Interview between Jo Bindley MD of Vinyl Exchange and Jan Klin
How would you describe your company and its mission?
Vinyl Exchange is a second-hand record, CD and memorabilia business, established in 1988, with 2 shops in central Manchester. We buy, sell and exchange items from the ’50s to the present day. We are open 7 days a week and currently employ 24 members of staff, each with their own area of expert knowledge. In a world where recent technological advances can pose a threat to our business (downloading, eBay leading to less use of middlemen such as ourselves), we are aiming to take advantage of the potential benefits of these same changes (selling to a global clientele online through our website, using eBay ourselves etc).
How long have you had a website and what is its main purpose?
Our website started in 1998, and underwent a major revamp to its present bespoke form in August 2004. We list our rarer and more interesting stock online, and customers are able to buy online through a secure shopping cart system. The website is constantly live, and automatically updates as items sell.
Does the site work for you? ie deliver the benefits you were expecting?
Yes it works well, and levels of sales continue to increase. The challenge for us, as our retail shops become quieter, is to increase our online selling. The downside of this method of selling for us is that it is more labour-intensive to list and display items with full descriptions and scans than in the old days when we could stick a sleeve out in a record-rack for a customer to browse at his leisure.
What is your online marketing strategy? – which methods do you use to attract potential customers?
We sell on eBay and Amazon and use this to introduce customers to us and direct traffic to our site. We selectively advertise on a popular music discography website (www.discogs.com). Not to mention your site optimisation and search engine work which is very successful for us!
How does your online activity mesh with your offline marketing?
We push the website’s existence via all our print advertising, whether in magazines, directories, our carrier bags and signage in the shop. Only a small proportion of our stock online is currently available to customers coming into the shops (though we are aiming to expand this proportion significantly in the coming months), so it’s most important that our regular customers are aware of our online store.
And vice versa, we encourage online customers to visit us should they be in Manchester.
How much business do you do on the web?
Online sales have at least doubled over the last 2 years, and now form approximately 20% of our total turnover. As shopping habits continue to change, we will be aiming to increase this to 40% over the next 2 years. This may, in the long-term, result in our reducing our high street presence, with attendant savings in rent, rates and maintenance costs.
How do you see the future regarding your online activity?
We need to increase the percentage of our stock that is simultaneously available online and in our shops to take advantage of the global clientele still interested in collecting music in its physical formats. The number of our local customers will fall over the coming years as younger generations will be accessing music solely in digital format through their computers and MP3 players. We are developing our EPOS system to enable this.
The website will need to be maintained and improved, so that we stay abreast of customer expectations when they’re shopping online. For example, we hope to be introducing soundclips of many of the items, so that customers can listen to tunes prior to purchase. And any technological advances which speed up the data entry process need to be incorporated.
What is the single biggest lesson you have learned about your web activities?
That we need to apply the same high standards of customer care to online shopping as in our high street shops. Putting ourselves in the shoes of the customer and trying to provide what they might be pleased with, rather than what is technically most convenient for us is key.
That running an online presence is not necessarily labour-saving.
That you need to have high standards in your equipment and staff at every stage of the online selling process, e.g. it’s no use having a fantastic website if the mail-order department is under-staffed and overwhelmed, or having a great database system but an incredibly slow scanner, which massively slows the data entry process.
Can you imagine life without a website?
Not now. For anyone in our line of business, the future would be bleak indeed!
Thanks Jo – Anything else you want to add?
You can find us (and many thousands of fascinating items) at www.vinylexchange.co.uk! where you can get rare cds, promo cds and rare dance vinyl.