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Online marketplaces vs stores: what's the difference?

I live in Cape Town. It's not a bad place.

Cape Town is lovely.

World Design Capital 2014, home to mountains, beaches, vineyards, and more. One of my favourite things to do on the weekend (and on the occasional weeknight) is visit one of Cape Town’s many markets. They’re great for finding favourite new designers, delicious food, and craft beer. But, every time I’m there, I get sidetracked thinking about the business mechanisms behind the scenes.

Marketplaces are a very particular entity, and there are a lot of things to consider. Which stalls will make it, and which won’t? Is there a recipe for success? How do they know what the right price point is?

This always makes me think of my friends over at Hello Pretty, and how their site is effectively a giant online market comprised of a number of independent stalls, and how the same things must be considered. (And, the fact that they have an edge over a physical market because you can shop there without the Cape winter beating you into submission!)

Hello Pretty? Hello Marketplace!

Hello Pretty is an online marketplace, and not an online store. A lot of people don’t realise the difference. The crux of the matter is that they don’t sell anything themselves - they allow other people to sell. The onus is on the sellers to build their brands, while Hello Pretty provides a platform for them to do that.

There are a few key points to remember for both sellers and buyers. Here’s a cheat sheet for both:

 

Point 1 Designers

Setup is quick and easy.
Your "table" at an online marketplace is easy to set up - your products are immediately on display and people can browse and buy straight away. No need to know how to build a site, or set up a payment processing system - everything is there for you.


Traffic
Team HP works day and night to promote their marketplace, and the businesses selling through them. They write blogs, are ever-present on social media, attend events, and keep up to date with what you guys are up to. You benefit from their sizeable website traffic and marketing efforts. However, as with a physical market, the onus is on you as the designer to promote your brand.

Remember, if people don’t know your store is there, they aren't going to buy from it.


Strength in numbers
Just as small shops like being next to big shops in a mall because of the spillover traffic, the same principle applies to stores on Hello Pretty. A shopper may come to the site looking for one thing, but while they’re browsing, they will come across other things they like - hopefully yours! There's something counter-intuitive to remember: other stores are not competition - they are helping you by bringing feet through the door.


Your brand stays your brand
Hello Pretty has their brand, and you have yours. They will never tell you how to run your brand. You get to reap the benefit of the Hello Pretty brand, while maintaining your own identity. However, they're always on hand with advice when you need it.


Choose your own pricing
Want to price your MacGyver themed mugs at R10 000? Go for it. (Although, they'll probably sell better at a lower price.) Hello Pretty won't ever prescribe your pricing or policies - but they’ll gladly help you figure things out if you aren't sure.


Keep your stock & maximise your profit margins
Hello Pretty doesn't keep any stock, and this will never change. Even if they wanted to they couldn’t, as there are so many stores! They exist as a platform for you to sell your things, and not to sell them themselves. So, you get to keep control of everything in your shop, including managing your own stock.

The upshot of is this that you don't have to sell your hard work at wholesale prices, or hand it over on consignment - your products should be listed at their recommended retail price on Hello Pretty.









 



Point 2 Shoppers

Spoilt for choice
You get to browse over 11 000 products and have them delivered to you! The future is here, and it’s pretty awesome.

If you're struggling to find what you're looking for you, want something custom made or have a question, you should contact the team. Be sure to give as much detail as possible - telling the team you want to buy a silver ring you saw isn't going to be helpful, because there are hundreds of silver rings on the site. Rather say something like that you're looking for a silver ring with a little bow, or a thick-band silver ring with a ruby gem.

Little Bear Brooch Origami Range - Little Rabbits Mr. Pusskins the Persian Kitty Boskke Mini Ceramic Hold my Heart Gift Card Set

Stores are run independently
Every store is run by the designer themselves. This means that your order will be handled and fulfilled directly by the designer. You're buying your goods straight from the source, and supporting South African businesses while you’re at it. So, if you have any specific queries then they're who you should contact.


Prices and shipping costs are set independently by the designers themselves
Hello Pretty runs the infrastructure, but doesn’t prescribe pricing or policies. While they can help you source an item, they can't give you discounts for purchasing more than one item, or send all your items in one go when you're buying from a few different designers at once. Much like a physical market (eg the Neighbourgoods market), when you buy from several different stalls, you have to pay each stall individually.

Having said all of this, Hello Pretty does facilitate wholesale orders and if you're looking to place a wholesale order, you should drop them a line.


Each store's goods are checked out separately
As above, when you browse through a market, you pay every stall you buy something from. You don’t take what you want and then go and pay the owners of the market. The same principle applies with Hello Pretty. If you have several items from different stores, you will have to pay the piper (or the store owners) individually.

