IRCE 2011 Report: Want to compete with Amazon? Act bigger than you really are

Two small retailers tell how to build successful online specialty stores.

Stefany Zaroban

The key to creating an online specialty shop that can compete with such online superstores as Amazon.com is appearing bigger than you actually are, according to Nasty Gal Inc. founder Sophia Amoruso and ShoeBacca.com chief technology officer Nathan Barling, both of whom spoke last week at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2011.

“You have to fake it ‘til you make it,” Amoruso said. NastyGal.com, which sells vintage clothing and accessories, focused on creating a sleek e-commerce site design, employing artful photography on product pages, and building a site that’s easy to navigate, she said. Those are all crucial to projecting an aura of being a larger operation than you really are, she said.

Barling agreed, adding that even though a limited budget prevents him from adding to ShoeBacca.com all the features his competition has, he does his best. The retailer competes against a multitude of shoe megastores, including Zappos.com, now part of Amazon.com Inc. That makes efficient site search, multiple product images, and extended payment options important, as those are features that online shoppers expect, he said. “Give the illusion that you’re bigger than you are,” he said. “Then people will go, ‘Wow, why haven’t I heard of these guys before?’”

Beautiful, professional-looking photography can help retailers stand out, the speakers said. Amoruso said she regularly buys vintage items that are displayed in unflattering ways by sellers on eBay. She then puts those items on a model whose look represents the “nasty gal” look—one might describe it as sassy and punkish—takes an artful photo, and charges 10 times what she paid on eBay. “You’ve got to be visual,” she said.

Barling gave the example of trying to sell a see-through pair of Converse shoes on ShoeBacca.com in a way that would make a splash. During the holidays, a staff member photographed the footwear with multi-colored Christmas lights placed inside, making for a bright, festive image. “We wanted to make sure that we had a boutique feel or elegance that other people had,” he said

ShoeBacca.com also offers free shipping, free return shipping and a 110% price match guarantee. Those policies capture people’s attention and create buzz on social networks, Barling said.

Being active on Facebook and connecting personally with customers also represents a major part of both retailers’ strategies for creating brand loyalty.  Nasty Gal has more than 70,000 Facebook fans. “My business was born on MySpace,” Amoruso said, referring to the social network that has been largely eclipsed by Facebook.  “And the relationship I have with my customers is essentially a conversation.”


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