Virtually keeping up

Queen Victoria Shopping Arcade. Image via Flickr (full public domain licence):

Australian businesses of all sizes are increasing their use of the internet to extend their reach and build customer relationships – and there’s a growing emphasis on using social platforms to drive sales.

The most recent figures – from 2015 – show Australia’s online retail sales grew to an estimated $22.1 billion, a rise of 7 per cent on the previous year.

“We have connected with some great resources via Instagram that have helped us so much,” Salty Dogs told Hatch.

Online shopping also works for businesses with a high-street presence – like Marvel, a small designer-wear boutique in Traralgon. Marvel uses Instagram, Facebook as well as its website to extend its reach and sales.

“We get online sales from overseas and all around Australia [from customers] who wouldn’t have normally known about us if we were just a physical store,” said Marvel’s owner, Nikkie Dunkin.

Both retailers have put considerable effort into building appealing Instagram pages that directly involve their customers. By uploading pictures of customers in their outfits they can demonstrate a real relationship between the business and purchasers.

Another online-only clothing site, Pepper Mayo, has taken a similar approach and now has more than 67,000 followers on Instagram. The retailer showcases its vibrant outfits on attractive models, and works with Instagram’s algorithms to increase the chances of these images popping up on 16 to 30-year-olds’ social feeds.

A post shared by Afterpay (@marvel_clothing_) on

This post on Marvel’s Instagram shows how the brand interacts with customers

Ms Dunkin said the Traralgon boutique is a visual reminder of Marvel’s ‘deluxe’ image, but believes the brand enjoys the best of both worlds with its physical and online platforms.

“Being on a street can be very weather dependent,” she explained. “Cold and rainy weather does affect us, as does parking.”

“[But] we definitely have a higher returns rate online. It’s noticeably higher.

“In-store we make sure the customer is fully happy with their purchase and genuinely loves what they are buying so they are less inclined to return an item if they change their mind.”

One way the store is reducing online returns of faulty items is to take photos of clothing before it is dispatched.

In-store promotions are a useful way of making sales and introducing new customers to your store, and Salty Dogs is using the social media equivalent of Facebook advertisements and Instagram ‘sponsored posts’ to share promotions online.

“We find using social media a great way to communicate and promote our business,” they told Hatch.

Marli Caile is a frequent online shopper who says she’s often persuaded to buy through targeted online advertising and promotions.

“Online shopping is a great way to compare deals and find bargains. Even when I’m scrolling Facebook I’m bound to find an ad,” she said.

As well as sponsored posts and targeted promotions, online payment systems are increasingly benefiting online stores.

Two recently introduced payment systems – Afterpay and Zippay – allow customers to receive an item immediately while paying it off in instalments. Marvel says Afterpay in particular is making online shopping “more convenient” for its customers.

Salty Dogs told Hatch they haven’t missed having a physical shop, but Marli says she doesn’t think high-street shopping will disappear anytime soon either.

“Shopping online is amazing, the deals are always there to compare – but nothing beats going to an actual store,” she said.

Story and videos by Alanah Hallam. Feature image by Bernard Spragg. NZ (Flickr Creative Commons).