Wednesday, March 30, 2011

E-Commerce website feedback - Hip Industries

Since starting this blog, we've been approached by a number of fellow entrepreneurs who would like us to give them suggestions for improving their business.

For the last few months we've been chatting with Ben Loe who has recently launched Hip Industries - a website selling men's bags.

Ben teamed up with a business partner to start Hip Industries after seeing an increasing demand from men for stylish messenger bags. However, he reports that sales have been quite lacklustre -- selling only a handful of bags in the last few weeks. He has tried advertising with AdWords and dabbling in PR.

I've put together the following video talking through some suggestions for Ben.

What else would you suggest that Ben do? How can he improve his conversion rate, as well as traffic to the website?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Facebook Pages: Fantastic for Word of Mouth Focused Online Retailers

I was delving into our Google Analytics stats today and saw that Facebook accounts for 4% of our traffic and 8% of our sales. What makes that particularly impressive is that 71% of our sales are either direct traffic or Google organic search, so Facebook is by far our biggest referring site.

It's not possible to tell for certain but we're confident that most of those Facebook sales come from our Facebook page and related interactions. Late last year we discussed how Jodie switching to signing off her Facebook page posts with her name had sparked a lot more interactions on our page. We've since crossed the 21,000 like mark and the Facebook page is taking on a whole life of it's own.

Finished shoe photos
We semi-professionally photograph every pair of shoes that we make and email the customer a photo of their shoes when they ship. We don't ask customers to do anything with that photo but unprompted, many of them have taken to posting those photos to our Facebook page. This usually sparks a discussion around the elements in the design.

Product requests
We're regularly asked on our Facebook page for new materials or shoe design features. A few months ago a customer asked about glitter material and the reaction from other customers was impressive, clearly they want glitter as an option in our designer! We've taken this feedback on board, have sourced some glitter materials and will be adding that to our range soon.

Customer service questions
We have some customers who have purchased 10+ pairs of shoes from us and over the last 18 months they've developed a knowledge of our product that's pretty much on par with ours. They're also as active as we are on our Facebook page and often answer questions from other customers before we do. Not only does this lower our customer service costs but it acts as an excellent endorsement of our brand.

Wedding photos
This is probably my favourite Facebook post of all, customers posting photos wearing our shoes on their wedding day! Last week we had 3 customers do this. It's completely unprompted by us, and it seems to be becoming the done thing amongst brides who order their shoes from us. Not only is this a great endorsement of our product but it's also incredibly satisfying personally to know that we've made someone so happy on such an important day in their lives.

How has this happened for us and how can other brands take advantage of Facebook in the same way?

Purple Cow your brand
We've discussed previously Seth Godin's Purple Cow concept and how it helped inspire Shoes of Prey. Facebook is really just a word of mouth tool (albeit a brilliant one). If customers don't want to engage with and talk about your product Facebook is not going to work for you. You need something purple cow-ish to encourage that word of mouth.

Develop a personality and consistent brand voice
We stumbled upon this when Jodie started signing off her Facebook posts and comments with her name. Jodie personifies the Shoes of Prey brand, she's in the videos on our website and appears in all our Shoes of Prey press. Customers enjoy engaging with her. She's on the page nearly every day and rarely goes more than a couple of days without responding to customers or posting something new.

That doesn't mean this will work the same way for every brand, I'm sure there are many brands successfully using Facebook without a personality behind the posts, however I would suggest that the tone and language used on the Facebook page should be consistent both on the page and with the overall brand image.

Spend time on your Facebook page, and stick with it.
Our Facebook page has been live for over 18 months and while it's always worked reasonably well for us, it's really only been the last 4-5 months where we've started to really see the page gain significant traction. While a Facebook page is free to set up and maintain, it takes a lot of time to manage and run effectively. You need to be on it nearly every day and to stick with it even during quiet patches.

We've certainly found that our Facebook page works incredibly well for us as a word of mouth focused online retailer. Which other retailers have you seen use Facebook pages well and what have they done to make that happen?

Cross posted to Power Retail

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Custom retail - J. Hilburn

Selling custom made women's shoes online we enjoy reading about other retailers involved in the mass customisation space to see how they approach challenges similar to those we face.

J. Hilburn
Based in Dallas, Texas J. Hilburn launched in 2008. 2009 revenues were US$3.25m and 2010 revenues were US$8m. They've received US$7.25m in venture capital funding from Battery Ventures.

In addition to those impressive numbers what's fascinating about J. Hilburn is they've only just launched their online clothing designer. To date their business has been primarily offline. They have a team of 800 'style advisors' across the US who visit customers in their home or office to take measurements, and help the customer design their item of clothing. The style advisors keep a commission of between 10%-30% of sales.

