Price can be an obstacle for many customers, especially if they don't trust in the quality of your brand just yet. So how do you win them over?
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from two entrepreneurs who believe you should earn your customers’ trust with lower cost products before they feel confident to buy your more expensive products.
Jacob Khokhlov and Thomasina Khokhlov are the founders of Lavish Shoestring: the largest online supplier of beautiful vintage & antique homewares.
They’re not just buying because they like it. It’s almost like a test.
Tune in to learn
- The key points to include in a product description.
- How to justify your products' prices, especially if they are higher than average.
- How to encourage upsells and cross-sells.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
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Felix: Today I’m joined by Jacob and Thomasina from Lavish Shoestring. Lavish Shoestring’s the largest online supplier of beautiful, vintage and antique homewares. It was started in 2012 and based out of Oxford. Welcome Jacob and Thomasina.
Jacob: Hi Felix.
Felix: Yeah, so excited to have the both of you on. So tell us a bit more about the business that you run. And what exactly do you sell?
Jacob: We sell antique, vintage and good quality, second-hand homewares. So it’s basically all the categories like tableware, tea categories, things that you use for wine parties and so on. So it’s everything that you can use for dining at home. These are items in good condition, they’re usable. And we sell to a really wide audience. Traditionally these things are sold to antique collectors or antique buyers but we bring it to a really wide audience, not necessarily to people who go to auction houses but just people who want unusual, beautiful, well-made items for the home.
Felix: Now you both obviously saw that there was room in the market for you guys to come in and, like you’re saying, bring these products that were typically not available to the general public to now be very accessible because they obviously can go to your site and buy a lot of these products. Where did you see this? How did you see that there was a business to be started in this area?
Thomasina: Oh, that’s a good question. Well, this isn’t the first foray into selling homewares that we’ve done before. We did it kind of part time for many years. And we realized that there was a larger market or an audience out there for these kinds of products. I have a background in antiques but when Jacob and I married 13 years ago I had a bit of a break from working. And some of the companies that he worked for, they would have budgets for gifts for employees when they got married or corporate gifts and things like that. And they were always asking me, “Thomasina, could you go and find something really interesting to give for a gift.” And I would always find these wonderful things. I would usually come under budget from the money that they’d allocated for these things. And everybody loved the things that I bought.
And Jacob finally said to me, “You know, I know you’ve had a bit of a break from being in antiques and I really think you should let me build you a website and you can sell worldwide and 24 hours a day and sell this to lots of people who maybe are not antique collectors.” We thought about it. We thought the problem with antiques is that as soon as younger people hear that word they think, “Oh wow, it’s got to be expensive because it’s old.” And most of these things are not expensive, even though they’re old, because they were manufactured say during the late Georgian and the Victorian era and this is the era of the industrial age and things were mass produced so there is a lot of it out there. And it’s well made, they’re beautiful designs, they’re unusual, fantastic colors, patterns. And probably a lot of the new products that are made today are copies of these things.
And so Jacob and I both thought that we should really concentrate on bringing it to a younger audience who when you have your first job, you’re out of university, you’re furnishing your first flat or your first home, instead of going to the department store or something like that, you want something unusual. But because you’re in your first job you don’t have time to go shopping because usually you’re working long hours in your first job because you’re trying to make a really good impression. And you’re having to travel home, whether it’s on the train or whatever. And really that’s the only time you’re able to buy because the weekends you might spend going to a party or something with your friends or you’re visiting your parents or something like that. And you don’t have time to go out and shop for things for your home, let alone clothing and things like that. So most people are buying online.
And so we thought we want to make antiques and vintage items accessible for younger people, so build a website that would be easy to navigate and easy for them to look at it on their phone or with their iPad or whatever when they’re going into work. And then they can buy products. And it’s really bringing it to a younger audience who can’t go to auctions during the week or don’t have time and don’t know anything about the … Oh, Jacob’s putting his finger up. He wants to interject and say something about this as well. Go ahead.
