Wednesday, August 8, 2012

INTRODUCING: Lady Jane Custom Footwear, LLC

Today I am thrilled to announce the launch of an e-commerce site for Lady Jane Custom Footwear, LLC.  Lady Jane is a Dunwoody home-based business founded by Mary Jane Caldwell.  Mary Jane got sick of having to torture her feet to wear beautiful high heels.  So she started designing her own.

Lady Jane shoes are custom-made, one pair at a time at a facility in Austin, TX.  They are more comfortable and healthier for your feet than even the most celebrated luxury brands.  Mary Jane's shoes can be manufactured in a wide variety of fabrics and leathers, heel styles, and accessories.  This site is a comprehensive upgrade from her previous one.   You just select your size, material, width, and style and they are custom made for you.  Mary Jane and her staff manage the store from an administrative interface.  Select styles are available online and even more styles and options can be purchased through a private consultation, trunk show, or at Primera Podiatry.  Special requests can be handled via phone and/or direct consultation.

Lady Jane Custom Footwear is one of the latest in a growing number of brands that are born and bred in Dunwoody and market toward an upscale audience.  With the features, creativity, and competitive cost Lady Jane has all the potential in the world to be a distinct Dunwoody luxury brand promoted to the entire USA.

This project was very detail-oriented and a lot of work because of the e-commerce aspect but it's not often you can consult with your client about her website and try on dozens of shoes at the same time!  In fact when we were getting the project started and the paperwork signed, Mary Jane set me up with these little numbers in time for Taste of Dunwoody 2012.  I didn't have to sit down all night (until the alcohol went to my head.)

If you're keeping track, this model is a closed-toe variation of "Jacqueline" and the nubbly inset is a stretch leather that was available some years ago.  They are truly one of a kind and plenty comfy.

This site was customized using a content management system called ZenCart that was created specifically for e-commerce solutions.

A few words about e-commerce websites:

E-commerce (and in a similar matter, e-learning) are some of the most complex websites that an average small business can use.  To make the most of it, a business owner has to have a firm grip on their product, their sales approach, their customer base (current and projected) and how they intend to incorporate online selling into their overall business model and day-today operations.  Most business owners I know get intense "sticker shock" when they see the cost of an e-commerce solution.  However the price tag indicates the higher-than-average amount of work involved.  Any company that tries to sell you on the idea that you can throw together a unique, scalable storefront "in just a few clicks" is either lying through their teeth or delusional.

If you are planning to sell online, plan on discussing these questions with your web developer:

  • What do you sell?  To whom?  Do you have an established customer base?  Have you surveyed any of them to determine what your customers are looking for in an online experience?  Or even if they want one?  Or are you expanding your outreach to a new audience that is looking for online purchasing?
  • Which of your products are going to be sold online?  All of your inventory?  Just a selection?  Are your products priced by features?  Do your products have a variety of features that your customers choose from?
  • Do you already have a website host or do you need both a host and shopping cart?  (Some companies are selling e-commerce "software as a service" where you can buy your services all in one.  Magento, 3dCart and Intuit website are examples with different pros and cons to each.)
  • How will your customers pay online?  Do you need a 3rd-party payment provider (like PayPal, WorldPay, etc)?  Do you plan to process credit cards or similar payments through your website using your bank's service?  Have you compared the costs of each option?
  • If you are processing your own credit cards (and not using a service akin to PayPal) have you budgeted for SSL encryption?  SSL is the encryption standard that secures sensitive customer data against unauthorized access.  A green bar and padlock in the URL box of your browser indicates your site is secured for e-commerce.  These certificates can run anywhere from $80-ish (from GoDaddy) to the hundreds or thousands from VeriSign.
  • Does your shopping cart have to integrate with your business and financial management software?  For example, if you are using QuickBooks, your choice of shopping cart software and providers is going to be limited.  Those providers that do integrate with QuickBooks usually charge more for this feature.
  • Where do you ship your products to?  Contiguous 48 states?  All USA and territories?  Worldwide?  Do you know the tax rates that are applicable for each area of the country/world you are selling to?
  • What shipping service do you intend to use?  UPS, the US Postal Service and FedEx have the most popular software integration for shopping carts.
  • Does your online shopping cart need additional web pages for general information, or will it stand on its own?  
  • How are you managing your inventory?  Do you need to integrate online sales with in-person sales at a storefront?  Do your inperson sales take you to other locations like festivals?
  • Have you considered mobile/smartphone capabilities for both your customers as well as your store managment?
  • How do you see your business and sales growing in the next 5 years?  10?  Do you plan to add more products or varieties of current products?  More physical locations?  Employees?  Will your online store management require employee training?  Your developer has to find a solution that can be scaled to match your business growth and allows for ease of use by employees - or owners!
  • Who is going to manage the online store?  Fulfill the orders?  Have you budgeted for a contracted developer to manage the content and inventory system?  Do you already know how or can you learn the software involved?  Do your employees need to be trained?
There's more, but that will just get you started.  See what I mean about details and work involved?

Finally, I touched on this topic in the above bullet points but there is a wide variety of payment systems out there.  PayPal is the most popular in many ways because of its ease of use for even an individual and it's all-in-one standard pricing and security.  On the other side, banks that provide merchant accounts often sell a service called that links your (SSL-secured) store to your bank processing directly.  Depending upon your sales figures this can represent a major cost savings.

Whatever you decide for online payment processing, the one and only payment system I NEVER recommend is Google Checkout.  In terms of pricing, ease-of-use and software integration, Google is virtually identical to PayPal.  The major difference is your customer MUST have a Google account to check out of your store!  I don't know too many people that want to create a Google account to shop.  Google announced recently that they streamlined their data cross-referencing between Checkout, YouTube, Gmail, and search engine services.  For me (and for many customers) that's just a little too Big-Brother-ish.  If you need a simple out-of-the box payment solution, use PayPal for the same price and allow your customers to just buy-and-go.

Big powerful tools can provide big sales and big profits.  But they only work well if you put equally big business and logistics planning behind them.

Keep an eye on Lady Jane.  With her online store she's taking her merchandise nationwide and will be another luxury company putting Dunwoody, GA on the map.

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