Taking the E-commerce Plunge?

Most brick-and-mortar dance stores that are adding online shops are not doing it to be the next Amazon or even the next Discount Dance. Their motives, as we will see from the storeowners profiled here, are to provide convenience and better service to their customers and up their store’s visibility. Plus, they want to reach customers wherever they are most likely to be.

With limited resources and a store to run, you may worry that any online sales efforts could turn into a money-losing time suck. That’s where easy-to-use apps and tools can be so helpful. Recently, DRN noticed a number of dance storeowners were using Shopify to launch their online stores. In fact, the 11-year-old Ottawa-based e-commerce company has helped thousands of small retailers start selling their products online—400,000 of them worldwide at last count, according to the company. Shopify enables brick-and-mortar boutique owners to go online without having to learn software coding or rely on expensive computer consultants, a huge improvement over the early days of e-commerce. Here, DRN talks to three storeowners who have hands-on experience with the program.

Josephine Lee’s pointe shoe customers can reorder online.

Reorders Made Easy

Josephine Lee, owner of the three-year-old Pointe Shop in Santa Ana, CA, spent less than an hour setting up her first online store. “It took me like 30 minutes,” she says. “I didn’t have any experience with building websites before, but these platforms are very simple to use, very intuitive.” Uploading products is just as easy as uploading images to Facebook: Click and select, or drag and drop. Most vendors make high-quality images available to their retailers, so you don’t need to spend time and money shooting your own catalog-page images. Lee, who is a former dancer, opens her website with a beautiful image of herself in a black tulle skirt and pointe shoes to help establish her shop’s unique identity.

Lee built her store initially on Wix, an easy-to-use, general-purpose website builder and hosting platform. However, she quickly switched from Wix to Shopify, which she says is a lot easier because it’s designed specifically for creating retail sites. For example, Shopify’s information fields on product images include entries for SKU, bar code, variants (i.e., sizes, colors), price and taxes, and shipping info.

Shopify can be configured to be a complete retail ecosystem, meaning that you can buy various modules and accessories to create an iPad-based point-of-sale system that includes a card reader and register and manages inventory in your physical and online stores, as well as shipping, marketing and finance, among other functions.

Of course, just because those options are available doesn’t mean you necessarily want or need them all. Lee, for example, opted to add a booking app, SignUpGenius, to her website from outside Shopify’s app store because it was free. The Pointe Shop sells only pointe shoes and accessories and focuses on individual fittings, which Lee and her team of seven full- and part-time geographically dispersed employees do from vans stocked with 300 or so pairs of shoes. “My website is mostly about booking appointments,” Lee says. “Our focusis on human contact.” Once personally fitted, though, a dancer can use Lee’s online store for reordering.

Tips and Tricks

Being clear about the reason for adding online sales to your brick-and-mortar operation is the first rule for e-commerce success. Here are three other points to keep in mind.

Start small and stay focused. Storeowners can’t afford to waste time and money and possibly damage their brick-and-mortar store’s reputation by overpromising and underdelivering. Shopify’s smallest package—Basic Shopify—goes for $29 a month and takes 2 percent of your online sales in transaction fees, unless you use its proprietary payment system, in which case Shopify waives the transaction fees.

Give yourself time to learn how to use Shopify and understand all its features. There are free tutorials from Shopify itself on its website (and 24/7 support once you’ve signed up) or a paid 90-minute course on Lynda.com. Shopify’s articles and videos cover everything from search-engine optimization to sales analytics. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t have the patience to sort through all the details by yourself, enlist some help to get you started. You can find a Shopify Setup Expert in your area via Shopify’s site, although hiring an expert entails a minimum of $500 and can run considerably more.

Attitude Dance Boutique customers who buy online often choose to pick up their purchases at the store.

Mirror your retail experience in your e-commerce persona. Emily Mayerhoff, owner of the six-year-old Attitude Dance Boutique in College Station, TX, added online sales about six months ago. “It’s not that time-consuming,” says Mayerhoff. “Anybody can do it, especially if you start small.” She hired SnapRetail, an online retail marketing service, to get her site launched. She used templates (or what Shopify calls “Themes”) from SnapRetail to create the look of her online store, while Shopify powers the transactional side. It was important to Mayerhoff for her website to reflect the friendly, “small-town vibe” of her boutique, she says.

For now, Mayerhoff concentrates her online sales efforts on 15 best-selling basics, including tights and leotards. She uses ShopKeep as her POS at her store, which requires her to enter online sales manually to update the inventory. She plans to remedy that problem by switching to a POS that integrates with the online store
in real time, probably Shopify’s own.

Support your online sales with social media. You already know what resonates with different customer segments in-store, so that means making a similar effort online. As a general rule, you can find dance moms and dads on Facebook and via e-mail, and cultivate young dancers on Instagram and YouTube. Roshawn Buxton, owner of the five-year-old Ms. Ro’s Dance Closet in College Park, GA, launched her online store about five months ago. Using Shopify, she sells basics, like tights and shoes, as well as whimsical items, like a musical ballerina jewelry box. “Most teens are buying online,” says Buxton. “That’s why Ms. Ro’s needs to be online.” Since her customers are mostly teens, she’s been focusing on Instagram. “It reaches a different generation.”

Ms. Ro’s Dance Closet: Its online shop sells basics and whimsical items, like a musical ballerina jewelery box.

Like Buxton, Mayerhoff uses consistent social-media posts to keep both her boutique and online store in customers’ minds. Toward that end, she says, she’s more likely to post motivational images or dance trivia than product info to Facebook and Instagram. She sends out a monthly newsletter that includes community events, dance tips and new merchandise arrivals. For inspiration, she uses SnapRetail’s exclusive social-media calendar that includes ideas for special observances, hashtags and even dance-specific images and content customers can download and use.

Another generational factor to consider: Since tweens and teens use cell phones almost exclusively, it’s also important to make your website responsive; that is, able to detect and scale appropriately for the device it’s being viewed on. With Shopify, you will have the option of choosing a theme that’s responsive or for mobile only.

As these stores prove, with a focused strategy, even a small store can dip a toe into omnichannel retailing.

Anne M. Russell, based in Los Angeles, covers technology, small business and fitness.

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