Whether it’s clothing, food or jewelry, working in a family business comes with its perks and challenges. Alexis Jay’s family had been in the jewelry business for decades, and while the brand wasn’t struggling, Jay wanted to take the knowledge she’d been taught and apply it to the growing e-commerce space. Jae shares his experiences in the new book The Ultimate Guide to Shopify by Jason R. Rich.
The Ultimate Guide to Shopify by Entrepreneur Press offers all the tools and guidance you need to start and run your own e-commerce business. With proven marketing strategies that will increase sales, tactics to differentiate your website, and advice from industry experts, The Ultimate Guide to Shopify sets you up for success when starting an online business. Read on for an excerpted interview from the book with e-commerce veteran Jae, who took her family jewelry business to the next level with the help of Shopify. Jae discusses the decision to launch an e-commerce brand, how she reached her target audience, and the value of investing time and money in growing your brand.
Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Building a Profitable Ecommerce Business
Meet Alexis Jae, whose family has been in the jewelry business for over 75 years. When she entered her family’s profession, she started her own business by creating an e-commerce website through Shopify, which allowed her company to reach a much larger audience with its core jewelry like gold earrings and statement necklaces.
Knowing that differentiating her products and creating a reputable brand was essential, Jae immediately adopted various business practices and policies that set her jewelry apart. Her website allows customers to purchase high-quality, custom-designed gold jewelry (or jewelry that is part of a curated collection on her website) for less than half of what they would pay in a retail store. This includes items that Alexis Jae has chosen to display and sell from her online store. In addition, 25 percent of the company’s profits from each sale are donated directly to A Cure in Our Lifetime, an organization that raises funds for breast cancer education and research. Additionally, all 14K and 18K gold used to create the jewelry is 100 percent recycled, while all stones used are natural, unprocessed, and ethically sourced. Alexis Jae also sells unique pieces designed by her clients. When you visit Alexis Jae’s website (which displays her logo in the top center of the browser window), you’ll immediately notice its intentionally simple design and white background, which allows her to put more visual emphasis on the jewelry, as opposed to a site with an abundance of graphics, animations and complex menus.
Related: Want to Grow Your Ecommerce Brand? Get advice from this industry expert.
Q: What made you start an e-commerce website?
My family has been making fine jewelry for stores for generations. After graduating college, I worked in the financial industry for a few years, but quit my job to create a website that sold jewelry directly to consumers online. I originally chose Squarespace as our e-commerce platform because I liked the website design tools it offered, but after launching a website there, it didn’t gain traction. When I researched more, I learned about Shopify and discovered that it offers much better SEO tools and the ability to connect directly with Google. When I switched to Shopify, the migration process was easy. Within a month I launched the new website.
Q: How did you decide on the look of your website?
I knew the website look I was going for. I had planned everything in my head and then on paper. After that, it was a matter of choosing the right Shopify theme and adapting it to encompass my vision for the site.
Q: What steps did you take to determine your target audience when you started?
When the website was hosted by Squarespace, we focused mainly on orders from friends and family, as well as their referrals and anyone else who discovered our site. After we launched our website on Shopify and started using their analytics tools, we discovered that our jewelry is not only suitable for urban women, but also for men from less populated areas who shop for gifts and want beautiful and high quality jewelry, unlike the jewelry of famous brands. Early on, using the analytics tools provided by Shopify and Google, we learned a lot about who made up our customer base and then began to focus on ways to market to this expanded group of people.
Q: What lessons did you learn when it came to designing an e-commerce website?
Instead of adding a whole bunch of optional apps to extend the functionality of the website, which slowed down the site, negatively affected the user experience, and had a negative impact on the site’s SEO, I hired a website developer to fine-tune the Shopify theme and they selected and added all the customizations and functionalities I wanted. It was a more expensive option, but I found it to be a great investment.
Q: What are some of the other ways the Shopify platform has helped your company grow?
