Practical Ecommerce

Errors Made By Ecommerce Site Owners

Ecommerce owners do a lot of trial-and-error work on their way to building a successful operation. Along the way to success, it often becomes clear that the road could have been less rocky if a few things were done differently. Hindsight is often painfully clear. Several ecommerce owners outlined what they would do differently, if they had the chance to start over.

SHANE MCKENZIE, PRESIDENT/OWNER

WEBSITE: Thesunglassmanonline.com

SELLS: Sunglasses & accessories

ANSWER: I would spend more time learning how a site’s design can impact conversion and search engine rankings. I would take more care with product images; improvements in this area really improve sales.

DEBRA KILLEN, OWNER

WEBSITE: Myembroideredgifts.com

SELLS: Personalized gifts for all occasions

ANSWER: My answer is really two-fold, but both ideas work together. To build my site, I would choose a well-rounded platform — one that would grow with my store. The second and more important thing would be to hire someone to design my website at the very beginning rather than trying to do it myself. My time is best spent developing products. My money is best spent paying someone who really knows how to design a website.

ANNE CAVICCHI, OWNER

WEBSITE: Maternitycorner.com

SELLS: Maternity, nursing and baby clothing, accessories and gifts

ANSWER: I would choose proven shopping cart software and a proven host. Initially, I used a program written by an acquaintance. I soon realized it wasn’t going to do the job for me, so I switched to MIVA Merchant. I had to basically rebuild my site and re-enter all my products. When it became apparent my host wasn’t all that great either, I had to switch that, too. I would have made more sales sooner — and I would have saved myself a lot of aggravation and work — had I done this in the first place. Live and learn!

SIMON MILLINGTON, PRESIDENT

WEBSITES: Golfoutletsusa.com (USA) and Thesportshq.com (UK)

SELLS: Golf equipment

ANSWER: I wish we had better understood the marketing angles that really serve to grow a business. Over the years, it’s to be hoped that you will figure out what performs best, but we could have been more up to speed with search engine optimization and affiliates. Pay-per-click was a quick solution and worked well, but we missed out on the volume of traffic other methods produce. Things move fast with ecommerce, so it is vital you move at the same speed.

NORMAN VAZQUEZ, OWNER

WEBSITE: Unclebeanz.com

SELLS: Premium specialty coffee, roasted per individual order, on demand ANSWER: Use a website host that has flexibility. We chose our first host because it enabled us to build our website using its templates. It was a decent and functional site, but we quickly outgrew it. In retrospect, I can see that we gave up flexibility in order to get our site up and running quickly. Don’t rush. Select a host wisely, preferably with 24/7 support. If you don’t, you’ll end up spending time rebuilding a site at a time when you should be growing your business.

MARK HEVERLY, OWNER

WEBSITE: Ebait.com

SELLS: Fishing tackle and equipment

ANSWER: Paying for website submissions to search engines was not worth the cost, and it was the first thing we eliminated. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of website optimization. Create web pages that are keyword-rich to help drive you to the top of the search pages.

JULIE LEE, OWNER

WEBSITE: Juliesjewels.com

SELLS: Diamond and Moissanite Jewelry

ANSWER: I would have researched and learned more about marketing an online business, and I would have spent more time measuring the items that truly matter — like conversion rates. I would have focused more on branding, and I would have concentrated my marketing efforts on the products that generated the greatest ROI. Unfortunately, I haven’t always spent my time and money wisely.

Practical Ecommerce

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  1. Legacy User March 1, 2007 Reply

    WEBSITE: KidRecliners.com
    SELLS: Child Furniture & Learning Supplies
    ANSWER: Many of these people mentioned shopping cart selection. I think that's right on. One of the things you want to make sure your cart/site has is product feeds. Eventually you're going to want to get your products onto eBay, Amazon, Bizrate, Nextag, Google Base, etc. If these feeds are automatically created for you, you'll be much better off.

