“Lessons Learned” is a series where we ask ecommerce business owners to share their experiences and advice. For this installment, we interviewed Bob Shirilla and his wife JoAnn who own and operate the online gift store Keepsakes Etc and the tote bag store Simply Bags. Keepsakes Etc was originally established in 1982 as a traditional brick-and-mortar gift store in Canfield, Ohio. The Shirillas created the ecommerce component in 2000 and then closed their two mall locations due to “17 years of constantly increasing rent and chain store competition.” They launched Simply Bags in January 2008. The two online stores offer more than 2,000 products for sale between them.
Bob Shirilla offers his thoughts on their ecommerce successes and mistakes, below.
“We use the Yahoo! store platform and have been very satisfied. The hosted solution has eliminated the need for us to have a technical staff and allowed us to focus on retailing. The uptime is close to 100 percent and their support staff is second to none.
“Yahoo!’s Store Manager is user-friendly and very configurable. We personalize most of our products, and it provides flexible pricing options and color selections.
“Over the years, Yahoo! has constantly added functionality and upgraded its solutions to keep pace with ecommerce. I highly recommend Yahoo! Merchant Solutions.”
Credit Card Payments
“We use Moneris Solutions and have been satisfied with this product. It is directly integrated with our order management software and allows us to only charge customer’s credit card after the product is shipped from our warehouse.
“Moneris’ per-transaction charge is competitively priced and we are satisfied with Moneris’ customer support.
“We do not use PayPal or Google Checkout, but we are currently evaluating them.”
“About five years ago we installed Stone Edge order management software and are delighted with the results. Stone Edge software is fully integrated with our other systems, and seamlessly integrates both of our websites.
“It keeps track of our inventory, purchase orders, invoices and shipments to customers. Stone Edge has helped us improve all facets of our business, resulting in increased customer satisfaction.”
“Yahoo! store is a hosted solution.”
“We have a total of five employees. Three are totally focused on order fulfillment and customer satisfaction; one manages the business and performs all the purchasing and accounting functions; and we just brought on a full-time resource to focus on IT functions and marketing.
“During the holiday season we typically need to add two or three additional people to facilitate the order fulfillment process.”
Search Engine Optimization
“SEO is a key success factor in running an ecommerce business, and we do all of our SEO in-house. In the last year we have eliminated a significant expenditure in PPC [pay-per-click] advertising and shopping feeds, while increasing sales.
“Search engine optimization is an ongoing process that requires continuous attention. I recommend attending at least one SEO conference a year and reading Matt Cutts, Rand Fishkin, and Aaron Wall’s blogs daily.”
“During our peak holiday season we tried to drop-ship one of our highest demanded products. Our vendor failed to deliver and therefore we disappointed our customers. We no longer drop-ship and [we now] warehouse all products sold on our websites.
“We tried comparison shopping sites for about a year and could not achieve a positive return on investment.
“We hired a web developer to redo our website without clear requirements and timeline of deliverables.
“We started a large PPC campaign, and we did not have the resources available to check ROI on a daily basis. We were busy delivering the product and did not make small adjustments that would have saved us a lot of money.”
“Adding a full-time marketing employee has benefited our business tremendously. This person has focused on SEO, analytics, and a structured PPC campaign with a positive ROI.”
“We pay particular attention to inventory levels and reorder points. This allows us to ship most customer orders the same business day. Our employees analyze each order to determine best shipping cost and delivery dates between U.S. Postal Service and UPS.”
“When we evaluate a new product line, we typically began with a minimum product order and immediately began market testing with PPC campaigns. There is no shortage of products to be introduced. The key is quickly determining which items sell on your website.”
“We pay attention on a daily basis to current inventory levels. On a quarterly basis we evaluate and adjust seasonal reordered quantities.”
“For the last 20 years we have used Simply Accounting. However, we have had problems receiving the annual tax updates the last two years and will probably be evaluating a new vendor next year. A key requirement will be a seamless integration with our Stone Edge order management software.”
“We have been evaluating social media for over a year and still have not developed a strategy.”
“We are a small organization and our employees are very aggressive in controlling costs related to warehouse and office operating expenses.
“Also, we constantly evaluate product orders and request vendor quantity discounts.”
“Yahoo! provides a third-party customer satisfaction survey to each customer that makes a purchase. It has been many years since we have received a rating less than excellent or good. Each customer comment is read and evaluated for continuous improvement ideas.
“We focus on same day shipping. Internet shoppers are delighted with products that ship the same day the order is placed.
“Every product has a quality inspection when received into the warehouse and again when the product is packaged for shipment to the customer.
“A real person answers the phone every time it rings.”