Jacob: Well dear, you’re absolutely right but I also want to focus some on something that is probably not very obvious. [inaudible 00:06:59] to buy antiques, to shop for antiques and old items, typically you need knowledge. You need to know what you’re doing because it’s not something that you can shop around. For example, you’re looking at an old teapot, an 19th century teapot. You don’t really know what it is. You’re being asked to spend money and you need to think what it is. You really need to know what you’re looking at. You can’t easily compare prices because it’s not an item that’s being sold by all the department stores and you can just shop online and compare the prices and styles and choose whatever is the most appropriate for you. So most of these things they’re different and they’re sort of one-ofs. So really you need to know what you’re doing.
And if you are shopping on the marketplace, for example well known Ebay, so again, you really need to know what is it that you’re buying. You either rely on the description of a seller … Now, if it’s a reputable dealer, it’s an old-fashioned dealer and they know what they’re doing, yes you can rely on them. But in that case the price will be typically higher because they do charge for their expertise. Or really you need to know what you’re doing. So really we wanted to demystify this market and to bring it to a wider audience and to make shopping for these old items really in the same way as you shop for really anything else online. And then really to demystify it.
Felix: Now you mentioned something I want to touch on. It is that there is difficulty whenever any entrepreneur is essentially finding and reselling a product but you have even, I think even a bigger challenge in that you are looking for products to sell that are no longer being produced. What kind of unique challenges come with having to find and stock this kind of inventory?
Jacob: Yeah, absolutely. You’re the first one asking. When we went a few years ago to raise money so this was the first question we were asked by all the investors. Because they said, “You tell me that you can be the biggest shop and you can have the numbers you’re telling us about. How on earth can you source 10,000 teapots and 1,000 decanters?” Because it’s not a factory. You can’t come to a factory and say … You’re not dealing in [inaudible 00:09:39], you just can’t order it in one place. So it is a challenge for us.
First of all, what you have to realize is that this is a big market. This is a massive market because we’re talking about not one of items but in the past we probably have at any given time items from the past 250 years, and a lot has been made in the past 250 years. They were mass produced. The mass production comes in Victorian times. We’re talking about 19th century industrial revolution. So there are a lot of these items. The only difference is that they are dispersed in different places. But this is a really, really big market and there are many different sourcing places.
We built up a structure of supply and I will not reveal too much how we source these items but we source them in different ways. And one of the main sources, we have suppliers who are not our workers but actually bring items to us because this is a very, very big market and because it’s not a very transparent market to everyday shoppers so there is a perception that these items are really unique and it’s very difficult to find them. But it’s a very, very big market and we are located in Britain. Historically this is one of the big centers of these items.
And Thomasina hasn’t mentioned but one of the things that she has done is she traded in antiques all her life and she shipped containers all around the world from Britain, from Europe with these items. So it is a big market. The challenge was to create a steady supply of these items. And this is one of the things that we are solving in this market because it’s a very disjointed and it’s a very fragmented market, both in supply and in sales. So this is one of the things that we are solving. And we’re probably not your traditional merchant in that sense because, yes you see the retain side our business is on Shopify and it’s all well and good, we have about, it depends on the times, but we have anywhere between three and a half to five thousand items in stock. And it is growing now and obviously with the season it grows, Christmas sales, the stock will be growing.
Felix: Now I want to mention, three and a half thousand to five thousand products and another challenge with industry or the business model that you have is that because these are all essentially one-of products you have to create new product pages and new photos every time, right? It’s not scalable like in a business where you are mass producing an item, you only have to have one product page and one image and you can sell a bunch of them. You have to create a new one for essentially every time you want to sell a new product. Now how do you manage all of this so that you aren’t spending all day just creating photos or taking photos and creating product pages?
Jacob: Okay, great.
Jacob: So you came to the core product of Lavish Shoestring. So in reality we’re actually a technology company behind the scenes because we have developed a tool that allows us to catalog and handle these items on a massive scale. So I’ll give you an example. If an auction house … We have many auction houses in Britain, many in the states as well. So if you’re taking a small regional auction house, they probably have a sale every two weeks. We’re talking about household items, old household items, antique items. They have a sale every couple of weeks. For the sake of an argument let’s say they have 1,000 items in the sale. So to catalog those items, it depends on what is the level of cataloging that they’re doing, description and photography. They need a small team of people. And all they can produce is 2,000 items a month. It’s probably a team of probably 10 people.
