Facebook Fashionistas

preferred peppermayo imageLess than two years ago, Peppermayo Boutique was just a Facebook store fronting a single futon sofa piled with stock. Now managing directors Georgia Wright and Huayi Huang have grown it to one of Australia’s most successful online retailers. Here they share their thoughts on the technology of online shopping, international growth and the importance of keeping in touch with your clients.

TRADE EXPRESS: How did the establishment of your Facebook boutique contribute to the success of Peppermayo.com?

We did things in reverse: instead of creating a business platform for sales, we created a customer base and then created our website platform to suit our customers’ needs. When we first started it was all about creating hype around our stock on Facebook. We’d post something and have a ‘comment to order’ system, and then send them a PayPal invoice. So they’d comment and then that would come up on someone else’s feed, then that person would comment, share, and ‘like’, which means the photo we have just posted has gone viral. Then, when we were ready to launch our website, we promoted it via Facebook as we already had an audience of over 60,000 to broadcast our message.

TRADE EXPRESS: Online shopping has been around for a while now but it’s only in the last few years that it’s really taken off. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s simply that online retailers have started a quick and easy delivery and return process. Previously, it was quite difficult and costly for people to shop online, because they had to pay postage and wait 3 –10 days for their delivery to arrive. It’s a lot more effective now than it used to be. Overnight express couriers means people will shop one day and get their purchases the next. That’s almost instantaneous. I think this level of service is just a recent thing.

TRADE EXPRESS: Tell us about the technical side of setting up the online store. Was it complicated?

One of the real challenges was finding the right shopping cart software to use on the site. We really shopped around to find the ideal solution for our situation. The difficulty lay in the fact that we needed a shopping cart to adapt to our established business model. We needed something that would seamlessly transfer our Facebook store model to a website model. We received proposals from BigCommerce, CS Cart and various other in-house carts. We ended up choosing the X-Cart platform. We were really impressed with the ability of X-Cart to be customised to our business model. Put simply, it ticked all of the boxes and was within our budget as opposed to a more expensive platform, such as Magento, which would have costed three times more.

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TRADE EXPRESS: How about managing payments? What was your solution for that?

We also teamed up with eWay and Paypal to provide us with payment solutions. Paypal has always been the secret to our success. Paypal’s invoicing system has allowed us to streamline payments from our customers ever since the Facebook days. They have always been very supportive of us and we find that the strength of Paypal’s brand allows us to be trusted overseas.

TRADE EXPRESS: Peppermayo has a wide international reach. Can you explain why your international customer base has grown so quickly?

International customers weren’t an afterthought; New Zealand was foremost in our minds in terms of service. We grouped Australia and New Zealand together, which means instead of offering free shipping to Australia only, we subsidised New Zealand shipping from the start. Since we were targeting and marketing to two countries everything grew quickly. The US caught on very rapidly from there. Customer service is an important factor as well. Our interaction with customers via social media is part of the reason we’re so successful. That in turn has helped our international growth. Customers always feel a risk when they’re buying overseas but if you’re personable and make sure the customer knows you’re listening, it mitigates the risk for them. We’ve serviced over 100 countries, from Azerbaijan to Saudi Arabia. That sort of public interaction with our customers over social media makes people feel more comfortable. They know that if they have any trouble, we’ll be there to help.

TRADE EXPRESS: What are the particular logistical challenges for a rapidly growing online retailer like Peppermayo?

Fulfilling demand has its own challenges. At the start we were processing 10 or 15 orders at a time which meant we could manually fulfil the orders. Then all of a sudden we were processing 50 orders and had to change our approach. Automating the order process has freed up our time to focus on new markets and investigate how best to grow our business. Another big challenge is managing pricing. Different zones have different pricing, so making shipping cost-effective for us—as well as giving our customers good value—has always been difficult. Our markup isn’t really high—we’re not selling $300 dresses—which means we can’t absorb too many costs.

TRADE EXPRESS: What role has DHL played in Peppermayo’s success?

DHL has played an important role in terms of our Australian customer base. We have always tried to keep our service consistent between Australia and New Zealand. In the past we have never been able to offer an overnight service to New Zealand, but DHL’s service allowed us to reach a huge area overnight. People were purchasing our products at 3pm and receiving it the next morning. That allowed us to directly compete with New Zealand boutiques and online retailers as we were perceived as a local retailer.

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