Blogshop businesses evolving, still relevant

Originally hosted on free blog sites, blogshops now becoming regular online stores while retaining more personal customer relationships and here to stay, experts say.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

The business model of blogshops is changing to resemble that of online stores and a sustainable one to go by, according to industry experts, who note these businesses exude greater professionalism yet maintain their niche in developing intimate customer relationships. Consumers, however, remain mixed toward online shopping.

As the blogshop industry matures, blogshops are also becoming more professional with a shift to dot-com Web sites, Leonard Tan, CEO of PurpleClick Media told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail. They now also offer standardized payment modes and clearly state terms and conditions.

Elaborating, Freda Kwok, senior consultant of BluGrapes, noted that many blogshops are migrating from free hosted Web log sites to a "full dot-com Web site" as a result of a large customer base and a growing volume of transactions, which require a more sophisticated navigational portal and greater backend support in terms of order processing, inventory and logistics.

In addition, these e-tailers are also hiring "relatively high-profile models" who are well-known in the "blogosphere" and moving away from bulk purchasing from suppliers to in-house design and manufacturing in order to carry their own brand and labels, she said in her e-mail.

"Although [high-profile] models are pricier and more costly to feature, they lend a hand toward sealing the status of the blogshop as a coveted brand," Kwok pointed out.

"There was a period where customers grew weary of seeing similar designs across the various blogshops. By having their own designs, blogshops [can] seal their particular fashion style attracting like-minded repeat and loyal customers."

Love & Bravery, for one, does not consider itself a blogshop because it no longer operates from a blog.

"We buy and pay a significant cost for server space to set ourselves apart from fly-by-night blogshops," owner Eunyce Yap told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail. "Our site is kept simple [in terms of] layout and we are careful not to clutter it with promotions that are so common on other sites."

Blog structure limiting
When quizzed on the definition of blogshops, Kwok explained that they used to be online shopping sites that operated out of free blog services such as Blogspot and LiveJournal. These storefronts started in 2007 and "hit [their] high point" between 2009 and 2010. As they lack a "shopping cart" system, they utilized the comment capabilities of blog services for orders.

Tan added that these blogshops had low barriers to entry with "hassle-free setup" and minimum development costs. They were also associated with flexible payment options not restricted to online payment systems, and higher business risk with less security for buyers and sellers. Issues such as hacking incidents or business cheats could arise, he noted.

Their views echo the business values of blogshop Her Velvet Vase, which owners say it has evolved to adopt features of both a regular online store and a blogshop. "We have the efficiencies of a fully comprehensive online catalogue and online shopping cart system, yet retain the personable service of a blogshop," Clare Chan and Magdalene Chan, co-owners of the store, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail. "Our customers are able to enjoy the best of both worlds."

The sisters added that the concept of blogshops is still young but has already evolved into a competitive industry and they would be "left hanging high and dry" if they were slow to adapt or innovate, or do not have appropriate products and marketing.

Creativity, tools needed to sustain online buying
With the growing ease of online shopping with consumers more accepting of online transactions, blogshops are here to stay, Kwok of Blugrapes said. Overseas online sites such as ASOS, Go Jane and Forever 21 are already popular with the Internet-savvy crowd and similarly blogshops can appeal with uniquely manugfactured items, she added.

Blogshops also have an "enhanced social aspect" whereby many of them operate alongside social media platforms such as Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and even personal blogs by the owner, Kwok noted. These multiple touch points allow users to know and engage with the brand on a "more intimate" level, and hence develop a stronger sense of loyalty, she added.

Looking at consumer preferences, it also "seems" that having multiple cheaper options appeals more compared to having a few high street or branded articles, she said. "It's this regard for choice, coupled with the affordability of [blogshop items] with impressive quality at times, that will make this a sustainable business."

However, Kwok stressed that only a few existing blogshops are thriving today.

Tan added: "Sustainability would depend on how innovative and smart blogshop owners are to further fine-tune their e-store in its buying process and landing pages. "More importantly, [they need] an in-depth understanding of driving targeted traffic to their sites using analytics and optimization tools to analyze visitor behavior and enhance conversions."

Tan advised that online channels and tools should be completely understood and utilized to complement each other, from online pull advertising, online push advertising, search engine optimization (SEO) and e-mail advertising to social media.

Consumers ZDNet Asia spoke to, expressed mixed reactions on whether they enjoyed their shopping experience with blogshops, despite the evolution of the blogshop business model.

Entrepreneur Lee May Ling noted that she still experienced purchases that looked different from what had been presented on the Web site and "what [she] saw was not what she had".

Lim Pei Qian, an account manager concurred, noting that the clothes often do not fit well on her petite frame, given that the models used by blogshops are tall.

Others had beef with the quality, range and purchasing process. Model Shn Juay, for one, commented that the fabric used for apparel she buys off blogshops is "lousy".

Tiffany Low, a graduate from Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, described herself as a consumer who is "always looking for new and adventurous styles to try". She said it was disappointing that blogshops generally offered "safer choices [which] appealed [only] to the mass market" and hence "lack creativity and exclusivity".

Regular shopper Lim May-Ann added that there was "no regulated manner" when it came to placing orders even with those who had shopping cart systems. "Consumers still often pay through Internet banking before the item will be sent out," she said. "[They are] absorbing all the risk and must pay extra for registered mail if they want the item [to be] 'accounted' for."

On the other hand, media producer Melissa Yuen revealed that she enjoys shopping with blogshops because she could avoid "battling the crowds in malls" and she "can shop anytime, anywhere".

Research officer Joy Lim added that some blogshops have talented individuals who design their own clothes and shoes, and therefore have an edge over physical shop brands, which tend to mass produce. "If more capable designers start online stores with apparel far more attractive than the mainstream ones, more [of us] will definitely choose to go to blogshops more," she said.

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