Online malls are one of the latest aggregation channels to come to prominence in e-commerce. We find
out how they work and what they can
do for your business.
If you’re looking for an e-commerce presence
that’s really targeted to your customer, an online mall
may be a solution. In the same way that a physical mall brings together retailers that might appeal to fashionistas, bargain hunters or farmers market regulars, online
malls offer shoppers numerous shopfronts under one
Erica Stewart and Trudi Jenkins started an online mall called hardtofind about four years ago, curating a set of buyers who offer products that are beautiful, unique and often handmade. The business is growing at 300 per cent year on year.
“Around 350 sellers are grouped under the hardtofind umbrella,” says Stewart. “Shoppers can browse the products and add all their purchases to one shopping basket, then pay in a single transaction. hardtofind manages the orders, sending the relevant sellers an order notification email. Each seller fulfils the order as
per their usual processes. Some sellers have a warehouse, while others will be packing the order in their
Because each seller fulfils their order individually, the shopper may receive lots of parcels over the period of a week (perhaps longer if they have purchased an item that is handmade to order). “We’ve found that this is actually a positive – getting lots of separate parcels on different days is like a little treat,” says Stewart.
When Stewart and Jenkins started their mall, they approached
around 50 sellers whose products they liked, convincing most of
them to give it a try. Now they are approached by around 40 sellers
a day and they knock back 90 per cent of them in order to stay true
to their vision. “We look for unique, beautifully designed artisan products,” says Stewart. “We’re not about discounting, big brands
and mass-produced products.”
If you choose the right online mall environment, one of the
advantages for sellers is that you are positioned among like-minded brands that will appeal to a similar type of customer.
For those with an existing website, the online mall is an additional shopfront online. “For those who don’t have a website,” says Stewart, “they basically get their hardtofind mini-site for free, so it’s a great first step into e-commerce.”
Some malls may charge a sign-up fee and monthly subscription, or they may charge a commission on products you sell via your mall shopfront. In order for shoppers to find it, an online mall will still need a solid promotion and marketing plan. Find out how the mall is going to advertise itself and increase its page ranking before you sign up.
“In our case, it’s free to join and hardtofind gets a commission on every item that is sold,” says Stewart. “There’s an incentive for us to promote and advertise hardtofind, and the seller’s success is our success. We promote ourselves in digital, social and traditional media (we’ve had a lot of magazine coverage) and through advertising too.”
The sellers decide what products to present in the mall. Stewart says that some sellers who have their own websites choose to split their range and have some in the mall and some on their own website. “Our only stipulation is that the pricing must be the same at hardtofind as it is through any other channel,” says Stewart.
Stewart’s tips for online shopfronts
1 Images Because products can’t be picked up and examined as you would in a physical mall, we recommend that sellers invest in professional photography, showing many different views of the product, including front and back views.
2 Description A good description is also critical. For instance, one of our sellers imports beautiful handbags from France. It’s important that the description really sells the product, describing the provenance, quality, materials and dimensions, to justify a higher price point.
3 New stock Sellers should update and refresh their product range often, so that regular shoppers encounter something new at their shopfront each time they visit.
4 Customer service Deal with customer queries straight away. hardtofind allows sellers to communicate with customers. So, for instance, if a seller suddenly sells out of a particular colour, they can contact the customer immediately to let them know and suggest another colour or option.
Useful tools and resources
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and the interviewees, and not of Australia Post.
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