“As soon as we can get people interacting with us directly, they get a real sense of it. You can say all of these things about your business and your expertise, but it’s when they actually experience it for themselves that they go, ‘Wow, you guys really know your stuff.’”
The two husband and wife teams behind Mountain Bikes Direct had success offline before realising they could do even better online. Since 2012, they’ve supplied customers Australia-wide with specialist mountain bike equipment. Co-founder Jen Geale says e-commerce has helped to set the business apart by allowing them to have such a diverse offering.
Smarter: You’re operating in a very competitive industry. What is it about using technology that allows you to be successful?
Jen Geale: We are purely online. We don’t have any physical presence. We do, though, have a background – we used to run a physical bike store. If you’re just selling in a certain geographical area, that’s pretty much the limitation of your reach. By being purely online, we’re able to reach all the mountain bikers in Australia. It means that we’re able to justify holding more obscure parts, or items a small number of people are chasing. They are more likely to find it with us than at their local bike shop.
We can offer a larger range of products. Retail floor space is expensive, so we can make trade-offs like that.
Smarter: How else do you use tech in your business?
Jen Geale: Everything that we do is in the cloud. We have no software systems that aren’t cloud-based. That means we’ve got staff in multiple different locations in Australia and working overseas. We’re able to hire the best people, no matter where they are located, and have them working all sorts of odd hours according to when our customers shop.
We have live chat and customer service that really goes off on a weeknight, but we don’t have to be running a store with all the overheads at 10 at night.
Smarter: How does that help you to demonstrate your expertise?
Jen Geale: One of our customer service guys is a really experienced bike tech. He lives in Colorado in the States and provides customer service during our mornings. We also have a product suggestions channel in our internal company chat tool. There, he can say, a lot of guys around here in Colorado are talking about this product, have you guys seen it? That enables us to say, actually, no one is doing that in Australia, let’s check it out.
We’re able to pick up trends directly and see how they perform. Because we can buy directly from some brands, we can be more competitive. Instead of a fishbowl effect from all being in one place, we’ve got a really good spread of ideas and people, which is awesome.
Smarter: How do you use technology to communicate this brand value to your customers?
Jen Geale: In the past twelve months, this has been a really big deal for us. Prior to that, we’d had a lot of success with organic marketing, so we hadn’t done a lot of marketing. People had been finding us because we had the products they wanted.
The first thing we looked at was making sure that messaging was very clear on the website. We had it revamped. You’ll find there’s a little blurb about us on the homepage, and we do things like having a picture of the person on live chat – the true picture of the actual human you’re speaking to. We give them titles like “mountain bike expert”, which they are.
We also include business awards information. It helps us to show we’re not another random website, but that we are credible, that we’re professional. We’re not just going to sell you something and disappear.
Then we try to weave this expert image through our marketing. On social media, we introduce people to the actual humans they’re talking to. They can see we know what we’re talking about.
Smarter: So, you can use technology to show customers you’re experts?
Jen Geale: Yes, as soon as we can get people interacting with us directly, they get a real sense of it. You can say all of these things about your business and your expertise, but it’s when they actually experience it for themselves that they go, “Wow, you guys really know your stuff.” For example, we have a welcome series email for people who sign up to our mailing list. In one of those emails, we say, “Have you got a random mountain bike-related question? Hit reply.” People do it. They ask questions, and we can demonstrate our expertise.
The lack of face-to-face can be harder when something’s gone wrong, or if an order isn’t what someone expected. But we don’t just look at the practical points of an issue. It can be difficult in written communication, but we’re very conscious of how to help customers through each stage of the ordering process. Being online-only means we can offer a more comprehensive service time-wise. We can help more customers. We can help customers simultaneously. We can provide expertise between six a.m. and ten p.m.
You can’t do that with phone support or face-to-face. Being online allows us to respond quickly and really get on top of communication, which is why customers come back to us.
Find out more about how small businesses like Mountain Bikes Direct are finding customers. Download the 2018 Small Business Intelligence Report. This post is independent of Business Insider’s editorial team.