Wednesday, 30 May 2012

How to set up an online business and sell stuff


I popped down to Manchester Central today to catch a couple of the seminars at the Ecommerce Expo 2012Here’s some key points I noted down to share with you... 


10 things we learnt from setting up our own ecommerce business – Neal Slateford, Co-Founder and Richard Longhurst, Director & Owner – Lovehoney

Lovehoney had some impressive stats, which I didn’t write down, sorry. I do know that they’re self funded, starting with a few thousand pounds and then the two founders injected £15k more in each in order to expand further. They fulfil 60,000 orders a month now and last year they bought the luxury erotic boutique Coco De Mer, which was founded by Sam Roddick who is the daughter of the daughter of Body Shop founder Anita Roddick.

Designed to sell: the anatomy of a successful online business – Richard Himsworth, Business Development Manager – Visualsoft eCommerce

I’ve followed Visualsoft for quite sometime now as they are pitched as one of the top fashion ecommerce solutions. They’re based solely in the North East of England with a staff of 99. Established in 1998 they now have over 500+ clients including Liverpool’s prestigious Cricket store and Manchester’s very own Hervia. 

It was reassuring listening to the speakers as they touched on quite a few things which I know and have learnt myself through trial & error, common sense, and all the online retail talks I’ve organised over the last few years for The Fashion Network. I also picked up a few new ideas and approaches for tackling new challenges.


Just give it a go

If you want to set up your own online business, you don’t need to be an expert in that field to begin with. Research your market and build from there.

Capital helps

You don’t need an office or a warehouse from the offset but having a little bit of money will get you started. Use that little bit of capital and push it as far as you can before you need to inject more funds or investment. 

Live within your means and give the letter headed paper a miss for now. 

Why you?

Everyone knows you need a unique selling point to give you an edge. Make sure you figure out yours and what your competitive differences are. Do you make your own product? Do you have product or services customers can only get from you? Do you have a unique content?

Retail is Detail

Extensive product descriptions which are easy to digest will help convert sales. Include extensive quality photography, buyer guides and product demonstrations to convince customers to buy. Even include what it’ll be packaged in if it will help make that sale.

Care for your community

Reward your forums, members, and facebook fans with offers and treats. With the date you collect from your community you can then send them relevant targeted information and marketing material. 

Make sure to publish negative reviews so that customers can trust the positive ones. Encourage customer reviews and user generated content with incentives to contribute.

Exceed expectations

Lovehoney offer a 365 day returns policy, the result is only a 8% return rate. They don’t ask any questions, just accept the returns and refund the customer hoping it will generate positive word of mouth marketing, and it seems to work.

Do whatever will make the customer happy – as long as it isn’t illegal.

Find good people

It’s hard to be successful without them and taking on staff at the right time instead of trying to do everything yourself can be the best way to move your site forward.

Go live now

It’s easier to change direction when you’re already moving. If you’re waiting until everything is perfect then you’ll be waiting a long time. Start basic and build from there.

You don’t have to spend money to get noticed

Silly ideas that you can PR and get national coverage for free often work better than big above the line promotions. The added bonus of getting into newspapers is that they’ll post the article online too with hopefully links back to your site.

Have fun

Chances are while you try and get your business off the ground you won’t be taking a wage home, so you better do something you love.



Make sure your site is easily to navigate through different ways of search in order to drive your customer around an array of products. 

Drop down menus are more scalable than left hand side navigation, so include key categories along the top of your site with drop down sub menus. 

Filters help funnel search and allows the customer to see exactly what is available to them in their size / colour preference.

Lifestyle images and promo units on your homepage tend to be more important than just a selection of product as they send your customer to more than one product, hopefully keeping them on your site browsing for longer. 


High quality photography is essential as it replaces the touch and feel process of buying product on the high street. Include packaging in images so customer can see authenticity and how their item will arrive. 

Change product titles across ecommerce platforms so you’re tailored to each customer and selling platform. For example eBay consumers are more price led, whereas Amazon consumers are convenience led. Also google loves unique content so you’re product is going to show up higher and more times than others.

Bullet point key features and give as many reasons to buy as possible. Include emotive information such as brand history or ethos. 

Instil trust by including things such as warranties, 100% secure shopping and authorised stockist. It may seem common sense and obvious to you that they all come as standard but advertising them reassures your customer.


Have clear calls to action when customers get to checkout. 

Make payment options clear and include as many options as possible. 

Advertise shipping rates before your customer gets to check out so that there are no shocks and abandoned carts.

You may be unable to provide live chat across your whole site but including it at check out can help secure sales by answering quick questions.

Forget making customers create an account in order to buy something, you can ask them to sign up after you have the sale. 

Get your customer to share their purchase by including social media buttons on their order. Include incentives to make sure they do such as discounts and free stuff.

(I just got 50% off a purchase in a store today because they asked me to check in or like them. Checked in, BOOM, half price thank you very much. I think people are well aware these days that nothing is really free and if that means “liking” something or leaving an email in order to get a discount or freebie, then they will. You’re basically selling your data and endorsing product in return for perks.)

Avoid trying to hit a moving target. Online trading and ecommerce is a rapidly developing industry. You can wait until all the big players have dipped their toe in new platforms and wait until everyone has decided to run with them before you invest money trying to conquer them.

1 comment:

  1. Online business setup is very hard and it is difficult to set up early. I think all the tips are useful to set up early online business.