In late 2013 I and a few others were recruited to build up the Moomin brand’s online presence (and a few other’s) and get their e-commerce operations off the ground. We were in for a tumultuous ride but we learned a lot. Structured chaos – that’s any new company’s natural state of being and boy was there chaos. Here are 10 things I wish I had known when we started.
1. Logistics is everything
In our case we needed a partner who would store, pack and ship out items – scale globally – and be relatively cost effective. In my opinion there are two things that make or break you – getting logistics to work economically and reliably and getting customers to trust you – and one affects the other. Once word gets out that you don’t deliver (pun intended), you’ll have a hard time recovering.
2. Traditional marketing is overrated
After other members of the team left the company in August of 2014, I found myself having to choose – keep going like before or start over. I rethought our strategy, cut all of our marketing, hired the best content producer I could find and shifted all our resources to making engaging stuff that would appeal to our audience. It paid off and we shortly doubled our visitor count, as well as our sales.
When you spend marketing money on getting exposure through someone else’s platform that money is gone – but when you create well made, tagged and optimized content, it will keep on delivering – forever. Some businesses naturally need to use marketing to compete, as we initially did, but having a content strategy is a better solution in the long term.
3. Experience is key
Selling, selling and selling gets old real fast but if you wrap it in some sweet content and engage as well as connect with people, you have a winning concept. There’s a saying – you should either have a great service or great support, preferably both.
4. Create a solid foundation
When it comes to development work I strictly put everything in two piles – must-haves and nice-to-haves. Must-haves are payments systems, store fronts, content management systems and anything that you can’t really live without to make your business work, while nice-to-haves are usually smaller stuff like language support or currencies – things that do influence your conversion rate but you can live without.
I tend to think that whatever you develop will be obsolete in five years anyway if you don’t iterate. In most cases I would go with a ready platform (we combined WordPress and Shopify) compared to making a custom system – since a business is more about finding a set of repeatable profitable processes than making something work perfectly from a technical standpoint. But don’t build your business on someone else’s platform if you don’t pay for it or if you can’t hold them accountable any other way – as it might be gone tomorrow.
5. Mostly it’s just basic math
One general rule of thumb is that 20 percent of your your customers account for 80 percent of your revenue – and it tends be true for other things as well: one fifth of your visitors engage more than the rest and get in touch with support issues. If you take good care of this active minority you’ll have more revenue, fewer support issues, better word-of-mouth and a smoother ride.
The same basic rule applies to conversions – the simpler you can make the path to a purchase, the more conversions you will have. It sounds simple enough but it has to be thought through and engineered. Say you get 100 people to your store – statistically only 1-2 of them will make a purchase, and you will probably have spent money to get them there. That means that you can calculate how much each visitor needs to spend and how much you can use to get them to the site. You can also calculate your approximate monthly or yearly revenue with: amount of visitors x conversion rate x average order value. Everything comes down to basic math.
6. A bad experience can be turned into a good one
Eventually you’ll mess up and regardless of who’s fault it was, you’ll want to apologize and make up for it. I personally believe that anything can be fixed with a swift personal response and an action that’s proportional (and a bit more) to the damage that was done. The order was significantly late – the shipping fee is on us or your next order ships for free, something arrived broken – we’ll ship you a new one and give you 20% off on your next order. The key is getting customers to vouch for you – and to return.
7. Be consistent
When you start building an audience and a client base, you kind of make a set of promises. You promise to deliver after they pay you, you promise to fix the situation if something goes wrong and you promise to keep your business running in a way they expect you to.
I believe that you should be open with your promises and we implemented a set of rules quite early – things such as always delivering daily posts about product news and global events, promising a permanent 10 percent discount to anyone joining our fanclub, keeping our delivery costs consistent and offering free shipping for orders over 150 €. It gives visitors a reason to come back and creates loyal customers.
8. Be yourself – be different
Selling online is no different from selling in a brick-and-mortar store – everyone appreciates good service and in the end it’s just about interaction between people. But somehow the faceless nature of online makes businesses act that way – and that’s why any business with a personal touch will have an advantage over those who do not offer great support and shopping experiences. It might also make sense to use your CEO as a front, is he/she is up to it and charismatic enough.
9. Go mobile – go global
We went global from day one since it made sense from a business and brand perspective. We ship out of Europe and our sales are currently divided 50-50 between the EU zone and the rest of the world. Had we not gone global, our volume would simply not be enough as a large part of our potential customers are in Asia, and increasingly so. Further, only 20 percent of our sales come from mobile but half of our visitors browse the shop and site on their smartphones – and that’s with an optimized user interface! In a few years, the majority of your visitors will come through mobile (and they are already if they’re in Asia), so prepare accordingly.
10. Keep on going
Any new business endeavour is initially an uphill climb but what sets businesses apart is how people deal with it. When it comes to global e-commerce there’s really no going back and if your business logic is sound and you keep at it, eventually you’ll make it. Keep your costs down, get cash flow at any means possible, make sure you have enough runway and keep on going.