Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Online Shop: a Case Study of Sorts

This is a record of my first round of the Pop Up Shop. Because I honestly did not expect to sell, I was overcome by the feeling of being caught unprepared, but then you don't know what you don't know, and I had to do it once to learn what I want. So here goes:

1) I've planned to open an online shop, off and on, for about a decade, but had not, mainly because I had enough outlets and could not keep up with supplying them and meeting exhibition/commission commitments.

2) Over that decade I constructed a few empty shops, Etsy account, unpublished pages, etc, intended as more or less permanent shops. Throughout, I stayed with the same paradigm. Some components are still important to me, some are not, some I'm not sure hot to create. They include:
  • Visual cohesion of the items, (so, a series,) and also with the "interior" of the store, stationary, packing material, websites, everything;  
  • Overall girly/frilly/feminine look, floral on grays, whites and pale blues; 
  • But also an elegant/exquisite/grown-up feel; 
  • Utmost simplicity of process, for the client and for me; 
  • Prices in NZ$. I wanted to stress the New Zealand-ness of my store. Also, clients could potentially wait until the NZ$ drops to buy; 
  • The vague but supposedly important notion of "branding". 

3) You could say I opened the shop kicking and screaming on New Year's Eve, only because I said I would here sometime in November/December. I wasn't crazy about a lot of what I was doing: the timing, the pieces collectively, my lack of success photographing, and truth be told, lack of motivation. But the hump looked bigger the longer I procrastinated, and I'm glad I got over that.

4) My target customers were always:
  • General public, including friends and family, who want nice handwoven items;
  • General public not related to or in close social proximity to handweavers who want nice handwoven items. They are possibly already interested in textiles/weaving;
  • General public looking for a nice, one of a kind gift/memento/accessory, not necessarily textile/weaving, for themselves or loved ones,
  • Artists and artisan looking for something nice that's made by hand, because I've had good feedback/swap offers from these folks in the past; 
  • Friends and family who want something because I made them; 
  • Friends and acquaintances who are curious to know what I do in my basement;
  • I dream of having folks who want to collect my stuff eventually. Gee, that took guts admitting publicly!

5) Ben shared a link on his Facebook page to my shop, and told me I should do the same on mine, so I had to. This week I have 259 FB friends; I've never checked, but gut feeling tells me a little over 1/3 of my FB friends are real life friends and family; 1/3 non-weaver online friends, and 1/3 weavers/textile people. I might more or less "communicate" personally with 20 or 30 tops, but some once every several blue moons. All but one client was real life friends or long-time online friends; the one client saw an online friend's link/share. I don't have a weaver page.

6) Being new to this, I tried to understand the flow of activities. Today it looks something like this.
You can enlarge by clicking but it doesn't help, and many of you already know. Suffice it to say, the blue parts are what I can control/systematize/standardize/prepare.

7) Beginner's (or first timer's) Luck: all but one client have known me somewhere between almost ten years and all my life, none of whom had the chance to buy my weaving previously. Only one commissioned previously, and in fact, it was my first commission. Thanks, Liz. For most, it was a long time coming; one told me so. Also that NZ$ dropped drastically helped overseas clients see my prices as a "steal/bargain", their words. Plus, as I'm going to Japan in February, some Japanese friends/family saved on postage. I can't replicate these every time; the first item, never again.

