In the 90’s, the world was abuzz with people working from the comfort of their homes and being their own bosses. These ‘dotcom’ businesses thrived from providing services and goods to their customers through the internet. But this didn’t last long and most of these online businesses closed down or even went bankrupt by the early ‘00.
However, online businesses seem to be gaining in popularity once again, especially in Singapore. A couple of years back, loads of young girls took to the internet to sell their used clothing (cleverly disguised as ‘pre-loved items’). Livejournal was the blog site of choice and ‘Communities’ were formed on LJ. Popular ones like sgselltrade saw about 70+ unique posts by members a day.
Some ambitious and enterprising girls broadened their scope to include selling clothes from wholesale manufacturers. Thus, online blogshops were born! Familiar names include Love, Bonito (formerly Bonito Chico), Tracyeinny and Her Velvet Vase. These three big names have grown from self-taken photos of themselves wearing their own merchandise to having their own flagship stores in Singapore and with some even launching their own clothing label, designed by themselves.
What makes these three blogshops popular where others have not been as successful? These are my opinions on why these e-commerce businesses have lasted this long and why they have paved the way for anyone who would like to set up their own online shop.
1. Knowing what the customers want
The first rule in owning a business is to know your target audience. That’s the first thing you learn in any marketing/business course. This information is crucial in knowing what suits your customers, in terms of products, presentation and promotion. Having this knowledge can help cut down time on choosing products and presenting them in a way that is appealing to customers.
I guess this is the most important factor for these blogshop owners. When these shops first started selling clothes from wholesale manufacturers, they did the smart thing by only introducing pieces that were in fashion and very wearable at low prices. Being youths themselves, this would probably be easy. The weather in Singapore eliminates the need for heavy sweaters and coats and anything found in any Spring/Summer collection could be brought in for sale. Also, as these clothes were brought in by manufacturers, clothes could be sold for much cheaper. An entire outfit, inclusive of a dress, shoes and accessories, can all be bought for about $50~ on one of these shops.
2. Catering to a sizeable market
It’s not enough to just know what customers want. It’s also important to be able to separate yourself from the rest of the pack. In business, I believe being a Jack-of-all-trades will not help much in protecting customer loyalty.
For these blogshops, their main focus is on clothes for women but they have been smart enough to make sure that they do not sell the same things as the other blogshops. For example, Love, Bonito has many clothes that fit daywear and eveningwear. They have also added a new Bridesmaid category where they will be selling good quality dresses that aren’t expensive (*Update: they have introduced a special ‘convertible’ dress that is able to transform into a few designs – value for money!). Her Velvet Vase has more clothes that fit those in the work field and Tracyeinny has a good mix of both casual and formal wear.
Markets that are too niche often fail due to mismanagement of stocks or a lack of a strong customer base. For example, if you’re interested in selling bottles of sand from various countries, the market wouldn’t be very big and not many people would be willing to fork out $30+shipping for sand that could have been found in the seller’s backyard.
3. Simplicity is key
The last reason I feel these blogshops have managed to succeed in what they do is the design of their webpages. After all, this is e-commerce and a good web design makes things so much easier to navigate.
In all three examples, clothes are categorised neatly into Dresses, Tops, Bottoms, etc. Searching for a particular design is easy as well. They also have a good system for their shopping carts, making it easy to check stock, colour, price and quantity of items. Overall, all three have made it such that information is easy to find and that no page is overly cluttered with excessive graphics or multiple font usage.
These three points are what I believe can help anyone who would like to try out e-commerce. However, one should note that these points are not exhaustive in what is good. Here are three more examples that could revolutionise e-commerce.
The concept of Groupon takes something that we’re all familiar with and ‘upgrading’ it into something that’s very convenient. The idea of downloading coupons or paying for vouchers online for use in real life makes a lot of sense, especially since there are so many people who use smartphones these days. Groupon gets you great deals from massages, to restaurants, to holiday packages. The deals on Groupon are absolutely worth it too. Most deals will get you at least a 50% discount and some, up to 90% discount. Since most of these deals are usually for big-ticket items that most people would not spend on, using Groupon allows for you to splurge on yourself.
Originally from South Korea, G-Market is an online market for anyone with an account. Users are able to buy merchandise from sellers in a way quite similar to blogshops. The difference, however, is in the variety of items for sale. There are the usual fashion and beauty products that can be found on most shops but there are also digital devices like memory cards, and cameras and even cars for sale. Reviews on sellers make it safe for buyers such that you’re able to check if a certain seller is reputable.
My only gripe with G-Market is its over-complex checkout system. While trying to buy polaroid film, I found the price system confusing and messy.
Moreover, how the prices are listed gives a false impression on buyers.
3. Home Shopping Network – Online version!
Everyone’s familiar with HSN. I’ve spent many a days watching it on TV, being fascinated by the ridiculous sharpness of Ginsu knives and the cleaning power of OxyClean. We haven’t seen much of home shopping in Singapore lately (only on Channel U before regular broadcasting) but it’s still a huge industry in the US. Recently, HSN has started uploading videos of their products on Youtube and you’re actually able to buy these items just like you would while watching the demonstrations on regular TV.
This gives the products more ‘air-time’ and people who have missed out on certain deals can still catch them as long as they’re available through the HSN Youtube channel.
As the internet advances into Web 3.0 in the future, it’ll be exciting to see how those developments can help heighten our shopping experience online. What would you like to see in the future of shopping?