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Questions that keep e-commerce beginners up at night

Rob Leach and Tim Johnson had no online retail experience when they launched their e-commerce company Green Thread last month. But they both had been frustrated in their search for a great fitting, high quality men’s business shirts, and decided they could fill the gap online.

As e-commerce beginners, Leach and Johnson have learned there are no easy answers to the questions that keep them up at night. Internet Retailing spoke with Leach (pictured left) about learning on the go.

Internet Retailing: Green Thread uses only organic cotton to make its shirts. How important do you think it is for an online retailer to have a story? And were you worried about alienating any potential customers by standing for something they might not care about?

Rob Leach: I think it’s vital to have a story. It wasn’t something we planned to do when we first started out, but I’m very glad we did do it, not least for the environmental reasons. It gives you something important and meaningful to talk to your customers about, and it gives customers an emotional connection to your product.

We were worried about alienating some customers. There used to be a feeling that organic, whether it was clothing, wine or fruit was somehow second rate. I don’t think people feel that way anymore. And as far as cotton goes, organic cotton is generally accepted as being better than conventional cotton. But the key is you have to be honest about your values.  We aren’t tree huggers, we don’t know as much about environmental issues as some other people, but we are learning from our customers.

IR: What’s your view of ‘must-have’ delivery options, like next-day delivery or click and collect?

RL: We decided that if our distribution partners could do it, next-day delivery would be a key offering straight away. Fortunately, Australia Post was able to provide that for us throughout the metropolitan regions. But in actual fact, it hasn’t had dramatic uptake. The vast majority of people don’t opt for it.

Still, I think it’s powerful to be able to offer it. A lot of what we focus on is about putting the customer first by making things simple for them. So our next-day delivery and absolutely no quibbles return policy are part of that.

We have looked into click and collect but not as deeply. At the moment I think it could become a reality for us next year. We want to get through Christmas first. If we had bricks and mortar stores, we would definitely be doing click and collect because of the opportunity to increase basket size. But what I’m not sure about is the popularity of click and collect if you don’t have a bricks and mortar. There’s even the possibility you might be driving customers into other people’s stores if you set it up at a shopping centre.

IR: How did you go about selecting logistics partners?

RL: The most important thing for us was reliability and confidence that the product would be delivered. The second thing we wanted was a really good tracking system. The third thing was being able to integrate with our e-commerce platform. The fourth was cost, we offer free shipping so we wanted to keep the cost down.

An eye-opener was the opportunity to fulfil from overseas, and the fact that it was cheaper than local options. That was interesting but in the end we wanted to be in more control and closer to our customers, so we didn’t select for those partners that fulfil from Singapore or Hong Kong.

IR: Do you see Green Thread as being solely in the business shirt business? What are your plans for the future?

RL: We think we will extend the range a little, and certainly get into more fabrics. But we really want to get this bit right first. Even if we expand, our intention is to keep the existing products. One of my big frustrations when we first started discussing the business was that I had found a shirt online that I really liked and wanted to keep buying, but the retailer stopped selling it. I would have bought it the rest of my days. That was frustrating to me. So unless our customers tell us we got it wrong, we’ll keep the original product.

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