Design and Launch an Online Boutique in a Week by Melissa Campanelli by Melissa Campanelli - Read Online

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Design and Launch an Online Boutique in a Week - Melissa Campanelli

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Preface

In mid-2007, after I completed my first book, Open an Online Business in 10 Days, I helped the folks at Entrepreneur Press start up a new series called Click Starts. The focus of the series? To help fledgling netrepreneurs start specific types of e-businesses inexpensively and in less than a week.

After completing the Online book, it became clear to me that—thanks to a barrage of new technology developments—it is easier than ever for people to open an online business quickly and successfully.

One of the book ideas we came up with was Click Start: Design and Launch an Online Boutique in a Week. The subject matter was the perfect fit for me: A woman who has lived in the New York area her whole life—a part of the country where fashion and boutiques are part of the fabric of everyday living. So, here and for the next 200 or so pages, please enjoy the fruits of my labor.

What I learned from researching and writing this book is that it is just as easy to open an online boutique as it is to open a traditional online shop. Why? Because not only are there easy-to-use and inexpensive website building tools, there are rich media and photography tools—which are key for online boutiquers. In addition, it is easier than ever to market online boutiques, thanks to a bevy of new social media tools, shopping bots, and other online marketing tactics.

However, keep in mind: For every online boutique that flourishes, hundreds—maybe thousands—go bust. What does it take to build an online boutique that will grow and succeed? Read this book and you’ll know, because in these pages you’ll find recipes for success and interviews with online boutique owners who know how to make it work online.

Websites—and online boutiques—are still being launched everyday—and making it to the big time—but now more than ever, they require a unique combination of customer insight, business understanding, technical knowhow, financial resources, and entrepreneurial drive. The possibilities of success remain enticing, even when wallets are thin—if your ideas are smart and your execution persistent.

The goal of this book is to give you the tools and knowledge you’ll need to emerge among the victors. In these pages, you’ll learn everything there is to know about starting—and running—your online boutique. You’ll find the soup to nuts, the A to Z, of taking your idea through funding, launching, winning eyeballs, and laughing all the way to the bank.

You’ll find out what you need and where to get it. The first few chapters will cover everything to do to get your online boutique up and running—and this can really be done in a week. These chapters include the basics, such as writing a business plan, figuring out your niche market, setting prices, buying the tools you need to get started, and setting up your website. The rest of the book will offer tools and tips related to how you can maintain your business, market, and even watch it grow.

Throughout all of these chapters, the book also features interviews, with successful online boutique owners, you’ll also find sidebars and tip boxes scattered throughout the book, designed to hammer home key points.

Here’s the promise of this book: if you want to find out everything you know about opening an online boutique, you’ll find it between these covers. Read on to find out how to make your internet dreams a reality.

Introduction

If you’ve picked up this book, you probably already know the internet offers a virtual universe of opportunity. Simply put, the internet is for real. In the 21st century if you’re not on it, you’re not in business. That is today’s reality byte.

This book is specifically about selling high-end or luxury items in an online boutique. If you’ve picked it up, you are probably also aware that luxury items are big business because they are generally purchased by a desirable and growing target market—the affluent online consumer.

In fact, according to internet research firm eMarketer Inc. (emarketer.com), the number of affluent internet users in the United States is expected to grow to 57.1 million in 2011, from 43.7 million in 2006. That will be 27 percent of the online population in 2011, up from 24 percent in 2006.

What’s more, when the affluent masses go online, they gravitate toward activities like shopping for luxury items such as jewelry. In addition to being big spenders, affluent online shoppers exhibit other characteristics that make them particularly desirable. They are frequent shoppers who buy from a variety of retailers, they often purchase gifts, they are influential within their communities, and best of all, they are critical to margin-focused managers because they are generally price insensitive. And shop they do. U.S. luxury e-commerce sales are expected to grow to $7 billion in 2010 from $2.5 billion in 2007, according to Forrester Research Inc. (forrester.com).

Why are luxury goods so popular? There are enough seasoned online buyers who have had good experiences purchasing basic items such as books and DVDs online, says Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst at eMarketer, so they have the confidence to take it to the next level and [make] a more complex, more sophisticated, expensive purchase.

Because you already have an awesome luxury product to sell online, this book will help you get your online boutique started quickly and easily, and with the lowest initial investment possible. Best of all, no previous business experience is necessary, and you don’t need to know anything about computer programming thanks to the many e-commerce turnkey solutions currently available to online merchants.

It’s important to understand that Design and Launch an Online Boutique in a Week is not about get-rich-quick schemes. What this book focuses on is how to sell luxury products online in the most profitable and efficient way possible; and how to do it in a week’s time. It will also help you properly identify your target audience and then efficiently and cost-effectively reach them with appropriate marketing, advertising, and public relations.

This book will help you get started quickly, but it also does not guarantee that you’ll start generating a profit overnight, or even within a few weeks. As you’ll soon discover, once your online boutique is up and running, it’ll take time and effort to properly market your website, generate traffic, and attract paying customers. Your ability to earn a profit will be based in large part on what products you’re selling, whether there is a demand for your products, and how much competition you have. These issues are discussed in later chapters.

