Sue Rice goes pure play online
Sue Rice is one of Australia’s bricks and mortar retailers that adopted eCommerce well before most other retailers thought the channel was not viable in Australia. The success of Sue’s online efforts has led to the closure of here Glebe store. We wrote an article in 2009 on Sue Rice, swimwear entrepreneur and one of the true pioneers in online retail in Australia. Sue proved that the Internet could be utilized to turn a retail store in Glebe NSW into a global business, with customers in the US, UK and other countries. Now Sue is closing her store down to focus purely on her online channel! On closing the store, “It’s a combination of things, increasing costs related to running a physical shop – Rent increases with a binding lease and related costs, such as insurance and outgoings. Staff costs are increasing and more taxes are looming. Add two wet summers in a row for a summer seasonal business and winter coming again” says Sue.
“On the positive, you know the pluses with online, no fixed location, open 24/7, run the business from anywhere (escape to the country for me), in a word – flexibility. Also, after 30 years I welcome the change. The timing couldn’t be better. Online sales have increased steadily over the years whereas traditional retail has slowed.”
On the production side, Sue’s patternmaker also relished the change, deciding to go free-lance and produce styles on a sub-contract basis. Although experimental, Sue feels there is no reason why it won’t work.The last month or so before making her decision was an educating-her-customers exercise, taking the fear and uncertainty out of online purchasing for people not used to shopping online. The main lament was “How do you expect me to buy a swimsuit without trying it on first?” After reassuring them that they could try it on at home and exchange or refund, even Skype for some face-to-face advice, Sue is confident many will switch across. “So many have come in just to try things on and take notes of their size and preferred styles, with a view to buying online later in the year. It makes me glad I made the decision to close the door before another winter.” says Sue.
Sue is staying with Harmony, the original ERP system she implemented. “They have been willing to change their model for me. In the country I can’t have a fixed IP address. They have “virtualized” the process and it now allows me to login from my “remote” location wirelessly. The website is simple and works very well for my customers. Although it doesn’t have all the latest social bells and whistles, I’m not convinced that any extra spending to include them would translate into more sales. I can plug the social networking into it by email.”“Anyway, it will be interesting to see how it goes.” Sue’s last trading day in Glebe was 15th April, 2012. Move to July 2012 and Sue says her turnover has decreased as a result of closing the shop but so have her outgoings. However, overall, the business is more profitable. The orders are steadily increasing with some shop customers already braving online buying with her help. That is, some who are totally new to online shopping, ring her and she either leads them through the process or does a phone order. “Either way, it’s a good sign that my customers are staying loyal to the brand despite the lack of store presence.” Sue goes on to say “…In fact, I think they are finding the experience refreshingly easy. I offer a money-back guarantee if they are not satisfied but I am finding that if the first delivery is unsatisfactory, a chat about any issues and a suggestion of an exchange usually solves the problem. In other words, most who go to the trouble of buying online are willing to try a second time to get it right if it’s not right the first time. That’s a great indication that it’s working well. The feedback is also encouraging.”