June 10, 2010, 2:46 PM

Keep it simple

By differentiating itself from industry giants, Shoplet.com outpaces them.

Lead Photo

Web-only office supplies retailer Shoplet.com sustained triple digit growth from 2001 to 2006. Even last year, in one of the worst economic environments in the past 50 years, it grew an Internet Retailer-estimated 33%, to an estimated $100 million in online sales, helping it secure the No. 134 spot among North American retailers in online sales, according to the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

Key to that success were three simple principles, Tony Ellison, Shoplet CEO, said today at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition during a featured address:

  • Differentiate from the competition.
  • Focus on a niche market.
  • Earn customer loyalty.

Shoplet distinguished itself from the competition by offering a broader selection of name brand products—roughly 32 times the SKUs of its bricks-and-mortar competition—selling at lower prices and by selling a wide swath of environmentally friendly products, Ellison said. It also works to garner customer loyalty by offering a free eProcurement system that allows business customers to manage their purchasing. The program allows companies to set budgets, create preapproved shopping lists by location, department or user, view their purchasing history, and set up automatic orders of frequently purchased items.

Ellison settled on that approach by studying his office supplies competition—a practice he urged other retailers to adopt. “Don’t only learn from their successes but also their failures,” he said. “Don’t be quick to replicate what they do but find their Achilles heel. Find a simple need that the big boys are not doing.”

Take, for instance, Shoplet’s approach to selling environmentally friendly products. The retailer has a pop-up window that allows a shopper to replace items in her cart with more eco-friendly options, such as products made of recycled material. When a shopper adds an item to her cart a green logo notes "Green Replacement Available." If the shopper clicks on the logo, a pop-up window shows images, product details and prices for both the item currently in the cart and the environmentally friendly alternative.

The Shoplet.com home page also highlights its contribution to saving the planet, noting, for instance, that its customers have saved 31,831 trees by buying recycled paper products. In addition, “Shop Green” is one of 10 major navigation options across the home page.

Shoppers are increasingly willing to buy online, particularly in a commoditized category like office supplies, Ellison said. “It’s never been a better time to compete online.” 


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