Q&A with Online Shopping USA

By Neha Kale | 28 Jul 2011

The high Australian dollar and local demand for US merchandise inspired James Harris and Ei Sabai Nyo to target brand-savvy shoppers with Online Shopping USA.

1. Take us through the background of your online retail business.

We’ve been in business only a relatively short time but have been developing the Online Shopping USA website for about 6 months now. The original idea for the business came about with the rise of the Australian dollar and people asking us where the best place was to shop online in the US. This inspired us to build a one-stop-shop retail site that brings together the best stores from the US  along with the highest-value deals. Our editors now scour hundreds of stores and thousands of products to bring customers the best US offers.

2. How would you describe your e-commerce business model?

It’s an affiliate model. We showcase the best deals we can find and then when customers transact with the retail sites we recommend, we take a commission. The key to our success is not providing an overwhelming choice of products for the customer but to handpick the offers we think will be well received.

3. What were the key challenges you faced in setting up your online retail business and how did you overcome these?

We’re fortunate that we both work in the online industry already so have skills to build websites and promote them. We also have good contacts for website designers, editors, producers etc. Getting the site off the ground was still a challenge and uploading products took time and effort – it was challenging to get the right mix of goods. The key issues we face now include educating our customers on the best way of shopping and shipping from the US so they can maximise their savings.

4. What are some of the key features of your site that differentiate your offering and improve conversions?

We pull together all the information necessary for customers to make an informed purchase decision on one page. This includes the price at today’s exchange rate, shipping and returns policy information, ratings and reviews from the other shoppers. We also publish a shopping blog which is a great way to build relationships with our audience and get some insights into what they like, don’t like and what they want to see more of.

5. What marketing and website initiatives do you believe have been the biggest contributors to your success?

The foundations of our website are very solid – that’s right from the code up to site navigation. But once the site is built, and running on firm foundations, we’ve added features such as A-Z brand indexes, site search, interactive votes, weekly updates of the best deals, editor’s selection and Twitter and Facebook pages. These make the site more engaging and give customers more to explore and stay on the site longer.

6. What search strategies do you find yield best results?

Search Engine Optimisation. We optimise the site continually and we’re always adding fresh and relevant content that we think will be interesting to our audience. Continually adding fresh content is the essence of good SEO practice.

7. What options do you use for fulfilment and logistics, and how do you manage your processes?

We don’t directly fulfil our products because we send customers to our recommended stores where the transaction takes place. We have partnered with international shipping companies to facilitate shipping from the US.

8. How is mobile commerce influencing your e-commerce practices?

Our site is built using HTML5 and CSS3 technologies and has been built with the intention of future-proofing for all platforms. This means we render on web, mobile and tablet platforms and whatever comes along in the future. This is key to any retail website build as more and more people transition from PCs to mobile devices to access the web.

9. In what ways does your business engage with social media and how do you determine ROI, if at all?

We have a presence on Twitter and Facebook and regularly update both streams to engage with customers who want to interact on those platforms. We see social media as an extension of the site and our brand but we don’t track it seperately in terms of ROI.

10. What technologies and solutions do you use to power your e-commerce business?

The site was built in-house by our web development company Anansi using open source technologies such as PHP, mySQL, WordPress. We use an Apache server that draws on the latest front-end technologies such as HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery. The decision was quite simple – our web development company specialises in open source technologies. We believe that open source technologies are equal or superior to their proprietary competition as they are produced in a collaborative manner by passionate developers.

11. What current e-commerce trends of most interest to you now?

High street retailers moving into the online space. We applaud and encourage this because Australia has lagged behind the rest of the world in terms of embracing online retail. Rather than viewing it as a threat, retailers should use this an opportunity to re-invigorate their brands and embrace new technologies.

12. What do you believe are the biggest challenges for Australian e-commerce businesses, and what could be done to address these?

There is a shortage of good developer skills in Australia. Everyone knows that when they find a good web developer, designer or SEO expert, they are like gold dust and you need to hang onto them. Unfortunately, there are also a number of developers or agencies who charge too much for their services and don’t get the basics right.