Caitlin Sykes

Caitlin Sykes is the NZ Herald's Your Business editor

Small Business: E-commerce - Elliot Hall, EverMe

Elliot Hall is a founder, along with his brother Guy, of Tauranga-based online handbag and travel accessories retailer EverMe.

Elliot Hall, co-founder of EverMe.
Elliot Hall, co-founder of EverMe.

Why and how did you start EverMe?

The concept was born about three years ago when my brother Guy and I decided to leave our jobs in the IT and graphic design industries to take a chance in the online retail sphere. We knew we had the fundamental skillsets needed to start an online business, but for us it was about finding an industry that had potential and wasn't already saturated with competition.

Another major driver behind our strategy was the recognition that in both Australia and New Zealand there was a steady decline in the number of specialist handbag and luggage bricks-and-mortar stores. Being online means we're also able to present comprehensive ranges and add new brands all the time without the limitation of a physical retail space.

We are also fortunate to have two mentors, who are the creators behind one of Australia's largest online retailers that we met when attending an online retailer conference in Sydney in 2011. One of the pair was a keynote speaker at the event, so we took a chance and contacted him afterwards for some advice, and the relationship grew organically from there. Their knowledge and influence has been invaluable in terms of providing feedback and new ways of thinking.

How did you go about developing your site?

Developing the site is a constant work in progress. We are always working to improve the experience for our customers and, even three years in, we are still finding new ways to do this. Initially what we felt was most important is that we chose the right platform to develop the site on and had access to ongoing consultancy on its functionality, as well as our other wants and needs for the business.

We wanted to create a website that was informative, easy to navigate and aesthetically appealing to users.

Having our mentors on board was also a huge help, as I think their advice and feedback on our concepts gave us the ability to present a site that was polished.

What strategies have you used to drive traffic to your online store and get people buying your products?

Wow, what haven't we tried?! YouTube, TV, Facebook, Instagram, print media, Click Monday - the list goes on. We are constantly refining our traffic strategy and, to be honest, it will never end.

Like most online businesses, we rely heavily on Google. Natural ranking through SEO can take a long time so we also use Adwords, which has proven to be the most valuable source of traffic so far. As everything is measurable online you quickly find out what works and what doesn't, so you have to be prepared to learn and constantly work on this.

What about social media?

Social media plays a huge role. As we are an online-only business, social media is the best way for us to interact with our customers and create a brand experience for them before they click 'purchase'. As well as this, it helps to humanise the digital shopping experience and allows us to express ourselves in different ways.

Unlike business owners who have bricks-and-mortar stores, we don't get the opportunity to have face-to-face communication with our customers regularly, so social platforms enable us to establish a personal connection with consumers.

What advice would you give to others looking to start an online-only business?

• Research the market before you do anything and speak to people who are already working in the industry to gain their insights.

• Don't become too attached to any one idea; you have to be able to throw away what doesn't work and build on what does.

• Once you're up and running, measure everything! Analyse data regularly and test and measure even the smallest of changes.

• Follow trends and take note of what people are talking about across social media.

• Create a positive workplace culture; we've used the teachings from Zappos originator Tony Hsieh's book Delivering Happiness to help shape the culture of our business.

Coming up in Small Business: Pacific Islanders need to rediscover their entrepreneurial spirit, said Pacific Island Affairs minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga when he was sworn into the job earlier this year. If you're a Pacific entrepreneur with a great story to tell, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com

- NZ Herald

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