So we built a tool that scales this really exponentially. We can handle endless amounts of items. We know what other resources we need. And what we do is we compiled a massive database and we use artificial intelligence in cataloging these items. So if you look at our site you can actually see that every single item is presented in a uniform way. So whether you are looking … For example, I love this category of decanters, wine decanters, whiskey decanters. So if you look at decanters every single decanter is actually cataloged in a similar way. They’re all different, characteristics are different, they’re all of different age, of different price, different technique, but they’re cataloged in the same way. And most of the text that you see there is actually machine generated based on our database and using our artificial intelligence. So that is actually our core product because that’s what allows us to scale up this business.
In terms of photography …
Thomasina: Because otherwise you couldn’t. You couldn’t, and that’s why nobody’s done it before. If you think about looking at websites online, dealers, shops, even antique collectors and things that have websites, it’s very difficult for them to get that amount of stock and get it online and cataloging it, let along going out and buying it. It’s impossible to do unless you had something like what we have that we’ve developed.
Jacob: So what we do produce uniquely for each item is, at this moment at least, is photography. Because most of these items are slightly different. They are massed produced, even though we quite often get identical items from the same manufacturer from the same date, same factory, but we still photograph every single item individually. And that’s simply because everyone has a different degree of wear and looks slightly different because most of them they are handmade or with a high degree of manual labor.
Thomasina: In the decoration [inaudible 00:16:39].
Jacob: Yeah, so the photography is unique. But once again, we have a system that we can handle quite large amounts of photography. And photography as well can be automated. But it’s the description and the recognition of what is it that we have that is automated. And because we use these templates so that’s how we can scale up the process. Quite often we actually do not create a new product, the new product pages, we simply update the inventory. And we know that because we have everything on records and everything is kept in history. But yes, you are right. There is no way around it. We are creating new products all the time. And we do keep the sold out products. We do keep on the site. We have to do a fair degree of modification to Shopify obviously with our team but we do keep the sold out products on record. They’re not visible on the content but we do use that on the backend. I’ll explain later how we use it.
Felix: Got it. Yeah, I’m looking at at least one of the decanters now, looking at the product description and it certainly does seem like it’s written by a human and not by AI. And I think that this is very interesting for a lot of store owners because I believe one of the most painful parts for store owners is creating the product pages, especially if you have a lot of skews or you have a large catalog. So much so that I often see store owners that are reselling products that they’ll just copy the manufacturers description because they don’t want to go through the process, the often painful process of writing their own product descriptions. So tell us how does it get used? What are the inputs into this AI that is required to produce essentially a product page that’s ready to go?
Jacob: Part of it, do forgive me if I don’t tell you all the things because it’s actually our secret and that’s our core product. But essentially we have a massive database which is off Shopify. It’s running our backend, separate from Shopify. And this is where we catalog all the products. And there is a certain way of doing these things. It’s [inaudible 00:19:07] image recognition involved. And to give a very simple example, yeah to give a very simple example we start with certain perimeters for every product. And even though to people who look at these items and they look really different, if you look at a teapot they say, “Well, one teapot is ceramic, one teapot is silver plated, another one is probably glass and another one silver.” They look so different but in reality it’s a teapot. It’s a teapot and has certain characteristics and it is used for the same purpose. So we start for every product, we start with certain perimeters. And as we start inputting these perimeters our system basically completes everything else. That’s a simplistic explanation of it. And because there is an image recognition involved and because we photograph every single item in the same way, for example if we’re talking about plates so every plate is photographed in the same way. If our system is quite easy to pick up what is what and obviously the bigger the database is the easier it is for us to catalog these items.
Felix: Got it.
Jacob: So everything is sitting in that database. And from there we connect it to our different platforms. Shopify is the obvious one so we push it there. But when we started we actually we started not on Shopify. Our first sales were on marketplaces. That’s probably like many other merchants start because this is the easiest way and this is the simplest way of getting traction and getting your first customer. So again, we just plugged this database into different marketplaces and distributed all our products there. But just to touch on what you said, we felt, because we have quite a long experience of writing about products and when we started a few years ago we felt, “Well, we just need to give so much more information about every product.”, and we wrote stories, really, really long stories. And then pretty fast we realized that the story about the product can become boring. There is a fine line. You need to give all the information about the product obviously, but at some point it can become boring and irrelevant. Some people like it. Some shoppers will like it and they will read and they will probably ask questions. But you need to find that fine line about writing about every product. And once again, it cannot be too mechanical like you say, taking just the manufacturers description. I don’t think that’s right because then what kind of value do you give …
Thomasina: To the product you’re selling?