It's a very different model to our essentially online only approach. We're moving into our new office space at the moment (details to come, we're very excited!) and part of the space will include a showroom so we can have customers come and see our shoes in person. We've done a few offline 'shoe party' style events and they've worked out really well so while we don't plan to go down the traditional offline retailing path, a J. Hilburn offline approach is certainly something we are open to exploring further.

Interview with J. Hilburn CEO Hil Davis and President Veeral Rathod embedded below:

Hat tip to Fan Bi of Blank Label for the link and further details available on TechCrunch here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Do we focus on women's shoes or explore other product categories?

Spending a lot of time in the online retail space, and also in China we constantly see great online retail opportunities in Australia, much of the time in product categories unrelated to Shoes of Prey. Some of these we get really excited about to the point where we'll take a few weeks to work out the supply chain in China, then spend time researching the market in Australia, and being entrepreneurs it hurts to have not gone ahead with any of these new business opportunities. The question we keep coming back to is:

"Do we focus 100% on Shoes of Prey, or do take up one or more of these other opportunities?"

Arguments for focusing on Shoes of Prey:

  • To build a new business from scratch to the size of Shoes of Prey would take a lot of investment in both time and money. To double the size of Shoes of Prey, while not a simple task is probably much easier.
  • There's a saying that "retail is detail". Working on a second online retail business might mean we miss the details on both so we fail or only achieve moderate success on two businesses instead of strong success on one.
  • Our competitive advantage probably lies in our brand and the relationship we have with our customers. We wouldn't be utilising that advantage in starting a new business outside the Shoes of Prey brand and customer base, so why not focus on maximising the value from our existing competitive advantage?
  • When we've spoken to any potential external investors or anyone with experience in starting and running a business they say focus is definitely better than starting a second business.
  • We already work an incredible number of hours each week on Shoes of Prey, to start a second business we'd have to either hire more people or forgo some of the projects we're working on for Shoes of Prey.

Arguments for starting a second online retail business:

  • Diversification - Mike, Jodie and I have self-funded Shoes of Prey. The majority of our savings and years of our work are tied up in one investment. If something happens to Shoes of Prey then we're not diversified at all.
  • We're entrepreneurs at heart, we love working on Shoes of Prey and it almost entirely consumes us but we also love starting new businesses. While I had thought it would be impossible for me to enjoy something more than working on Shoes of Prey the thought of starting something entirely new has an additional spark to it.
  • While we're passionate about the Shoes of Prey business and our parts in it, Mike and I aren't passionate about the Shoes of Prey end product - women's shoes. That's not a major issue for us, I love the customer service, marketing and operations side of our business which I focus my time on and Mike loves the technology and operations parts of the business that he works on. Jodie and Susie all love shoes and they take care of the parts of the business where that passion is critical. For Mike and I there would be an additional spark of excitement if we could work on a product we loved.
  • In comparison to starting Shoes of Prey it would be so much easier for us to start a new online retail business. We now understand sourcing and shipping from China and we have an office and a team based in China. We have relationships with PayPal and NAB for online credit card processing. We've learnt an enormous amount about online marketing. Developing a brand, pricing and a product range are all things we understand a lot more than we did 2 years ago. Doing the programming for another online store would be a breeze for Mike, Mel, Charles and Bel. We have a great customer service team who could assist with a new business. There would be significant economics of scale in running another online retail operation together with Shoes of Prey.

We're regularly torn on this issue and debate it frequently internally. We'd love to hear your thoughts, should we focus on Shoes of Prey or start a second online retail business as well? Have you had experience starting two separate or only semi related businesses at the same time and how did that work out for you?

Image credit

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Online retailing - the future

A couple of weeks ago I posted some of my thoughts on 'the future of online retailing'. More evidence this might not be so far off in this video:

The demo is using a basic laptop, a video camera and the Kinect sensor for the Xbox 360. Nothing expensive in the hardware at all and the mind boggles with the possibilities as this technology only gets better.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Grill'd - Hamburger retailing well done

I like hamburgers and I like retail so hamburger retailing is something that interests me. :) And I think Grill'd have absolutely nailed the entire fast food hamburger retailing experience from start to finish.

Grill'd for those who haven't seen it is a chain of fast food hamburger restaurants in Australia. Launched by Simon Crowe in Melbourne in 2004, they've relatively recently franchised and quickly expanded their chain of burger bars. They offer 24 different burgers and 4 salads ranging in price from around $7.90 to 14.90. The burgers are cooked to order and are generally ready in about 5-7 minutes. Grill'd pitch themselves as a healthy eating option with fresh ingredients and low fat patties.

