Three years ago Meytal Bar-Noy came to the decision that her job as a social worker didn’t suit her, and decided to turn her hobby of jewelry-making into her profession.
“I wanted to enter a field that would suit me, and it worked - but everyone around me warned that it was a hard profession,” she says. After she prepared her first collection, she tried to sell it at fairs and other sales events, but quickly came to the conclusion that she needed to develop other marketing channels. “Sometimes people didn’t come to the fairs and, beyond that, I felt that I didn’t know how to sell the fruit of my own labor, even though I had worked in retail sales and was good at it,” Bar-Noy recalls.
She decided to open a Facebook business page, where she put her pieces on display to attract buyers. Then she opened stores on designer websites Marmelada Market and Etsy, where she remains an active presence today. She is happy with the sales she has achieved and with virtual marketing in general. She sees no reason to open a bricks-and-mortar store or sell through other retailers.
Bar-Noy’s choice signals a growing trend. More and more designers in niches from jewelry to clothing and shoes choose not to market their products in stores, but over the Internet. They use a variety of Web-based tools, like Facebook business pages, virtual stores or websites built using self-managed platforms. For customers, virtual space means lower prices as they save on the mark-up charged by stores, or the overhead costs for a designer operating his or her own shop.
Fashion designer Ira Tadson, who used to own a store but was forced to close when the economy slowed, says there are still advantages to having an actual storefront, such having direct contact with your clientele. That enables you to form more personal relations and stay on the pulse of changing consumer tastes. Still, the overhead costs of stores often make them financially impractical. “When you have a shop, all the profit goes to paying expenses,” Tadson says.
“The Internet did a tremendous thing for people in the field of design,” says jewelry designer Silky Gal. “A designer who opens a business usually doesn’t have any money, but he does have time to invest in marketing, reading professional material and creating contacts on social networks - things that don’t require any up-front capital.”
Yaniv Saban, a marketing consultant to large organizations and head of the digital desk at the College of Management Academic Studies, warns that designers setting up their own Internet presence should make sure that their website matches the quality of their products. “A self-respecting fashion site offers quality photos and video clips of models wearing the clothes,” he says. “It must also work on mobile and tablets, since half of the traffic come through them, and this costs a lot of money.” That is why Saban advises beginners to pass on building a website and instead open a virtual store in a virtual mall. “It’s the default option for someone without a budget or marketing power.”
While the world of e-commerce is an exciting place that can promote designers, many of them discover that it is way more complex than they imagined. At first glance, anyone can develop a Facebook business book or a virtual store, but to sell large volumes of goods you have to invest time and money in marketing. This leave designers with two jobs, only one of which (design) they specialize in. The marketing, they must learn on their own.
“Marketing is its own science,” says Gal. “Designers don’t really like it, but they must do one type of work to finance the other.”
On a basic level there are Facebook business pages, which don’t cost any money. If the owner is willing to dedicate some budget to marketing they can also create their own Facebook marketing campaign with a few clicks, picking out their target demographic. Another option designers have is to add a sales app on their business page to allow clients to buy goods directly from the Facebook page.
However, Facebook has its drawbacks, like for example the amount of written and photo content that can be posted on it is rather small. Most designers want something that has better display capabilities, leading them to virtual stores like Marmelada Market.
Marmelada Market was founded two years ago as the smaller companion to the site Marmelada, which provides lifestyle tips. Today, 1,000 stores are on the site, which says that it receives 300,000 Web surfers every month. Running a store on the website costs NIS 200 per month and new users now have to pay a 5 percent fee on sales over NIS 2,000 per month.
“The advantage of Marmelada Market is that it is a large site that offers thousands of items, with serious buyers coming from there,” says Ayelet Lavan, owner of Tapu, which specializes in children’s clothing. “The drawback is that you are paying them no small sum and yet you still don’t have your own Internet store, like an apartment you buy but that still doesn’t belong to you.”
Designers we spoke with say that for designers beginning their way, paying NIS 200 per month to use Marmelada Market was a high price to pay without knowing how much they would sell. They also say that the website does not appear to do much to promote their products and sales on the site were lower than for other platforms.
“I provide the real estate, the commercial space and what the designers do with their store is no longer in my hands,” says Marmelada CEO Itay Morag in response. He says the site provides technical support by phone, has an online guide on how to build a successful website and that the site also provides opportunities to network with other designers.
“Whoever tries to create their own website at the level of Marmelada Market will discover that it will cost them at least NIS 10,000,” says Morag.
Marmelada Market’s main source of inspiration comes from Etsy, a website established in 2005 and that serves as a home to a million sellers in the field of fashion, who racked up a total of $895 million in sales in 2012.
Etsy’s business model is based on a payment of $0.20 for every product uploaded to the virtual store and a fee of 3.5 percent on every sale. The website provides sellers a large number of articles explaining how to succeed on the website, from the packing to use to stand out to buyers up to the products worth selling during the holiday season.
The designers Adi Narinsky and Alma Saker, the founders of a company called Nuppi that specializes in textile products for baby’s rooms, decided to reach a potential clients across the globe directly though Etsy.
“We wanted to break through the borders of tiny Israel, and the bid advantage of Etsy is that it is a global site,” Saker says. She says she and Narinsky think Nuppi have a good chance of appealing to foreign clientele, particularly in the United States. “Shipping is no big deal today and our products are light and not fragile, so distance doesn’t impede us,” she says.