Web Awards by Smart Company 2014 | Best eCommerce site

Winner: Costumes.com.au

The more time you spend planning, the better your eCommerce site will be, according to Costumes.com.au co-founder Nathan Huppatz.

Costumes.com.au is one of Australia’s leading costume retailers and the winner of the SmartCompany Web Award for best eCommerce site.

Founded in 2010 by Huppatz and business partners Brendan Taylor and Ian Slinger, the pure-play online retailer offers more than 8000 costumes, as well as accessories and party supplies to shoppers in Australia and New Zealand.

Costumes.com.au has grown by 98.46% in four years and turns over more than $2.1 million annually. This growth booked the company a spot in this year’s Smart50.

Paul Greenberg, chief executive of the National Online Retailers Association, describes Costumes.com.au as “very agile and nimble”.

“They have done a lot with a little. Costumes.com.au addresses a niche and there is a real opportunity for Australian retail as an industry in niche retail,” Greenberg says.

The current Costumes.com.au site was launched last year and cost between $50,000 and $100,000 in development costs. The site took six months to build using Magento software, with extensions and customisation in the front and back ends.

On average, the site attracts a million page impressions each month, 200,000 of which are unique visitors.

According to Huppatz, the greatest challenge faced by the team when developing the Costumes.com.au website was ensuring the company’s more than 10,000 products were easily searchable.

“This included some detailed work on understanding customer navigation habits and categorising items,” he says.

Between 51% and 80% of Costumes.com.au’s revenue comes from its website, which has been constantly improved and refined as the company grows.

“We have improved a lot over the past few years, but still have a fair way to go,” Huppatz says.

“This year in particular we have been working on standardised size charts and size descriptions for all items in our catalogue. We have also optimised the display of product in our catalogue by analysing customer behaviour and conversion using tools like Visual Website Optimiser and click heat analysis tools to refine product list and display.”

But Huppatz says his best tip for other entrepreneurs starting a web-based business is “start small, start simple”.

“Start an eBay store and learn the ropes,” he says.

“Work out the basics and what you are good at. Then find ways to improve the areas that you are not so good at. One step at a time.”

Runner-up: Identity Direct

The runner-up in this year’s award for best eCommerce site is Identity Direct, a New South Wales online retail business dedicated to designing and creating personalised products for parents and their children.

Judge Paul Greenberg, chief executive of the National Online Retailers Association, says Identity Direct is a well-established business in the growing market for personalised products.

“Personalisation is such a strong opportunity for Australian retailers,” Greenberg says.

“Customers want to be part of the process.”

Identity Direct’s current website was launched in 2010 after a development phase of seven months. The custom-built site now attracts 250,000 average page impressions each month, with 195,000 unique monthly visitors, helping the company achieve revenues of $18.5 million in the 2013-14 financial year.

Like Costumes.com.au, Identity Direct co-founder Linda Greene says building a site that was able to support a large catalogue of personalised products was one of the biggest challenges, as was building separate websites for the company’s operations in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Greene’s advice for entrepreneurs who want to start a web-based business is to “ensure there is a strong market for your product”.

And for developing or redeveloping a website, Greene recommends crossing all your t’s.

“A comprehensive and fully documented website specifications, thorough testing prior to going live and reliable back-end support,” she says.