 

 

Point 1 Meet your friendly marketplace elves

Another way to illustrate the comparison is by explaining the different roles. Just like in a physical market, or even a shopping centre, there’s a team of people behind the scenes making sure everything runs smoothly. Here’s the Hello Pretty team:

Scott Hadfield

Scott the web developer is the building and maintenance guy. Lights, plumbing, electricity - he takes care of all that. He’s responsible for the backend of the site, and building all of the nifty features.

You never think about where all the tables, lights, plug points and so on come from in a regular market, and it’s the same with the site. Things are just there, and they work! Or if they don’t, he shows up with a toolbelt and lumberjack shirt (he is Canadian) and fixes things.

Samantha Marx

Sam the designer is the talented and artsy person that created the branding, designed the banners and flyers for the market, and makes sure the whole shebang looks attractive. The beautifully designed Hello Pretty website? The Facebook banners? The neatly laid out help pages? That’s her.

She is the one making sure that all things Hello Pretty look, well, pretty.

While the idea of an online marketplace is nothing new, it’s still unusual to a lot of South Africans who are used to buying from online stores (such as Yuppiechef or Takealot). Since a marketplace eliminates a lot of the logistics that limit online stores, Hello Pretty can offer you many thousands of great products from hundreds of highly talented, and often internationally sought-after, South African designers.

And you can buy in your PJs - something which markets have sadly yet to allow.

 

Improve your sales with good product descriptions


They say a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. This is mostly true, except when it comes to your product titles and descriptions when selling online. These are often sadly neglected as many designers think it makes no difference.

That’s not true! They need to be well crafted and enticing if you want people’s interest in your products to turn into sales. And this holds true for pretty much anything, from cupcakes to coasters. There is no such thing as a boring product, only a boring description.

So, here are 4 ways to improve yours:

Sell the result (not the product)

Look at the images below from the famous Asterix comics. When average good guy Asterix drinks the magic potion brewed by the village druid, he develops superhuman strength to fight roman soldiers barehanded.

 

If you were to sell that potion, you wouldn’t do it by saying, This potion is delicious, and it makes you strong. You'd say, Want to kick some Roman soldier ass and be a hero?!.

Ultimately, the potion is not what you are selling. You are selling the superhuman strength and a shot at stardom. Another way of putting this that you may have heard it: Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.

You’ll find this tactic in all big brand ads. It’s why you always see a gorgeous woman sidling up to a man after he’s shaved with Gillette razor blades. They sell what the guy hopes he’ll become after using the product, and not the actual razors. (Although to be fair, that one is actually true. I use Gillette and my wife is smoking hot.)

Remember: people do not buy products, they buy better versions of their life. You are not just selling an LBD - you’re selling something that will make a girl feel confident, classy and beautiful at her next work function, date, party, whatever.

Those beauties above are from these designers:

You’re not selling baby clothes - you’re selling how the parents feel when they hold their bundle of joy in your cute outfit, and all the adoration that comes from people liking the pictures on Facebook.

This is what you must do with every product you sell - no matter how mundane it may seem. Find out what it is you are really selling and describe that.

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Tell stories

Stories are incredibly powerful. It’s part of human nature. I can remember many stories from my childhood and recall them without any reference, but I’ve already forgotten what that email from yesterday said. As humans we are wired to respond to stories - they used to be how we passed on histories and traditions; they’ve been used to teach us lessons; and in advertising they are incredibly helpful for creating images of the lifestyle you’re using to sell your product.

So, tell me a story about your product and how it will do change my life (think of tip 1).

It doesn’t have to be a novel! If people can write amazing stories in 6 words, then you can pull a few good sentences together.

Give people a frame of reference behind your product photo. Is it a vintage typewriter? Maybe someone used it to write love letters long ago. Is it a pair of earrings? Maybe they were inspired by a dream, or something beautiful you saw. You could even make up a little fictional backstory to go with your piece.

Give your product life. Make the buyer feel something. It takes your product from being just an object to something with intangible value.

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Use keywords

You want to give yourself the best shot to come up in search engines, both on Hello Pretty as well as on Google. To do that you must have the right words - keywords - in your description. This is called Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

But, don’t worry, you don’t need to know the technical stuff to make it work for you. (Most geeks don’t even know how it really works - but shhh, don’t tell them I said that.) All you need to do is make sure you include words that you think people would use if they searched for a product like yours.

If you think your rugged scarf will make a great gift for a guy, then don’t only use the words rugged and scarf, but also things like guy’s gift, boyfriend, help your boyfriend dress better and so on.

Never overdo these words, and make sure you work them into your product description in a natural fashion (see tip #2).


Hand bound A5 folded journal by Flourish

If your products have names (like The Alicia or The Scandal, you should remember to always at least include one other descriptor in the title so that when looking at the search results, the buyer knows what it is. They might overlook The Alicia, but they will be interested in The Alicia Dress or The Scandal Leatherbound Notebook.

