Most ecommerce entrepreneurs tend to niche down, picking a very specific set of products to sell.
But what about a store that sells, well, just about everything?
Usually, that doesn't end up working out very well. But, there are exceptions.
One of those is Alien Outfitters.
Powered by a strong brand that really knows their audience well, Alien Outfitters was founded by a girl named Ana Dee back in 2011.
Geared toward an audience of misfit rebels with a strong sense of self-identity and a lot of self confidence, this funky, quirky brand covers a lot of different product categories.
They've got knives. They've even got smoking and vaping accessories. Not to mention a huge selection of offbeat, unique clothes and accessories.
With a cool vibe, great visual branding, and a memorable sense of identity, Alien Outfitters has grown into a million dollar business.
In a recent podcast, Shopify interviews Ana about her niche audience, her social media strategy, and more. Check out a couple of the questions and answers below.
Felix: Very interesting niche. Interesting products that I just listed there. Tell us a little bit more about the business. Describe your typical customer to us.
Ana: Well, we started the whole online retail store in 2011. I started just like a lot of people, on Etsy and eBay, hand making a lot of my products. Over the past few years, we finally transitioned to Shopify and rebranded into Alien Outfitters. I like to sell that we sell a wide variety of unique items, all catered to girls who aren’t afraid to be themselves. We are the only online destination where you can buy clothing, blades, adult toys, and smoking accessories all in the same place. It’s a very unique website, and I’d like to say our customer is very unique as well.
Felix: Very cool. So all those types of accessories that you mentioned, they are typically ones that a lot of entrepreneurs avoid because it’s harder to advertise. I know you have advertising platforms that don’t allow things like adult toys, or any form of paraphernalia, that could be smoking or whatever else you might have on the store. Has that posed an issue for you in terms of getting the word out, because advertising platforms are, oftentimes tight about those policies?
Ana: Absolutely. It’s been a huge obstacle to overcome. One of the biggest was with our payment processor, because there’s a lot of payment processors that won’t allow that, along with social media platforms, like you suggested. But, I think it also is an advantage for our store, because there are not many online retailers providing the products we provide. As I pack the orders myself, I start to see these patterns of girls who are buying, for example, the adult toys along with the smoking pipes. It’s interesting to see that this customer wants to buy all of these things in one place. For the most part, they don’t want to do it in person, and online retail’s the perfect opportunity to do that. There’s definitely the advantages and disadvantages, but it’s nice to have a product that we can claim is exclusively available at our store, versus most clothing brands who offer similar items. It definitely has its ups and downs, but we have learned over the years that it’s more of an advantage for us than a disadvantage, I’d say.
Felix: It may be that you didn’t have a grand plan to grow your Instagram following to almost half a million followers at this point, but what did you do on a day-to-day basis back in the early days to get to your first thousand followers?
Ana: Instagram is tricky, and they keep changing it, which makes it even trickier. There are a few things I did. If we did have a competitor, I would go to our competitors page and perhaps follow some of their followers to say, “Hey, you might like what we have, if you like what they have.” Another example would be to go on the popular page and leave comments and likes to pretty much strangers, but just finding your audience and talking to them.
Felix: This is all like a manual approach that you took?
Ana: Yes. 100%. I know it takes time, and I’m sure you could always have a friend hang out and do it with you. Open some wine, and just go on Instagram and talk to strangers. But, anything like that, as far as manual work to get your posts across the board and engaging with the users is the most important thing.
Felix: Now, do you remember like an inflection point where that happened, where you were no longer the largest source of followers, and your followers started bringing in more people, I guess, than you were doing yourself?
Ana: Yes, it’s kind of a large gray area, and when you’re immersed in almost every aspect of the business, it’s hard to pinpoint those certain changes. But I feel like when we reached, I want to say, 250,000 followers, I felt like that was the tipping point because you used to get excited about every 50K you would get. Then, I realized our next tipping point’s going to be 500,000 and then it’s going to be a million. So, once you hit those numbers, it’s very nerve wracking and kind of bittersweet.
Felix: You mentioned that you are on a ton of platforms, and that any new ones that are gaining steam, you guys are trying to be on. What’s been the most successful platforms for you today?
Ana: So, I would have to say my top two right now are Poshmark, and I think it’s called Depop. I think that’s how it’s pronounced, but Poshmark, and Depop, they are two new applications, very similar to Etsy and eBay, kind of like the [inaudible 00:27:11]. But, they’re definitely two of my favorite apps that we’re using right now. You can definitely see the range of user are definitely more of our youth and a lot of Instagram famous models, they go on their page and promote their customers to shop their Depop closet or their Poshmark closet. So are, I’d say, the top two that we’re into right now.
Felix: When you do list a product on your site, what are you looking for to see if it’s going to be successful enough for you to order more, or if it’s not going to do well and you decide to put it on sale? What are you looking at?
Ana: I start with the numbers, starting with the sample item at one. Then I’ll buy four. Then it turns to 12, then to 24, and that is something I’ve just done over the years that has helped so I’m not investing too much, and kind of playing it safe from the beginning stage. It’s very different with every product. Once again, a lot of our items are so novelty that people will rant and rave about them on social media, but they won’t, perhaps, purchase the item for themselves, if it’s along the lines of a gag gift, would you say. But, again, it’s different for every product and there’s been times where we thought something was going to be great, and it didn’t do so good. Again, you just learn and move on.
Alien Outfitters is a strong brand with a unique vibe. Through great branding, a strong social media presence, and a fantastic customer experience, Ana has creating a thriving online business.
You can check out the podcast with the full interview in the original article from Shopify.