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ARTICLE InspirationSeptember 17, 2014

Christmas series, part 2: Q&A: What I wish I’d known this time last year

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Online interiors store Urban Couture shares what it learnt from opening online just ahead of the Christmas rush last year – and its top three tips for building a successful e-commerce business.

For online interiors boutique Urban Couture, the challenge of the Christmas rush was one it faced early on. After launching in the third quarter of 2013, the store’s owners and staff had to quickly adapt to the pressures of high demand and short timeframes. Despite this, it emerged strongly. What began as an online business last year has already grown to have both a warehouse showroom and a pop-up shop, both in Sydney.  

Creative Director Katriarna Rodgers shares what she learned, as well as some of her best insights for other e-commerce businesses. 

How did the idea for Urban Couture come about?

“We noticed a gap in the market between replica and high-end European furniture. Although Australia is riddled with replica furniture, we believe there is a demand for furniture that draws inspiration from the European trends but is unique in its design – without the high-end price tag.

“The aim of the online business was to provide time-poor customers with the opportunity to purchase furniture and homewares online, without having to waste a whole day in a shopping centre.”

Urban Couture has expanded in its first year of operation, including a new studio space in Sydney (right).

What challenges did you face in the lead-up to Christmas, having launched in the second half of 2013?

“The run-up to the festive season is always a challenge for many businesses, especially in the furniture and homewares industry. There is always high demand for staple furniture pieces, like dining settings and outdoor settings, with short turnaround times. We’ve found it is important to keep adequate levels of stock in our warehouse to keep up with incoming orders.

“It’s also imperative to surround yourself with the right staff who can assist in the growth and development of the business, especially during peak periods. Luckily, we have an incredible team of staff who assist in sharing the workload on a day-to-day basis.

“Although you can try to plan ahead, it is inevitable that there will be some challenges when it comes to delivery, especially over peak periods like the Christmas holidays. We make sure we have good relationships with the courier companies we use.” 

Do you take on extra staff to assist in the run-up to Christmas?

“Yes. In our experience, there's nothing more frustrating for consumers than excessive lead times or poor service due to a lack of staff.” 

Why did you decide to use SecurePay for your payment gateway?

“We decided to go with SecurePay from the first day we traded, as they were recommended by our friends and web developers. To date, the experience has been great. Its user-friendly platform definitely makes our job much easier during all times of the year.”

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Urban Couture is an online interiors store that has grown to have a warehouse showroom and pop-up shop in Sydney since launching in the second half of 2013.

Post-Christmas, what are some of the challenges a new year brings?

“January is always a busy period for the furniture and homewares industry. Often consumers delay moving into their new home until the festive season is over, or they may simply want to start afresh with a change of scenery in their homes following a New Year’s resolution. The challenges with this are no different to the Christmas rush – you need to plan well and anticipate any potential issues that may arise.”

Urban Couture also has a free “e-Decorating” service – why did you decide to offer that?

“The e-Decorating service essentially offers customers who are time-poor or in a remote location a chance to receive the service of an interior designer online. Traditionally, interior designers have been used with people who are well off financially, and so we decided to provide this service for free. It's about making interior design accessible to our entire client base, rather than a select few. 

“We also provide the option for the client to be more actively involved in the process through our Couture Board platform, which allows them to create their own mood boards with products from our website. Clients can then save their mood boards to their computer or share them on social media platforms like Pinterest and Facebook to get feedback from other people or to simply inspire others.” 

3 tips for a successful online store

Urban Couture’s Katriana Rodgers shares her top three tips for e-commerce success:

1. Employ great staff – employees are the foundation of the business.

2. Avoid negative people. While constructive criticism is always helpful, as it allows you to identify your strengths and weaknesses within the business, avoid negative people who make you second-guess yourself.

3. Choose your suppliers carefully, and ensure you have set up an effective and efficient supply chain network. Your business reputation is crucial in the beginning, as it can take just one bad customer experience to ruin what is essentially a great business model. Although the fault may not be yours, it is ultimately your business that suffers, as the customer is dealing with you and trusting you to provide them with a great experience.

Did you know?

SecurePay can get you selling securely online in time for Christmas. Find out how you can get started with a SecurePay Online Payments.

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