EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 324 - December 02, 2012 - ISSN 1528-6703     3 of 6

Online Stores through Storenvy

By Greg Holden

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A sale happens once; a customer is with you for life. That's one thing Jon Crawford, CEO of the marketplace and ecommerce hosting service Storenvy, told me when I asked what makes an online business successful.

"A successful store probably has a strong following through social media," he said. "It takes time to develop a community or following, but the best small online businesses have active Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Remember: It's about creating customers, not sales."

Storenvy, too, tries to distinguishes itself from the competition by the human component. In 2009, when Crawford was thinking of starting Storenvy, he wanted to create something different than other hosting services, which seemed to him too complex and geared toward power sellers.

"I realized I could build something different than anything I'd seen. It needed to be extremely easy, accessible and fun to use. So I focused on the user interface of setting up and running a store. But my big vision was really to turn a custom store platform into a social network. I imagined a place where all of the stores were interconnected and actually made more sales due to the large community working together. That's what Storenvy is today."

For Jason Soprovich, Storenvy was just the right choice to host his online boutique Cherry Sauce Clothing. "We spent a lot of time looking at different ecommerce solutions before a friend brought Storenvy to our attention," he says, praising the site's backend systems for tracking orders and creating sales and promotions. But, he adds, "The biggest reason why we love Storenvy is the people. They answer any and all questions we have, and they actively ask us what they can do to be a better service for us. Storenvy is a great bunch of people, not just a service!"

Before starting Storenvy, Crawford worked as an engineer who developed a number of ecommerce websites. He also ran a small web shop building custom ecommerce storefronts for small businesses. "It's all about understanding the problems and needs of your customers and then designing a solution that makes their lives easier," he comments.

Storenvy advertises itself as a place for "creative indie businesses." When asked what that phrase means, he says businesspeople don't necessarily have to be creative or "indie" to use the site. In fact, some of Storenvy's 22,000 storefronts are larger businesses that chose the platform for its ease of use. "You can get a store up and running in five minutes and it's totally free," he points out. But the feature that attracts most businesses is not even the lack of fees but the fact that there's a marketplace attached to the online store platform.

"Most creative entrepreneurs aren't exactly marketing experts and struggle to get their products in front of customers," he explains. "That's why we created the Storenvy Marketplace in order to help these people make sales. Fifteen percent of all transactions in the Storenvy network come through the Storenvy Marketplace, which means having a store on the Storenvy platform increases your chances of making sales."

Sellers who open a free store on Storenvy automatically have their merchandise listed in its marketplace for no extra charge. Merchants also gain the ability to sell through a Facebook store. There are no fees at all on the site except for coupon codes ($2.99 per month) and custom domain names ($4.99 per month). The site sets default shipping rates of $4.50 for items going to U.S. destinations and $7.50 for all others, though this can be customized.

Storenvy itself is located in a lively marketplace - the Mission District of San Francisco. "We're an arm's reach from at least 30 burrito restaurants and tons of hipsters. It's a great neighborhood."

Crawford, 31, who has a one-year-old daughter, finds that running the site is a creative, energizing activity. "At a core level, I love having a big audacious goal and working toward achieving it every day."

When asked for tips for sellers who want to succeed, Crawford provided the following advice:

  • Sell products that connect with a specific audience. "It may be a shirt based on an Internet meme, a poster for lacrosse players, or a figurine based on an obscure movie reference. But a product with an automatic connection to a large group of people has great chances of getting shared."
  • "Spot an existing community and lean into it."
  • "Any press outlets for the niche you're serving are likely to cover your goods. Send them an email."
  • Take great photos. "The worst mistake we see is people taking bad photos of good stuff because they were in too much of a hurry to launch their store. Take your time, shoot some good photos with a good camera, and write some great product descriptions. It will make a huge difference."

Soprovich, for his part, uses social media to cultivate long-term customers and improve clothing selection for his Cherry Sauce Clothing store.

"We find that Facebook is a good way to find out what our customers want, need and like. Without the constant feedback we get from our customers, it would be much harder to know if we're moving in the right direction," Soprovich said. "Based on feedback we get from them, we are able to choose what designs to print next (or reprint), what designs they'd like to see us work on next, and even share what products they bought and why. In our opinion, the best customers are the ones that interact with us and become a part of what we do, and this wouldn't be an easy feat without social networks."

About the author:

Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.

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