Online Shopping USA was founded in 2010 by James Harris and Ei Sabai Nyo with the aim of showcasing the best of US shopping to Australian shoppers.
In addition to carrying detailed product information for each of its hand-picked items the site has a blogging component, giving it an edge over many of its e-commerce-only competitors.
Harris talks to StartupSmart about shaking up the shopping scene.
Can you explain the concept behind Online Shopping USA?
Online Shopping USA is a website that brings Australian shoppers the best online deals from the United States.
Our team of editors constantly scours hundreds of store websites and thousands of products to bring shoppers examples of brand bargains that aren’t readily available in Australia or are much cheaper in the USA.
Online Shopping USA also lists those hand-picked products at today’s exchange rate price, along with store delivery details, returns policies and customer ratings and feedback.
What inspired the idea for the business?
The idea came about when we were sitting in a café one day talking about wanting to shop overseas and take advantage of the strong Australian dollar but not knowing where to start or what the best stores would be.
Realising that many people shopped online in stores they felt comfortable with – that offered convenience, reliability and security – we came to the conclusion many shoppers may be hesitant shopping overseas because they didn’t have the same information on hand.
Researching further we found that the average mark-up traditional retailers put on clothes and shoes is 142%. So we said to ourselves, ‘This is it – we need to create a site that showcases the best of US online shopping to Australians’.
How did you fund the business – what were your start-up costs?
At the moment the business is fully self-funded from the profits from our web development business.
Anansi Web Development is a web development agency run by us and we consider ourselves very lucky as we were able to do all the design, development and SEO for Online Shopping USA in-house.
A lot of time, blood, sweat and a few tears were involved in getting the website to where it is now. If we were to put a number on how much it cost it would be around $20,000 in development and build.
How did you build awareness of the business?
Primarily through search marketing and building relationships with the blogging community and social media – we are on Facebook and Twitter.
We both have 8-10 years of experience in online media and we understand that it takes a lot of work to have a presence on the internet.
There is no such thing as “build it and they will come”. We are at a very early stage of our website launch and we need all the support we can get.
Our friends and families have also been very supportive of the business and they have been helping us spread the word.
How many staff do you have?
We don’t have full-time permanent staff at this stage but we have freelancers and contractors working for the website.
At the moment we have four editors and content contributors, one copywriter and a designer. We will be hiring more people in a few months time so we can concentrate on expanding the business.
We have many online shopping and retail-related ideas in the pipeline and we want to be able to work on the business rather than work in it so we will definitely be getting more people on board to look after the day-to-day operation.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
We believe the biggest risk is failure to take a risk and execute an idea. It’s mostly upside now that the site has launched and we’re operational.
What are your revenue projections for 2011/12?
We are solely focused on building an audience for the website in 2011/12 and understanding what our visitors want so we can continually improve the site.
So whatever profit we make this year, we will invest back into the business. In terms of numbers our goal is to have 30,000 visitors a month before Christmas 2011.
Is there anything you would have done differently in the start-up phase?
We still consider ourselves to be in the start-up phase and we’re learning new things every day.
Securing capital investment to speed up the development of the site and promote it through traditional media would be nice to have but we might not be learning as much or be having as much fun.