To give a quick summary here's what I think they've done well:

  • The burgers are amazing, up there with the best I've ever had anywhere in the world. The ingredients look and taste incredibly fresh, and they even only use the dark green pieces of lettuce, something which I've always thought makes a burger look much better. (I assume they only buy the darker parts of the lettuce from their suppliers rather than throwing out the whiter parts).
  • The kitchens are in the open, you can see your burger being cooked, the people cooking it and you can see how clean they keep the kitchen.
  • The restaurants have lots of seating and a higher end fitout with lots of wooden panelling and nice looking chairs. My local Grill'd on Crown St. in Darlinghurst has bar style seating opening out onto the street and even has a great selection of magazines and newspapers you can read while you wait for and eat your burger.
  • The staff are incredibly friendly and look like they're having fun at work. They always have something friendly and nice to say whether it's about the weather, events happening in Sydney or something you're wearing. I went to Grill'd on Australia day with family and the staff were all dressed up with Australian flag bandanas and tattoos and they even gave us an Australian flag to put on our 2 year old cousin's pram. Happy, friendly, outgoing staff is not an easy thing to achieve, particularly with a franchised chain but they clearly select and train their franchisees well and those franchisees then do a great job of building a strong, vibrant culture within their stores.
  • Their marketing is excellent. The burgers are wrapped and packaged beautifully and they include a little booklet all about Grill'd with takeaway orders. They're active on Foursquare, you get a free small chips with any burger purchase by checking in and the mayor gets a free burger on Friday. During Movember, anyone sporting a Mo got a free burger at certain hours on Fridays.
  • The fries are delicious. They're thick, they use chunky looking salt and add some tasty fresh herbs - oregano and thyme is my guess. They also have 3 delicious sauce options.
  • If you don't eat your free Foursquare fries and choose juice as a drink then I think the Grill'd claim for being a healthy eating option is probably quite reasonable. My favourite burger is actually 'Garden Goodness', a vegetarian burger which seems to fit the healthy bill.

My previous favourite burger chain in the world was In 'N Out Burger in the US which I still love, but I think Grill'd beats it. My previous favourite burger chain in Australia was Oporto but after about 10 Grill'd outings I decided to go back to one of their stores the other day and the whole experience was worlds apart from Grill'd. Everything from the tired store fitout, the uninterested staff and even the burgers which I thought I loved just weren't up to the same standard as Grill'd.

Hats off to the Grill'd team for building a fantastic hamburger retailing business.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Startup inspiration: Jeff Bezos - founder of

A inspiring speech from Jeff Bezos, well worth a watch. Talk starts at 6:26 if you want to skip the intro.

via @nickcrocker

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Email Marketing - We'd love your advice

Having worked at Google in their advertising sales time I have a good understanding of search engine marketing and a reasonable understanding of digital display and search engine optimisation, however one area I and the rest of the Shoes of Prey team have very little to no experience in is email marketing. At the moment for Shoes of Prey we have an email list with about 6,000 subscribers who we send a monthly email newsletter to. We don't promote our email list on our website or give people a reason to join so our current email subscriber list is only 6,000 which is low considering we've had over 1,500,000 visits to our website since mid December. Our emails aren't tailored at all to the customer, all 6,000 subscribers get the same email and some months we don't send the newsletter at all. Our email marketing efforts could use a lot of improvement!

Some ideas we've been discussing for how we can better use email marketing include:
  • Shopping cart abandonment emails - say a customer designs a pair of leopard print shoes but doesn't order them. We could send them an email a few hours later with some photos and video showing how leopard print is on trend this season. If they still don't order we could then send them an offer for a free sample of our leopard print leather so they can see the material in their home and how it might match to their outfits.
  • Encouraging repeat orders - An important metric for an online retailer is the customer re-order rate, or the number of customers who order a second, third, fourth time etc. We could use email marketing to encourage customers who have purchased from us in the past to reorder from us again.
  • Offering different subscription options & capturing information about the customer - some customers may just want emails about new products, some may only want special offers, some may want information on fashion trends. Offering customers the option to select the type of information they want to receive will then help us tailor how we communicate with each customer.

One thing I've read that works very well for email marketing is sales and discounts. Because we are trying to build a mid to high end women's fashion brand and we've seen the impact constant sales and discounting has had on businesses like Myer and David Jones this is not a path we want to go down, but we still think email marketing could work very well for us.

At the moment we use Sydney based Campaign Monitor for our email newsletters which we are very happy with, however it's not designed for the sorts of tailored email marketing we want to do moving forward. We've had conversations with Silverpop and Email Direct and both their products look suitable, we plan to talk to some additional email providers as well.