When you create product listings, Shopify guides you to provide specific information in a specific way that benefits your site’s SEO. I also took advantage of the integration the platform has for creating and managing blog posts. What I appreciate most, however, is that without any prior knowledge of how to use Google, my site was able to use Google Smart Campaigns to promote my business and its products. All I had to do was click a few buttons and determine how much money I wanted to spend each week on Google ads. The service did everything else and did it very well.
Q: Initially, what was your biggest misconception about online sales?
I had no idea how difficult it would be to build trust with customers who shop online. Our prices are much lower than established jewelry retailers because we cut out all middlemen, but customers initially don’t realize how and why we sell such high quality jewelry at such low prices. We hired a copywriter to help us convey our story on our website to clearly and concisely convey what we are trying to do. Between the design of the overall site and the story we tell through our text and photos, we are now able to tell a compelling story that our visitors connect with and understand. We also try to communicate directly with our clients as much as possible so that they see that they are dealing with a person and not a huge corporation. The copywriter also helps us by writing our marketing emails.
Q: In addition to hiring a freelance website designer and copywriter, did you hire additional experts to help you launch the online component of your business?
yes The first person we hired was an SEO specialist who helped us create blog posts. Instead of paying this person upfront, I worked out a profit sharing plan with him. This saved us a lot of money in start-up costs and allowed us to take advantage of the opportunity to drive additional traffic to the site. This SEO expert writes three blog posts per week and manages other aspects of the website that impact SEO. We pay him a 20 percent commission on all sales generated from organic searches. We also hired a graphic designer, through a friend of a friend, to help us brand our business and refine the look of the website. This person created our logo and helped us choose the appropriate fonts and color scheme used throughout the website. We then hired a social media marketing specialist to help us build and maintain our Instagram presence to drive website traffic. We later hired an online marketing agency to use the information we received from Google to develop and implement our paid online advertising campaigns. The first company we hired was very cheap, but it turned out to be a disaster, so we switched to another online marketing agency that really understood our vision and goals for the business and the audience we were trying to reach. Even though it cost a lot more money upfront, I outsourced everything I didn’t know how to do myself to ensure it was done right. Since we started the business, I have invested time to learn a wide range of new skills. For example, I recently completed a course on Google advertising and SEO marketing. I’ve found that the website works better when I take on the role of project manager and then hire freelance experts who have the specialized skills and experience needed to complete any task that I currently can’t do myself. People can be employed cost-effectively, and the time and money saved are well worth the cost in the long run. There are so many logistics involved in running a successful online business that without additional help it can be very difficult to keep up with everything and take the time to do it right.
Q: How important is product photography when creating an e-commerce website?
Having crystal clear, professional looking product photography is not only important, it is essential and something we continue to work on as we sell high end jewelery and it is essential that our product photography shows each product well in an elegant way that conveys its beauty and value. We have a professional product photographer on call who shoots each new piece of jewelry for the website, as well as a different photographer who creates the lifestyle images used on the website.
Q: Considering all the freelance help you’ve used, how much money would you say you invested to create the initial design and publishing of your website and launch the online aspect of your business?
Considering that we sell jewelry at high prices and knew that we would be able to recoup the investment quickly, I would estimate that our initial financial investment was around $30,000. We initially spent about a month creating the website and developing the brand, and then invested much more time tweaking it once it launched.
Q: What is the biggest piece of advice you can share with e-commerce startup operators?
Invest the necessary time and money up front to ensure that every aspect of your website functions properly and looks extremely professional. This will help convert your site visitors into paying customers because the look of your site is your opportunity to make a positive first impression and build a potential customer’s trust in your company and its products. Our goal, for example, was to create a website that represents a high-end, trustworthy brand. Although a company’s brand will evolve over time, it’s important to use your brand identity right from the start to communicate your value proposition to your potential customers. It’s all about building trust with your customers, especially if you’re hoping for repeat business from your customers.
The Ultimate Guide to Shopify offers dozens of resources and experts like Jae who have cracked the code to excel in the e-commerce world. The book teaches you how to get started, the different selling methods, how to promote your brand, and ultimately how to thrive and run your own e-commerce business. Read a free preview here and pick up your copy at The Ultimate Guide to Shopify from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Bookshop.