    — *Craig Clark, Co-Owner*

  2. Legacy User March 1, 2007 Reply

    All of the comments are interesting and enlightening, but without much detail impart only general ideas. Guess I don't understand the lingo sufficiently. Ah, yes, more to learn!

    — *Karen Gross*

  3. Legacy User March 1, 2007 Reply

    WEBSITE: Followfunction.com
    SELLS: Modern design
    ANSWER: Our business model is not quite as unique and creative as the products we sell. If I had to start over, I might use the knowledge I have now to create something a little more original. We are in a highly competitive market, and distinguishing ourselves has not always been easy.

    — *Jeff Benzenberg*

  4. Legacy User March 1, 2007 Reply

    This is a great column/post and I would love to see more like it that give real challenges faced by small businesses launching or running an ecommerce site. There is so much to learn and this site is quickly becoming a favorite.

    Lynda Keeler
    Delight.com

    — *Lynda Keeler*

  5. Legacy User March 1, 2007 Reply

    WEBSITE: Great-Save.com
    SELLS: Soccer equipment for Goalkeepers
    ANSWER: I would have focused more on usability and making sure the buying process was as easy as possible. Initially you can get caught in a rush to get the site live, but those initial visitors and impression they create of your business from your site are very important. As others have said, search engine position is very important — so make sure you evaluate your shopping cart system carefully for SEO possibilities.

    — *SIMON LILLY, DIRECTOR*

  6. Legacy User March 1, 2007 Reply

    An excellent article! It's always great to hear experiences from people much like myself.

    I'm no ecommerce expert, but at the moment I'm working on an ecommerce website which I'm hoping will bring in a stable income. Reading experiences and mistakes from others much like myself helps me make sure I focus on what I might one day regret not doing (as this article points out)!

    — *Joe*

  7. Legacy User March 1, 2007 Reply

    WEBSITE: Babyplanetboutique.com
    SELLS: Fun new products for babies, toddlers and moms
    ANSWER: I wouldn't have been so rushed to go live. Once I decided to open a business, I just wanted it to be up and running as soon as possible so I could start to see some return on my investment. However, by doing that, I took a few shortcuts that in the long run probably hurt my sales rather then helping them. It's better to just do things properly from the beginning and know that you have a nice, well-put-together site that will be enjoyable for consumers to shop at.

    — *Danielle Burgi*

  8. Legacy User March 3, 2007 Reply

    WEBSITE: TrueRenu.com
    SELLS: Japanese beauty and health products for skin, body and hair
    ANSWER: First of all, this is a great questions with lots of great answers.

    After three years running, we now have some cash flow to make some serious changes to hopefully increase sales — all to correct mistakes we made during startup:

    1) Get a real designer to provide a more slick look and feel. A website should project the philosophy of the products sold… in our case, our customers (mostly female) should feel like they are shopping in Japan. $5,000-$10,000 may seem like a lot to spend, but we're thinking of lifetime value and the small amount of incremental sales to pay for it.

    2) SEO, SEO, SEO! First, a good designer will build in a lot of the basics to improve overall and individual page ranking.

    3) We believe our cart (CandyPress) and host (CrystalTech) were good decisions, so no changes there. BUT, we are going to move from Access to MSSQL-based database to improve speed and traffic handling.

    Thanks for a great mag and article – hopefully more like this to come??!!

    — *Eric Bernhard*

  9. Legacy User March 3, 2007 Reply

    I would have gone with my current shopping cart sooner. After a lot of headaches, I learned that you usually get what you pay for when it comes to shopping carts.

    http://www.edufurniture.com

    — *Cole Webb*

  10. Legacy User March 2, 2007 Reply

    WEBSITE: TrueRenu.com
    SELLS: Japanese beauty and health products for skin, body and hair
    ANSWER: First of all, this is a great questions with lots of great answers.

    After three years running, we now have some cash flow to make some serious changes to hopefully increase sales, all to correct mistakes we made during startup:

    1) Get a real designer to provide a more slick look and feel. A website should project the philosphy of the products sold… in our case, our customers (mostly female) should feel like they are shopping in Japan. $5,000-$10,000 may seem like a lot to spend, but we're thinking of lifetime value and the small amount of incrementl sales to pay for it.

