Business tips

Growing one of Australia’s most successful online boutiques: Queen Bee Maternity

It’s the perfect eCommerce story. Accountant, Sharon Chim, couldn’t find stylish nursing wear following the birth of her son so shipped some in from overseas and launched an online store. Twelve years later, it’s Australia’s leading pregnancy and motherhood online boutique. Here’s how she did it.

It’s becoming an increasingly common and endlessly inspiring scenario – someone spots a gap in the market and, putting on an entrepreneurial hat for the first time, launches an eCommerce business to meet the demand. For many mumpreneurs this has been the perfect way to gain more control over their work life, and flexibility in their hours and place of work.

Such was the case for Sharon Chim who, eager to stay home with her six month old rather than return to her former accounting job, recognised the lack of attractive nursing wear in Australia and saw this gap in the market as an opportunity. She partnered up with sister Karen and together they launched Queen Bee Maternity.

Launching an eCommerce business

Sharon had no retail or eCommerce experience when they launched Queen Bee. What Sharon did have was a background in accounting and a hobbyist’s interest in Photoshop and graphic design. She cites these interests as having being instrumental in starting the business.

“I created the website design myself, using our developer’s platform. I have always done the graphic design of our site. An early web design course back in 2003 had helped with the process so I knew the basics already, with the front and back end, early on.

“A background in accounting was also a big advantage as I feel this is the most important area to oversee, and one which is often overlooked until the end of the financial year. Keeping a close eye each day has made all the difference.”

The sisters launched Queen Bee Maternity from Sharon’s home in 2005 and received their first order the day the website went live!

Growing the business

The products initially available on the Queen Bee website were from overseas nursing brands but in the early years of the business Sharon and Karen became aware that the desire for attractive maternity wear, and the labels developing it, increased dramatically. The industry boomed!

“Maternity wear has definitely increased in popularity,” says Sharon. “The intense media attention paid to stars like Angelina Jolie and Jessica Alba during their pregnancies highlighted what they were wearing – culminating in the Kate Middleton effect!”

They started adding Australian and International designer maternity-wear labels to the business and soon brands were approaching them to have their range included in the website. In addition, if they feel something is lacking in the overall collection she will search for a new label.

“We now stock over 60 international and Australian pregnancy brands and are always on the look out for unique labels to complement our store and philosophy,” reveals Sharon.

Creating the perfect website experience for customers

The Queen Bee website is one of company’s greatest strengths and a perfect example of a user-friendly eCommerce space. With a login option, wishlist function, multiple product categories, visible phone number, livechat option, blog, sale banner, scrolling image banner and free shipping banner, the website ticks all the best practice boxes!

“This has definitely been a work in progress. We outsource much of the IT to the same company we’ve had for the full 12 years but many facets of the website are actually configurable, allowing us to update the look without any IT assistance,” says Sharon, adding that with her interest in design she enjoys this process. “In turn, we are constantly adding features to the website after careful research and monitoring statistics, to ensure any improvements are positively beneficial and result in increased conversions.”

Of the website elements, Sharon has found that quick, free shipping is particularly important. “When you are pregnant, one day your clothes fit, the next day nothing does. For this reason we ship all Australian parcels via Express Post. Most online stores only have standard shipping, but we have free express shipping for orders over $80 Australia wide,” reveals Sharon.

“Livechat is helpful too. Many ladies find it easier to ask a question via livechat than to send through an email or call, especially when they are overseas. It enables for a higher turnover of sales as we can answer their queries straight away.”

Sharon says that having an elegant website, akin to a beautiful store, has been fundamental to the business. “It’s important that the website represents our philosophy, branding and store experience – from purchasing at the checkout to receiving beautifully packaged goods in a Queen Bee cloth bag.

Being able to offer clients security at checkout has also been important. “Having Securepay from the start has been fundamental to our success,” says Sharon. “It was important to choose a merchant facility that we could trust, which could be easily implemented and most importantly ensure secure transactions efficiently. Best of all, SecurePay has a great back end that’s user-friendly and easy to reconcile our daily payments.”

The functionality of the site has been crucial too. “We get many mothers who have never shopped online before, buying clothes for their pregnant daughters, so the experience must be easy for them.”

Sharon adds that of course they also have a lot of eCommerce-savvy visitors buying on the go, so the site needs to be just as easy to navigate and purchase from on mobile phones.

“Managing growth in the eCommerce world has been a challenging issue,” admits Sharon. “The digital world is changing daily and I believe you thoroughly need to embrace change and use the latest technology to your advantage.”

Marketing the business

Like the digital landscape, the marketing environment has changed dramatically over the past decade and Sharon says that staying on top of such changes has also been important for the success of the business.

“We like to experiment with different strategies – you can’t just repeat something that may have worked 10 years ago, as times are changing rapidly,” says Sharon.

“Magazines used to be extremely influential but now our strategy is focused online with social media playing an important role. We also market in-house which works well for us – we print a monthly newsletter that we send to all our customers – as well as promoting free branded Queen Bee gifts from time to time to show that we appreciate our customers. It’s these small touches that make all the difference.”

Advice for budding eCommerce entrepreneurs

Sharon offers up three things that have helped her build such a successful business over the past 12 years.

  • Have accounting knowledge or take a short course, its important to be in control of your daily cash flow and expenses.
  • Invest in a photoshop course so you can prepare website design elements yourself.
  • Marketing is crucial. Have a plan and budget for attracting customers.

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