The concept of online commerce first raised its head in 1979 – a man named Michael Aldrich connected a television to a “multi-user-transaction processing computer” through a telephone.
It’s fair to say he spawned a cultural phenomenon that changed the global economy, broke down borders and probably helped facilitate more startups than any other person in the Information Age.
Today, eCommerce sells $1.5 trillion worth of goods each year, with $10 billion of that expected to come from Australia. It’s a channel that’s being used by businesses across the country, so we caught up with four Aussie businesses leading the way: a furniture retailer, a cosmetics retailer, a membership-based beauty business and an online marketplace to find out what their biggest eCommerce lessons were.
The key players were:
- Dean Ramler, co-founder and CEO of Milan Direct
- Kate Morris, founder and CEO of Adore Beauty
- Sarah Hamilton, co-founder and CEO of Bellabox
- Martin Hosking, founder and CEO of Redbubble
We spoke about the lessons they’ve learned, the challenges they faced and their thoughts on the future. They shared some of their best eCommerce tips to help others along the digital road. The common thread is that there’s plenty of opportunity for businesses looking to get into new markets.
Dean Ramler, Milan Direct
“Just on 10 years ago, we set up Milan Direct. Milan Direct pioneered selling furniture purely online, and at the time everyone told us that we were crazy and that nobody would ever buy furniture online through an eCommerce site, without touching and feeling the product.
“We felt before investing significant funds and savings into an eCommerce store, that it’s best to test the idea first. So our first foray into eCommerce was via eBay selling our products on auction starting at just 1c with no reserve. Once our first few containers quickly sold out ... we then reinvested back all profits into the business to build our first website.
“The advice I would give would be to find your own niche and have a true competitive advantage. There is no point doing what everyone else is doing if you are not doing it in a smarter or better way.”
Kate Morris, Adore Beauty
“I decided to start Adore Beauty as an online business after working as a sales assistant on a cosmetic counter, and seeing how many women found that in-store experience intimidating and disempowering. I wanted to create a shopping experience that was easily accessible, informative, empowering and fun. Ecommerce seemed the logical solution.
“In 1999 there were no readily-available eCommerce platforms; everything had to be bespoke and built from scratch. The first version of our website was pretty basic - it had a shopping cart with online payments, and that was about it.
“There was only one bank that offered an online merchant facility; there was no such thing as broadband, so I had to crawl under my desk and unplug the phone every time I wanted to dial up; and all of the cosmetic brands I approached viewed ecommerce as a threat, so none of them wanted to sell their products to me.
“Ecommerce has enabled me to grow a business from my garage through to 35 employees and a $16m turnover. But the most exciting thing is getting great feedback from customers where we have been able to help them look great and feel confident.”
Sarah Hamilton, Bellabox
“We were inspired by Birchbox and then jumped into learning about the business from the ground up. My sister even read the Magento manual before embarking on management of the development team to build it.
“We don’t limit our ‘competition’ to those directly involved in what we do, instead we look to what great companies are doing globally and then we try to adapt some of their impressive practices to our own business.
“Don’t do it all yourselves, look to off-the-shelf tools and adapt your offering if you need to. Launch quickly with your MVP and, as you grow, then choose to spend money perfecting the experience. In eCommerce as in physical retail, the customer comes first so listen to what they are telling you.
“[eCommerce] is moving toward further customising the experience for the customer, thinking about the physical cues you get from a retail experience and bringing them online.”
Martin Hosking, RedBubble
“In 2015, Redbubble will reach over two million buyers, each finding a product that speaks just to them. In turn, independent creatives will earn over $20 million through the site. At this scale RedBubble is already the largest global consumer site to have come out of Australia.
“We were made for the Internet and can only exist as an Internet company. It is not possible to create a marketplace of such scale, with so many creatives and so many buyers, other than on the Internet.
“Our biggest early challenges were mostly around fulfilment. The Print-on-Demand technology is still new and it can be quirky. We have had to invest very heavily in ensuring product quality and timely delivery. We now launch two or so new products a month but it has taken a while to scale this.
“[The biggest benefit was] rapid, profitable scaling. We were cash flow positive from relatively early on and given it is a marketplace there are very high levels of organic growth.
“In today’s world, the power and control of the purchasing process has shifted from marketers to consumers. Consumers determine when and how they wish to interact with brands and expect information to be personalised. In this context, marketers must invest in multi-channel measurement and approach insights holistically to rethink which information is delivered to which consumers, when.”