July 18, 2014 by Christina Hamlett
A Conversation with Emilia Rossi
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Let’s start with some background about your journey from being a high fashion footwear boutique owner to – in your own words – “an online marketing nerd.”
A: After university I worked as an Exhibition Designer and after some time realised I wanted to work in the fashion industry. So in April 2008, with the financial backing and support of my mother, I introduced our high-end leather boutique to Canberra, Australia through hosting what turned out to be very successful store opening. The boutique offered exclusive collections of high-end leather footwear and handbag designs unavailable elsewhere in Australia.
Being heavily involved in many aspects of co-owning, managing and marketing a high-end boutique and an online store was an incredible experience and quite rare for a person of my age. I will never forget my first buying trip to Brazil where I was solely responsible for ensuring our shop front and online store offered only the very best designs; I loved the thrill of being thrown into the deep end when it came to creating, executing and reporting on unique marketing campaigns and brainstorming strategies to assist our boutique improve sales and revenue.
After nearly four years of operating a brick and mortar boutique, there were some tough and challenging times. We experienced the effect the global financial crisis had on retail spending just after we opened (impossible to predict) and because of this we had to very early on change the direction of the business to make sure it also included an ecommerce store to expand our potential reach outside of just Canberra.
This transition was the first experience I had with an ecommerce store (and the online space). It was a steep learning curve but the push I needed to discover my newfound passion as a digital/online/ecommerce marketing expert.
Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when you first made the transition to designing/launching an online business and becoming a savvy digital marketer?
A: Considering how far the online space has come since 2008, I have learnt a lot. Who could predict back in early 2008 how big social media channels such as YouTube and Facebook would eventually become. I kick myself everyday thinking that if I only continued or focused more on YouTube back in 2008, my social media presence would be 1000% more than what it is today!
I also know now, more than I did when I first transitioned to digital, the importance of transparency and telling a story through a blog. The key is to start blogging even before launching a new business or concept to help build an interest and following even before the product goes to market. If I had done this for the boutique opened in Canberra, I can only imagine the following I could have accumulated to date.
Q: What do you feel best distinguishes your online jewelry store from the competition?
A: It’s how transparent, genuine and honest we are. We offer jewelry yes, but what we would also like to be known for is our very active blog where we enjoy being upfront with our readers as to what we like/dislike with the various topics we write about and that we are passionate about such as fashion, beauty, health, fitness, travel etc.
We don’t hassle people with sales and promotions; we prefer to simply offer what we have but ensure we always communicate engaging content. Our emails talk about everything BUT our jewelry, with the focus on providing value (in terms of top three interesting finds online, best coffee places in Melbourne, etc.).
Being online means you can experiment with things, and we decided early on to incorporate the love and joy we have for our Pomeranian, Goochie. We had no idea what effect this would have on engagement but interestingly enough through incorporating him into the business we’ve managed to connect with various other dog and Pomeranian lovers. You will find Goochie in some of our blog posts and even signing off on some of our email communications that we have with our fans and customers.
We also differ from other online businesses in that we make every effort to acknowledge every single message, email, comment and tweet we receive no matter how small they may be. If people take time out of their day to follow me via one of my social media channels, the least I can do it take time out from my day to thank them and acknowledge them for doing so. So many businesses skim over this, maybe because they are so big and they receive thousands of messages from their customers each day, but it’s small things like this that people notice. We get commented all the time on the fact at how speedy our responses are to any message we receive.
Q: How and where do you find your designers?
A: We have various methods to find new designers, be it through various markets in Melbourne, online, social and other channels such as Instagram, Pinterest, Etsy and Google. We are always on the look-out for emerging fashion jewelry designers so we encourage and welcome any designers to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: For me, one of the big differences between a brick-and-mortar shopping experience and purchasing something from an online catalogue is that you miss out on the “tactile” aspect – feeling the weight of a piece of jewelry, judging its size, actually trying it on – as well as trusting that the color you see on a screen is an accurate depiction. Has this been a disadvantage and, if so, how do you address it?
A: This is always going to be a challenge for any online fashion store; however, we have things in place to provide our customers with as much detail as possible to help them make more informed decisions and reduce the level of uncertainty they may feel when they come across our designs. Some examples include:
– YouTube videos of how the piece actually looks on a person
– An easy 30-day return policy, meaning the customer can return the unworn jewelry and swap it for something else
– Photos of people wearing the jewelry, not only professional photos, but also photos of our jewelry featured in Instagram.
I hope to one day have the luxury where we can afford to open a small pop up store to allow people for a limited time to actually experience our brand first-hand, to touch and be taken back by our packaging.
Q: Okay, I just have to ask: how come you don’t carry clip-on earrings? (This from someone who’s probably one of the last people on the planet who refuses to get her ears pierced.)
A: We’ve always placed an emphasis on stocking designs that are in demand. We use various tools that allow us to better understand what designs people are predominantly searching for online and ensure our orders are built upon this demand. In saying that we also encourage feedback and have stocked several designs based solely on customer requests (which more often than not have served to work very well). I have to say, this is the first time we’ve had a request for clip-on earrings and if we find it’s something that’s in demand, we’ll definitely look at stocking it in the near future!