We're considering hiring for a new role which would be part financial analyst part email marketing manager and the idea would be that this person would take on the email marketing role at Shoes of Prey.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the following, particularly if you've had experience in email marketing: 1. Any additional ideas on the types of email marketing we could do? 2. What types of emails have you seen that work particularly well for generating sales? 3. Any experience working with Silverpop, Email Direct or similar email marketing providers and how did you find them? 4. For businesses that are successful with their email marketing, how much time does it take to run effectively? Is a 50% role for 1 person too much or not enough?


Image by إبن البيطار

Monday, March 7, 2011

A trip to Australia's Parliament House

Top row, left to right: Vahid Ta'eed from Envato, Mark Van Der Zant and Andrew Rechtman from PayPal. Front row, left to right, myself - Jodie Fox, Paul Greenberg from Deals Direct, Traci Cornaglia, Katherine Store and Michelle Peacock from PayPal.

As Michael blogged early last week, on Thursday I flew to Canberra to meet with Ministers and Shadow Ministers to discuss small business development and innovation in the online retail space in Australia.

I arrived at Australia's Parliament House to a 21 gun salute. It was spectacular and as we craned our necks from the taxi we were informed that the Malaysian Prime Minister had also arrived at Parliament House.

Hosted by PayPal, we were invited along with Paul Greenberg, Co-Founder of Deals Direct and Vahid Ta'eed, Co-Founder of Envato to present the issues that we face as small online businesses in Australia. We had the pleasure of meeting with:

  • Malcolm Turnbull, Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy;
  • Bruce Billson, Shadow Minister for Small Business;
  • Belinda Dennett, Senior Advisor, from the office of Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy; and
  • Nick Sherry, Minister for Small Business.

Visiting Parliament House was incredibly exciting. In our meetings we covered off a reasonable range of issues and most importantly, we left with the agreement that our current frameworks were created with only bricks and mortar retail in mind and so require revisiting by our government to embrace online retailers and spur on small business development. Michael has already outlined some areas where we see specific gaps in previous posts, so at the risk of repetition, as I similarly outlined to a minister who asked what I'd do if I was prime minister for the day, here are the points in short:

  • Grants - The majority of business grants in place make requirements for eligibility that are impossible for many small online businesses to meet. For example, Commercialisation Australia's requirement of a patentable concept or strong design is impractical for many small businesses. It assumes no value in a business that may have many other barriers to entry that contribute to value in a business.

  • Education - My thoughts on this evolved since last Monday's post. For Australians to become global online business leaders, change must start in the education system. Subjects taught in business school must incorporate better online business instruction so that this is a natural aspect of business in the minds of tomorrow's business people. This point is prompted by a comment left on the Power Retail blog for us in response to Monday's cross-post. Further, we should also encourage more students to study software engineering with a view to producing more and better digital minds domestically. It goes hand-in-hand to say that it is important that innovative Australian online businesses have the support to grow in to global leaders, as it will be their task to become big enough and interesting enough to keep these graduates in the country.

  • Postal Services - Often the most difficult part of our customer experience, our postal services are currently below par, particularly internationally. We heard noises of commitment to change on Thursday on this front and I look forward to seeing the evolution. Thanks to Jeni for her input on our blog on this point!

  • GST - This issue has prompted a productivity enquiry and was merely acknowledged in discussions without need for further exploration.

  • Banking regulation - Banking options available to small businesses in Australia are often financially onerous and time consuming to set up and maintain. We love using PayPal because it circumvents the majority of these issues and has helped Shoes of Prey to grow more quickly than we could have otherwise. There is a need for regulation reform so that there is room for more innovative banking solutions for small businesses. You can expect submissions to commence on this in the near future.

Our discussions were positive and it's exciting to have had the opportunity to seed our concerns and give context to these concerns with government. We now have some clear paths through which to continue discussions and hopefully inspire change. I think realistically it will take time for change to be implemented, but acceptance of the ideas for change under the focus of the productivity enquiry is certainly clearance of the first hurdle.

Left to right: Vahid Ta'eed, Paul Greenberg, myself - Jodie Fox.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Welcome Belinda and Charles

This week we welcomed two new software engineers to Shoes of Prey: Belinda and Charles. They'll  both be joining us 2 - 3 days a week while they are finishing their studies at university. Just like Melissa - who joined us last year - Belinda and Charles are incredibly talented individuals, and we're very lucky to have them join us.

