The latest in our series on best eCommerce websites looks at Australian-based custom-made shoe internet retailer, Shoes of Prey.
Never mind the shoe closet, Shoes of Prey owners will need to build a separate room just for their award trophies after another slew of accolades was foisted upon them in August. The Australian-based, bootstrapped (oh yes, pun very much intended) startup has an international eCommerce frontage and can currently be seen doing the VC-meeting circuit in Silicon Valley, as they pursue $20 million in new capital to take their award winning custom-made shoe retail site to the next level.
Since their start in 2010, Shoes of Prey have been winning awards including Best New Online Retailer, Most Innovative Online Retailer, Best Online Retail Marketing Initiative, Startup Smart‘s Online Strategy Award, Finalist in Business Review Weekly’s Australian Retailer of the Year Award, Techcrunch’s Best Bootstrapped Startup Award, two category wins at this year’s Online Retail Industry Awards, and, most recently, the Australian Retailer’s Association (ARA) Kogan Australian Online Retailer of the Year Award.
At the time of presenting their award, ARA Executive Director Russell Simmons said:
“[Shoes of Prey] demonstrated to our expert judging panel a strong track record in building their business through superior customer service, cutting-edge marketing strategies and an innovative approach to pureplay online retailing.”
But perhaps their biggest award is that by 2012, only 2 years after opening their virtual doors, Shoes of Prey recorded a massive 300% business growth.
As part of their marketing strategy, Shoes of Prey has been able to get regular interviews published (particularly on women’s magazine style sites) with one of the co-founders, Jodie Fox. This helps overcome one of the key barriers facing internet retailers trying to build a loyal customer base: the very nature of online shopping creates an impersonal shopfront. While it has helped that Jodie won the 2011 Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award, Shoes of Prey has also worked hard to build a cult-of-celebrity around the co-founder as well. Blogs highlighting her shoe style, design techniques, and home life generate warmth, personality and sense of intimacy between the business and the customer base.
Like the other Best eCommerce Websites we have profiled, Shoes of Prey also maintains a clutter-free feel by making great use of white space. The site uses simple sliders, Pinterest-like catalog pages, and one-per-page product descriptions to make sure the site doesn’t overwhelm.
Shoes of Prey builds confidence in the shopping process by sharing a strong story about how the shoes are actually made. This includes a video of the workshop, a collection of images and a step-by-step walkthrough that accentuates the care taken in making the custom shoes and reinforcing the special, unique focus of your purchase.
Like with BaubleBar, Shoes of Prey have a detailed section devoted to wedding shoes for both brides and bridesmaids. In addition to these sections, they also have regular wedding-related blog posts and reach out to specific wedding sites to partner with.
Many shoppers may consider custom-made shoes a luxury. But, on the other hand (foot?), no two pairs of feet are really the same. Women, in particular, may feel embarrassed about talking about this but Shoes of Prey knows it is one of their key selling points. They have structured their categories to include shoe catalogues for small, big, wide, narrow and “odd” feet to help women feel more at home and to be able to find buying options that match how they see themselves.
Sites like Amazon use advanced algorithms that track back through your buying history to make recommendations for what other books or items you might like to buy next. This requires heavy coding of algorithms based on big data. Shoes of Prey recognizes that in the world of fashion, trends are constantly changing so what you bought last year – or even last week – might not represent what you are looking for today. Instead, they offer a section called ‘trending’ where you can see all of the current shoe designs that are most popular on the site.
At the heart of Shoes of Prey’s unique value proposition is that they allow women to custom design their own shoes by mixing and matching fabrics, toe and heel designs, and decorative flourishes like bows and straps. The interactive tool that lets visitors design their own shoe is at the heart of what makes this site (and their product range) special. The home page takes you to the interactive tool in 2 clicks, and from anywhere on the site, it is never more than a few click away to return to it. In addition, once you take the first step to using the tool, a popup box asks for your email details for a customer newsletter. While not essential to fill out to continue using the interactive design tool, it does appear right when you are most intrigued in the idea and acts as a ‘fair exchange’ between potential customer and the site: you play with the interactivity, and in return you agree to let us keep talking with you.
Visitors to the Shoes of Prey site will initially see the home page in the spoken language depending on their location. For example, viewing this website from Spain makes the website appear in Spanish. You can swap this to any preferred language by clicking an option in the footer of the page. But if you do swap to another language, the site still keeps showing the currency and shoes size according to the location you are in rather than converting everything to, for example, English pounds and shoe size standards.
eCommerce is a fast growing industry, with new technological tools constantly available. It is estimated that online retail has a conversion rate in the vicinity of 1-2% so it is important to keep track of your own conversion metrics to make sure you are maintaining industry benchmarks for competitiveness. When Co-founder Michael Fox looked over the numbers in the company’s early days, they found their conversion rate was much lower, in the vicinity of 0.3%. So Shoes of Prey reached out on industry sites and asked others what they would do. The result? Some highly specific feedback and strategies that they could implement on the site right away.
Being flexible and responsive is part of the core skillset required for eCommerce business today. Engage in industry forums and professional networks to learn from others.
Don’t be afraid of sharing some details about your business sales if it can help you build a more profitable business, but choose where you share these details strategically (with industry professionals not in direct competition with you) rather than making it something the bulk of your customer market would read.
Shoes of Prey maintains a regularly updated blog, and for added proof, includes a right-hand menu widget that lists new blog posts in order of publication month. Posts, for the most part, are a mix of business news (lots on their award wins recently, for example), pieces building a celebrity profile for their co-founder Jodie Fox (see point 1 above), occasional wedding-related posts and blogs detailing new product selections available.
One of the main barriers online retailers must address is how to foster confidence amongst site visitors and potential shoppers. Maintaining a regular blog (see point 10 above) is one way to do that. Web psychology has also taught us that there are other signs that help tell a shopper what they can expect when they shop from you. These are often referred to as “trust signals” and the Shoes of Prey site is full of them. A mammoth 365-day refund policy, free international shopping, and clear timelines around how long it takes to make and send you your custom-made shoes are ‘trust signals’ that the Shoes of Prey site displays prominently on i home page, in their shopping cart, and alongside each individual product page.
Along with asking for help (see point 10 above), the Shoes of Prey management team have taken a strong data analytics approach to their business. They were measuring site conversion rates, for example, based on website visitors. Given the flurry of marketing response they got from tech sites, they were even able to remove site visitors who came from tech media websites in order to give a more accurate picture of a potential customers journey through their website. Following this, they looked at the most influential webpages on their site: which pages had actual paying customers visited? They found the top five of these using Google Analytics, and made sure that the key information included on these pages was repeated on more of their site to reinforce what had worked (and guess what? it was predominantly the trust signals mentioned in point 11 above). They also looked at where sales came from according to which websites referred to them the most. From this, they were able to prioritize partnership developments for future sales strategies (this is where they identified the wedding market, for example, and key partners they could work with in that niche, see point 4 above).
Shoes of Prey demonstrates yet again that internet retail is still very much an open field for new business entrants. Any business with a data-driven mindset, the ability to offer site visitors an interactive experience, and a focus on building trust with your audience can generate sales online. What techniques from Shoes of Prey will you implement first on your eCommerce website?