My Christmas owner Nicole Keleher has experienced challenges running a seasonal shop, but having both bricks and mortar and online stores has helped increase reach and exceed sales budgets. Add some theming concepts and a blog into the mix, and this former finalist for Australian Retailer Association’s Independent Retailer of the Year award has become a Christmas favourite.
When did you launch your shop and online stores?
This is our tenth season. The initial concept for My Christmas was just an online store, but I decided I wanted a seasonal bricks and mortar store to get more feedback from customers and a better sense of what the top sellers were and what was popular.
What has the reception to the online store been like and which performs better?
The online store is an integral part of our business and our website, including the fact that the online store is our number one promotional tool to get people into the store. The vast majority of our sales comes from the bricks and mortar store; however, we see our customers come in armed with loads of information and questions based on the research they have done online.
What are the challenges with running a seasonal store?
- Staff is the number one challenge. I’ve been lucky enough to maintain staff regularity with many of the staff coming back year after year. However, because I can’t offer full-time year round work, there are always changes due to the needs of the staff.
- Cash flow is also a significant issue with six months of the year bringing in only a tiny percentage of our revenue. It is during this pre-season time that we work on pre-order and lay-by opportunities via the website and email campaigns to bring in an essential line of income, as well as to connect with customers who otherwise don’t hear from us for half the year.
Your website looks gorgeous and comprehensive, with sections such as Corporate Trees, Dress the Tree and Decorating Tips – has the design been a work in progress? Do you outsource the design?
We have completely rebuilt the website, with new eCommerce platforms, three or four times over the past 10 years. All design work is outsourced and I’m delighted to be working with a company that has a handle on design as well as the importance of testing and researching changes to the site. We will be undertaking a mini makeover in the next few weeks just to freshen the site up again in the lead-up to Christmas.
It is essential to keep pace with changing trends in design. Our website design was much busier and less streamlined only a couple of years ago, but now our design is much more simple.
You include a blog on decorating – do you think the content helps draw people into the site and keeps them coming back?
The blog has always been a tool we use to draw people to our site, but also to help the customers who already know of us. We want to inspire our customers and we want to give them the skills to create the Christmas display they’ve dreamt of with the minimum amount of stress and fuss, and the blog allows us to share these tools.
We have a couple of blog posts with images that have been posted thousands of times on Pinterest. These posts are particularly useful at drawing people onto our website.
You break your products into lots of different categories, such as different styles for home decorating. What are the advantages of aiding website navigation with categories?
The key to an eCommerce website is to try and make the shopping process easy for a customer by understanding what they are looking for. By creating themes or colour coding decorations for customers you are helping them find the total solution. So hopefully their shopping cart purchase is higher and they are happy that they have a complete look. The categories are the same as entering a retail store and finding products grouped by colour or style. It is so much easier to navigate through the actual store and find what you want, and that’s what the categories do.
How long have you been with SecurePay and are you happy with it as your payment gateway?
I’ve been with SecurePay for many years. It’s a great platform because it automatically provides secure eCommerce payments, but we also have the ability to manually set up sales services for our clients. For example, while our webstore can’t manage lay-by payments, we can create payment plans for our customers on SecurePay to take advantage of pre-season promotions or a convenient lay-by payment service.
How do you combine having a bricks and mortar store and an online store – are they managed together and share stock or as quite different entities?
This year we’ve taken on a warehouse for the first time. Prior to this we were filling all the orders from the retail store and it was messy and cramped. We see the online side of our business as having good growth potential, so the warehouse gives us more physical space to allow this growth. The stock is therefore separated, although there is a lot of movement between the two locations. As the warehouse is a new “tool”, we are learning how the two components will work together.
Any tips for online businesses trying to draw in customers at Christmas?
- Facebook and Instagram promotions are such a cost-effective way of getting people onto your site.
- Adwords are great, too.
- Building up your own database is really useful and by ensuring you email this group of interested/potential customers you’ll see your sales increase.
- Always remember you need to make the process easy for the customer. Simplify the buying process with online check-out, easy delivery options, etc. Everyone is so busy at Christmas that you don’t want to add to their workload, you want to take away from it.
- It’s not only important to try and draw in new customers, but also essential to make sure the customers you have are treated so well that they return. Ensure your products are well wrapped (i.e. protected during the shipping process), and the packaging is clean and neat. We don’t use old boxes we’ve received from suppliers when sending out goods because we want our customers to be excited to be opening the box. We include a personalised handwritten note with every order, and at certain times during the season we include a little gift with the parcel, such as a packet of Christmas gingerbread biscuits.