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Book review: The Insider’s Guide to Ecommerce: 440 Business Insights For The Ambitious Online Retailer

When was the last time you had a pencil and pad at the ready, stopping to take notes as you read a business-related book?

When was the last time you kept interrupting yourself: thinking out-loud, researching the points raised, and logging in to check your statstics?

When was the last time you had an actual smack-your-head moment of realisation as you read said business book?

I experienced all of these as I read The Insider’s Guide to Ecommerce: 440 Business Insights For The Ambitious Online Retailer.

Written by Chris Barling, the English chairman of UK shopping cart software company SellerDeck, the book calls on his 16 years of ecommerce knowhow accumulated through supplying online stores to SMEs in the UK and beyond.

Divided into nine sections and 33 sub-sections, the 440 tips touch upon almost every aspect of online selling, from how to generate traffic and sell products to managing fraud and processing orders efficiently.

The sections include Marketing Your Website; Embrace Social Media,; Selling; Operations; Market Places; Advanced Ecommerce; Customer Relations, Recommendations and Repeat Business; and Final Thoughts.

It seems ideally pitched at those who have some – but not vast – ecommerce experience. Experts will be across almost everything here but for smaller online retailers like me, you’re sure to learn enough to justify the £12.99 fee from

The insights range from those which the English would say, are “the bleedin’ obvious” to real nuggets that make you sit up, inspired to take action – or alarmed that you haven’t got this area covered, as the case may be.

The UK prices quoted here won’t be applicable to anyone outside Old Blighty, but anyone with even a passing knowledge of currency rates will understand the ballpark costs, such as for transaction fees, you should expect.

Barling devotes a chapter to Google Analytics about which I am, embarrassed to admit, quite unfamiliar as I use Woopra. To be honest, it was thanks to this book I discovered how much more Google Analytics offers now.

You’re probably aware Google Analytics has a Social tab which you can use to find out which facebook offers, Pinterest images, LinkedIn updates or Tweets have performed better than others. That you can check your pages’ loading times. And that the program now has a Real Time overview of who is on your site.

If Google Analytics evers offer chat, well, goodbye Woopra. It was as I read this chapter, that I was interested enough to pause reading and explore Google Analytics after years of virtually ignoring it.

I have never hired a search engine marketing company so I took lots of notes in the Maximise Pay Per Click Campaigns sub-section of Marketing Your Website.

The social media sub-section on Facebook and Twitter was enlightening, particularly in relation to advertising. Did you know Facebook users click on ads only 0.04% of the time? At first glance, that seems hopeless when compared with Google PPC, or is it?

Barling points out: “Comparing Google with Facebook misses the point. Google searchers are thinking about a problem and looking for a solution. Facebook users aren’t. It means that Google searchers are a lot closer to a purchase. That’s good, but there are issues. If you have a unique or new product which no-one knows about, then Facebook may be much better.”

There are 16 tips on shipping and distribution, with some overlap in the Selling Abroad sub-section, and 37 tips on selling in the eBay, Amazon and Facebook marketplaces. Each one has different advantages and disadvantages. You might be shocked by some of Amazon’s practices, however…

Giving customers good service is a point which is repeated probably more than necessary. Still, we’ve all been on the receiving end of poor service, so Barling cannot – and does not fail to – stress this enough.

While it is not a design reference by any means, for such a highly visual medium as online retailing, I was surprised there were no screenshot examples of home pages, emails, security logos, well-designed shipping pages and so on for an “insider’s guide”. What works? What doesn’t?

Overall, I thought this is a great primer for those about to launch an ecommerce store and a useful reference for those who have been selling online for a while and want both a refresher and tips to take it to the next level, such as selling abroad.

The paperback version is available now but being able to instantly reference key points on-screen via the PDF version may be even more useful to time-pressed online merchants.

The book will be available soon in the Kindle Store on Amazon for £6.49.

Elizabeth Hollingsworth
Elizabeth Hollingsworth
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