eCommerce Insiders

Best eCommerce Websites: Why Shoes of Prey Wins Retail Awards

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.

Who can learn from the Shoes of Prey model?

Branding and PR

1. Have a Human Face to Your Brand

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.

How this is useful

  • Can you start to build a profile around your founder or a lead director in your business (the designer, the business development manager, etc)? Create a specific marketing strategy to build their sense of authority: guest blog posts in industry journals, speaking engagements, regular press or video releases with catchy soundbites where you (or your business profile representative) weighs in on industry news topics.
  • Consider including occasional blogs on your website written from the perspective of the owner and include photos and seek to publish guest blogs with their point of view in other journals.
  • Be active in social media from this business personality’s point-of-view. In addition to a company Twitter account, for example, your founder could be tweeting with a bit more personal flair. Encourage your founder to be active on Quora, Instagram or in LinkedIn groups, depending on where your target audience visits.

2. Big use of white space

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.

How this is useful

  • Let your site visitors breathe a little by avoiding the temptation to fill up each webpage with as much information as you have.

3. Tell a story

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.

How this is useful

  • You do not need to be manufacturing your own products to be able to share a strong story about your merchandise. Focus on the quality aspects of your business: how you select and curate new products, where they are sourced from, or even how you package and send your goods. Make sure you tell a story about the customer care that goes into running your eCommerce business.

Product range

4. Know your specific sub-niches

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.

How this is useful

  • Think through your business lifetime value from the perspective of your customers: when does your product become more important in the lives of your customer, and when do you become more of a daily or occasional need? Make sure you have dedicated sections on your website to address these key times in the lives of your customer as well as focusing on bread-and-butter selling.

5. Play up your unique selling point

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.

How this is useful

  • Don’t be ashamed of what makes your customers special. Create a positive atmosphere that celebrates difference rather than makes it difficult for customers to ask if your product will suit their particular needs.
  • Consider how your product range can be categorized in a way that makes daily sense to your customers without using euphemisms or skirting around the way your products are used in the real world.

6. Recommendation engines don’t need to be super-personalized

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.

How this is useful

  • You can easily use your sales data to create a trending section on your website to build social proof and provide recommendation options to customers, without the need for big data algorithms based on buying history.
  • Make sure your website has a section where visitors can see what other customers are buying: it is another way of saying that your customers trust your site enough that they are buying all sorts of products from you.

eCommerce Platform

7. Encourage site interactions

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.

How this is useful

  • Consider holding off on pushing for email subscriptions or other personal information until you are giving your site visitors something special and fun to interact with.
  • …Oh, and always have something interactive and fun to play with on your site! Be more than just an online print catalogue of products, let your site visitors (and potential customers) get a feel for the products you are selling.

8. Customize based on location

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.

How this is useful

  • Online retail is a global business. If you are appealing to an international audience, consider using an eCommerce platform that can translate your text on the fly into the home language of your readers, and make sure there are also options to change language for international travellers who are using your site.
  • If you are appealing to an international audience, make sure your payment processing system can work with a variety of currencies.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

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.

How this is useful

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.

Customer Experience

10. Regularly updated blog

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.

How this is useful

  • Maintaining a blog on your eCommerce site is a way to keep a conversation going with your customers.
  • Blogs let your readers know that you are still in business. Most of the other parts of your website may look static and give the impression that your storefront has been set up at some time in the past and now only wakes from slumber when a new order is placed. This can create fear in the mind of the shopper: will you wake up to fulfill the order or will it sit there indefinitely? A regularly maintained blog tells your site visitors that this is a hands-on business, just like a retail store.

11. Trust Signals Highly Prominent

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.

How this is useful

  • Make sure your site visitors know what they can expect when they buy from you: offering warehouse-to-door order tracking, stating your refund/exchange policy, absorbing shipping costs, all of these are trust signals you can mention to help build buyer confidence.
  • Use your trust signals on your shopping cart pages, your product pages, and your home page, at the very least.
  • Try to collect testimonials and publicize these on your website. If you get any email messages from customers stating they were happy with your service, get in the habit of shooting off a reply to ask “can i quote you on that?”! Use the testimonials on your website and across your social media.

12. Data driven approach to business

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).

How this is useful

  • Set up your Google Analytics account when you launch your eCommerce website. Make sure you track some conversion goals, or it is difficult to analyze and glean any meaning from your statistics.
  • Make regular time to review your analytics and commit to implementing one change. Overcome the mindset that analytics is daunting and focus on small steps to improve site conversion rate a little at a time: it all adds up and remember, improving conversion rate is the key to success: it is not just about adding more site visitors, it is about generating more effective sales from the audience you already have.
  • Consider A/B testing to see what strategies work best when communicating your audience. Always be testing.

Will You Be Ranked One of the Best eCommerce Websites of Tomorrow?

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?

Mark Boyd is a freelance writer based in Barcelona, focusing on the ways we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly for Programmable Web

2 thoughts on “Best eCommerce Websites: Why Shoes of Prey Wins Retail Awards

  1. Ivan Bayross

    Hi Mark,

    It so true that ECommerce stores are very impersonal.

    The first wall that gets thrown up between a potential shopper and the site is the perspective of a complete lack of a personal touch available by default in brick and mortar stores. For example, who would I have to take my complaint to, just in case my shoes do not fit perfectly, after I’ve paid in full is one such example.

    The idea of putting a human face, (and it does help if that face looks great) to your brand something that is all to often ignored in a lot of ECommerce sites. Its not only the lowest cost that sustains ECommerce today.

    Delivering a website, that is uncluttered, is such a different approach when compared to the majority of ECommerce websites today that are so packed with content that its a challenge for any site visitor to find what they are looking for and make a purchase, quickly.

    That said, since this is a single product ECommerce website, and an upmarket one, I’m guessing that using a web 2.0 approach with plenty of white space in the design came easy.

    I just love the way you make a point and then go on to explain what value that adds to an ECommerce website.

    I’ve built ECommerce websites for a few customers, and I’ve learned the basics of site functionality and design on the job, have been coding for 30+ years now. That said, what I took away from this Blog post, was a ton more than what I gathered painfully slowly over these many years of coding.

    Thank you for your writing style that is clear, simple to understand and has a definite touch out humor, all of which are a tad difficult to find in a majority of Blog posts today.


    Ivan Bayross


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