Include the right terms for your product. This can turn your product from something that’s indistinguishable to all the others, into something that the buyer needs.

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Don't neglect the boring bits

Having said all that, the boring bits are still important. We’re talking about things like sizing, colours, dimensions, materials used, waiting times and so on.

Think of when you buy a new laptop. The RAM and processor and so on are important, and we consider those things when buying. However, deep down, what really sold it was that we cannot wait to get home and open that sleek new laptop. But if that laptop didn’t live up to the specs we thought we were getting, we would return it!

Describe the shape, size, colour and material of your product. Make sure people know exactly what they are buying. If the colour will change over time, then say so. If it’s made to order and will take at least two weeks, let them know. Make it clear and concise and unambiguous.

Ultimately, these are not the parts that you use to sell. The details are the steak, and what you sell is the sizzle. However, the steak is what the customer finds when they open the parcel you sent them, so you need to make sure it lives up to their expectations.

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How you describe your products is how your customers will view them. You’re passionate enough about what you create to have built a business out of it. Take that passion, and make potential customers feel the same way. By way of example, Apple is in the business of thrilling people with design, not laptops. What business are you in?

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Start a mailing list - build relationships - make more sales


Think creating a mailing list and sending newsletters are only for big businesses? Think again. Any small business can and should build a mailing list as part of their marketing strategy. Even if that business is as a solopreneur selling on Hello Pretty.

Email isn't as sexy as social media, and might seem old fashioned, but it works. Here's why:

Pretty newsletter examples
 

Why do mailing lists work?

  1. Continued interaction - if someone shows interest but leaves your site or store without buying, that connection has been lost. With a mailing list, you can continue interacting with them. You put in the effort to get them in the door - now make sure you build on that connection, as they might buy from you in future.
  2. Permission based - when people subscribe to your mailing list they're giving you permission to send them stuff. It's every advertiser's dream! The fact that they've done this also means that they're more receptive to your message, since they signed up for it.
  3. Super personal - inboxes are our most personal space on the web. Successful engagement there is your best chance to build a strong relationship between the recipient and your brand.
  4. More attention - No one sees every post in their social media feeds, let alone reads them. Not so with email. When you're not competing with hundreds (or even thousands) of other people, your message has a much higher chance of being heard.
  5. Builds trust - if you consistently deliver quality content through your newsletters, you build trust as a brand, which converts into sales.

These are just some of the many benefits of engaging your (captive) audience. But where to start? Not to fret, we've got that covered:

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Where to start?

The first port of call is where not to start. Don't just take your previous clients' email addresses and create a mailing group within your email. Not only is that illegal (remember, these people haven't yet given you permission to send them your newsletter), it's also highly ineffective. You may as well go back to using a Rolodex and sending faxes.

Rather open an account with a Email Service Provider specialising in email marketing, from where you can manage, send and track your mailing list campaigns. There are many good options available, like Aweber, Campaign Monitor, GetResponse, Infusionsoft and many more.

My recommendation is Mailchimp. It's easy to use, and free for up to a certain number of mails per month. Besides, what's not to like about a company who has a chimp with a mailbag for a logo, and creates year end reports like this?

Open an account and work through their many tutorials and advice before taking that all-important next step: Creating a newsletter.

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But, what to send?

Most people get stuck at this point. A good place to start is by asking yourself "What sort of newsletter would I want to read?" If you're cool enough to have started your own creative brand and business, then you're definitely cool enough to do an interesting newsletter.

Subscribe to newsletters from products or brands you love, and study them. Which ones do you like, and why? What sort of design and layout attracts your attention? What kind of content do they deliver? What tone and language do you prefer? From there, start workshopping your newsletter. Don't feel constrained by your format - if you feel it's not working for you, you can change and refine anything about it as you go along.

Also, don't be limited by what you make or do. Perhaps you sell wall art or prints that are inexpensive, so you know your customers may not have the biggest budgets. So, do a newsletter with tips on decorating a home without breaking the bank. Even though some of the content won't be about your product, you're still reaching the right audience, and giving them content they'll appreciate.

Not every mailer should be about making sales - if you're constantly pushing for sales, that will turn people off not only your content but your brand. Rather provide interesting and engaging content that people look forward to receiving. Continue building that connection and sales will happen.

Okay, how often do I send?

Send too often and you will irritate (and ultimately lose!) your subscribers. Send too seldom, and you won't build any trust or expectation, and your mailers will end up looking random and even desperate.

Ultimately, "how often" should be driven by what you're sending.


If you design new jewellery items every two months and you share new pieces in your newsletter, then it doesn't make sense to send something more often than that. However, if you write a series of childrens' books then a free story or a chapter excerpt once a week won't seem like overkill to your followers. As a rule of thumb, don't send more than once a week. If you're a small business or solopreneur, you can probably start out with once a month, and adjust it based on your subscribers' reactions.