Belinda (Bel) is currently in her fourth year studying Computer Science at the University of New South Wales. She has had previous work experience as a programmer with Fairfax Digital and Atlassian, and has also tutored first year students in higher computer and engineering design. Over the summer break she has been busy programming soccer-playing robots for an international competition that will be held in Turkey later in the year. Bel lists her hobbies as sleeping ("there can never be enough"), eating lots of delicious food and playing computer games (Team Fortress 2 is a particular favorite). 

Charles is in his final year of his Computer Science degree, also at the University of New South Wales. He has had work experience in the past with Microsoft, Roads and Traffic Authority, Mountaintop Systems and Ebix, as well as teaching classes at the university on algorithms and data structures, engineering tools and teamwok. Over the summer break he travelled to Seattle to work for Microsoft on the Bing Infrastructure team. Charles' interests include coding in his spare time and putting lots of pepper on his food!

Welcome Charles and Belinda! 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Shoes of Prey is hiring: Part Time Bookkeeper

Image: Commercial College Bookkeeping Class of 1895!

To support Shoes of Prey's growth we'd like to hire a superstar, very experienced bookkeeper to work with us starting at 2-3 days per month from our soon to be new Surry Hills, Sydney office.

Salary: Negotiable based on experience and number of hours worked. We envisage the role to grow as our business grows.
Package: Will include lunch everyday you're working from our office + snacks + shoes.

Job Description: Shoes of Prey is a fast growing company and with that rapid growth comes frequent updates and changes to our accounting and bookkeeping processes. Working in cloud based accounting software Saasu, you'll be responsible for:

  • Keeping our books in order
  • Monthly bank reconciliations of 10 bank accounts in 7 different currencies
  • Managing payroll
  • Tracking our Japanese and Russian revenue and sales
  • Completing our quarterly BAS
  • Helping us to report on key metrics within the Shoes of Prey business
  • Advising us on the appropriate bookkeeping processes to be used in our business
  • Advising and assisting us to develop new processes as we grow


As I've found, bookkeeping can be fun and for an experienced bookkeeper this role should be a great way to really test and grow your skills working for an exciting, fast paced online retail startup!

To apply please email a cover letter and resume to

Please help us spread the word. We'd love for you to tweet or post this link to Facebook (buttons below) and if you know of someone who the role would suit we'd love you to pass this post on to them. Thanks!

A Shoes of Prey gift certificate is on offer for the person who refers the person we hire. With this and the customer service role we're hiring for, that's two potential pairs of shoes! :D

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shoes of Prey is hiring: Customer Service Wonderperson

Shoes of Prey is continuing to grow nicely so it's time for some more hiring. We're looking for another customer service wonderperson to join the team.

Salary: $40k - $50k (based on experience) + bonus (~20%) + generous stock options + lunch everyday + snacks + shoes. If we hit our goals over the next 5 years you'll do very well out of the stock options.
Location: We're close to signing a lease on new office space in Surry Hills, Sydney (blog post on that to come - it's an awesome space!)

Job Description:
You'll be working in a startup so your job is going to be mixed and varied. Your primary focus will be customer support where you will be responsible for ensuring our customers are the happiest in the land. Working in a startup so many different activities crop up all the time so we'd love your help with lots of those things, like PR and events, new product development, further developving our systems and processes and even business posts on this blog. And if you have ideas on how we can improve Shoes of Prey and you'd like to work on those, we're all ears.

The opportunities for career and personal growth within the business are yours for the taking. We have big plans for Shoes of Prey and if the business continues on the path that it has been there will be opportunities to take on all sorts of different tasks within the business such as developing systems and processes, training, mentoring and managing new employees and helping with marketing and business development opportunities. If any of this is of interest to you and you're good at it we'd love you to do it.

Some of the key day to day activities:

  • Engaging with our customers over email in the most friendly, fun and supportive ways possible.
  • Doing the same with our customers on website chat and on the phone.
  • Assisting customers in the shoe showroom space we will have as part of our new office!
  • Reviewing customer orders and sending these to the workshops.
  • Working with Vanessa to track and manage our orders.
  • Helping develop and document our systems and processes.
  • Helping out with the organisation of events like the Bondi Markets and Sydney Fashion Weekend.

Skills Required:

Additional skills we'd love but aren't essential as we can teach:

  • Experience in fashion retail or online retail.
  • Online marketing, Google Analytics, Google AdWords etc.
  • Bookkeeping

To apply please email a cover letter and resume to

Please help us spread the word. We'd love for you to tweet or post this link to Facebook (buttons below) and if you know of someone who the role would suit we'd love you to pass this post on to them. Thanks!

A Shoes of Prey gift certificate is on offer for the person who refers the person we hire!

Photo credit