Brick and mortar retail chain stores with no or limited online offerings had defied online sales trends before the pandemic. However, over the last couple of months, sales dried up. Some analysts believe that these retailers risk obsolescence if online purchasing behavior becomes permanent.
As stay-at-home mandates are lifted, boutique owners recognize that to stay in business; they need to integrate real-life and online experiences. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, consumers spent $602 billion online with U.S. merchants in 2019, up 14.9% from the prior year. eMarketer found that not only have e-commerce sales grown since stay-at-home restrictions took effect, but April’s average daily sales are 39% higher than March’s. Boutiques without e-commerce need to get online quickly or risk shuttering their doors forever.
For small businesses, building their e-commerce site is price prohibitive. Instead, they turn to turnkey solutions. Lori Harris, the owner of Mary Jane’s, a women’s boutique located in Park City, Utah, is using Shoptiques. “What’s great about them is that they focus on small boutiques and what these boutiques have to offer,” Harris said in the Park Record. “So when a person comes to our website and searches for shopping, they will see our products, but they can jump off to see other small boutiques around the world.
Olga Vidisheva, an immigrant from Kyrgyzstan, raised in Russia, moved to the United States at 17 to go to college. She started Shoptiques in 2012. For her, fashion was always a way to express her individuality. When she worked in the corporate world for Goldman Sachs, she traveled the world. Vidisheva would buy fashion and accessories that were a reflection of her sense of style.
When she attended Harvard Business School (HBS), Vidisheva became fascinated by the internet and e-commerce. Small businesses were being left out. They didn’t have the money and expertise to build a platform and market their stores online. She spent a summer interning at Chanel, where she was consistently complimented not on her name-brand designer pieces, but rather on her eye-catching boutique finds. Was there a way to marry these two passions?
In her second year at HBS, Vidisheva started researching why small clothing stores didn’t have a digital presence and spoke to 800 boutiques about the obstacles to selling online. Consistently, she heard boutiques didn’t have the time and resources to do it. She drafted a business plan to bring the world’s best boutiques online.
While in Jakarta at a friend’s wedding, she asked around to get a recommendation for a developer who could build a minimum viable product (MVP). “We saw early signs of success,” she stated. The MVP had the basic features and was able to show traction. Vidisheva was able to get feedback from the market.
This gave her the confidence to apply to Y Combinator. Vidisheva was the first non-technical, solo founder to be accepted into the accelerator program. She raised money from top investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, and Benchmark. Until her seed round, she was bootstrapping it. To save money on rent, she slept on the floor of a friend’s apartment.
Entrepreneurship is never a smooth ride.
Among the bumps along her way, finding a technologist who understood her vision. The process was one of trial and error. Whether you insource or outsource, finding the right technologist is like dating. “You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince,” as the saying goes. “We hired some people that weren’t the right fit,” said Vidisheva. However, one of them brought Marc Gugliuzza on board as an engineer. He is now Shoptiques CTO and is building a new operating system. “We have great synergy,” she continued.
By 2015, Vidisheva made Forbes’ inaugural 30 Under 30 List for retail. Through the years, she’s consistently heard that the retailers she serves wanted more. They wanted an end-to-end solution. The platform now enables retailers to manage inventory, staff, purchase orders, and customers. It also processes transactions, provides extensive real-time reporting, and offers a community of retailers who problem-solve together. Consumers can shop at over 5,000 local boutiques to find fashion that expresses their unique sense of style.
During stay at home restrictions, to help boutiques sell merchandise, Shoptiques accelerated the launch of its mobile app, which includes a chat feature. Average revenue for stores increased more than three-fold between March and April, commented Vidisheva. It is also providing tips on how to sell nonessentials during the pandemic.
COVID-19 will forever change retailing. How are you adjusting?
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