Practical Ecommerce

How long to wait for a return on investment?

One of the challenges of an online retailer is to determine the best advertising channels.

In addition to Facebook advertising, I decided to concentrate My Wedding Décor on a few wedding directories to reach brides-to-be.

I anticipated that being under the umbrella of a national bridal directory would introduce me to thousands of future brides and to hundreds of vendors. I thought it would boost my credibility with new suppliers, who presumably would want to know where I marketed My Wedding Décor.

My priority was to join Australia’s leading online wedding directory, Easy Weddings, which lists over 5,000 Australian vendors, in categories from accessories to wedding hire.

When I joined in August 2015, I chose the “Decorations” category. I was pleased to see in Google Analytics that traffic from Easy Weddings had a sub-30 percent bounce rate, and an average of seven page views. I would soon receive a sale, I thought at the time.

I was invited to a supplier night at Easy Weddings’ head office, where we were put into small groups to discuss and evaluate our websites, with improvements suggested by the business development managers.

The directory company hosts bi-monthly supplier workshops to help vendors, like My Wedding Décor, maximize their listings through online marketing, product description, image display, and customer management. It’s also an opportunity to meet other business owners. I must have attended at least four workshops.

In November 2015, I had over 180 products for sale or hire (rent). Easy Weddings invited me to become one of eight stores where brides could directly purchase my products on the Easy Weddings store website. I could handpick my products; Easy Weddings was keen for me to add many, as quickly as possible.

However, with the exception of a few small items that can be collected in person, most of my event hire products must be delivered. (I addressed last month that aspect of my business, in “Wedding rentals (and order thresholds) boost revenue.”) Since delivery, installation, and pickup fees depend on the quantity, size, complexity, time, and location — and also require a customized quote — I could not list my hire items on the Easy Weddings store.

Nonetheless, I was thrilled. With Easy Wedding’s huge traffic, I estimated I would make hundreds of sales each month.

Ten weeks after launching the Easy Weddings store, in February 2016, I received my first order for a peony fairy lighting string worth AUD$65.50 — roughly USD$49.13. The customer then ordered four more directly from the My Wedding Décor website.

In March 2016, I hired my Upwork virtual assistant to upload new products to my Easy Weddings store. Easy Weddings took from March 13 to March 29 to add 12 new products to my store. I complained. They were slightly faster, delaying approval for only 12 days for the May batch of 28 products. Again, I was irritated.

Unfortunately, a pattern was emerging. It took from July 12 to July 26 to get nine products approved, and then from Sept. 10 to Sept. 20 for a mere four to go live.

I felt increasingly dissatisfied and took a closer look at the number of my competitors in Melbourne on Easy Weddings. There are 48 decorations suppliers but only 23 Wedding hire companies.

By Oct. 20, my event hire products — none are listed on Easy Weddings — had contributed 62 percent of my revenue for the past 12 months. It was time to shift my listing to the more appropriate “Hire” category, which has half the competition.

The Easy Weddings’ business development manager protested, saying I received more traffic from the Decorations section. However, Google Analytics recorded not one sale over the 14 months I was listed in that category.

Since my category shift five weeks ago, I have not had one visit from Easy Weddings for the Wedding Hire category — clearly no sales.

Embarrassingly, revenue from the Easy Weddings store in 12 months was only AUD$236 (USD$177), with four sales.

To date, I have spent AUD$5,500 (USD$4,125) on my Easy Weddings listing, not including the AUD$44 monthly fee for having an Easy Weddings merchant listing.

Realizing I didn’t need to be under Easy Wedding’s umbrella, I advised the staff this week that I was stopping my listing and store presence, although it will remain live until Dec. 18.

While I have benefitted from Easy Weddings in intangible ways, it was clearly time to cut my losses and invest elsewhere.

How long do you allow for a return on investment?

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  1. J Smith November 29, 2016 Reply

    Unfortunately, Elizabeth, this is all too common. The only company that made money with your e-commerce venture was the company selling you on a dream. Did you even consider how competitive the wedding niche is? It’s a niche I would never touch and I’m a seasoned e-commerce pro with 3 different websites generating over $1M in revenue a year.

    I’ve been in e-commerce for 12 years. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not for those that rely on a single source of traffic to generate sales either. It requires knowledge of not only general retail operations, but also website development and research, organized content strategies, SEO, and internet marketing. The days of sitting around in your underwear and waiting for orders to roll in are long gone.

    Most people would be much better off creating and investing in a line of products to sell as opposed to retailing a product manufactured by another company.

    I’m sorry you had such a bad experience, but frankly you never stood a chance.

    • Elizabeth Hollingsworth November 29, 2016 Reply

      Thank you for your comments. Interestingly, one of my goals for 2017 is to create a few lines of my own decor products, however the point of the article was about investing too much money in an obsolete advertising channel.

  2. Bruce Frame November 30, 2016 Reply

    The short answer is: not long, and certainly not 14 months. In fact the beauty of online marketing is the ability to change the content and the message quickly and (if necessary) frequently – and you’d only do that if it wasn’t working. Online is not a brand building medium, it’s a direct response medium, if you’re not getting a direct response then change the message, change the timing or change the method.

    • Elizabeth Hollingsworth November 30, 2016 Reply

      Thanks Bruce for your comments! While I updated my photos, description and promotional copy several times over those 15 months, I realise I didn’t see online directory listings as a direct response medium as I do with say, Facebook advertising. It’s interesting to know that another supplier we both know has decided Easy Weddings doesn’t work for her business, either – although I’m sure she’s realised that more quickly than I did.

  3. Jeff Bach December 5, 2016 Reply

    Ouch.

    I read stories like this and am reminded that it is not the gold miners themselves that make the money, it is the shovel makers that walk away with pockets of cash.

    If brides and grooms are not buying from this site, where are they buying? From a bigger competitor with a more visible listing. Or are they finding local vendors directly w/o the help of a 3rd party site? Or something else?

    Once again, finding the ‘right’ venue that serves to concentrate potential customers is not easy. I have a toe in the water at Amazon Handmade right now. So far not a single sales from Amazon via this Handmade storefront. As much as I like the idea, like you I’m not seeing ROI. Pulling the plug is likely coming soon.

    • Elizabeth Hollingsworth December 5, 2016 Reply

      Thanks Jeff. I think Amazon Handmade’s issues might also apply to certain Etsy sellers too. Those newer retailers with small product ranges just get lost in the mix. The original – and biggest – retailers often remain that way.

  4. Lucy December 13, 2016 Reply

    Maybe it’s all in the name…many brides (and grooms?) enjoy the typically lengthy, involved process in planning the big day. An “Easy Wedding” might imply the couple is in a rush, which is sometimes the case, but more often not. So 1) the branding may be a turn off to some and 2) when a couple is in a rush they’re not typically looking to spend a lot either.

    Just some thoughts about the channel itself. Although I’m definitely not familiar with this site myself.

    • Elizabeth Hollingsworth December 13, 2016 Reply

      Thanks Lucy. I’m not sure it’s got anything to do with the name but it did start out long before Pinterest and Instagram were there to give brides ideas. The company has also decided to force brides to make an email enquiry rather than to enable them to go straight through to our websites which results in them sending out machine-gun style queries for all items everywhere which is a waste of everyone’s time.