In part one of this interview, Helen Highwater talked about running her online clothing shop, Pin-Up Parade. In this part she explains how to make a home-based online retail business a success.


Think about the levels of service you’ve received when you’ve bought online – what made you happiest as a customer? Did the item come quickly, were you informed of any problems with your order in a timely manner, were you informed about the progress of the order? Was the presentation of the order attractive?


Based on what’s successful in the shop, I keep an eye on new items being released by my suppliers and also keep tabs on other suppliers. I was lucky when I saw the “Captain” dress by Bettie Page Clothing – I thought it would be popular and so ordered more than I would’ve usually and then it was worn on TV in Gossip Girl. It sold out many times over!


Check your website stats. Is there a trend with people coming by on a certain day? Does this affect the way you run the shop?

What about referral links – where are people talking about you online? Are they on the forums saying, “Oh yes, I love that shop, they’re really helpful and the dresses are gorgeous!” or is someone adding, “I wasn’t pleased with the service, they’re rubbish.”


Go where your customers go, so online, this is places like Facebook and Twitter and forums. The golden rule with using forums though is that you have to be an active member generally.

Blogs are popular, so I search for ones looking for paid advertising who might have an audience interested in my shop, be it ads down the side of the page or sponsored posts. As long as the blogger would buy the stuff they’re writing about and genuinely like it then it’s just a nice bonus for them to get paid for their trouble!

I sponsor some burlesque nights as well – Burly Q in Sheffield offers a gift voucher as a prize for the best- dressed audience member, Dr Sketchy’s Birmingham has a gift voucher to give in a raffle and Red Corset Productions received a donation in return for appearing in their programme and on their poster.

Competitions are quite good too – give-aways in conjunction with blogs is a good idea and Twitter retweet competitions seem to work quite well except do watch out because some people find them very irritating!

Print Media Not Effective

I did a poll of customers once and the main ways they discovered the shop was recommendations by friends, google searches, and forums. “Advert in a magazine” scored no hits at all!


Having a network of friends who similarly run shops is a good way to exchange tips and suss out best practice, although preferably not ones that sell exactly the same thing!


Web designers talk about successful sites having “heroin content” – are your visitors coming back time after time for more? Can your web design be better – the look and feel and usability?

Besides the galleries I have a Features section with articles and interviews and now also poems. So I try to keep up interest not only with what I sell but with the experience the customer has being at Pin-Up Parade.