STOCKHOLM, Sweden — In recent years, simple blogging tools have democratised mass media, putting the power of publishing in the hands of the many. Now, new e-commerce tools are having a similar impact in online retailing, radically lowering barriers to entry and enabling small business owners and hobbyists alike, who often lack the technical know-how and capital to launch their own traditional e-commerce sites, to set up simple online stores.
Online marketplaces like Etsy allow cottage industry ‘makers’ to launch their own e-commerce storefronts and reach a sizable audience, all for a modest fee. Etsy currently hosts over 900,000 sellers, attracts over 60 million unique users per month and handles about $100 million per month in sales, taking a 3.5 percent fee. “We strive to bring the personal relationship back into the equation of shopping and encourage getting to know the maker, knowing where your products come from and supporting independent, creative businesses,” Etsy chief executive Chad Dickerson told BoF.
Meanwhile, platforms like Shopify, a venture-backed Canadian company launched by Tobias Lütke, are enabling small business owners to set up simple online stores for an affordable monthly fee. Shopify currently powers about 50,000 active e-tailers and aims to add 30,000 more by year’s end. Total sales across its storefronts have grown from $275 million in 2011 to $742 million in 2012 and are projected to hit $1.5 billion by the end of 2013, according to numbers supplied by the company.
But perhaps nobody has lowered barriers to e-commerce entry more than Tictail, a year-old Swedish start-up that’s often described as ‘Tumblr for retail’ — a reference to the radically simple and popular blogging platform, recently sold to Yahoo for $1.1 billion — which enables virtually anyone to set up a simple online store and start selling in mere minutes. Launched last May, Tictail, which hit 10,000 stores in its first ten months, has raised €1.2 million (about $1.6 million at current exchange rates) in seed funding in a round led by Balderton Capital and European angel investor Klaus Hommels, with the personal participation of Spotify's chief product officer Gustav Söderström and Tumblr’s chief operating officer Fredrik Nylander.
“Our ultimate ambition is to become the world’s most used and loved e-commerce platform,” Carl Waldekranz, 27-year-old co-founder and chief executive of Tictail, told BoF. “Today e-commerce is so much about technology. But I want to remove technology from the equation. Creating an online store shouldn't be about technology, but about you thinking about the best way to show your products.”
Radical simplicity and ease of use are at the core of Tictail’s model. But there’s more. Tictail also prompts users to be good online shopkeepers with a rolling “to-do” feed that automatically generates and pushes daily tasks tailored to each retailer to improve its customer relations and help the store perform better, like reminding users to ship orders, email customers and market their stores on social media. Tictail also offers SEO advice, CRM support and full-integration with key social media services. What’s more, the service allows would-be buyers to subscribe to their favourite stores, much like on Tumblr, and receive messages when new products go live.
Tictail currently has 16,000 active users and is growing at 20 percent per month, despite still being in beta. Sales are ramping quickly as well. In fact, total sales on Tictail in the last three weeks (at time of writing) exceed those for the whole second half of 2012, according to Waldekranz.
The service has struck a chord with several fashion companies, especially indie brands and boutiques — some of which are represented in this guide to the best Tictail stores. They include popular Swedish denim brand Cheap Monday, which has thus far used its Tictail presence for virtual pop-up experiences. “We at Cheap Monday have created two digital pop-up stores with Tictail, one called the ‘Sneak Peek Shop’ where Cheap Monday's Facebook fans could shop our Spring/Summer 2013 Collection before our fashion show and one to offer [customers] our limited edition glow-in-the-dark collection.” Devi Brunson, head of digital at Cheap Monday, told BoF. “The pop-up stores have been a great way for us to give our fans something special and Tictail is an awesome tool for reaching customers in an innovative way — it's quick, simple, cost-effective and easy to apply creative ideas.”
Ermir Peci, retail manager of Swedish menswear brand and boutique, Lagom Studios, said that since the launch of its Tictail store the company had seen a 200 percent uptick in online sales. “It's a very simple e-commerce platform to learn and to use. Our sales have grown more strongly with Tictail than our last webshop we had with Textalk and it’s easier for customers to order and buy from. It has also been useful as a means to connect us to buyers.” Meanwhile, emerging designer and blogger Charlie May has not just one, but two Tictail stores. “I think it's a wonderful solution for young designers and creatives to be able to sell without paying the premium rates of stores like Big Cartel.”
Tictail is currently in talks with EBay, Waldekranz revealed, in order to increase visibility. Indeed, the founder has big ambitions for his small, but fast-growing ‘DIY’ e-commerce platform. “I want Tictail to become almost a reflection or part of what society looks like. We have these services that we use every day now — sites like Google, Facebook or Twitter. We forget that these services are companies.”
This article is sponsored by Magento, a company offering flexible and scalable e-commerce solutions used by more than 150,000 firms. Magento offers a range of resources, support and consulting services to help their customers get the most from their Magento deployments, including education, training, and developer certification program.