What Is a Luxury Product?

Luxury fashion goods are targeted at consumers at the upper end of the wealth scale. These products range from clothing and leather goods to jewelry and other accessories. Leather bags, gold watches, diamond rings, and pearls are all popular items sold online.

Of course, no product category is as indelibly linked with the affluent consumer as jewelry. And while the majority of jewelry purchases still take place in stores, greater numbers of consumers are flocking to internet retailers for these items.

The International Diamond and Jewelry Exchange (idexonline.com) and the U.S. Department of Commerce (doc.gov) report, for example, that online jewelry sales accounted for 3.9 percent of all jewelry sales in 2006. And that percentage is expected to more than double by 2010, when 8.1 percent of jewelry purchases are expected to be made on the web. In the 2006 holiday season, e-commerce sales of jewelry and watches were the top growth category at a staggering 67 percent over the year before, according to data from internet research firm comScore Inc. (comscore.com).

THE ONLINE PICTURE IN GENERAL

Online shopping is growing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (census.gov), for the third quarter of 2007, revenues generated by online-based businesses (and the online sites of traditional retail businesses) were $34.7 billion, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes. This number is up 3.6 percent from the second quarter of 2007.

Luxury products are often described as sensory goods because their aesthetic characteristics are usually best appreciated through the human senses of sight, touch, and feel. So the retail store undoubtedly plays a prominent role in the overall luxury buying experience and is one of the key elements of successful luxury retailing. Luxury goods can and are being sold online, however, thanks to the current technology and the convenience-driven online retail environment.

How E-Commerce Is Different from Traditional Retail

Although a traditional retail store can sell the same products as website, there are major differences between operating a traditional brick-and-mortar retail store and an online e-commerce website that sells luxury goods. Overall, it is much easier to start and operate a business online.

Some of the costs and drawbacks associated with operating a traditional brick-and-mortar retail store include having to purchase, lease, or rent the retail space for a storefront at a cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars per month as well as the need to hire employees and managers to staff the store.

Other drawbacks include having to purchase and maintain plenty of inventory; having to purchase store fixtures and displays, not to mention cash registers and computers; and having to remain open during set operating hours. In addition, a retail store is located in a fixed location and typically only attracts customers within a specific geographic area or region. The overall start-up costs are the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. There is, therefore, tremendous risk involved in opening a traditional retail store as a startup business.

Operating an online boutique on the other hand offers a wide range of benefits, including very low start-up and overhead costs; a worldwide customer base; the ability to operate 24 hours per day, 365 days per year; the ability to have a flexible work schedule for the owner and employees; and smaller inventory requirements.

In addition, the business can be operated from almost anywhere—such as from a home or a small office/warehouse location. It’s relatively easy for one person to create a website that’s as professional looking as a site operated by a large, well-established, multimillion-dollar company, so the playing field is much more equal. An e-commerce website can be created and open for business in hours or days, not months, or even years; There is very low financial risk—in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

ONLINE BOUTIQUE BENEFITS

Consumers love to buy high-end items online for many reasons:

Speed. Online shoppers love the idea that all they have to do is make a selection, enter their information, and then click a button. It’s as easy as that, and all from their own computer.

Convenience. Online shoppers love the online shopping experience vs. the alternatives of shopping at a mall store or department store. There, they are rushing to get there, fighting traffic, fighting for parking, getting jostled by crowds, and enduring pushy salespeople and long lines at the register.

Selection. This is key. Online boutiques have the capacity to offer a much wider selection of merchandise for sale in one place than either a traditional store or a catalog. This means they can uncover some truly unique items not available anywhere else.

Value. Because an online boutique has lower inventory and other overhead costs than a brick-and-mortar retailer, these savings can be passed on to consumers in the form of great deals on the latest merchandise—even if it is high-end, luxury goods that they are after. Everyone loves a sale, right?

Education. The internet is the world’s largest storehouse of information. For example, a consumer who is in the market for an engagement ring and wants to learn about the 4Cs of diamonds can at information sites online, or at the websites of the most reputable online jewelry stores. These sites can also answer questions about how to clean jewelry, how to judge quality, or the latest styles.

The reason I chose to go online instead of having a brick-and-mortar store is because I felt like the market where I live is saturated, says Jennifer Spiegelhalter, founder of AdoraBella and its website ShopAdorabella.com, which sell high-fashion clothing. There is practically a new boutique springing up on every corner these days, and e-commerce is growing by the minute. So I felt, after much research, that this was the better choice.

Should You Shutter Your Storefront?

Some online sellers start online and never have a brick-and-mortar store, but many folks thinking about starting an online boutique already have a brick-and-mortar boutique in operation. So, if you have a storefront, should you shut it down and focus exclusively on e-retailing? Not immediately. After all, by having it both ways you have the ability to market your products in two ways, give local customers an easy way to return merchandise, and use your storefront for warehousing merchandise.

