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Anna Spargo-Ryan
Digital Strategist & Award Winning Writer

Anna Spargo-Ryan is a Melbourne digital strategist and award-winning writer.

Anna Spargo-Ryan
Digital Strategist & Award Winning Writer

Anna Spargo-Ryan is a Melbourne digital strategist and award-winning writer.

  • "We were successful because we always asked the same question: what's best for our customer?"
  • Booktopia won the 2014 Telstra New South Wales Medium Business Award, and is a finalist in the 2018 Telstra New South Wales Business Awards. 
  • "We track everything. Everything we do has got to have some sort of ac-countability around return on investment."

When CEO Tony Nash co-founded Booktopia in 2004, e-commerce was a fledg-ling industry. With a background in digital marketing, Nash invested $10 a day in Google AdWords. Booktopia has been growing ever since.

According to the 2018 Telstra Small Business Intelligence Report, only 9 per cent of small businesses use paid search marketing. Yet 83 per cent of customers rank search engines as important when finding a business. Nash talked to me about how technology helps Booktopia get closer to the customer.

Tony Nash Booktopia
CEO, Tony Nash from Booktopia explains that asking "what's best for our customer?" was key to their success.

Smarter: You were an internet marketer before Booktopia. How did that help you get started in e-commerce?

Tony Nash: I was a Google AdWords expert, through the internet marketing I was already doing with my brother and brother-in-law. I used that knowledge to manage a paid search campaign. I had a budget of $10 per day to start the company, and just focused on terms that I thought might generate sales. We used another company that managed our website and fulfilled our orders. They were already doing this for 80 bookstores. It took me three days to sell my first book. By the end of the year I was up to $100,000 [in sales] a month, and by the end of two years $200,000 a month.

I re-invested all of the proceeds back into our Google ad campaign, which generated more sales. Eventually, we built out own website, took a little warehouse and did our own fulfilment. We bought some shelves on eBay and hired a warehouse manager. We held no stock in the beginning. We were still doing internet marketing consulting on the side, while Booktopia continued to grow.

Smarter: What was the turning point for you?

Tony Nash: In the beginning, because we weren’t holding stock, we didn’t have much control over fulfilment. We were very slow – customers complained that they should have bought from Amazon. The turning point was when we started to keep books in the warehouse. We learned from sales history. To Kill a Mockingbird sold every single month, so we ordered it in and held it as a stocked title. 

What else is there? We started to fill up our warehouse and we continued to move to bigger spaces until 2014, when we moved to where we are now.
Nine years ago we had 135 titles in stock. Now we have 135,000 titles in stock.

Smarter: You’re an online-only business – how do other technologies help you stay ahead of your competitors?

Tony Nash: Our thinking is customer-focused. We’ve been doing that right from the beginning. We were successful because we always asked the same question: what’s best for our customer? 

We customise the experience for our customers. For example, shopping cart abandonment; there is a system that sends an email to the customer after 45 minutes that says, “You’ve left something in your basket”. We have a very comprehensive email marketing platform that enables us to upload the sales history of customers so we can send very targeted emails.

We don’t waste their time by not taking any sales history or browsing history.
We track everything. Everything we do has got to have some sort of accountability around return on investment. Everything’s being measured and assessed to profitability. We continue to ask the question: what’s best for our customers? What’s best is for us to be there in 20 years.

We measure ourselves by conversion. We’re always working out how to convert website visitors to a sale. Over four million Australians have bought from us and 1.7 million are repeat customers, and those repeats make up about 70% of our revenue over the past decade.

Smarter: What about the human element? Is everything at Booktopia automated?

Tony Nash: What I did was hire book people to merchandise our site. We’ve got algorithms running, and we’ve got experts who are poring over what’s in stock, what’s not in stock, what should be in stock. They’re constantly working with the publishers and collaborating with them to come up with ways to promote and innovate. Our experts know what to promote and where to put it.

In addition to the 18 customer service people in our Sydney Headquarters, we have an extended team in the Philippines who are doing first-level support for email responses – almost thirty people are in our customer service team. It’s about getting on the phone. Why? Because it’s better for the customer. We also have a technical team that has been trained on making sure they can help people with our own platforms.

You have to invest in that kind of stuff, or nothing will ever happen.

We have invested $9 million in automation in our Distribution Centre plus we have invested millions creating our own software for our website, Warehouse Management System, Content Management System and more. These systems interact with the physical automation, our team and our customers.

Smarter: Can you tell us about some specific technologies you use to be successful?

Tony Nash: We use Amazon Web Services (AWS) for parts of our website, to ensure it’s up and fast to respond. We also have some of our services hosted here in Australia. We use a variety of things. We do A/B testing of our site. We’re using heat maps so when people are navigating through a page, we can see where they’re going. Are they missing the button? 

We have a mobile strategy as well. We invested a lot of time and money into our mobile website to make sure it’s the best experience, because half of our customers are now coming to our website via mobile.

Smarter: What is Booktopia doing to ensure future success?

Tony Nash: At the moment, there are 31 million books out there. When you go into a good bookshop and you sit with someone, they say, “I’d like to buy a new book.” The person on the shop floor makes a recommendation and adds value. It’s our job as an online retailer to work out ways we can add value.

There are millions and millions of books and nobody wants to waste their time reading rubbish. More is not more. Even though we have five million books on our site, only 135,000 are in stock.

That’s what’s best for the customer.

*Originally published February 20th 2018. Updated August 9th 2018.

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