How COVID-19 Has Forced Small Business Owners like Julie Yoo, Owner of ‘I Miss You Vintage’, to Move from Local to Global Markets

Julie Yoo is the owner of I MISS YOU VINTAGE, a Toronto-based vintage fashion shop. Like many other small business owners before COVID-19 and quarantine, her online presence was minimal, and she was heavily relying on her established local clientele. But with the new restrictions implemented more than a month ago, she had to transition to a completely online retailer reaching global markets and new customers.

(Beyond Fashion Magazine): Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your business? 

(Julie): I Miss You Vintage Inc. specializes in luxury designer label resale for men and women. We offer a carefully edited collection of gently pre-owned runway label clothing, bags, shoes, jewelry, and accessories from past seasons at a fraction of the original retail price. We support conscious commerce and play a key part in keeping the fashion life cycle circular by providing an outlet for fashion-conscious shoppers to resale their pre-owned and unwanted designer label goods. I Miss You accepts new items daily and will help you put your closet back into use. I began selling antique and vintage pre-owned fashion over 20 years ago and have been running a resale fashion business since. My academic background is in Fine Art History and Museum Studies and while still a student working in museums and galleries, I began selling online on eBay and at vintage clothing shows as a hobby. In 2005 I took the big leap and gave up my 9 to 5 job along with what felt like everything I went to university for, to open my own boutique on Ossington Avenue here in Toronto. I have always had a passion for fashion and loved using my keen visual sense to pick out what is valuable and relevant amongst the sea of discarded second-hand goods. Shopping second had taught me that style is something you can have regardless of the price tag on a garment. To this day, my love of fashion and fashion history still translates into all parts of my business. 

With all the quarantine measures going on right now, how has your business strategy changed? 

The COVID-19 quarantine measures are bringing unprecedented challenges to businesses and the temporary closure of our bricks and mortar store has forced us to rely on e-commerce as our sole revenue stream. We are using this opportunity to add more inventory to our website and online marketplaces like eBay, enhance our digital marketing strategy and increase our reliance on social commerce tools. Right now, I am thankful for the time we spent over the past few years focused on developing an omnichannel business strategy. Now, we’re already well established online and seeing a steady source of revenue which we would not have, had we relied solely on our physical shop. 

What were some challenges you had to face this transition? 

With an omnichannel business, customers could access our product by phone, online, through social media, and in-store. We always found that our customers liked a bit of both. Many would be looking online at home and then come in to try on an item or pick up their online order in store. Others would shop in-store and then pay for their purchase over the phone. But with the physical store being closed, we are now fulfilling all of our orders by mail, accepting web-based payments, and communicating online. We have also adjusted our return policy for items involving size and are providing digital return ship labels for those who can no longer try on or return items in person. One of the main logistics challenges we have faced as a consignment business is continuing to receive new merchandise while our retail store is closed and being able to examine items to authenticate and evaluate them for resale. While stuck indoors, people have lots of time to dive into their closets and sort through unwanted items and it’s a great time to turn their closets into cash. We are continuing to appraise and edit items remotely through photos and video, and buying out or consigning new items. Normally we rely on walk-in drop-offs from our regular and new consignors so we have had to come up with creative new ways to make it easy for people to get their items to us. We are offering safe-distanced curbside drop-off by appointment, local porch pick-up directly from the Consignor, or providing pre-paid shipping labels and postal pick-ups directly from Consignors’ homes. 

How long have you been using eBay and how is it working out for your business? 

We have been using eBay since 1998 and have always relied on the marketplace to showcase our items to an international and national online shopping audience. eBay’s reach of over 180 million active buyers guarantees significant traffic and exposure to high net worth buyers that are looking for luxury fashion goods. We also like how eBay provides a safe and trusted way to sell globally with a seller protection program. A significant percentage of our sales come from the marketplace and I couldn’t imagine running a successful business in today’s retail market without it. 

What are some tips you can share to gain more exposure online and attract more clients? 

As more customers turn to online for their products and services, it’s the perfect time for businesses to shift to an online strategy and leverage e-commerce. It is important to have a comprehensive digital marketing strategy to help drive traffic, grow your brand, and increase revenue. Social media marketing and social commerce play a large role in our online sales and have helped us to consistently grow our audience through engagement and reach, showcase our product and build our brand identity, and continues to drive significant traffic to our website. We also use SEO, pay per click advertising, content marketing like blog posts to attract a specific audience, and email marketing to build customer retention and loyalty. Our eBay store also highlights all of our product listings in one convenient branded location for shoppers. We manage and promote all of our offerings directly through the platform including showcasing featured listings, running sales and promoting our store using customized email marketing. 

If you could go back a few years ago, would you change anything in your strategy or how you were running your business? 

Although e-commerce has always been a part of our business strategy, I would have dramatically increased the number of items we were putting online. In years prior, we had only listed about the top 10% of our in-store inventory and were selective as preparing items for online listing is labour-intensive and an additional cost. And when you are already busy keeping up with the high-volume pace of a busy brick and mortar store, the online effort can become an entirely new job. But as we have learned during this pandemic, the more you list online, the more you sell. Looking back, I also wish that we would have created our own website earlier than in 2018. Prior to that, our online presence was solely on third-party platforms. Since many of the marketplaces that we used were US-based with prices listed in USD, almost all of our online sales were to international buyers. So for a long time, our online marketing strategy was geared towards a global international audience rather than a local audience which is kind of the opposite of most businesses. But today, we list items across multiple online channels to create a more globally inclusive e-commerce strategy. Sales on our own website and eBay Canada are almost exclusively to local and national buyers and we have shifted our marketing to include being able to bring our physical store conveniently into the homes of more Canadian buyers. 

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