Still, might this dual-channel strategy be an unnecessary complication that forces an entrepreneur to focus on two distinctly different venues? The experts don’t think so, and in fact, many point to it as the way to go forward into the next century.

There are tremendous advantages to be had by leveraging net sales with a brick-and-mortar store. Case in point: You can use the store to promote the website, for instance, by printing the URL on bags, sales slips, and advertising fliers.

In short, a brick-and-mortar store can be a billboard for your website. It already has massive brand awareness, and whenever a customer walks in, even walks by, a storefront, there’s reinforcement of the URL.

Another argument in favor of a dual-channel strategy: Different consumers want different things, and you want to be open to that. Some customers want the kind of personal interaction that can only happen in a traditional retail setting. For others, it’s simpler to log on to the net. The smart, consumer-oriented business makes it easy to buy, no matter the customer’s preferences.

The Wonderful World of Online Boutiques

Throughout this book, you’ll meet many online boutique owners. Some of the online boutique owners you’ll meet in these pages include Amanda Raab, CEO of PurePeals.com, which sells luxurious and elegant pearl jewelry at good value; Andrea Edmunds, president of PoshTots.com, which sells imaginative heirloom-quality furnishings and gifts for children; as well as Jennifer Spielgelhalter.

THE E-COMMERCE QUIZ

Think you’re ready to become an online boutique owner? Prove it. Before moving on to the next chapter, take this quiz. Answers are true or false.

Scoring: Guess what? True is always the right answer for any netpreneur. But you knew that already because you’re ready to compete on this merciless playing field.

You’ll also hear from Heather Smith, founder of Cocosshoppe.com, which sells eco-luxe fashion and beauty products; Linda Hayes, founder of Tonic Home Inc., whose website TonicHome.com sells luxury home furnishings; Jay Valentine, whose online jewelry store SaladoJewelry.com sells medium-priced jewelry; and Lisa Cabanes, whose website SocialCouture.com sells at home entertaining products and services.

Finally, look out for commentary from Kassie Remple, owner/founder of SimplySoles, whose website SimplySoles.com sells beautifully designed and expertly crafted shoes; Ali Wing, CEO and co-founder of Giggle, whose website Giggle.com sells stylish and smart baby gear; and Jacquelyn Tran, president and founder of Perfume Bay Inc. which sells cosmetics, perfume, and skin-care products on its website Perfumebay.com; and Eileen Joy Spitalny and David Kravetz of Fairytale Brownies, whose website Fairytale brownies.com, sells, you guessed it, brownies.

Throughout the book, we will also include Q and A’s with successful online boutique owners. These are designed to help you see how a successful online boutique gets started and grows. While these online boutique owners are different in many ways, they all have two things in common—the drive to build online stores selling luxury goods, and success.

eBags Inc.

Peter Cobb, co-founder, senior vice president of

marketing and merchandising

Location: Greenwood Village, Colorado

Year Started: 1998

Eliot and Peter Cobb, Frank Steed, and Andy Young joined Jon Nordmark in 1998 to build a major online store for shoes and accessories. Boy, have they pulled it off. Currently, eBags (ebags.com) is the world’s largest online retailer of bags and accessories for all lifestyles. It has sold more than 4 million bags and accessories since the site launched in March 1999. Of the five founders, Peter Cobb and Jon Nordmark remain with the company.

eBags has grown 40 percent per month since its launch and has launched eBags in the EU, with strong sales in the United Kingdom and Germany.

The company also has a footwear and accessory site called 6PM.com (6PM.com) that has over 125 brands, 130,000 pairs of shoes, and many of the same bag brands as eBags.

The company officers are very excited about the site because it allows for much more ensemble merchandising. eBags can show Stuart Weitzman shoes, for example, next to matching handbags or Allen Edmonds men’s dress shoes with a Swiss Army laptop brief. In general, the company says it offers lots of fun opportunities to improve the shopping experience.

Steed was president of Samsonite USA and American Tourister prior to launching eBags. Peter Cobb, Young, and Nordmark were also top executives at Samsonsite. Each had product development, merchandising, and marketing experience with globally-recognized consumer brands. Eliot Cobb was formerly the vice president/treasurer of The Wherehouse, a 350-store retail music chain located on the West Coast. As a group, the Cobbs, Steed, Young, and Nordmark possessed more than 60 years of combined bag and retail experience.

To start the company in early 1998, each of the five founders came up with a significant amount of cash and worked without pay for eight months. Then eBags raised $8 million from angels, friends, and family. The company then decided it wanted to get venture capital funding, so it carved back its angel funding to $4 million and actually sent checks back to all its angels. In 1999, financial relief came from VC firm Benchmark Capital. Other investors followed, allowing eBags to continually invest in people and technology. While the company has raised a total of $30 million in VC funding, it has not needed to raise VC money since 1999.

The company is doing well. eBags.com announced the company concluded the 2007 holiday quarter with a significant increase in handbag sales, up 43 percent in the past year-over-year. More high-end, designer brand names helped eBags increase its