What is Need A Part?
We are an online retailer specialising in parts for small appliances - things like vacuum cleaners, espresso machines, bread makers and food processors. We don't do repairs; we just provide parts that you can fit yourself, and we only sell things for well-known brands.
The business was started in 2008 by Jared Tasker. He was working as an appliance repair technician and got fed up with people asking for parts. A repair technician's time is worth $70 an hour to fix something, so it's typically a waste of time and money if all you need to do is track down a $10 part. He found there was nobody to refer customers to, so decided to solve the problem himself.
It's just the two of us who work in the business. We've worked hard to make our systems as efficient as possible, so the business largely runs itself, but we occasionally have part-timers to help us with dispatching in busy periods.
You built your ecommerce site yourselves. How and why did you come to do it this way?
The website started as a simple one-page enquiry form. Customers would tell us what they needed, we'd find out and give them a quote for price and timeframe, then they paid us by bank deposit or cheque.
Building this site was quite a simple job, so I built it for Jared while I was studying web development in 2009. I was amazed that people actually used it and sent us money, so it was quite easy for Jared to convince me to build a proper webshop.
Need A Part was fortunate in that I was a graduate web developer who happened to 'get' the concept and wanted to be part of it. That said, I've only been a full-time developer at Need A Part for a little over a year; most of the early development was done while working other jobs.
With our ecommerce site, we didn't want to be constrained by somebody else's idea of how a webshop works. We had so many unique requirements that it was just easier to build what we wanted. We thought that customising an 'off-the-shelf' solution would have required just as much effort, if not more. This way we have absolute control and can do anything we want.
Our operation has three different parts to it: the site that customers use; the 'back end' site, where we manage everything from ordering and receiving stock, to dispatching and handling enquiries; and the supplier site, where big brands such as Breville, Sunbeam and Electrolux log in to update enquiries and provide ETAs. We couldn't see a way to do all of this with some open-source shopping cart software.
A major benefit of having all our systems integrated online is we can give customers heaps of information. We're able to display real-time stock levels, and if we're out of stock of an item, we can tell customers exactly when it went out of stock, when we re-ordered it from our supplier, and when we expect it back in stock.
Another upside is that the more information we give to customers, the fewer phone calls and emails we get.
What elements of your site have you changed over time and why?
We're always tweaking the design. We're young, so we appreciate current web design trends, but it's also about usability.
It's impossible to give users a good experience if you don't know how they're using your site so we do a lot of custom reporting on Google Analytics to track how customers interact with our site. This information has led to us changing sizes and colours of buttons, slimming down the checkout process, and putting certain information in more obvious places.
We've also started crowdsourcing a lot of information. We now hold more than 500 different parts in stock, but there are thousands more that aren't worth holding in regular stock. Every single time a customer enquires about a part that we don't stock, our suppliers provide us with up-to-date information, such as the current price and whether or not it is currently available. That information is then available on the website to anyone else who is looking for it.
In the last year we've also started integrating with online tools from New Zealand Post. They are really ahead of the curve in terms of free online services to help online businesses. We use their address finder to help people move through the checkout faster, and we've recently started using their 'tracking notification' system. Every time a parcel is scanned, our website is pinged, meaning we can contact the customer. When a delivery scan is recorded, we email the customer to let them know. It's amazing, as it means that customers can get in touch straight away if the parcel hasn't turned up. It saves them waiting three days, getting angry and then calling us.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org