From RevenueMagazine Newsletter September 13, 2006
Sarath Samarasekera is CEO of Shopster.com, which helps potential website sellers set up their e-store. You can choose products from their list of 700,000 wares, set your pricing and set up your marketing. Shopster does the shipping and cuts you a commission check. We asked Samarasekera about his take on the affiliate model.
What is the demand for setting up e-stores for sellers?
There is a huge demand in the market for e-stores. The proverbial "American Dream" is about independence and Shopster offers that opportunity. There are many e-store solutions, but for the vast majority of users they fall short of the customer's need. With traditional solutions, a would-be e-tailer simply can't put all the pieces together to start a successful business without dedicating a tremendous amount of time and money to get things started.
Buying a piece of software that allows you to have an e-store is one thing. Getting all the business processes to actually get the business off the ground is quite another. Traditional online retailers still need to buy products and stock them, apply and qualify for a merchant account, pay for a SSL certificate, provide customer service, ship out orders, deal with returns and problem orders, and deal with people trying to fraud you daily. We take care of all of these problems for our retailers.
When someone signs up with Shopster, they only have to focus on what they're best at: marketing. The Shopster retailer owns their customer and their Web business and Shopster acts as their logistics and systems backbone. Shopster now makes it possible for anyone to start and run a successful online retail business by putting all the pieces of the puzzle into one powerful solution.
Do sellers have to meet certain qualifications to use your product in the same way affiliate managers have standards for signing up affiliates? What are those requirements?
To be a seller on Shopster you just have to have the desire to sell. Shopster provides a great set of tools along with the storefront and product selection and it is up to the seller or in Shopster lingo, the retailer to do what they can with the opportunity. They decide if they do SEO [search engine optimization], coupons or flyers or newspaper ads or auctions ... the list goes on.
This isn't a get-rich-quick scheme; you won't get rich by throwing up a store and hoping people will shop on your site. However, Shopster offers affiliates and Web entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to build their own brand and retail business. The long-term benefits of having your own store, your own brand and actually owning the customer, rather than sending them to another company, is tremendous.
You say sellers can choose from more than 700,000 products. What are the categories they have to choose from and what are the name brands?
We have products across every major product line from electronics, entertainment, sports equipment, office supplies, collectibles included in the mix are all the major brands.
One of the major innovations that Shopster is bringing to the market is that we change the way retailing is done. In the past there were clothing stores or DVD stores or computer stores. The reason stores exist like this is that the store owner had a relationship with a supplier and it was easier to sell more things from the same supplier than it was to get a new supplier. The fact is that people don't buy or think like that. Very few people, if any, wake up in the morning and say, "Today I want a DVD. I don't care what's on it, I just want a DVD." People are interested in subjects and topics. For example, people like superheroes let's say specifically you have a website about "Spiderman." Well, with a Shopster store you could sell the DVDs and the games, and how about the theme telephone, and the bedsheets, the action figures, the stuffed toys now you have a targeted store with the products that will interest your customer.
As the Internet evolves, what we see happening in Internet sales is that niche and specialized sites will have the most growth. More is not better. Sites which provide content and then related products around a specific topic drive better-qualified buyers. In the past, a single e-store was a significant investment of time and money, which created the drive toward "mega-stores." This mentality still exists in many places but isn't reflective of consumer behavior.
How do your sellers gain visibility? Do you help them with search engine optimization or tutor them on keyword buying and similar techniques?
What Shopster does is give our retailers the means to tap in to their own networks to create a retail opportunity. SEO and PPC have become the leading traffic builders for websites; however, we find that people who are more creative and think outside the Internet box are incurring less cost and driving higher margins. One interesting technique involves people who are working with organizations such as charities and social groups to drive sales. The group builds a dedicated site and encourages their members to shop with them. Profits are then shared by the entrepreneur and the group. As a fund-raising technique, Shopster offers a far stronger vehicle with better potential than any $5 chocolate bar campaign or bottle drives. Additionally, sellers have a huge range of options for marketing and they can find support in Shopster's marketing forums which are filled with hundreds of tips and tricks.
It looks like you've seen amazing growth in the short time you've been around (since 2004). Has your success changed your five-year plan? Can you tell us some targets for 2007?
Absolutely. Like any startup things change from where you thought you were going. Our major focus over the next 18 months is on diversifying our offering. First, different and better products for our retailers to sell. Additionally, we expect to offer greater control over the selling experience to our retailers. Sales to the end consumer can be conducted through a variety of channels. Different channels pose specific technological challenges and Shopster is developing systems to make these accessible to our retailers. In many ways Shopster is a toolbox for the retailer. We will continue to add to the repertoire of tools available to help our retailers sell better.
We have some major innovations which we think will accelerate the changes happening in the retail space right now. As we test these new tools and techniques, we will be offering them first to our existing retailers to trial. Unfortunately I can't reveal what those are at this time.
I would predict though that over the next two to five years there will be a fundamental shift in online retailing. What exists out there today is just a poor reflection of brick-and-mortar retailing pasted onto a website. The opportunity in Internet technology is the ability to go to the consumer and offer them exactly what they want when they want it. This is what Shopster is about.