Q: So many people assume that running an online enterprise is a piece of cake compared to renting a shop, paying for its utilities and maintenance, interviewing/hiring/managing employees, punching a time-clock, or even adhering to a professional dress code. What’s the real story about the challenges of successfully sustaining a virtual storefront in today’s economy?
A: Just like a traditional shop front, you are going to run into challenges with an online store. Gone are the days where you can buy an all-in-one off-the-shelf website design package and simply upload your products and hope for the best. I don’t think people realise just how much time is involved in creating ongoing content (sometimes on a daily basis) to spread the word about your brand and about the things you love, to the people you want to reach.
Just like a shop front, an online store requires architecture and proper planning, the way everything is plugged in and connected is critical to ensuring a smooth daily retail operation. You have to make sure your website not only looks good but can work across different devices (desktop, mobile, tablet), all the links are intact (pages all work) and that people can actually browse and purchase products (no bugs or functionality issues). Doing all this is a lot of work!
A shop front can stay the same for four years. A website, however, cannot; it requires small and major tweaks and the online space changes a lot faster than a traditional brick and mortar store so you have to be constantly on your toes.
Q: What’s a typical day like for you?
A: I wake up early to spend time reading through my various feeds (posts I follow) including content that my competitors publish and industry specific information such as Online Marketing, Social Media, SEO, Start ups, Small business, Crowd Funding etc. I also get excited catching up on trending new; so I always make time to checkout Twitter, Buzzfeed and Reddit.
After getting my daily dose of news, interviews and gossip, I log into Hootsuite to post content across some of my social media accounts and monitor overall activity and engagement.
Once I am done absorbing my content and viewing my social media profiles, I work on brainstorming ideas for my next blog post aiming to publish at least one post per week.
Q: How much importance does the concept of social media strategies – including blogging – play in terms of turning followers into enthusiastic customers?
A: It’s massive, I hate to say it (and I’m sure your readers have heard it time and time again) but content is king! And you need a lot of it to even be considered as a serious player in the online space. But your content has to be relevant, it has to mean something and be interesting. I am competing with thousands of other fashion/lifestyle blogs so I need a point of difference and something quirky that sets my content apart. I believe the fact we don’t try to pretend to be something we are not and are not afraid to be transparent and involve our readers/customers in business decisions that affect their shopping experience plays an important role in turning a reader into a customer.
Our approach is to engage with people first, before thinking of trying to sell to them. In fact I hardly talk about the jewelry we sell; instead I want to share my insights, opinions and trends that I discover online. Hoping in the future that people will see us as the go-to place for their daily or weekly fashion, beauty and lifestyle fix. I think it’s important to engage my readers and make them feel they are a part of our brand. And it is so easy to do this, we like to run short quizzes on Facebook and always include a question in our blog posts to invite people to answer.
Q: What SEO tips do you have for other online retailers?
A: Make sure you use a Content Management System (CMS) with plenty of support and that is highly customizable (without having to pay hefty developer fees). Having the right foundations is critical to getting the basic onpage SEO requirements checked off. Second to that, focus on building a brand and not ‘links’ as this will pay dividends in the long-term.
Q: What are some of the top trends of online retail in the global marketplace and how do you stay abreast of what’s “in” and what’s “out?”
A: What’s in: immediate shipping, amazingcustomer service, free (and easy) shipping. Mobile use is growing rapidly in Australia and we’re still see big brands with sites that are impossible to use on mobile and tablet devices – make sure you’re mobile-friendly!
What’s out: offering free shipping with a minimum spend, complicated checkout pages where brands still want you to create an account before you purchase! Cliché sale events just for the sake of doing one because your competitor is doing it.
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: That I’m an artist and have painted many large colorful abstract painting for other people.
I’m also a chocoholic, so much so that I have to have a chocolate box at home with a lock and a key as I have no discipline.
Q: What’s the one item of technology you can’t live without?
A: My iphone; I use for everything!
Q: And how about the one non-technology item?
A: My traditional white board that I update weekly with my tasks. I use Google’s calendar for monthly project allocation, but I find it more productive to break up monthly projects into weekly chunks.
Q: What’s your best bit of advice to someone who wants to quit their drekky day-job and become their own boss?
A: First and foremost, make sure you have enough savings to survive as you start or try to launch your idea. I was super fortunate to have the financial and emotional backing of my mother when I first ventured into business with the boutique in 2008. Without her constant mentoring and support there would’ve been a lot of things I would have struggled (a lot more) with.
Don’t be an over-planner. If you get too highly strung up with the small details, you will lose sight of the bigger picture. I prefer to do things keeping the 80/20 rule in mind. So when I tackle something I also think, what can I do right now to increase or improve things by 80% with out putting any more than 20% of my effort or time in?
I haven’t quite cracked it and continue to work on other ideas, which I am sure you will hear about. Our jewelry store is not a world’s first idea or product offering but it is something that we know we need to invest a lot of our time in before we see satisfying returns. It’s also a fantastic platform to network and connect with others.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: One of our most recent projects that we launched the end of last year was Capriess.com.au, one of Australia’s best looking and easy to use, second-hand wedding classifieds website. Allowing people from Australia to buy and sell unwanted, pre loved or second-hand wedding items such as diamond rings, wedding dresses, wedding decorations, etc.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you?
A: My Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook