they should go out there and test…there are lots of things people can be doing, it’s very exciting.”

 

Abouchar says to simply “just get started”, and experiment.

 

“Just get online with whatever you are trying to sell,” he says. “As soon as you learn about your customer and what works and doesn’t, then focus your energy, time and money into what is working rather than spend a year trying to get it perfect.

 

“Just get live, that is the bottom line.”

 

2. Find the right platform

 

Simple, effective content management systems are now easy to find, meaning you can have an e-tail shopfront up and running quickly.

 

Goodrich says you need a CMS that you can easily update. “A lot of systems have been refined over the past few years to do basic things well,” he says.

 

It shouldn’t be daunting. “There are a lot of out-of-the-box solutions. It comes down to how much people want to invest.”

 

Goodrich says it is a myth that the e-tail shopfront has to be professionally graphic designed and complicated.

 

“It doesn’t have to have a lot to it. It can just be images and an example of the business.

 

“Have a system that captures emails, develops newsletters, and have some form of social media reach out. There is obviously Facebook, there’s Twitter, it just depends on which platform best suits your audience.”

 

3. Own your audience

 

To generate sales, the best way is to build a loyal community around your business. Goodrich says to draw on the value of the people who engage with your business already – as they shouldn’t be separate to your online customers.

 

“You have to get ownership over your customer base. People in the past might have sent out paper newsletters or even email newsletters, but they may not have been getting statistics on how people are using that information.”

 

He says it is vital to use data collection tools to harness this feedback, so you can better tailor your content.

 

“Define your company voice. You ask what magazines your customers read, what movies do they like, what holidays do they want? Once you can get an idea of who that person is, the content bit becomes a lot easier.”

 

4. Plan your logistics

 

When Abouchar co-launched The Grand Social back in 2008, experimenting with warehouse and delivery logistics was a core challenge – one which the business continually refines.

 

“No one was doing third-party fulfillment,” he says. “So we had to set it up ourselves.”

 

The Grand Social offers multiple fashion brands on the one site, so initially products were coming in from countless sources.

 

“What we needed to do in terms of the fulfillment and the supply chain solution was really complicated. No one wanted to touch it, it was in the too-hard basket.

 

“For e-tail, there was a lack of options – Australia Post didn’t even have a system running.”

 

He says they initially tried bringing all of the products ordered to a central place, before shipping items to a customer in a single package.

 

They then moved to ‘drop ship model’, where the designers send the products directly to the buyer as the orders are processed.

 

He says experimenting and refining your system can take time, but it is essential to work out the best way for quick and efficient delivery.

 

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5. Find a service niche

 

Abouchar says once your store is up and running, think about what extra layers of service you can transfer from your bricks-and-mortar world to online.

 

He says the “danger” is that it could become just an arm of your physical store, without the personal service.

 

“You need to have the second layer of service. Anyone can sell stuff online, but think, how are we going to be different?” he says.

 

“Customers will go where they get service and advice.”

 

He says to draw on your customer data, tailor content, and personalise their experience to maximise engagement with the brand.

 

Abouchar is an admirer of stitchfix.com, a US start-up which is taking service to the next level.

 

“It is basically filling in a profile questionnaire about your personal style, and they send you a box of five different products that they’ve picked (based on the survey).

 

“You keep what you want, and send back what you don’t, and over time the platform becomes smarter about what is good for you. It works out outfits for you. It’s a subscription-based model with a service layer, added on to the technology layer.”

 

6. Progress constantly, but mindfully

 

It is tempting to try and be everything to every customer, and to panic that your competitors are more advanced in e-tail. However, Abouchar says to pick what is vital, do it well, and say no to the rest.

 

He argues that there is “only so much time in the day”, especially juggling both a physical store with a new online enterprise.

 

“It is about focus…about two years ago we decided to stop starting new things, and we said ‘let’s focus on doing a few things well’.”

 

The Grand Social narrowed down its key objectives – a refresh of the homepage, tailoring the customer experience, upgrading warehouse and fulfillment distribution, and perfecting inventory management and barcoding.

 

8. Have patience

 

Abouchar says people launching online may wonder why they are not getting instant results, but says to remember that just like a physical store, results can take time.

 

“It takes just as long to build a business online as offline. People have expectations that they will open an online business and in a year or two they will be relaxing in the tropics…it is just as tough if not tougher as there are millions of people around the world to compete with.

 

“Online is no different, it brings the same challenges as offline.”

 

Simon Goodrich and Jean-Claude Abouchar will be presenting at Fashion Exposed Trade Fair in Melbourne, which begins Sunday, August 25. For seminar details visit www.fashionexposed.com.

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