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Balance the key to multi-channel success

Roxanne Baker, a PayPal customer, explains how she balances her bricks and mortar retail shops and online store in order to operate a profitable business.

Six years ago, Baker purchased the Nunie boutique in Canberra city – which had a 30-year history in the area. Although she had purchased a boutique with an established brand and customer base, she was keen to grow the business further.  Baker believed there was an opportunity to sell her products to a wider audience, so she launched a website in 2008 and was able to take orders and payments immediately, as she’d integrated PayPal into the checkout process. Within just two years, Baker was able to open her second boutique in Manuka called Yu. Both the physical shops and the online store specialise in stocking women’s fashion aimed at the 30-plus market that have their own unique sense of style.

Here, Baker talks about how her well-balanced online/offline business has helped her to ride out downturns and improve customer engagement.

The balancing act of online and offline

By having both an online and offline presence, Baker has been able to use her businesses to complement each other, ride out downturns and increase staff productivity.

“I have definitely noticed a downturn in people coming in store over the past two years. Having the website has allowed me to stay afloat during that time. At one stage, my in-store sales dropped quite significantly but online sales tripled so it balanced out. From sales data I can tell I am acquiring customers via the website that I would be missing if I just had the shops. Customers are buying online on Sundays and at night, when my stores are closed.”

While Baker does most of the website management herself, she has been able to use her sales assistants during down time in the store to help with packaging and despatching online orders. This has helped free up time for her to work on better understanding her target audience – revealing she’s had to learn in recent years to adapt to her new online clientele and continue to innovate in order to keep up with changing technology and consumer behaviours.

“I have always been proactive with customer engagement and marketing. I used to do mail-outs in the post but now it is much more cost effective to send email offers which I can distribute more frequently.”

While Baker sees email offers as an effective customer engagement tool, she acknowledges the importance of providing customers with relevant information.

“I know that my local clients that purchase in store are different from those that buy online. It’s important to differentiate the two audiences, so I keep my databases separate and offer them different deals. People need a reason to go in-store or online to shop so I try to inspire them and try to create buzz in my marketing.”

Getting seen and managing stock – the challenges of running a retail business

Baker’s main focus at the moment is on marketing and driving more people to the website. To achieve this, she has had to teach herself a number of new skills – from how to use Photoshop to how to leverage social media channels.

“I recently ran a print advertisement in a fashion magazine which resulted in a spike in visits to the website. I have also engaged a web agency to help me with search engine optimisation, as getting higher in web searching rankings is something I am currently trying to understand better.”

As Baker continues to grow her online store and adapts to the change in foot traffic to her shops, managing stock levels is becoming a priority to her.

“At times when I have felt the stock level is too high putting a sale online has helped me move excess stock. I find that online shoppers tend to take advantage of reductions more than in-store shoppers.”

Another challenge that Baker identifies is keeping inventory advertised online up to date.

“Something I am going to have to sort out as I continue to grow is how I keep my inventory up to date. Inventory is one part of my business that is hard to keep on top of and it’s not great for customer service if it goes wrong.”

Advice for those looking to setup an online retail presence

Baker’s advice to others thinking of establishing an online store is to spend time educating yourself so that you know how every part of your system works.

“I manage the website and I have learnt how to do that by doing online tutorials. Setting up PayPal was very easy at the outset and something I can manage ongoing myself. As a small business owner it’s expensive to pay for people or companies to do the jobs for you. I encourage people to utilise existing platforms and learn how to do it themselves rather than outsourcing.”

As for what’s ahead, Baker cites building up the online business and generating more awareness to drive traffic to the website are her main focuses.

“At certain times I have thought I have reached the extent of my market but then I try something different and it continues to grow so I keep realising that there are more people out there that want to buy my products but don’t know my website exists.”

Baker is noticing that people are increasingly becoming more time poor and that they want better shopping choices. She sees having an online store that’s open 24/7 as a big opportunity, and one that will only continue to grow.

For those looking to get noticed in the retail space, Baker has these three tips:

  • Be anywhere and everywhere – leverage offline, online and social media channels to promote your business and extend your market reach. It doesn’t need to be expensive – target your audience specifically and smartly.
  • Educate yourself – “I relied on a number of online tutorials and websites like www.drivingbusinessonline.com.au to start my online business and to educate myself about what to do and the right questions to ask web suppliers. Don’t be afraid to take the leap and open your own online store. It’s nowhere near as hard as it looks!”
  • Ask an expert – Once you’ve read about websites and online stores and marketing, think about what you can do yourself and what skills you need help with. For example, search engine optimisation can be challenging when you’re just starting your online business – if you’re unsure, speak to a web agency to help you get started so you can market your business appropriately and make the most of your investment.

This case study was produced to support the Driving Business Online program, a national educational initiative founded by PayPal Australia with support from its industry partners. The Driving Business Online program consists of an educational roadshow educating businesses to launch or grow their business online in addition to the Driving Business Online website.

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Lorna Brett

Lorna Brett

Lorna was Dynamic Business’ Social Web Editor in 2011/12. She’s a social media obsessed journalist, who has a passion for small business. Outside the 9 to 5, you’re likely to find her trawling the web for online bargains, perfecting her amateur photography skills or enjoying one too many cappucinos. You can follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/dynamicbusiness">Twitter @DynamicBusiness</a>

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