Q&A with Nathan Huppatz of costumes.com.au
This week, we interviewed Nathan Huppatz, co-founder and CEO of costumes.com.au.
Ranking 23rd in this year’s Top 50 People in E-Commerce, Huppatz launched the online costume business with his business partners in 2010.
As one of earliest adopters of e-commerce in Australia, he has been in the industry long enough to see some trends come around for the second time (hello, marketplaces).
Keep reading to learn how Huppatz ensures costumes.com.au keeps pace with the rapid changes in digital retail and the one skill he thinks every online retailer needs.
Heather McIlvaine: You launched an early iteration of your current business online nearly 20 years. Why were you interested in getting into e-commerce at that time?
Nathan Huppatz: Since my early days, I have always had a fascination with the internet. My father was head of the computing faculty at the college I went to, so from 10 or 12 years old, we had a computer in the house and fairly early access to the internet. I can still remember the first web pages I viewed and how amazed I was.
I guess that interest carried through into my university studies (I received a bachelor of information technology at Swinburne Univerity) and my first job (Orica), where I was given the opportunity to be one of the founding members of their e-business team.
Around this time I met my current business partners, as they were looking to build some e-commerce opportunities for their auto classifieds and content startup. That is how it began 20 odd years ago, and we have been working together ever since. We have built and sold a few online businesses in that time, and I still love online commerce.
HM: Thinking back to your early days in the industry, what strikes you as the biggest changes e-commerce has gone through over the last two decades?
NH: Firstly, the online industry was so small back then. In 1998, when we started looking at e-commerce there just weren’t that many others doing it, so the size of the industry and the community has changed dramatically.
Secondly, the marketplace for technology and tools to enable publishing and commerce has grown in a massive way. It is so easy these days to open a store, find a supplier, transact and ship anywhere in the world. There was no Shopify when we started, so we had to write our own e-commerce software from the ground up.
Thirdly, the advent of social media platforms like Facebook has been huge from a brand and marketing point of view. It’s interesting that search engines have endured in a fairly pure form from the good ol’ Altavista days right through to Google now.
HM: How has costumes.com.au kept up with the changing e-commerce landscape in Australia?
NH: Well, we are active participants in the community, attending conferences, learning as much as we can and trying to keep on top of trends. Ultimately, this comes down to understanding who your customers are, and how they like to shop. This has changed over time, and we have done our best to adapt, using social media, different online marketing techniques and so on. But I still think we can do better, and we have some big improvements to our business coming in the next 12 months.
HM: Can you give us a sense of the size of costumes.com.au in terms of its revenue, staff, offices, etc. today?
NH: We try to operate as efficiently as possible, so we have been able to keep our team to under 10 staff, and operate out of a 1900sqm warehouse in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne. If we can keep growing the business without increasing our cost base much over the next 12-24 months, we will be happy!
HM: What are your top business priorities over the next 12 months?
NH: Our main priorities are to keep up-to-date with best practice in the industry. I guess this is all the standard stuff you hear about, including a fast site, good catalogue navigation, great (intelligent) merchandising, etc. We are also working on expanding our range and selection, and we are perhaps looking at some new strategic opportunities as well, as we continue to grow.
HM: What is your biggest challenge/pain point right now?
NH: I think our biggest challenge at the moment is growing our range effectively and maximising our sales channels, including marketplaces, which currently represent a very small percentage of sales for us. Marketplaces are growing (again!) in Australia, and we need to work with the ones that will be a good partner for us.
HM: What do you think is the most overrated e-commerce trend at the moment?
NH: I don’t know about overrated, but there was a big rush to implement AMP pages for e-commerce a while back. I don’t think this should be high on most people’s priority list, especially smaller sellers. There are plenty more important things to be focusing on first.
HM: What do you think is the most overlooked e-commerce capability/skill at the moment?
NH: I think one of the most important skills, and it has been for a long time, is really being able to understand your customers and how they shop and their buying behaviour. This is critical to a successful e-commerce operation. It influences all of your decisions around the user experience, range, shipping options and more.