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Why niche retailer Erstwilder has no fear of Amazon

Erstwilder is a Melbourne-based jewellery company that started selling online directly to customers about two years ago. In this interview, Internet Retailing founder Mark Freidin asks Erstwilder’s managing director of retail and social media consultant Marc Abrahams about the company’s global sales, backend set-up and advantage over Amazon.

Mark Freidin: Marc, tell me about Erstwilder, I love the quirky products that you put out to market.

Marc Abrahams: Thank you very much. To tell the story we need to wind the clock back to early 2011. At this stage, we were operating as a wholesale business supplying boutiques and independent stores with jewellery imported from across Asia. We were working with a few hundred stockists and had a successful small business which grew from being one of the first into the market some 10-15 years prior.

One day one of our office team members, Louisa, was found sketching wonderful little creatures in our studio. Our then managing director, Adam, asked what she was doing and she explained that she had an idea for a line of vintage-inspired brooches. Believing in his team, Adam took the risk and went into production with a small selection of pieces which the team took to a trade fair alongside our other jewellery ranges. The response from our stockists to the new line was overwhelming and the brand quickly grew year-on-year from there.

MF: Your website is so interesting. How did you start selling direct to customers online?

MA: Erstwilder itself is a proudly Melbourne-based label which designs and produces super quirky, vintage-inspired and collectable layered resin adornments. We work with an amazing team of Australian artists and illustrators who help bring our collections to life each season. We also have a strong focus on character design, giving each piece its own name and narrative referencing history, myth, pop-culture and classic storytelling. Each piece comes complete with a beautiful gift box and production is kept limited (to a maximum of 1000 units per design) to ensure they retain their collectable nature.

A final noteworthy aspect of our operation is how we involve our community in the design process. It really is a participative and inclusive approach. We’re constantly polling our community via social media and gathering feedback and design ideas. They are by and large our biggest source of inspiration and the ranges we develop are focused around the most commonly requested themes. At times we even give them the opportunity to participate in naming designs. In August 2015, as a response to increasing demand from our community, we launched the new and began to retail directly to our fans.

MF: What’s the ratio of Australian shoppers to international shoppers? Which overseas country draws the most customers.

MA: From a retail perspective about 70 per cent of our orders stay within Australia and 25 per cent are shipped to customers all around the world. We’ve sent orders out to 40 countries at last count. But these shipments are highly concentrated to the US, accounting for about 90 per cent of all international orders.

MF: What tools do you use to market the website, and which one do you find the most effective?

MA: Shopify is an amazing platform upon which to build your website. It lets you get up and running incredibly quickly, scale up as your business grows with ease and gives you the flexibility to plug and play all sorts of apps for supercharging your marketing efforts. From there we use MailChimp for our email campaigns and Facebook and Instagram to nurture our community and for social media marketing.

The other piece of the puzzle is Google Analytics, which is incredibly powerful when analysing what is ultimately happening on the website as a result of our marketing efforts. For direct sales conversions, email is still king. But the power of Facebook advertising should not be understated either and when done properly can convert with incredible ROI.

MF: I notice that you offer PayPal’s Lay-Buy, Afterpay, and zipPay at checkout. Most retailers tend to choose just one of these options, so why have you elected to offer all of them? Doesn’t it confuse the customer?

MA: Absolutely not. We don’t buy into the theory that customers are so easily confused. Especially when it comes to online shopping. People are wary of the dangers of shopping online, so for the most part they seem well educated on how to know if a site is legitimate and if their purchases are secure. Customers also know how they like to pay for things and we’re a brand “of the people”, so we take the approach of giving them all the available options, allowing them to decide for themselves, rather than limiting their options and fitting them into a box.

Some customers prefer Afterpay, some prefer zipPay and some like the option of having both because the credit limit on either one is not enough! But these are only available to customers in Australia so plugs the hole enabling a similar offering to customers overseas.

MF: Which one do you prefer, and which one is used the most at checkout?

MA: Since the introduction of Afterpay and zipPay our sales from Lay-Buy have declined somewhat. The ability to have items purchased now, delivered now, and paid for later is too attractive an offer for most people not to take.

Afterpay does well and zipPay isn’t far behind. From a purely financial perspective, I prefer Quite simply it costs us the least of the three. But from a functional perspective, Afterpay and ZipPay are near perfect services. They are fully integrated with our ecosystem so there’s no additional work required for sales completed with these payment methods.

MF: What technologies (if any) do you use to integrate stock between inventory, warehousing and accounting

MA: We don’t have an overly complex setup. The tools we use are Shopify, Xero and FileMaker. They speak to each other well, but not perfectly. As we grow we will need to review the technology we use probably look to (a) a cloud-based solution for our database and CRM and (b) specific inventory management software to juggle the allocation of stock between wholesale and various digital retail shop fronts so that it all draws down from a single pool.

MF: As an independent retailer in Australia, how do you think Amazon will affect your sales, and if so what strategies do you have in place to take on the might of Amazon?

MA: Luckily we’re in a position that we don’t need to be overly concerned by Amazon moving in. We’re not in a commoditised product market. Over the years we’ve developed a label that offers something truly unique and differentiated. It’s not imitable and Amazon poses no real threat to us.

Editor’s note: You can read about Ababy, another online retailer offering multiple alternative payment methods – Lay-Buy, zipMoney, Afterpay – at checkout here.

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