You feel your pulse racing as you click “add to cart”, the computer asks if you want to checkout or continue shopping and your heart skips a beat. When you are finally ready to checkout you realise that shipping is free because you’ve spent the required minimum and you vow to always spend at least that amount because it’s such a fantastic deal with free shipping included.
I really enjoy online shopping, it’s convenient, hassle-free and I like getting gifts so when the courier arrives I like to pretend it’s a gift to me. I’ve bought anything from organic cleaning products to baby and toddler clothing online. What I haven’t done though, is made the leap into buying furniture, art or décor for my spaces online. I don’t know why this is, maybe it is the fact that I like to touch and feel something before deciding if it will work with my space.
What I realise though is that I am cutting a huge part of the designers, artists, and creators out of my potential shopping pool. Because having a physical brick and mortar shop can be quite expensive many young entrepreneurs sell their goods solely from an online platform. Entire cottage industries exist purely because of the business activity happening on online marketplaces and even social media sites such as Facebook.
Say Hello to Pretty
Sam Marx, one of three co-founders of Hello Pretty, South Africa’s to designer marketplaces, says that it is exactly this opportunity for small start-ups and creative South Africans which gave birth to the concept of an online designer marketplace for South African products.
“In 2006 I did some travelling and visited the museum of African art in Paris. While there I browsed the gift shop. There was a tall glass plinth with a glass enclosure and muted gentle downlighting shining on a magnificent subject: a plastic chicken, one of the chickens that the guys at the robots sell.”
“I felt surprise, some confusion, and then amazement as I started looking at the little guy with different eyes,” recalls Marx. “I’ve always felt strongly about unemployment and how terrible it is that there are crafters and artists in South Africa who are dismissed by South Africans and earning little to no income. I started thinking, what if they could quit their jobs at the robots and instead run their own little online stores to sell their work to people elsewhere who were excited about it, and would pay much better money for it.”
Hello Pretty became a reality in 2012 and now hosts shops offering anything from jewellery, toys and clothes, to furniture and strawberry jam. Marx, who is involved with design, design implementation, social media, marketing, and business strategy at Hello Pretty says that the marketplace has some terms which they enforce strictly to ensure that the products on offer and the small businesses producing these products are of a certain standard.
One of these terms that the marketplace is particularly proud of is the restriction on unaltered imports. “Initially we allowed no imports at all but we loosened that up because we realised that we had small businesses making things using components that were imported,” she says. “They’re still local businesses who are creating, and we want them on our site.”
Hello Pretty isn’t only pretty, it’s safe too
Before entrepreneurs can create their stores Hello Pretty asks them to complete an application form explaining what the store plans on selling. Each application is considered individually before the store can be created. This coupled with the fact that Hello Pretty continuously and actively browses the site to ensure everything that is being sold on the online market place remains aligned to the ethos of Hello Pretty and ensures a pleasurable shopping experience for its users.
As convenient and exciting as online shopping may be it does scare those who have never shopped in this manner before. Marx says that to feel this way is understandable, as is concern about online safety when the world of online shopping is unknown to you. According to her Hello Pretty is very serious about having proper technical security to protect shoppers’ personal information. “Our reputation is very important to us; we don’t allow our people to be robbed. It isn’t good for business.”
For many of us the big mental block to embracing online shopping, especially for more expensive furniture or home décor pieces, relates to the fact that you do not actually get to see and inspect the item you are buying. You have to rely on pictures and the description given by the shop selling the item. When shopping from an online marketplace like Hello Pretty it would be best advised to contact the seller directly if you have bought an item and the quality is not what the online shop suggested it would be.
Marx explains that at Hello Pretty they train and try to encourage the small businesses that use the marketplace to handle these situations in a manner that the customer will feel is fair. “Sometimes customers come directly to us, we reply to them and set their minds at ease, letting them know that we will do all we can to set their minds at ease,” says Marx, adding that customers are often very defensive from the get-go because they just expect businesses do disregard them and their needs. “We contact the designers, and they tend to be really great in these situations, often sorting the thing out no-questions-asked.”
Hello Pretty’s top tips for online home décor shopping
Marx agrees that online shopping for big pieces in your home can be daunting, but says that that should not stop you from adding some of the beautiful and unique pieces that are on offer from these small businesses to your home. Hello Pretty has these eight tips for keeping online shopping enjoyable and rewarding.
Know the T’s & C’s
Before buying from any online shop or marketplace you need to know what the return policy is, if it is not set out clearly on the site send an e-mail asking for clarity. Because it is online shopping you want to be sure of your options in case something you’ve bought is not what you expected.
Ask for additional descriptions and photos
In most cases the photos are taken by the creators/entrepreneurs themselves, so close-up of details and finishes might be amiss. Contact the shop to ask for more details and clear close up shots of the item you are interested in. Check that the measurements are properly described and, if it’s a sofa, ask for close –up of the fabric. Find out how squishy or firm the sofa is and what type of fabric has been used.
Don’t be afraid to ask for customised products
You might find a rug or coffee table that you could fall in love with, if only that one detail was different. Because these are small businesses who are involved with every part of the production and design they might be willing to create something that fits your unique needs.
Use online idea boards
Browsing sites like Instagram and Pinterest will give you a clear idea of what you are looking for before you even start looking at online shops and marketplaces. Look for spaces and looks that match your vision to really get you inspired for your shopping, and if need be you will be better prepared if you have to ask for something custom-made.
Visualise the item in your space
If it’s something that will hang on the wall, make a paper cut-out and tape it up where you want it to go. If it’s a table, tape along the wall or floor to show how long and high it is going to be. There are also some very exciting technology that lets you build a virtual room to help you decide if certain aspects will fit in the room. Have a look here for some exciting tools you could play with.
Use online shopping to keep abreast of the latest décor trends
Right now marble with brass and copper detailing is setting the décor scene alight. It’s all over furniture and home décor. Clocks, serving platters, stationary, jewellery… Shopping online will mean you know about these trends and are able to incorporate them into your home before the trend even hits the shelves.
Keep it classy
You might love a green velour couch but it is probably not advisable to add it to your space. Most likely you’ll tire of it quite soon and where will you find someone else with your great love for green velour couches. It’s best to keep major items like a sofa, and dining room table in a style you love that is not too “out there”. Once you have these basic anchor items sorted in your space you can shop online for wacky items such as scatter pillows and rugs or dining room chairs for that matter. This approach makes it much easier to give your space a quick face-lift and also limits eventual buyer’s remorse when you realise that green coach is kind of hard to decorate around.
Think of the future
Just because you’ve bought a rather unique piece of furniture online doesn’t mean you are stuck with it exactly in that form forever. When you need a space make-over in future you could consider DIY-ing the piece of furniture, that will give you a completely new look. Later on, you can paint it, change the handles and if it has legs, change the legs. Some people will use wallpaper on furniture and open spaces too. If DIY is not your thing there are plenty of online spaces where you can sell the item once you fall out of love with it eventually.