    2) SEO, SEO, SEO! First, a good designer will build in a lot of the basics to improve overall and individual page ranking.

    3) We believe our cart (CandyPress) and host (CrystalTech) were good decisions, so no changes there. BUT, we are going to move from Access to MSSQL-based database to improve speed and traffic handling.

    Thanks for a great mag and article — hopefully more like this to come??!!

    — *Eric Bernhard*

  11. Legacy User March 6, 2007 Reply

    I have had a online business for two years and haven't seen a lot of income. After reading the comments above, it's obvious I need to create a new website.

    Thanks for the good info.

    I sell Sirius satellite radio and electronics.

    http://www.djswholesale.com

    — *djs wholesale llc*

  12. Legacy User March 7, 2007 Reply

    WEBSITE: Fleecies.com
    SELLS: Blankets, bedding, quilts
    ANSWER: We have many mistakes in common

    When I went online 5 years ago, I was bootstrapping and had to go cheap – meaning I built everything myself in FrontPage, all HTML pages, no database, no web designer and a cheap ecommerce solution. Now that we have grown, in both products and business, I am really hampered by the lack of scalability and the difficulty in updating the site. Transferring over to a real ecommerce cart and database solution will be a major undertaking. Now that we are moving forward in building other sites, we are making sure these facets are in place before we build.

    — *Gena Saunders*

  13. Legacy User March 8, 2007 Reply

    WEBSITE: Millcraftfurniture.com
    SELLS: Maintenance-free outdoor furniture
    ANSWER: I would have had a designer do the website. I actually need to do that now!

    — *Josh Brown*

  14. Legacy User March 8, 2007 Reply

    The most often heard response I hear is (paraphrasing):

    "I would have weighed the value of doing it right the first time, rather than working "on the cheap," only to wind up spending more money in the long run."

    This translates to budget analysis – building for the future. It's key to build with room for growth. It does require a bigger investment up front, but it sure is a money-saver in the long run.

    — *Pamela Hazelton*

  15. Legacy User March 11, 2007 Reply

    Thank you for the helpful article and comments. In August of last year, I decided to start a small online business. Three months into the process I was overwhelmed by the number and intricacy of decisions I needed to make regarding web development, web hosting, shopping cart technology and payment gateways. I decided to put everything on hold until I had educated myself sufficiently to make cost-effective decisions.

    Now I feel confident about what features and services I need. I know what I'm shopping for, but I'm still unsure about the competence and reliability of the myriad providers out there. I would be very appreciative if any of you who are pleased with your web developers, shopping carts and web hosts would mention them by name. Alternatively, it would also be helpful to know which providers to avoid. Thanks so much.

    — *Carmen Garcia Ruiz*

  16. Legacy User April 15, 2007 Reply

    Most helpful all around info. and comments.

    It seems that the growing and constantly evolving ecommerce marketplace is the way of the future. Thanks so much.

    — *Vic Gold*

  17. Legacy User May 4, 2007 Reply

    One thing I have learned about getting an ecommerce site is always ask the company/designer who is going to build your site for you if you will end up with ownership of the backend code (content management system). If you don't, you could end up being 'held to ransom' to that company who doesn't tell you from the start that they only license the content management system to you. This means that if you want someone other than the company/designer to do some work on your site, you probably won't be able to, and any small changes may end up costing you an arm and a leg! So be wary of this when you start out.

    — *Karen Walker*

  18. Legacy User May 15, 2007 Reply

    Excellent article that has obviously triggered a good amount of responses!

    Personally, I have experienced the following issues:

    1) I would have done a great deal more research on the shopping cart solutions available. I started out with StoreSense (hated it – 45 online sales in first 6 months) and then moved to Nexternal (love it – 1350 online sales in first year with them). I used Volusion for my second and third ecommerce websites and have decided they are exactly what I want and need and more.