Jacob: Yeah, to the product and to your user? You need to find the really sweet meter where you do add value in your description and show obviously the product from the best.
Felix: Right. So yeah, so can you talk about this a little bit more? I think because you have so much experience creating these product descriptions and because you need to have essentially some kind of template that you work off of, I’m sure you guys spend a lot of time understanding what are the key things that need to be included in every single product description. Can you give us some tips on that? What are some key things that you recommend store owners include in their product description to make it an improved and to offer value in the product page?
Jacob: I would start definitely with images. Images is a really, really central part. And once again, I can talk about our types of products but because we trade in such a variety of products, homewares, images, good images, is basically is a must. You can’t do without that. And in fact, that actually, when we first started with Shopify they dictated to us which template we use. And we chose a template. I don’t remember how much it cost but it was one of the, not the free, but one of the basic templates that we paid for that basically had the biggest images. Everything was the product page and the collection pages they were focused on images. Because the better images you give to your customers, and especially with our products that they’re not brand new, give your customer to understand your product. And what we also realized is that you cannot, at least in our case, you cannot provide too many pictures. Just show the product from all sides because we also realized that if you do not show something then the user is think, “Well, something is wrong. Why didn’t they show this angle?” And they will ask a question. Because if you show the product from all the sides and the images are really beautiful and maybe they show your products in the context to judge scale, to judge color palette as well, that will reduce the amount of questions your customers will ask.
Felix: Right, because you clearly have nothing to hide if you’re showing all angles of the products.
Jacob: Definitely, yes.
Thomasina: Exactly, yeah.
Jacob: And that actually gives also a degree of confidence to your user, to the shopper. Again, this is a proven thing. Take our example, we deal in items that sometimes are broken. They’re not perfect by definition. If we sell an item which is 100 years old it can not be a perfect item. So it have been used. Even though it was sitting on somebody’s shelves for 100 years, it still has a degree of wear. And we are not ashamed about that. We show all these things and the user customer appreciates that. They actually want to see all these things. We have nothing to hide. It’s absolutely perfectly clear what they are looking at, what they are buying, and essentially what they will get. Because you can always say … Well, you can provide all these communication tools, chat and Facebook chat and whatever for them to communicate with you. That’s really unnecessary because not everyone will use it. And you have just one, you have a customer on the product page or let’s say for a split of a second and they want to make a decision. They just want to understand what is it that they’re dealing with. And if you give them that information it’s priceless. If you’re taking one image you can take three images. It doesn’t take too much time, at least in our case. But that will add a lot [crosstalk 00:26:18].
Felix: Right. So you’re almost saying that if the customer has to reach out to you then it’s probably a failure on the product page, that a product page hasn’t conveyed or explained or demonstrated the product enough that they no longer have questions, that they now still have questions and now they’re reaching out to you.
Jacob: Definitely. It’s either that or we failed to explain some sort of service, for example shipping. Or it would be good if they want something really, really fast and they had a question about really fast delivery. But yes, if they are reaching to you to ask and they’re asking about product, then it means something went wrong. Because the product, between the images and the description it should be really enough to understand what this product is. And actually we have a very long history of records, sort of trial and error and we have very little communication from customers asking about the products.
Jacob: We reached the point where whatever we are doing is pretty clear, it’s pretty enough for the customer. Plus, if you look at our site, description is uniform. We cover the set points for every product, whether it’s a condition, whether it’s color, the size and so on. But also anyone who wants to read a bit more, we give different snippets. So we have more content on the product page and around the site and definitely on our blog. We have a wiki section where they can actually read a bit in depth about the product, whether they want to understand we’re talking about certain styles, what that style is, what that period is. So we have that information in text for the more interested customers as well.
