What’s not to like? You’re sitting before your computer updating your Facebook account and suddenly realize it’s almost Christmas, and that you can’t get away with playing Scrooge two years in a row. Do you: (a) Rush to the nearest mall and risk life and limb wading through deadly traffic (b) Unwittingly donate to the seasonal clutch of pickpockets and bag slashers by squeezing in through half the city’s population in the malls, or c) leisurely open the online shopping sites and get your business done without sweat? It’s a no-brainer of course.
At the other side of the screen, online retailers must be wishing it’s Christmas every day, the way people have discovered how much more convenient it is now to get their hands on merchandise in Manila even if they’re from Tawi-Tawi or Babuyan Islands, thanks to the Net. Online shoppers can even choose how to pay – there’s G-Cash or the local bank, all meant to circumvent the secure shopping cart system that can be difficult to set up, not to mention costly.
If you’re thinking of cashing in on the online market, you might want to check out the terrain first with Jill Lejano whose online shop, Oh, Shoot! sells toy cameras, lomographic cameras, film and photography-related accessories.
SIM: How long have you had this online store and what got you started?
JILL LEJANO (JL): Oh, Shoot! has been in operation a little over three years now – and it came about a couple of years after my obsession with toy cameras. Because there were a lot of people around me who were interested, I started buying cameras from abroad and reselling them to local enthusiasts. Eventually, I put up a brick-and-mortar store, but I also maintain the online side of the business for customers who live outside Metro Manila and those who can’t make it to the shop, since my shop hours are limited.
SIM: What’s involved in setting up and running an online store? Does it require any special set-up, like site design or technical maintenance?
JL: Yes. Aside from our Multiply and Facebook pages, we created and continue to maintain our own website, and customers can place orders through that website. It’s a good thing one of my close friends is an excellent webmaster. Jolo is the force behind the site, and he takes care of all the programming, coding, all the hardcore tech stuff. The site took quite a bit of planning but it was totally worth it. What we wanted was to make ordering as easy as possible for the customers.
SIM: What do you consider the advantages of maintaining and operating Oh Shoot!?
JL: For one thing, I get to play with the latest cameras first and I get to share my passion for toy cameras and film photography with other people.
SIM: Having both a physical shop and an online store, which do you find easier to manage?
JL: The physical shop. A lot of people order cameras without really knowing how to use them and it’s so much easier to explain how things work when they are right in front of you. Plus, it’s instant gratification for the customers. They walk in and they walk out with their cameras and film, no need to worry about shipping.
SIM: And what would you say are the headaches or challenges of running an online store?
JL: Some customers can be unreasonably demanding. There was this guy who was threatening to report my shop to the police just because we didn’t immediately respond to his e-mail. Then there are customers who send a ton of questions when all their answers can easily be found on the website. Answering e-mail eats up a huge chunk of our day. I also had to switch couriers because some are just unreliable; they don’t pick up our packages on time.
SIM: How competitive is the online shopping arena? Do you notice a “price war” among online stores selling the same merchandise you sell?
JL: There are a number of people who sell similar products online but it doesn’t worry me because one, my shop offers a warranty and after sales service (something not everyone does) and we develop a relationship with the customers. Some of them send their photos for advice. They want to keep learning and it helps that we know what we’re selling. I don’t really see a price war going on—the prices are pretty similar, unless people are buying used cameras.
SIM: Any tips for people interested in opening an online shop?
JL: Sell stuff you’re really into because you’re going to be fielding a lot of questions. Find a reliable courier. Figure out payment methods that are convenient for both you and the customer. But above all, make sure you have the patience because you’re gonna need it.
SIM: Are you an online shopper yourself? What are your favorite shopping sites?
JL: Yes. Amazon is still on top of my list. •
Visit Jill’s shop at www.ohshoot.us
Setting up shop?
Setting up (an online) shop? Selling stuff without the problem of rental costs may seem like easy money, but the merchandise is only a small part of the picture. Consider these other points.
- Sustainability of merchandise. If you plan to sell locally manufactured items, make sure that you are able to meet the demand as it grows. If your items are imported, determine how you will get them here and if you’d be able to replenish them right away.
- Building a reputation. Online sellers need to foster trustworthiness and reliability. Initially — if not inevitably — you will be judged by how your site looks in terms of layout and product photos. Selling online is primarily a visual game, so make sure that your materials are appealing to shoppers. Since you won’t be dealing with customers face to face, it is essential that you put shoppers at ease by replying promptly (a smartphone helps in this case).
- Find a reliable shipping partner. Shipping can be tricky, especially if you have to ship or deliver items to areas that may be difficult to access. Scout around for a good courier or shipping company. Majority of online sellers here use either Xend or Air 21.