Inside the life of an online seller: How two beauty stores built their business from home

If earning more income is one of your New Year resolutions, you may want to consider getting into online selling. Sure, it’s a small operation compared to the likes of Sephora PH and BeautyMNL, but it’s proven to be a lucrative one. Shoppers still appreciate having a trusted suki who can give recos and address issues at a personal level, and it’s easier to give feedback on what products they’d like to see next! But, how to start? We got in touch with two popular online sellers whose shops we’ve frequented and trust.

Mae owns and runs Mei Satsuki, a shop that primarily focuses on, but is not limited to, authentic Asian beauty products. Most come from South Korea, Japan, and Thailand but she also proudly carries local brands. Occasionally, she offers random items like trendy Korean drama merchandises and food products, so it always interesting to browse her digital shelves.

Have a full time job? Don’t let that stop you! In addition to her 9 to 5, Sharlene manages Lannel Boutique. Her store is dedicated to all things beauty, from skincare and makeup to beauty tools and supplements from the US, Japan, and South Korea.

We asked both women about what it’s really like to run their own businesses, and how they turned them into successful ventures. Read on for a glimpse into the life of an online seller!

What made them decide to get into online selling?

Lannel Boutique started operations on November 2012 when Sharlene began selling random stuff online as a hobby. “I super love online shopping!” she explains. “I really enjoy online shopping so if I could sell stuff online, [it feels] just like shopping but actually I'm also earning!”

Meanwhile, Mae started selling in 2011 while she working as a nurse and as an ESL teacher to Japanese and Korean students. “I wanted to earn extra money for the family (because) I have four kids and my job was not enough to support us,” she says. “I love skincare and makeup, and it was really fun when I started out selling and marketing the items back then.”

Mae’s part-time gig proved to be a great idea. After a few years of selling online, she branched out to having a concept store booth in 2015 and joining bazaars in 2016. By 2017, she put up her first physical store in Los Baños, Laguna.

How do they choose what products to sell and source them?

Both Mae and Sharlene are on their toes for popular and trendy products, especially the ones that suit our PH weather. They also sell them in the most competitive price they can.  

“I always source (from) other countries with zero or no tax so that it will be way cheaper,” says Sharlene. Mae states that she has Korean direct contacts and suppliers. “They contacted me since they see me actively selling in social media.”

What does it take to manage an online shop?

“Our shop has two sales staff who also handle pre-orders and online shipments. Before, I used to do everything alone with the help of my husband,” says Mae. Her daily work schedule includes updating her shop’s social media, sharing beauty posts, answering inquiries, preparing shipments, and checking on her physical shop - all while still doing housework and running personal errands! She muses, “[Online selling] might seem easy since it allows you to work from home, or basically anywhere. In my case, it’s easier since it’s fun for me, but it is still difficult work, especially if you have to pay taxes, do inventory, source items, take care of big shipments, customs or shipping problems, and deal with difficult customers.”

From answering inquiries to sending invoices and packing for shipment, Sharlene does everything solo even with a regular Monday to Saturday job. She gets occasional help from the people around her but mostly she works on her own. She shares,“It really looks easy on the outside but there’s a lot of energy and passion needed to put into the shop. At times, it [may] cause more stress than a normal regular job because some clients expect you to respond to their inquiries 24/7! Once we ship packages, [the service] really doesn't end there. We have to make sure that the packages arrive at the doorstep of our clients.”

How can buyers avoid getting fake products?

Both Mae and Sharlene offer a general rule of thumb: look for an account profile photo, check the followers, and browse through buyer responses and feedback. Additionally, Mae suggests looking for social validation. “There are many big beauty groups, and they are quite reliable if you ask if the seller is legit. If they have a Shopee account, you can also see the seller’s ratings.”

How do they earn and maintain the trust of their suki?

Sharlene makes sure her customers receive the best products and service from her, so that they are encouraged to keep coming back. She says, “When customers become my friend, that's a very rewarding and memorable experience for me.”

“I’ve had my share of experiencing rude customers but I am happy to be surrounded with very supportive and loyal customers. They trust my shop and buy from me even if there are other cheaper sources, but service is not as good or they are not sure if it’s legit,” Mae tells us. “I’m a beauty junkie, and I love using and sharing my new finds with my customers. They trust the recommendations that I give them. All my suki are memorable, and it feels great when they share their feedback or say thank you for the freebies they get, especially whenever they think they got the wrong package because there are so many freebies!”

What is their advice for those who want to get into online selling?

From Mae: Start small. Be patient. Work hard. Be creative and have fun!

From Sharlene: Sell what you believe you can sell without hesitations and doubts! You can always try it out first with your family and friends who already believe in you. Lastly, having patience and being organized are [important] so that you can spread happy vibes to your products and most especially to your clients!

Find Mei Satsuki on Instagram, Facebook, and Shopee. Shop Lannel Boutique on Instagram and Shopee.