Felix: Right. I like that there is uniformity between all of the product descriptions because you are almost training and coaching the customer to understand how can they get to the information they care about as quickly as possible. If they come to your page and they always see there’s a section about the condition of the product, about the size, [inaudible 00:28:33]. There’s a style note and it’s a very clear breakdown of what they can expect from each different section and makes it a lot easier for them to look for that when they go to the next product. So I think that that’s something that I haven’t seen too much in other stores but I certainly as a consumer, as a browser of your site, I definitely feel that that reduces the friction when I want to get to information.
Jacob: We always, because we start as a bootstrap startup and we looked at the big guys and we learned from the big guys, so I always looked at Wikipedia. Why Wikipedia is so popular? It’s not necessarily because it’s always correct but it’s purely, in my belief, it’s purely because it’s familiar. It doesn’t matter what you’re searching for, what terms you’re searching and reading about, you will know that the structure of the page is the same and the information will be familiar, will be given to you in a familiar way. That’s why it’s so popular.
Felix: Yeah. I think that’s also a relief for I think a lot of store owners because it means that you don’t have to get too creative all the time with, you actually don’t want to get too creative with the structure, at least, of your product description. You want to have some kind of structure to it and then come in and fill in the parts. And then maybe in those parts you can get creative, but you shouldn’t have to reinvent the product page every single time you create a new product.
Felix: Now I want to talk a little bit about something you mentioned earlier which was that … I think it was you Thomasina, that you mentioned that the customer cannot compare prices because of the nature of the products that you’re selling. Do you find that this is a good thing or bad thing for the business that there is a limit on how many products they can essentially compare because they probably can’t find this product that you have on your site anywhere else?
Thomasina: I think that’s a good question. Well, it depends on the customer for one. If you’re online buying antiques you either have them in your home, you grew up with them, you understand them. Maybe it’s a hobby. You go out on the weekends and you go antiquing. What was that that used to be on the Frasier program? Antiquing is not a verb. Well, a lot of people do it as a hobby so you’ve got that kind of person. And they know what they’re looking at in a shop. They’re familiar with the way auctions work and antique fairs or antique markets and things like that.
But then you have other types of people who, like I was saying earlier, because of the hours they work and family commitments and things like that, doing those kinds of things aren’t really as accessible. And if you look in magazines, home interior magazines, all of them, Homes and Garden, Veranda, just all kinds of magazines, you find all these room settings and so people are mixing contemporary things with antique and vintage. And so people are wanting these products but they don’t know where to get them. And so that’s why we thought about, especially on our website, having diverse products, all different price levels, all different periods and all different styles so that there would be something there for anybody, and say when we started we really did think about young people and the budgets that everyone lives on today.
And so it was me insisting more than Jacob that we have to have something on there that someone can buy for $12. If you’re starting out buying and you’ve never bought an antique in your life, but say you’re a girl and you want to have a tea party and everyone’s doing vintage tea parties and all that, there had to be something on there that your first thing that you bought you could buy very inexpensively. And then you would get that and that would give you the confidence then to buy again. So you could buy jam spoons from us for six pounds and you could buy a cup and saucer for twelve. And then we still sell things for thousands as well. So there’s something for everybody.
Felix: I see. So even though they cannot compare on price with other …
Thomasina: Comparing price, I’ll get to that. I know, I’m a bit [inaudible 00:33:25] winded. Comparing on price, that’s a difficult thing too. Because even for me, I’m the wholesale buyer, even I find looking at say a blue willow meat platter different places where I might go to buy them they’re all different price ranges for me to buy as well. And I’m the one with the knowledge so I discern whether I should pay that price for it or it’s too expensive and I reject it and I don’t buy it. And I believe that’s the same for a customer. But I think it’s much more difficult for the retail customer because you have all these diverse places to buy from, whether it’s, like I said earlier, an antique fair, a Sunday market, a shop, online, even say your … Oh sorry, yes Jacob.
