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Will writes on subjects from retail to media, politics, entrepreneurialism, science and technology. He previously worked for The Australian Financial Review in Sydney and Canberra.

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Bigcommerce gets online biz out there

Published 14 November 2012 11:05, Updated 21 November 2012 07:33

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Bigcommerce gets online biz out there

Phoebe Yu sells products made out of organic bamboo: blankets, singlets, linen, underwear. It’s the sort of niche product that would be hard to fill a store with, but as Yu has demonstrated, it can work online.

Her Melbourne-based business, Ettitude, turned over $350,000 in 2011-12, more than three times the previous financial year. “And next year we’re looking at tripling that,” she says.

Ettitude is one of 30,000 online small and medium businesses that use the Bigcommerce network. Together these businesses have turned over more than $1.2 billion since the e-commerce network was founded in 2009. BRW has valued the fortune for Bigcommerce founders Eddie Machaalani and Mitchell Harper at $110 million. They have raised $35 million in two rounds of venture capital from Boston-based General Catalyst Partners to fund future growth, particularly in the US.

Yu began her business in 2008 on a different e-commerce platform before switching in 2010. “The business really started to take off after we switched platform,” she says.

Bigcommerce helps with her marketing, allowing her to run campaigns, display product reviews and engage with social media platforms. The business runs out of her two storey townhouse in Preston, in Melbourne’s north – the bottom floor functions as Ettitude HQ; she lives on the top floor. It costs her $79.95 a month for her Bigcommerce gold account. “It’s nothing really,” she says.

Gavin Hogben is one of the founders of Sporting House Direct, a chain of bricks-and-mortar stores that launched a website using the Bigcommerce platform just under a year ago. Hogben says for them it was about diversifying the business. “It’s a case of: if you can’t beat them, join them,” he says.

More than 15 per cent of retail sales are now done online and Hogben says it is by far the fastest growing part of the business. He estimates it takes two full-time staff members to run the online business – one to load products and take care of site maintenance, and another to process online sales.

But he does caution against those who spruik the low barriers to entry for online retailers? “I keep reading all these stories about how cheap it is to do business online. I don’t entirely agree with that,” he says.

He rattles off a list of costs – payments to PayPal, eWAY, money spent on Google optimisation, higher labour costs for packing, along with his Bigcommerce monthly fee. “If I looked on my bank statement, I’d probably horrify myself,” he says.

But, despite all this, he says the online business has broken even.

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