14 Sep Building succesful eCommerce websites
While only a handful of our Soul Arch Media & Marketing clients run eCommerce sites, or web stores as I’ll refer to them in this blog article, I just wrote an extensive 8,000-word feature story really delving into the subject for the latest issue of Australian Surf Business Magazine. Although with such a massive word count you’d never guess I left anything out, there was actually plenty of fresh interview material left over that was simply too good not to share.
So here it is – a few unpublished nuggets of sagely advice from some of Australia’s leading surf, skate and snow retailers that can be applied by pretty much any new online trader.Want to set up a webstore? First a few tips from the wise.
1. Know Your Target Demographic
Not many people have had more online experience than worldsurfers.com
Kath and Vince Lawder have been running their successful surf news site for 10 years, and although they actually ended up scraping their first webstore way back in 2002, they’ve recently adopted ecommerce again on their freshly revamped site. “Eight years ago no one wanted to spend online – the fear of using credit cards and site security issues were just too much,” said Kath, adding although this has changing there’ll always be some resistance. “There’s customers who want to buy online, and there’s those who simply don’t. There will always be people who will never consider purchasing anything online – either because they’re worried about credit security issues, or because they want to feel a product and try it on.”
This may explain why although worldsurfers.com gets plenty of female visitors, their eCommerce customers are predominately 20-30 y.o. males buying up surf hardware and wetsuits, so they’ve adjusted the store over time and have added products accordingly. Who will your customers be? Are you familiar with their needs and preferences?
2. Get Visible
If you’re starting your online presence from scratch, you’ll have to do a lot of work to draw in web traffic – without visitors, there are no sales. “It’s all about visibility, as success online has so much to do with marketing,” says Kath from worldsurfers.com
Spend some time learning about search engine optimisation (SEO) or employ a marketing expert, and once you choose your domain name, Kath also suggests you made sure to secure all possible extensions besides .com (like your name .tv, .biz, .net, or .com.au). “You have to look at your website like real estate. If you pick a great domain name which can draw traffic on it’s own, it’s infinitely more valuable. We had ours evaluated by a private domain name company several years back, and it was worth over $15,000 without the business.”
3. Get Niche
Want to stand out online? Offer people something they can’t get anywhere else – or at least can’t get everywhere else.
Bodyboardshop.com‘s Krista Eppelstun, wife of former bodyboarding world champ Michael “Eppo” Eppelstun, thinks offering something unique helped them attain traffic almost from the instant they launched in 2000. They now get 50,000 visitors, or 1 million hits, per month. “There were plenty of surf shops around, but none were really catering to the bodyboard market. And there were bodyboard specific labels, but none were having much luck finding shelf space in surf stores.” So along came bodyboardshop.com stocking brands like No Friends, Nomad, Unite and Grand Flavour. Names don’t ring a bell? They do for bodyboarders. “Most of the top bodyboarders in the world are Australian, sponsored by Australian brands. These guys travel the world, so the labels are promoted but not necessarily readily available overseas. So lots of people visit the site trying to track down the same board as their hero rides, or the same t-shirt they saw a pro wearing in a magazine.” Australia is still their largest market, followed by NZ, Europe (particularly France, Portugal and Reunion Island), USA and South Africa.
Need any more proof that identifying a niche is a powerful thing? Krista also runs www.australianflavour.com , an online store dedicated to alternative Australian fashion labels like Mermaid Sister, One Teaspoon, Little Lady From and Religion and many more. Yet while she’s applied all the web promotion and marketing finesse she’s used to make bodyboardshop.com such a success, Australian Flavour has been a bit slower to take off. Seems even though Aussie alt fashion sounds like a niche area, Krista is facing plenty of stiff competition in the women’s fashion sector, as it’s an extremely busy marketplace with a lot of big players getting involved. Do you have a major point of difference from your competitors? Have you thoroughly identified your niche? It’s harder to stand out when you’re just another pretty face in the world wide web crowd.
4. Be Prepared For Hard Work
Think online trading is a walk in the park? Think again. “Everyone thinks that trading online is easier than running a physical store, but we find having a store or an ecommerce site is pretty much the same – if you want to be successful, they’re both hard work!” says Krista from Bodyboardshop.com
“Bricks and mortar stores have overheads like rent and electricity and staff, but if you’ve chosen a good location you’re pretty much guaranteed foot traffic. But launch a website and you are just one of a million webstores floating around in cyberspace – you have to work incredibly hard to market the site and build traffic. Then for every item you sell you photograph it and write descriptions, load it online and then if you’re lucky enough to sell anything, you move through the process of packaging it and shipping it. It can take quite a lot of time, which is an overhead in itself.”
Rudi Minelle, Webstore Manager for Snowbiz.com.au, also agrees webstores are hard work. Snowbiz has run successful snowsport equipment and apparel stores in the two highly unlikely locations of Brisbane and the Gold Coast for decades. Already highly familiar in servicing unorthodox, it isn’t hard to understand rationale for building a webstore back in 2003- “to reach even more people who do not have a snow store near them.”
But launching the site been a massive undertaking, especially in terms of staff hours. “Our site is still being built now, we’re constantly updating stock and extending the store. Four people built the website, and there are two guys working on different parts on site and another handling orders every day.”
5. Yes, A Web Presence Can Help your Physical Store
Snowbiz.com.au’s online store offers approximately 600 products (Burton, DC and Lib Tech are their biggest selling brands), but they’ve found providing internet presence has helped business in their bricks and mortar store too. “It’s hard to measure, but the website seems to boost store sales, plus customers are better aware of products and info before they come in,” says Minelle
Conversely, after running their webstore for two years, Bodyboardshop.com opened their first physical store on the Gold Coast, and now also have a store on the Sunshine Coast too. “Once word got around we were running the web store, we’d constantly have people ask if they could pop by and pick up stuff, or look at new stock. Since we were working out of our home, that wasn’t an ideal situation,” recalls Krista. Apart from giving them a more presentable place to showcase their wares, having both a physical and web presence seems to suit bodyboardshop.com – and they’re happy to have done it reverse the usual order. “Instead of having to start from scratch we already had a turnover from the webstore, and we could also promote the physical stores on our own website.”
6. Get Permission
If you’re selling your own product, getting authorised online seller accreditation isn’t going to be an issue. But if you are planning to sell brand name gear you’ll need to obtain permission to sell online – perhaps even if you already sell a product in a traditional bricks and mortar store.
Usually this is only a formality, but it depends on the product and the industry. For example it’s extremely hard to get online merchant accreditation for surf brands, but other sports. “In skateboarding and snowboarding only a handful of recognised brands like Burton and Nike are really hard to obtain accreditation for,” says snowbiz/skatebiz’s Minelle. Although their physical stores sell Nike, they haven’t been able to get online accreditation. Got your heart set on selling a particular brand? Do some research in your industry and seek accreditation details before you bother doing anything else!
7. Be Prepared for the Pitfalls
As their name would suggest, worldsurfers.com ship products everywhere from London to L.A., but have had to tightened their shipping to places like Indonesia. “We sent a big order to Indo purchased on what turned out to be a fake credit card. We’re normally really careful about processing any suspicious cards, but for some reason that one slipped under the radar.”
Credit card fraud and internet security aside, you’ll also have to make sure you have a great web host and great postage/shipping partners, as much of your business and your reputation rests on their reliability – don’t underestimate their importance. As Kath from worldsurefers.com points out, “The web has a way of sorting things out. If a site’s customer service is bad or the stock consistently doesn’t arrive on time, word spreads fast.”
By Caz Ridings Emge, Soul Arch Media & Marketing
Helping your products shine online.