Furnishing International

A discussion with Adrian Mullan, founder and a director of eCommerce Websites.

Adrian established eCommerce Websites in 2001 with the aim of helping businesses of all sizes transition into the online shopping field and has since helped thousands of businesses, including some of Australia's biggest retailers and multi-nationals, enter and make the most of the online shopping opportunity From computer science drop-out to successful business owner, Adrian now employs a large team - from user-interface designers and web developers to graphic designers and digital marketers - that have been successfully assisting businesses across Australia crack the online market for more than a decade. Websites are now longer just a place to present information online, they've become interactive. From purchasing online, to blogs and integrated social media, consumers can be a part of your brand when done correctly.

Adrian speaks to FURNISHING International about how websites remain the driving force in online sales.

With the "free" Social media platforms available, why should businesses continue to invest in an active website?

Great question. There's no arguing that social media has become an important part of an overall marketing strategy and we actively encourage our clients to use it. However, while Social media is great for generating 'buzz' and 'traffic', it's not always the best platform for converting that traffic into sales.

Sometimes the amount of information that can be presented to the user is limited (e.g. Twitter has a 140 character limit, so it's more suited to small snippets of information). Other times users are concerned about privacy (e.g. do you really want Facebook to be able to gather and look at data from your social feed and your purchases?).

And lastly, it's about context. Most web users aren't as receptive about being 'sold to' while browsing through their Facebook and Twitter accounts. In our experience, the merchants that have had the best results with Social Media are the ones that use it to generate buzz and traffic, while pushing customers back to their website for sales conversion.

How have applications like Pinterest changed the market?

For many people, Pinterest has become the digital replacement of their scrapbook.

  1. The audience is largely made of out of women.
  2. Women are largely responsible for in- home purchase decisions.
  3. Pinterest works best for companies that are selling visual products like furniture, homewares, etc.

Another great thing about taking the 'scrapbooking' concept online, is that it makes finding information quicker and easier. There's no doubt that good products that generate a strong following have the potential to explode in popularity with the right social channels. With Pinterest, there are stories of small boutique retailers being bombarded with calls and emails from customers, after a random user started pinning their products online. And without a proper way to process orders easily online, they've been forced to turn people away. It's a huge wasted opportunity... you need a concrete way to be able to convert buzz and traffic into sales.

How does eCommerce Websites differentiate themselves?

Specialisation, experience and scale are the things that separate us as a regular web design shop. We're specialists in online shopping. Web development is quite a large industry and within the marketplace there are many different niches. Some companies are great at building small static websites for accountants and service providers. Others are great with more visual technologies like Adobe Flash or Apps for smartphones.

Over the past 11 years we've:

  • Launched 1,000+ online shopping sites.
  • Worked with SME's through to Australia's largest retailers.
  • Dealt with businesses in just about every retail segment.

The next point is scale - determining how your eCommerce solution adapts as the needs of your business change. While there are some good solutions in the marketplace for small, medium and large merchants - the vast majority of them don't scale very well. Many businesses get caught into the trap of starting out with a very basic eCommerce solution, but find as the business grows and their needs change - the software can't adapt.

This means they essentially have to scrap their existing solution and start again (both time consuming and costly). We're in the fortunate position of having an eCommerce solution that scales well. My message is to think about the big picture. Think about what features and functionality you need today - but also what you may require tomorrow.

What can ecommerce Websites specifically offer our industry?

  • Launching a successful online store involves bringing together many different elements.
  • Great design (both from an aesthetic and functional perspective).
  • Online shopping technologies and the latest trends in the market place.
  • Online payment methods
  • Security best practices
  • Web hosting and how to scale your online store, so it doesn't collapse when your traffic spikes.
  • Conversion optimisation - how to best convert browsers into buyers.
  • Online marketing and how to drive quality traffic to your store.

It's a lot to cover, which is why many businesses end up dealing with multiple companies (e.g. a graphic designer, a web designer, a hosting provider, etc.). In contrast, we're one of the few providers that have the entire team under the one roof. Additionally, we've worked on projects that involve architects, interior designers, decorators and furniture retailers - so we bring with us a lot of the lessons learned in dealing with this market.

What specific features have Domanye found the most beneficial in launching their new online store?

Getting a large percentage of in-store products online has been very beneficial for their customers. An example is the ability for customers to view the different option and fabric combinations when shopping for furniture. So it you're looking for a specific seating, colour and fabric combination, the website will allow you to configure these options online and see what the price and stock availability is. Social media has also been deeply embedded into the website with users having the ability to Like, Tweet and Pin every product.

Another useful feature is the recently launched mobile version of the online store. When users access the website from a smartphone device, the site automatically recognises this and re- formats to a mobile-friendly layout. Lastly, there's a mobile store finder that allows users to find their closest store location while out and about.

Final thoughts?

In a world where everything is being commoditised, increasingly what separates one company from another is their ability to create a better customer experience. I think creating a great online shopping experience is a big part of that. For businesses willing to change and adapt, it's a really exciting time. For the ones that aren't... your time is running out.