    2) Pay-Per-Click Spending – I would have focused more of my marketing dollars at the beginning of my business on hiring SEO consultants to optimize my website correctly, from the start. I spent WAY too much on pay-per-click without seeing any improvement in my organic results for my top keywords. Let a firm like US Web do it for you correctly, from the beginning, then use what marketing dollars you have left on pay-per-click.

    3) Finance/Accounting – I let my finance and accounting responsibilities falter during the first year and a half of my business and have been struggling to get caught up ever since. My advice? Hire an accountant. Don’t try to do it on your own.

    4) Merchant Accounts – We all hate them for the power they hold over us but regardless of how mad they may make you, ALWAYS remember that they are the ones in charge…not you! Whatever they tell you to do…do it. Also, be sure to read word for word the merchant agreement that you sign. The more you know the better.

    5) Affiliate Marketing – Affiliate marketing is a strategy I’m able to utilize now that I have an established business and I’m able to offer unique products at competitive prices. Currently, sales through affiliates accounts for approximately 20% of my sales. The concept is great – let other people do the selling for you. The more people you have out there that are selling your products through you the better. My advice: Establish your online business first and then with a year or two behind your belt sign-up with Commission Junction’s advertiser program. The cost may be a little steep for an online company that’s just starting out but the return on your investment is definitely worth it.

    Lastly, remember that your online business is just as real and worthwhile as Joe Retailer’s brick-and-mortar store down the street. The only difference is that he has a ton more overhead to worry about!

    — *Robert Ferguson*

  19. Legacy User October 12, 2007 Reply

    I am contemplating starting an e-commerce site. Learning from others' experiences is very valuable. This is a great board

    Peter
    http://www.speechempoweredcomputing.co.uk

    — *Peter Maddern*

  20. Legacy User January 10, 2008 Reply

    All the feedback from e-tailers here is invaluable to newcomers to the world of e-commerce and to people (like myself) who are studying the field of e-commerce.

    All the real-life experiences and lessons learnt provide a pool of knowledge.

    I for one have learnt several invaluable lessons:

    1. Have a properly designed website that allows for Content Management and is scalable

    2. Choose wisely the Shopping Cart solution intended for implementation

    3. Get professional assistance with the important aspects of your business

    4. Do not substitutecompromise getting started properly for getting started quickly

    Keep the great info coming !

    — *Shawn B*

  21. Paul August 30, 2008 Reply

    Yes I read things like these before, and I don’t doubt they are important.
    Keywords are esssential if you want to rank better and better in search engines.

    Website optimization is also crucial, but I’ll have to dream with it, because although I do believe it is crucial, the comedown is that I hardly have some money to pay for my domain registration rights plus a 49USD membership at a professional translators’ community website.
    And that’s it… so far.

    Paul A. Dom

  22. acotis September 2, 2008 Reply

    Acotis Jewellery

    PPC has worked for us, then to optimise our website for the best keywords that produce the best ROI.

    http://www.acotis.co.uk

  23. Janis Krums September 5, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for the suggestions. I am in the process of starting a new ecommerce business and have been very careful to do everything the "right" way from the start. After reading the above article and comments I feel good about the research I’ve done. But there is a long way to go!!

  24. lorilamb October 16, 2008 Reply

    Thank you! My head is SWIMMING because I have been trying to find for weeks the right platform for my business – and I stumbled upon this blog and thank goodness! I have a small budget and from what you all are saying, it’s better to spend money initially to make it in the long run….

    I want to create a very specific, whimsical feel for my store which will be called "The Magical Dolphin" and will sell metyaphysical gifts and multi-cultural icons. I was wondering if anyone here knows of a creative web-designer in conjunction with reliable e-commerce service (fairly reasonable in price?). Thank you for any information you can provide~

    Lori Lamb

  25. lorilamb February 3, 2009 Reply

    It’s here!

    http://www.themagicaldolphin.com

    thanks for all your input!

    Lori Lamb