Jane Lu is the self-made millionaire, founder and CEO of online fashion e-commerce site Showpo. In the years since taking the start-up plunge, Jane has grown Showpo into one of Australia’s most acclaimed online retailers and now exports to more than 80 international markets worldwide. Here she shares her tips for any business looking to succeed in the new social media-charged world of online shopping.
If there is to be a textbook example of how failure is the key to success, Jane Lu’s business story would make the perfect case study.
Jane started her working career in corporate accounting, but soon felt dissatisfied with her chosen path. To counter her discontentment, she begun building a small fashion business on the side with a friend. Eventually, she took the leap and quit her career to concentrate on the business fulltime.
“I just realised one day that this [corporate career] was not for me, so I thought I would start my own business and it would be happy days from there,” Jane says.
But, like for many successful entrepreneurs, Jane’s first business venture failed to scale and soon shut down operations. Now faced with a debt of $60,000 and an uncertain job market at the tail end of the Global Financial Crisis, she made the decision to launch another fashion business for the millennial market, this time online, from her parent’s garage – that business was Showpo.
Eight years on and Showpo is now a multi-million dollar business, selling to customers in more than 100 international markets and dispatching orders from warehouses in both Sydney and Los Angeles.
In 2017, the business turned over more than $30 million, the same year Jane debuted on the Financial Review’s Young Rich List.
It has been Showpo’s ability to adapt to evolving e-commerce buying preferences that have ultimately led to the brand’s success; marketing through social media, providing live chat customer service and detailed delivery options are just a few ways the business has stayed relevant. The brand’s Instagram today boasts more than 1.4 million followers and Jane’s personal account @thelazyceo clocks in 163,000 followers.
So what does it really take to make it on the world stage? Here Jane shares how she took the business from garage to global.
Jane’s 6 Tips for E-Commerce Success
- Use social media to build awareness that will convert to sales
Social media provides brands with an accessible and affordable method to build brand awareness, establish trust among a target market, and ultimately convert leads into sales.
In choosing the social media platform that your target buyer is on, you will be able to directly reach the market. This could be a strategy involving multiple platforms from Instagram to Facebook, Snapchat to YouTube.
“Social proof is so important,” Jane says, “Your social media presence often paints a picture of where your company is at. Most people in the millennial demographic will check your online presence to determine whether your brand is trustworthy, with a track record of delivering a good customer experience. You can’t just assume that people trust your brand and this is where having that validation from other customers is a crucial element.”
On these platforms, create social media posts that align with your brand values, include appealing images and a clear Call to Action (CTA) such as ‘Shop Now’ or ‘Learn More’. When creating social media posts, taking into consideration the type of content people visit different platforms for will greatly increase your engagement rates. For example, highly visually appealing images rule on Instagram, while infographics work better on Facebook. Videos no longer than two minutes long work best on YouTube, but Snapchat audiences will engage most with videos between five to ten seconds in length.
Investing in paid search advertising, such as Google search, sponsored ads and display ads, later down the track when your business is further established will help to further build awareness around the brand.
- Establish a website with a consistent look and feel
Effective CTAs on social media will direct potential customers to a business’ website. Continuity in the customer journey is key and it is important to ensure your site reflects what is on your social media accounts. This can be achieved with a strongly branded site that relates to the brand’s values, look and feel.
Jane says traditional brick-and-mortar retail principles can also be applied online: “Your business’ website can be considered your storefront, where the customer will gain a glimpse of what your brand is like and decide whether they wish to walk in.”
“Ask yourself – is what they are going see on your website what they expect?”
“Your website forms a large component of the customer’s first impression, and first impressions count.”
- Make that website easy to navigate
Having an easy-to-use website, built around user experience and regularly A/B tested will make sure that your customers’ needs are met as they evolve.
Must-have features for any e-commerce website include a clear navigation bar, product search function and a shopping cart positioned in a visible location, Jane says.
Give the customer more options to view your product, with high quality photographs in multiple angles, clear product sizing and dimensions, and customer product reviews.
“A website with a great user experience isn’t something that can be achieved overnight,” Jane says, “Eight years on and we’re still A/B testing all the time.”
“One of the luxuries of being a smaller company is that you can afford to focus on doing one of these strategies at a time, really testing out the impact of what works and doesn’t. You can go as far as A/B testing your whole business as you grow.”
- Personalise the experience
In the world of online retail, the traditional face-to-face interaction a customer would have had in-store with a sales representative is not evidently present, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put strategies in place to add that sense of personalisation back into the online shopping experience, Jane says.
Strategic and personalised retargeting for existing and potential customers can greatly increase the likelihood of conversion.
While on your site, provide customers with product suggestions based on their previous product views (e.g. because you viewed this… you may also like this).
Once they leave your site, retarget them with programmatic ads using images of products they have already added to their shopping cart or viewed.
If they are an existing customer, remind them of these products through personalised cart abandonment emails.
When expanding internationally, you can achieve further market penetration by offering visitors localised versions of your site. For example, accounting for different hemisphere seasons, US visitors may see a winter season collection for sale in their local currency, while domestic Australian visitors will be shown a summer collection in Australian dollars. For smaller e-commerce players, this doesn’t have to be as complex as entire seasonal collections but could be as simple as existing products curated according to a theme.
- Answer questions before they are asked & make checkout simple
In e-commerce, that extra degree of physical separation can make customer trust be that little harder to gain, and it is important to ensure your customers don’t have anything to deter them from checking out their shopping cart.
Your business should aim to answer as many customer questions as possible through clearly stated information on your website, Jane recommends.
Most customer questions arise around topics of payment and delivery options, and providing this information on your site will help alleviate any concerns and slim down your volume of customer enquiries.
List comprehensive shipping and returns information on your site, including the range of delivery options (e.g. economy and express), expected delivery times to different destinations, any possible duties or taxes, and the multiple payment options on offer (e.g. Paypal, Afterpay or credit card).
For more specific questions that can’t be simply answered on an information page, provide a clear point of contact such as an email, phone number or even a live chat box. Putting in place enquiry functions with fast response times can reassure your customers, build further trust in the legitimacy of your brand, thus increasing conversions at the checkout.
Once you’ve made this information available to customers, go back and analyse the flow of checking out a shopping cart, ensuring that the cost appears as ‘all-inclusive’ (including any shipping rates and card surcharges upfront), offers the option to either create an account or ‘Checkout as a Guest’ (as not all customers want to sign up), and allows return customers to save their payment details to their account.
Thinking about where future growth for your business can come from is crucial to planning your business’ longer term growth strategy.
“The world is big,” Jane says, “And you’d be surprised to find where some of your social media followers are from.”
Having a look at the follower insights of your business’ social media accounts and website traffic can help you to understand where in the world your products are resonating with potential customers, Jane says. And with e-commerce, testing out the potential in a new market can be as simple as running a geo-targeted $200 ad on social media.
“In the world of online, there is really no reason to not be selling internationally or to not be offering an express shipping option. Remember, most of the time the reason someone overseas is looking at your products is because they have looked locally and they can’t find what they want. Your business has what they’re looking for and they want it now, so why not make the most of that global opportunity?”