Jacob: No, what Thomasina says is right but it’s actually the pricing is part of demystifying this market. This was our task to demystify this market and the pricing is essential part of it. That’s why we cannot shock a customer with some sort of outrageous prices. And the prices should be understandable to our customers. So that’s why we try and we have a certain pricing technique. So when users look at these items, even though they cannot find exactly the same item elsewhere … Some of them they will be able to find because it’s quite easy, but most of these items they won’t be able. Still the price should be comparable to new items for example. Anyone who is looking again at a teapot they roughly understand what the price of a teapot should be. Of course a teapot can have different price tiers and the more expensive it becomes we’re trying to explain what it is. So for example if it’s a sterling silver teapot, so yes people will understand that it will cost a bit more. But if it’s just a ceramic teapot it should make sense, the price should make sense to them even without going and comparing or looking for exactly the same teapot elsewhere.
Felix: I want to touch on this. I like this point that you made which is that as a product becomes more expensive, especially compared to other products that are like it, you need to spend more time to explain why it’s going to cost more. Can you say a little bit more about this? What are some ways that you demonstrate why a product is going to cost more than something that you could maybe buy new that is not an antique?
Jacob: Yeah, definitely. The obvious part of it is the rarity. If the product is rare and it’s really you can’t find easily another one like that or very, very similar, then it justifies the price. So yeah, you need to explain that it’s a rare product. And again, it’s not enough just to say, “Okay, it’s a rare product or unusual.” You probably need to explain why it is a rare product and why it is unusual. In our case it usually manifests in design, the design is quite unusual. And if we highlight that and if you’re design savvy and you understand styles and you have a good eye so you will see, yes, it’s quite an unusual pattern or an unusual design. It looks nice.
Fashion plays a lot. It’s an important factor because different things become fashionable at different times. And typically fashionable items they command a premium price. So you can point out that. The simple things is the material. It’s a rare material or it’s an expensive material [inaudible 00:37:33], silver for example, that’s pretty simple. People understand it’s a more expensive than just let’s say ceramic.
If I’m making a parallel comparison with contemporary items, so designer items. There are also these big designer items with antiques. They’re simply really well-respected makers. If you’re talking about Wedgwood for example, old Wedgwood dinnerware it will come under premium because it’s a really, really good manufacturer. And a good manufacturer it’s a really good material and the execution of the items. So you need to expand a little bit and explain to the customer.
But once again, not to be heavy-handed because I believe there is a fine line. If you start preaching about the item, the item can become really heavy and you can scare away the customers. But if you give consistently for all these items, consistent information, and the snippets of information and where appropriate you expand and you explain a bit more, then that’s absolutely fine. When people who shop, your users, they’re clever people. They shouldn’t be spoonfed all this information. So just as long as you give them the information consistently, truthfully and openly, they will make their decision. They will understand. And especially if it is consistent. They’re shopping for a teapot and they’ve looked at 30 teapots on your site, if the information between these 30 teapots is consistent, even though the pricing is very different, they will understand the reason behind that.
Felix: Now do you find that your customers they know exactly what they’re looking for or are they usually browsing and then discovering a product that they want?
Jacob: I think it’s a bit of both. They certainly know some sort of initial perimeter. It’s typically a category, product category that they’re looking for. Or, on the other hand, it can be, it’s very popular for example, blue and white. Everyone knows blue and white, it’s been around for a couple hundred years so they come from that search. But once they see the variety of these products, for example in that category or in that pattern, they also may discover. Yes, of course, they will discover other products and they will buy other products. Typically with us, people who buy, we do see a pattern in a purchase. We routinely have people who buy several products at a time. So there is a pattern. There is also a pattern with our return customers, that they’re coming back for a certain theme of items. So I think it’s a bit of both. People do know what they are looking for. If you give then a variety, an easy variety, they will also shop for other things.
Felix: Got it. Now does your marketing change or what have you learned or realized about your marketing to attract more of the customers that are buying most of the products or a higher basket value or getting customers that are returning? Are there different ways to market or have you learned different ways to market to reach more of those types of customers?
Jacob: The repeat customers specifically or new customers?
Felix: I guess new customers that are coming in and buying a lot from you from the first time. We can start there.
Jacob: People who buy a lot to begin with, they buy for a need for example. It’s, for example, they buy it for a party. And we definitely see either a theme that they’re buying, a certain pattern, the same pattern of items or the same …
Jacob: Same period or the same product. So for example, very recently there was an order we filled to London of many, many, many decanters. So obviously in that case they’re probably having a party. And if it’s the same style, again, they can have a party and they’re setting up a table. So there is a theme. It’s very rare to find that someone is buying a tea set and a chest of drawers. These are quite different.
