Hipster e-tailers reveal their code: Anything too commercial is uncool. Uncool equates to no sales.

- September 26, 2014 6 MIN READ

If you’re a business owner in the 21st century and have never considered doling your goods and services online, chances are there’s lost revenue. Since the internet’s conception, ecommerce has become the go-to platform for the world’s biggest businesses to do serious business in.

But what if your business doesn’t only sell goods? What if it needs to sell an image or say, a type of lifestyle alongside the product in order to be viable in a global market?

This is where typical ecommerce principles can get a bit ambiguous with many site developers cashing in on the hoards of shop fronts moving online, as opposed to understanding the business needs and creating a unique user experience for that specific customer.

The current crop of ‘hipster’ businesses, or if you must be politically correct, the businesses which service a niche market of the alternative cool, are also the ones who are today testing the waters when it comes to selling a lifestyle ideal via the ecommerce space.

Two Australian online businesses that currently operate under these conditions are The Bearded Chap and HolyFunk.

Adam Porat, owner of the online store HolyFunk which specialises in unique vintage furniture says that they have found distinct characteristics from their customers who are considered hipsters. He says that by nature, these types of clientele are particularly loyal and faithful to brands they like and trust.

“They tend to have high expectations, however if you meet or exceed these expectations then they are more likely to spread the word through social media and word of mouth, both of which have been invaluable to our business,” says Porat.

Luke Swenson who is the founder of the online beard grooming store, The Bearded Chap, says that for his customers it’s a bit of a mixed bag, although the loyalty and brand allegiance is definitely there as well.

“Hipsters want to be ahead of the trend, discover something like a new brand, then brag about it and get their friends to follow. If it’s really exclusive like our brand, we’d usually see fairly good repeat business,” he says.

Swenson adds that this could also be a double-edged sword in that by trying to search for the next cool thing, these customers can easily push aside a brand if they find something else that reflects their ideals even more.

In any regard, the ecommerce space is undoubtedly the medium where businesses that serve this growing type of market can flourish beyond their niche. This has already been proven by Australian-based alternative fashion juggernaut Black Milk Inc. and their legions of rabid fans from around the globe.

In a recent story on Startup Daily, the brand’s head of marketing, Cameron Parker told us that as a label, they try to remain grassroots even though their current international customer base has grown to anything but niche. “We run our race and we design for the customer,” said Parker.

This is something that both Swenson and Porat have understood and are duly bringing into the local ecommerce space. Has it been a success amongst their target markets?

“As an online business particularly, there is no doubt that the market is growing significantly year on year,” says Porat.

“Whilst the thought of purchasing furniture online 5 years ago would have seemed crazy, today this has become part of our culture, which will likely become more ingrained in our shopping habits going forward.”

Swenson agrees and says that their market is also rapidly expanding. Luck did play a small part with his team being the first beard grooming product company in Australia to offer their Original Beard Oil product.

“Creating the niche Australia means we started with nothing and have seen our market grow and grow with more competitors entering the market,” he says.

“We are now the largest beard grooming product company in Australia with over 55 bricks and mortar stockists and customers in over 30 different countries.”

Ecommerce hacks to stay ahead of the hipster game

Both ecommerce and the hipster scene are nothing new to the internet. Merging the two together can however push businesses into unchartered waters and very quickly determine its success or failure. The general hipster code is that anything too commercial is uncool and in this game, uncool equates to no sales.

Porat says that from day one, they had placed a strong emphasis on ensuring there were regular launches of new products on the website in order to keep their range fresh and ticking over.

“Whilst we do keep one eye on trends and changes in the market, we like to keep our range unique and focus on being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to trends in the market. Designing our own pieces really gives us an edge on the competition and ensures our range remains exclusive and charismatic which is important to our customers.”

In Swenson’s case, unique packaging played the pivotal role of appealing to their bearded hipster market.

“We see ourselves as leaders in our global market; we focus on our R&D bringing quality products that do what they say they do on the labels to actually solve a bearded man’s grooming issues,” he says.

“By focusing [on it] in this way, we are able to release new product lines that no one else in the industry is doing and come up with unique limited release products that the hipsters kill to get their hands on.”

Bricks and mortar vs Ecommerce

Drinking out of a jar in an alleyway whilst sitting on milk carts is fine if you’re part of the hipster bar scene (or a regular purveyor of methamphetamine). But what if you’re in the business of selling specific niche goods? Would an ecommerce site really be better suited to your needs?

Porat thinks that his business could be a success as a bricks and mortar business. However, he has seen many limitations in the bricks and mortar model that it’s not something he even considered when launching HolyFunk.

“The additional expenses associated with bricks and mortar would ultimately force us to increase our prices, so our customers would be losing out. Furthermore, selling exclusively from a retail store limits your market to the surrounding suburbs. Contrast this to the e-commerce model where your audience potential in Australia sits at 23 million and you quickly notice the benefits,” he says.

Swenson says that he is positive if The Bearded Chap had launched as a brick and mortar store, it wouldn’t survived the early days due to overheads. Going the ecommerce route not only cemented his business in the early days, but as Swenson explains, “we actually created a completely new business model in the barber-hair industry, with multiple income streams from direct to online consumer and traditional wholesale stockist.”

Hipster marketing and site design

Site design and user experience are key players in today’s hipster ecommerce space. Add to this a well thought out social media strategy and you’ve built more than just a reputation – you’ve built a community that pays.

Swenson says that they started out with a push pull strategy where reached out directly to consumers through beard education videos, smart placement of PR articles and news across the internet.

“We made sure our site had quality content on it also so it ranks highly in Google. We’re ranked top 3 in the world on Google for beard oil and number 1 in Australia which we’re pretty happy with so far,” he says.

From there, The Bearded Chap began to gain a small cult following and used Instagram as a tool for their customers to recommend which stockists should have stock products based on quality of service and experience.

“Because we were first to market, we had the advantage of having the best barbers in the country to stock our products. From there the pull effect has worked with 10-15 barbers and wholesalers approaching us every week to try and qualify as a stockist,” says Swenson.

“As the market matures, we will push back out into the wholesale and retail channel on a domestic and global level.”

Porat admits that selling pricey goods such as furniture online is a challenge. How HolyFunk tackled this on their ecommerce site was through photography.

“If you can’t touch and feel the product, then customers need a large variety of good quality photos to leave nothing to the imagination,” he says.

“As our range is particularly visual, our marketing strategy has been adjusted to focus on mediums that incorporate images such as remarketing,  Google shopping, Facebook and Instagam just to name a few.”

Kirsten Knipp, who is the VP of Product Marketing at ecommerce software developer Bigcommerce, says that a majority of their artisan store owners including The Bearded Chap and HolyFunk are paying a lot more attention to things like site navigation and overall aesthetics.

She explains that these features have become a major priority for many of their trendier merchants and as a result, are developing more visually appealing and responsive templates that work across different devices.