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5 Tips to help your ecommerce startup succeed

Napoléon Bonaparte said "L'Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers". Or: "England is a nation of shopkeepers". Is it true, and did he actually say it?

The answer is no, he didn't say it. The pronouncement was attributed to him by Enlightenment philosopher Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, but the sentiment is correct and holds water well into the digital age.

The UK is ahead of the rest when it comes to ecommerce, with Brits buying more stuff online and more frequently than any other nation in both 2014 and 2015.

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Econsultancy thinks the speed of ecommerce growth in the UK is due to a combination of widespread internet access, early use of debit cards, a customer-service-orientated economy, good distance selling regulations and a relatively small geography that facilitates shipping.

Amazingly enough, despite the stats, the Official of National Statistics have estimated that only 9% of retail is currently done online.

So what about the people behind the stores? According to a study by American Express last year, the number one dream job for Brits is to run a store, ahead of being a musician, scientist or even a TV celebrity...

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Do you also want to get in on the action? If so read on because I'll help you achieve your business mission statement, which my own advisor and great Uncle John defined for all businesses as to "...consistently and happily make ever increasing lots of luvelly lolly."

1. You need to get your hands dirty

Starting a company is great and you can be the CEO but you need to realise that the CEO in a company of one person does everything, until you can hire, outsource or automate.

This is Valerian, who decided to quit his successful consulting career to run his own supplements business called Lifestyle Labs.

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He started his ecommerce business six months ago and goes to great lengths to make sure the customer journey is perfect. He does all the big ideas and high level strategy stuff but he also spends an hour a day packing boxes for new orders and has handwritten over 4,000 individual thank you notes.

Last week he generated £10k in online orders, which is a 5th of one of of his main competitors.

This fantastic success comes from seriously hustling, being willing to go to great lengths to make sure all elements of the business are dealt with. Be prepared to do everything you can until you can pay for someone to do it. As soon as you have the cashflow, hire or outsource where possible, as Valerian is now.

2. You need to test the market

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Bill + Mar sell high-end but affordable streetwear with great textures and prints. Everything is manufactured in London and Rita Ora, Ellie Goulding, Jessie J and Cara Delevingne have all worn Bill+Mar. Not bad in under five years, and they also managed to get themselves in to Topshop. Glamorous right?


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Yes very glamorous - but I know the first thing they did five years ago to test out their brand and garments, was going down to Brick Lane and set up a good old-fashioned market stall.

This was a great way to get early feedback before investing seriously in the company

This type of back-to-basics approach is essential to make sure you find a product/market fit, and get early feedback from customers. This is just one of many ways to easily and cheaply test out an idea before doubling down and investing in what works.


3. You need to realise that marketing is everything

I'm fond of the saying "the only business is the marketing business". But what does it mean? Two things to me:

  1. Everything you do that is visible to the customer is marketing.
  2. Marketing is what makes or breaks a business.

Your website is like a pipe, a funnel that you want to push people through. The question is, where do those people come from? You need to attract those 10,000 visitors before the funnel becomes important.


Thanks to for this excellent graphic.

So how do you find qualified traffic? Good marketing is the answer.

One of our clients, Negative Underwear, did such a great job of their PR that they received 100 orders on the first day - not bad at all for a startup with an Average Order Value over $100.

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Here's some examples of their press.



Here are some marketing ideas that work:

  • Run a pop-up or market stall in a popular area to get immediate feedback on your idea
  • Create a compelling story to pitch to journalists that you have previously built relationships with
  • Send your stuff to celebrities and hope it is worn and they are photographed in it
  • Create video content that is helpful or otherwise interesting, and build a high subscriber base
  • Send your stuff to niche vloggers or bloggers to get them to review it

Whatever you do, do not use the mantra 'build it and they will come'. This never happens. It takes a sustained, planned effort to build a following.

4. You need a website that converts

This is what we do everyday, so I should mention it.

Once you've managed to get an audience hungry for your wares, it's time to invest in a website that can convert as many as possible into loyal customers.

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If I had one minute to tell you how to make an ecommerce website, here is what I would say:

  • Visitors will judge your brand instantly on the quality of your website design, especially in industries that are design-sensitive, like fashion
  • Make sure your site works on mobile. Google actively penalizes non-mobile optimized sites, and over half of commerce traffic is still on mobile
  • Add trust marks and payment logos. Norton trust seal is a good starting point
  • Make contact information obvious and include a phone number
  • Include social proof as soon as possible, for example from customer reviews
  • Make your shipping clear and offer free shipping where possible. Set a minimum threshold if you can't offer blanket free shipping, this will raise your average order value
  • Get someone to use your website in front of you and fix any issues that you notice in their feedback

The following graphic from Econsultancy shows the common reasons people give for abandoning their carts. Try and avoid causing any of these and you'll increase your conversion rate.


Read '5 must-know tips to increase your online sales' for further help in improving your website.

5. Final point - you need to stick with it

Entrepreneurs and inspirational leaders are always talking about perseverance, self belief and not giving up. There's a reason for this - it's an important ingredient for success.

"I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance." - Steve Jobs

"Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential." - Winston Churchill

"Energy and persistence conquer all things." - Benjamin Franklin

Wise words.

Good luck with your ecommerce startups, follow us on twitter @alwaysmaking for more advice!

BY Alex O'Byrne

Alex is Co-founder at We Make Websites, the go-to Shopify agency for global commerce. We Make Websites design, develop and optimise e-commerce websites for the fastest growing brands on the planet, with teams in London and New York. Alex is an international speaker on ecommerce, brand and business growth.


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