Alibaba’s Tmall Global now features goods from 14,500 overseas brands, 80% of them selling in China for the first time.
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Many retailers made mistakes online by pumping venture capital into huge marketing and staff budgets without any idea of whether consumers would buy things online. “Retailers should never have assumed that the web was going to be the end-all,” Coomaraswamy says . “Your employees and your customer service are going to be what carry you through.”
Getting the most out of his employees has improved service and cut costs. Coomaraswamy says all nine employees are trained to handle customer calls. They know how to access orders and they know how to help customers. In the end, it’s still a sales-based business and customer service is the key to success, he says. Fine-tuning internal operations-including cutting staff from 13 to nine-has helped lower operating costs. Doing multiple tasks in-house has supplied the impetus for keeping staff tight because it has made Coomaraswamy realize that he doesn’t need to add a staffer every time there’s a new job to be done.
In addition, he has found ways to make tasks more efficient. For example, he explains, he replaced a data entry employee that cost $27,000 per year with a $4,000 investment in software. “That job took an employee eight hours per day to do. The new program we had built now takes less than 35 seconds,” he says.
In hindsight, it is becoming clear that retailers who did not follow the masses down the VC trail are the ones who remain today. “We didn’t do what everyone else said to do,” Coomaraswamy says. “What people have to realize is that the web is not automatic sales. It was a ridiculous concept that people were going to shop online in droves. It has never happened. Companies have to work the sale the way they always did-with customer service, sales calls, invoicing people correctly and all the other business practices.”