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When South African e-commerce entrepreneur Justin Blake and his partner Vanessa Mühle bought online jewellery business Silvery in 2016, the company was turning over roughly R28,000 (US$2,000) per month. Two years later, and the business is doing yearly figures well into the millions, and that is only in South Africa.
Silvery sells personalised jewellery, handcrafted at its premises in Durban.
The duo has since also found a market for its products internationally in countries such as Germany, Italy, Switzerland, US and Australia.
In an interview with How we made it in Africa, Blake offered some tips for building a successful e-commerce business.
1. Pick a product range that is easy to ship
Blake stresses the importance of selling products that are similar in weight and size, which means everything can be shipped in the same size packaging.
“It can be really difficult to start an online store where you have a large variety of items, ranging from, for instance, a tennis ball up to a lawn mower. Make sure you have something simple to ship, otherwise you spend a lot of time doing delivery quotes for every item,” he explains.
Another factor to consider is your logistics partner. Silvery uses DHL because of its competitive pricing, which is almost half of the amounts quoted by other courier companies. This has made the company’s products competitive to sell across the world.
“Without DHL we wouldn’t have any international strategy. We can send an item from Durban to Ohio almost quicker than some of the local couriers can get an item from here to somewhere in South Africa.”
2. Focus on retaining existing customers
Due to the high costs of marketing, Blake says it is more profitable to look after existing customers than acquiring new ones.
Therefore, to keep buyers coming back, Silvery adds 10 new products to its platform every week, and removes slow-moving items.
“If you walk into a clothing store this month and you see it has 10 t-shirts, and you return the next month and it has the same 10 t-shirts – are you going to go back the following month? Probably not, because you know exactly what is there.
“We’ve found when we keep adding new products to our site, it encourages people to return to see what is available.”
3. Highlight budget items
Silvery has boosted its revenue by introducing a section on its website that only lists products priced less than R299 (about $21).
“Since we added that category, our conversions went up by about 1%, which is huge for us. It is aimed at people buying on budget or those wanting to purchase something not too expensive for themselves. Literally the day after we implemented that category we saw a massive spike in sales for items under R299,” says Blake.
4. Choose the right platform
Budding online sellers need to carefully choose the correct e-commerce platform. There are many factors to consider, such as: Does the platform integrate with social media? How many products does it allow you to sell? Does it offer features such as promotions, discounts and visitor analytics? And importantly, the price of the software.
Blake highlights WooCommerce, Shopify and Magento as reliable options.
5. Use lifestyle pictures for social media promotions
Silvery has found that Facebook and Instagram deliver the best results for marketing to South Africans. But as these platforms are largely image-driven, using the correct photographs is critical.
Lifestyle pictures are what sells Silvery’s products on social media. “Stay away from just plain product pictures – a product in action converts at least 40 times more than a standard product shot.”
Blake says it is important that customers can clearly see the product. “What hasn’t worked is broader pictures where you are not really seeing the jewellery up close and personal.”
6. Don’t bombard customers with email marketing
Email is another effective marketing tool for Silvery. But, according to Blake, email marketing requires a different approach to picture-heavy social media campaigns. “Our emails are more informative about what the company is doing and what our new products are. We also offer some discounts, but not too many.”
And instead of bombarding its entire email list at once, Silvery uses software from Metrilo which tracks buyers’ purchasing behaviour, and only sends them an email when they are likely to buy again. “For instance, Metrilo will tell us that a particular customer’s buying cycle is every 102 days. We try to only contact our customers when they are ready to purchase again. We don’t want to bother them all the time.”