Bernadette James runs SimplyMoi with her partner, Clint, selling natural products for textured hair on Amazon, eBay and Shopify. Bernadette shares some useful advice about marketing your ecommerce business and the importance of research before you start selling online.
Why did you start selling online?
I was buying hair products from America and they would take such a long time to arrive and the shipping costs were really high. We were chatting about how difficult it was to find natural products for our hair, and we thought why don’t we start selling these products ourselves.
We decided to start selling online because it’s much more economical. As a small business, getting started can be very expensive. We do want to have a physical shop eventually, but that’s in the long term plan.
I was quite surprised at how quickly it took off. I knew about marketing, but this was my first time venturing into ecommerce and working with Shopify. I was able to use my skills, so far it’s been challenging because when you work for yourself you don’t just work 9 til 5. It’s very hands on, you’re constantly busy, working at all hours, but we have to look at the bigger picture.
How do you market your business?
I worked in marketing and digital communications for ten years, and I’m a copywriter, so we’ve used that to put our own unique spin on the products we’re selling. Our marketing is subtle, so, for example, we try not to bombard our mailing list with too many emails so that when we do send out something we have a good open rate. Everything is very strategic and we have a lot of success.
I do a lot of Facebook ads, and Google ad campaigns for the business. We use social media a lot, and we have an organic presence. We also do direct marketing - sending out emails, and we partner with other websites that have the same audience. We reach out to YouTube bloggers as well, in this kind of market a lot of our audience are listening to bloggers.
What’s the essential marketing channel that online sellers should use?
Social media - we are in the world of social media. Your items have the potential to go viral, and using social media enables people to share your products. You can use it to reach out to new customers who aren’t aware that your shop exists. It’s a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained - it’s relatively cheap to use and easy to get started.
Which ecommerce platform is your priority?
We started out on Shopify, and then started selling on eBay and Amazon about three weeks later. My main focus is getting sales from my website. I don’t think as a small business that you should feel you have to depend on eBay and Amazon. They have advantages because they’re well known, but you have no control over that platform, and the rules can change at any moment. So, I want to make sure that most of my sales come from my own website.
What have been your biggest challenges selling online and how have you overcome them?
It’s very competitive, and you have to be constantly on the ball, you can’t relax. Our branding is very strong, so people know us and remember us. We did a lot of research into the products and getting to know our audience.
Customer service is an important way of standing apart from the competition. We try to ship items within 12-36 hours of receiving the order, and customers notice that and email us saying that their items arrived quickly. We receive a lot of positive reviews - if someone leaves a bad review we reach out to them and see what we can do to improve their experience.
There’s also a lot of technical troubleshooting, something’s wrong or something needs adjusting on the website. That can put you off your daily routine, but you always need to focus on getting your products out there and don’t ever delay in shipping - don’t get too sidetracked.
What are your top recommendations for people starting out selling online?Three words: Research, research, research. You have to do your research, and you have to have a plan in place before you start. I spent about two to three months planning. You need to see what’s already available out there and look into your competition.
And, you need to be selling something that you’re passionate about, otherwise there’s no point. If you don't believe in what you’re selling it will come across to your customers.
Why do you use Zenstores Dispatch?
It’s one of the most important apps for me - to have the power to integrate all of my selling channels, produce invoices and print shipping labels. Your shipping process is something you have to take very seriously. I was desperate for something like Zenstores. I was trying to produce labels manually and I’d spend two or three hours on it, which I don’t have time for, and there were some mistakes printing them manually as well.
Now there’s Zenstores Insights as well, we use Google Analytics and Shopify Reports, but Insights is a useful way to merge all our sales data together. We can use it to see where things are going wrong, and where to improve the business.