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How do I capture the email addresses?

Your fancy mailing list is useless without email addresses to send it to. You need to collect them somewhere. (This is where that Rolodex would have come in handy, right?)

Don't buy a list of names or just add people yourself. It is not only illegal, but also ineffective. But, you knew that.

Any Email Service Provider you use will give you a signup website just for your list. You can send people there by linking from your website, email signature, putting it on your business card, and so on. Once on that website they can sign up.

Another way is to embed the signup box (it's easier than it sounds) on your website in a prominent spot - such as the sidebar or footer or below every blog article. Visitors to your site can pop in their email address into the box and hit subscribe.

If someone gives you their email address offline (say, at a market) or not through the signup form (perhaps they asked you in an individual email or message to sign them up), then you can manually enter it into your list. They'll get an email asking them to confirm their subscription.

A great little tool to use at markets or your physical shop is the Chimpadeedoo tool from Mailchimp. You can stand your tablet/smartphone on the desk and have passersby enter their email, even without web access. Not only is it a lot sleeker than a clipboard, it means you don't have to manually enter those addresses at a later stage, which neatly sidesteps any potential problems with typos or illegible writing.

Just have a look at this success story with Chimpadeedoo in racking up 10 000 subscribers in no time to see it works.

Lastly, your best new clients are old clients. When someone buys from you, make sure they get the opportunity to subscribe. They probably will as they just bought from you. If it is an online sale then send them a follow up email to your subscribe page, or put a link to it in your sale confirmation email.

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How to really convince subscribers (aka The Hook)

No, not Captain Hook. Focus, guys.

Once you know what you're going to send, you need to entice customers or visitors to your site to subscribe. Tell them what they'll get out of the deal in exchange for their precious email address. This is called your hook or value proposition (but we think hook sounds cooler).

Don't just say "sign up for our newsletter" or "subscribe here". It's boring, and I have no idea what you're going to send me or how often. Have a look at Hello Pretty's hook - the writing reflects their fun brand and is brimming with personality, and it is very clear what you will get in exchange for subscribing, as well as how often.

While we're at it, head over to their subscribe page and sign up. It's a great place to start learning (plus it's good for you).

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How many email addresses do I need for my list?

A lot less than you think.

Size doesn't always matter when it comes to a mailing list. If you rock a list of only 50 people who adore your hand-drawn birthday cards so much, that on average they buy 6 cards a year from your monthly mailing list - well, that's 300 cards a year without any paid marketing. But if you have a list of 1000 names that you tricked into signing up, and they are disengaged or disinterested, that's not going to help your business one bit.

Focus on creating one relationship at a time. Rather than racking up numbers, connect with the few hardcore fans of what it is you do and focus on creating content that's true to your brand. Remember, you can't please all of the people all of the time. Rather make something that gets a few people excited, than something that leaves a lot of people nonplussed.

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What about design? Fancy or plain Jane?

There are no rules when it comes to what your newsletter should look like, as long as it looks good! Some use no "design" at all and have text be the focus (like writers and bloggers) and some use very detailed designs. There are a few simple guidelines you may want to consider, though.

If you're a designer or maker (as are most people who have stores on Hello Pretty), you will probably go for more visuals than text, and will use a lot of images. Many email providers still block them by default, and your newsletter will appear as a bunch of nothing if you only use images. So, provide links and some text make sure it is interesting even if the images don't show. Also, encourage your subscribers to click to view your images or add your email to their contact list.

Make the email responsive. That means it will look good no matter if someone read it on their big mac screen or their tiny smartphone. The email will automatically adapt to the size. All email service providers will provide you with responsive design templates to get you started. That is quite important as most people read their emails on their smart phones (49% according to the latest research). If it looks super tiny they won't even bother.

Here are some newsletter inspiration ideas to get the design juices flowing.

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Track and improve your newsletter campaigns

The great thing about using an Email Service Provider is that you can track how well your emails are doing. Yet another reason to use them. Are people opening up your newsletters? ;Are they clicking the links? Are they sharing it on social media? Are they buying directly from there?

You can know all that. And you can use it to make informed decisions on how to improve. Do subscribers open the fashion tip articles more than the photos of new designs? What topics do they like sharing? What type of articles get the most feedback?

This is all data you can use to constantly improve the quality of your newsletters.

Later, when your mailing list gets big you can even do fancy split tests to see what version of a newsletter erforms better. But, small steps first. Leave that for later.

Go on, all the cool kids are doing it

You don't have any excuse not creating a newsletter for your business. It's free and can boost your marketing like few other things.

Plus, it is not hard at all to get going.

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