Felix: Now what effective ways have you found to try to encourage this, to essentially upsell them? Let’s say they come and they buy a tea cup, how do you encourage them to check out more products that they can buy that are related to the original purchase?
Jacob: We show them items that both … Well, we don’t do it right now in browsing. We haven’t implemented yet because we switched to this, we had a change in the site recently. But we show them items that they go, they compliment whatever they purchased. So for example, if you ordered plates, there are many other things that can go with plates. If you need cutlery, if you need serving dishes and so on. And again, in the same style and in a similar styles, in a similar fashion. Emailing to a customer immediately after their order really works well because before the order is shipped they can actually come back and add some more items that they might not have discovered while browsing. It’s all around complementing whatever they purchased in style in our case. In style and not so much functionality because if they bought a set of plates there is no point to give them another set of plates. But it’s in the style. And luckily with us we have, even though these are products that are fairly unique, we always have a complementing style to whatever they purchased. That’s the main thing.
Really good successful email campaign, for example, for us is a weekly new arrivals because we have fresh stock coming in all the time. So that works very well on our repeat customers. They just want every Friday, they want to see what’s new in stock and they do that. So that works really well.
Felix: Right, new products are always a great excuse to reach out to your customers.
Jacob: Absolutely, absolutely.
Jacob: We have a very low unsubscribe rate because people really want to see. Not necessarily they’ll click and read it and they’ll go to your site. We just give them a sample of what’s new in stock. And we typically try to keep it to a theme. It’s either a holiday theme or a theme of products like color, style, period and so on. And they just want to keep to be connected. In our case there is a strong role to seasonality for example. So they’re coming to winter holidays now so there will be a really, really sharp switch in types of products that people will be buying with us. So we’ll obviously target those products more. We’ll keep stocks with these products and we’ll also promote these products more heavily because simply this is what people are looking for in this period.
Thomasina: Also you asked about how do you upscale people, say the first time purchaser, someone who bought a tea cup and saucer, how do you get them to buy more expensive items from you? I think they do that themselves because a lot of the people who buy small items from us are really the people who are first-time antique and vintage buyers. And they had never thought of buying something like that because they had always bought new. And so when they buy that first thing, that first tea cup and saucer, they’re not just buying it because they like it, it’s almost like a test to see when it arrives. Is it as nice as it looked in the photograph? Is it as nice a quality that I expected, like I would expect from a new product? And all of that.
So it’s kind of a test purchase, and then once they’re confident that it arrived safely, it wasn’t broken, it was better looking even than the photograph … We have thousands of positive comments from first-time buyers who say, “Oh, I never thought of buying antique before and I’ve always been afraid because I thought it was expensive. And this looked really pretty and then I thought it wouldn’t be as nice when it arrived but it was actually better and I really like it and I’ll buy again.” And then once they feel confident with that small purchase we see them, they become our regular customer and they choose bigger items and slowly, slowly they do start getting into more expensive things because then they’re confident. They’re confident in the product. They were confident in us in our description and everything. And that’s just the way it’s happened. We see a pattern in it.
Felix: That’s a great point. I think that what you’re getting at is that even if you are selling your flagship product and it’s a very expensive product, or at least [inaudible 00:47:29] expensive for a first-time buyer, it’s important to have essentially an entry-level product that you are selling so that you can begin this new type of relationship with the person visiting your site. They’re no longer just a visitor, now they’re a customer and they’re doing business with you in a very low-risk way by buying a low cost, entry-level product from you. And then once you deliver on the promise of the product, the promise of the service, then they can trust doing business with you. And then they might scale up their spending with you from there.
I think this is a point that is very important because a lot of times store owners would think that the relationship essentially ends on that sale, or sorry between showing them an ad or hitting them with an email and then getting them to buy maybe the main product that you’re advertising. But there’s a step in there that I think is really important, especially for new stores or stores that maybe don’t have a lot of reputation yet or not a lot of reviews yet. You need to make it very low risk for that first-time customer to do business with you so they can build that trust and eventually return and buy more from you. And it sounds like your business is built a lot on that because there are people that aren’t familiar, who aren’t sure how to buy antiques online. And by offering a lower cost, entry-level product they can begin down that journey and I think that that’s a great approach to teaching people about a new industry, teaching people about a new way to buy products.