8) Things I can control, (the blue items):
  • What I make;
  • Photographs. I wanted them bigger, but then the page became so long, I made them smaller. Ben suggested clickable thumbnail but I get confused overseeing multiple pages, so I decided against it this round; 
  • Descriptions/words of seduction;
  • Price. (Along with the usual "what's the right price" conundrum, feeling like I have to justify the price, I had some which included "standard" postage and some not. The first category was to maintain parity with previous gallery/commission prices; the latter wasn't. This is the kind of complexity I want to get rid of, which is easier if I sell a series, hold a sample sale, etc.);
  • How many I list at once. I think fewer is better for my sanity. I was once told I have to have between ten and a dozen in any physical shop at any time, so I tried to do the same here, but it's unnecessary;
  • Look and organization of the "shop", visual cohesion, but they need not stay permanently the same;
  • Standard answers to emails of inquiry/order, including request/confirmation of PayPal email/postal address/posting options, offering different posting methods/prices and ETA, and non-PayPal payments. What else?;
  • Default packaging, both inside/decorative and outside/practical. This includes how "frivolous" I want to get as I'm Japanese and I know how to do "frivolous", but my natural tendencies is austere. If I ask people to pay good money, I need to make the packaging fit the weaving and the mood of the store. Also, as there are standard packaging material available, do I now start weaving sizes to fit into one of, say, two or three sizes?;
  • Record/database, spreadsheet or individual check lists, what items? 

9) Pros/cons/issues (Some are repeats.)
  • Photography, GRRRRR; 
  • How to be found by the general public. My Facebook was a ready-made market but an one-time-only environment. I will need more exposure to make the shop successful consistently.  
  • Price simplification. This can be solved by listing in small, "same kind" lots;
  • Packaging. Besides what feels good to me, Nelson is a small place and has few choices so I need to look online/elsewhere but also need to be as creative; how can I make recycled packaging classy?);
  • Visual cohesion/mood/standardization;
  • Big pro/thumbs up/hats off to Paypal for making invoicing and record keeping so easy. The 4-and-a-bit % fee is nothing; 
  • Heavy baseball bats to banks. Most have bank buying and selling rates to get maximum profit from us, right? So if I convert a NZ$ price to, say, yen, and then convert that amount back to NZ$, the value us substantially lower than my original price. I don't mind much smaller, inexpensive items, but I do for larger pieces, so I must select a reasonable website for clients not using PayPal;
  • I can build a better client database and send things like greeting cards if the spirit moves. 
  • Platform: I casually browsed Etsy and two NZ-based craft sale sites, Facebook, Blogger and had Ben take a tour of Wordpress. One NZ-based, (really-near-Nelson-based) closed quickly. I couldn't be bothered learning Wordpress when shortly afterwards Blogger incorporated many features I liked on Wordpress. Etsy vs felt.co.nz, I was partial to Etsy because of the potential exposure rather than sticking to NZ-ness. But in the end vulnerability to policy changes was the same anywhere, in which case staying on Blogger, with which I'm most familiar, was the easiest.  
  • Whether to keep the shop attached to my blog. In case you hadn't noticed, I'm frank about what I don't like or what's not working. And even though my pieces age well after I've had time to mend/finish and sit on my them, I feel hypocritical to hop to another page and declare everything is in tip top shape. Not spilling everything here goes against the very reason I blog, so that's not an option. This is an issue I've considered for many years, but now that the proximity to the shop is so close, I need a rethink. 
  • (EDIT) Pop-Up Shops should stay open one or two weeks, tops. round"?
  • (EDIT) Pricing. "Includes postage anywhere" didn't feel right but I couldn't think of a remedy that felt right and simple, I went with it for this round. In future, I might have NZ price including postage vs Anywhere else price including postage, OR everything excluding postage. I think the former is simpler.  

If you have experiences/advice/funny stories, do tell.
EDIT: Naughty of me. I forgot to thank Cally and Doni for their invaluable advice. I touched up the site even after it went public, and some of the "issues" sprouted from seeds they shared with me.

3 comments:

  1. We are always our own worst critic. Your shop looked lovely.

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    Replies
    1. It could be just my bad taste, but I kind of liked the 80's all-same-color mentality. I somehow found it soothing. LOL. Won't work now, would it? But not the big hair, although many of my tops had shoulder pads. Oh, dear...

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  2. Alternatively, a chintz heaven - couch, ottoman, curtains and wallpaper; pearls and a twin set; leather pumps... You have no idea how devastatingly girly my mind can go. LOL. So not soothing to some, i.e. Ben.

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