Jacob: You’re absolutely right and I can actually take it one step further. When we started we didn’t have a lot of stock and we’re completely novices and we didn’t have a lot of money to start shipping free products or anything like that. But the relationship is essential and I think if you can establish yourself as an authority in your field. Whether it’s a small field, a niche one, or a big one, you need to be some sort of authority for your customers because if you’re not an authority and they need something they’ll go to some massed produced marketplace and they’ll get the items as cheap as possible there. You need to produce authority. And if you can give your customers something, that’s often valued. You will build trust.
And actually very recently we’ve done this with a service. As I said we have this massive database and we use a cataloging system so we actually launched this service to the customers. And we don’t charge anything so basically anyone comes to our site they can identify their antiques. Any homeware that we sell they can upload the picture and identify and it’s similar to [inaudible 00:50:09] against our database. So essentially we opened our core product, the secret product, we gave this to use for free to a really, really wide audience. So immediately what we’ve seen is people started taking us really, really seriously as an authority. And they’re really using it and mass using it.
I’m not saying that these people will immediately become our customers, but that actually builds trust. We’re not charging anything, we’re just giving out free advice. But it’s a consistent advice that they cannot get anywhere else in the same way for free on demand. So if you can do that, definitely that helps because then the user immediately, the customer immediately understands you’re not just after their dollar. It’s really, really simple to produce something nice and send an email and pitch for a sale. It’s a no-brainer. And usually it doesn’t work. It will only work if you have a product that the customer needs right now or will need all the time. But you need to convince the customer to spend their dollar with you so you need to make the journey as simple as possible. And part of that, and I think it’s an essential part of that, is building trust. Show that you’re an authority, a very pleasant authority to deal with. You’re not heavy-handed, you’re not naff. You’re trustworthy. The customer will come back to you.
Felix: Got it. Now when you say building authority I think that’s a great advice because you’re saying if they can just find your product on Amazon or go to some big box retailer and buy it for cheaper they’ll just do that. But if you can add value by becoming an authority then that is a very defensible position and competitors are going to have a really hard time competing against you. So it sounds like your approach is to spread education, right? You’re giving people a tool to educate themselves. Does it come down to that? Does it come down to education as the way to establish yourself as an authority?
Jacob: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that was at the core of the whole idea of demystifying this market. And it’s essential. It’s an old, old [inaudible 00:52:34] disrupting this market because you need to know what you’re buying in antiques. And if we can easily teach people, and very, very in a nice way, not a heavy way, educate the customer bit by bit and give them as much education as they want or as little as they want, it’s really up to them, yes, it’s definitely about education.
Felix: Great. Thank you so much for your time Jacob and Thomasina. So lavishshoestring.com again is the website. As we are coming into the holiday shopping season how are you guys preparing? What are some plans that you have to prepare for this season, Black Friday, Cyber Monday? What are your plans?
Jacob: Well, Thomasina is the merchandise so she’s peddling, she’s lining up all of the merchandise. But to make it really quick, it’s really certain categories. We know, we have a lot of experience from previous years, what people are looking for. And they, these categories, repeat themselves. So we are making sure that we have a wide choice in those categories. That’s essential, both in styles and in price ranges. This is really the biggest thing. On the more mundane thing is logistics. Pretty soon we will see a spike in next day deliveries. Most December sales and definitely all December sales will be next delivery days and expedited. And we ship all around the world so that will be basically sleepless nights and a lot of … Yeah.
Thomasina: Definitely, yeah. And lots [inaudible 00:54:18] to buy.
Jacob: Yeah, [inaudible 00:54:20]. So it’s having enough products, the right products, and being prepared logistic wise.
Felix: Great. That’s great advice. Thank you both again so much for your time.
Thomasina: You’re very welcome.
Jacob: You’re very welcome. Thank you very much for having us.
Thomasina: Thank you.
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