What if you could go back in time, right before you launched your first online shop? What advice would you give yourself?
That was the question we asked some of our friends and followers. One of the answers we received, deserves an article of its own.
My first online shop was amazing but it failed in less than one year. Here’s why.
My idea was unique, there were no competitors, everyone loved my product, but after 6 months, I was struggling to keep my online shop afloat. I was selling wooden 3dpuzzles right when the trend with educational toys started. My products were amazing. You could build a 3D model of a plane, car, submarine, spider, house, or of the Eiffel tower. The wood puzzles started from 15 parts and could reach up to 200. I thought I’m selling the next Lego and I’m going to leave my job and do just that for the rest of my life. In less than one year I had to close the shop because I couldn’t maintain it anymore.
When I started, I was working as an Account Manager for a beauty and cosmetic company. Although I hadn’t children of my own, all my evenings and weekends were spent in the company of my friends, the majority of which had one or two toddlers. What I noticed after a while was that every time we talked about kids activity, everyone complained about the pressure of keeping kids entertained but also help them learn new things. Educational toys were a big subject in this talks and at one point someone mentioned the wooden 3D puzzles the local kindergarten is using in their educational programme. Every mom and dad around the table thought they were amazing and would have loved to have the option to buy them for home use.
“That would be a great idea for an online shop, I thought” and that’s how the idea was born. I spent the entire week researching the subject online and was very excited when I found out there’s no other shop that sold them in the entire city. You could get them from Amazon or Alibaba, and some local bookstores had a few models in their offer, but there wasn’t any dedicated online shop selling them. I knew I was into something. I started contacting kindergarten and preschools asking if they would be interested in including such toys in their programme. Almost all the answers were positive. I started looking for a supplier and managed to get in touch with a producer in China. Things were coming together. All I needed now was a place to sell them – my online shop. I looked for a kickass domain and then for a platform that allowed me to sell them. I was a total stranger to e-commerce platforms so I did what everyone in my position would do – I asked a friend who was somewhat good at “internet stuff”. He used to run a personal blog so the first thing he recommended was WordPress with the WooCommerce plugin. He even offered to help me set it up.
And that’s how we end up with the first thing I wish I knew before launching my online shop:
Before launching an online shop, always ask a professional!
Friends are awesome and free advice is even great, but you don’t go to your friends for a surgery or legal advice unless of course they are licensed ophthalmologists or lawyers. Someone who’s really good at “Operation” doesn’t necessarily mean is the right person to go to for an appendicitis surgery. My friend is a great person, and no blame goes to him, as he only tried to help, but in business, it’s better if you work with experts from day one.
Here’s where things went wrong with WordPress and WooCommerce!
As I learned, WordPress is a great tool if you’re a published and it could be a great tool for e-commerce if you’re a skilled developer. I was none of these things. And neither was my friend.
Woocommerce was a plugin which meant that setting it up required a bit of skill which I or he didn’t possess. When we realised that, we did what would everyone do: ask someone who knows. The guy I hired did his job as best as he could in helping us set-up the platform but at the end, I wasted almost one month behind my plan and 500$ short.
So I finally had my store. I was able to upload products and there was a cart, and people could add products to cart and then go to checkout and then select pay on delivery and then order the product. Noticed anything wrong in the sentence above?
My lovely store only supported one payment method – pay on delivery! Which soon end-up to be a real big issue. My target audience was mostly young parents. People who had a 9-6 job and couldn’t be found at home during the day. Or had an issue with ordering stuff and receiving it at work.
That’s how we get to the second bullet-point on our list:
Before launching an online store, do your research!
By analysing the platform you’ll be using, your potential customers and the market, you make sure your website will include all the payment methods and delivery options your customers expect from you. In e-commerce more is better! My website would have been 8 years old today, but even in 2009, people expected more payment and delivery options than “pay on delivery”. Imagine launching an online shop today and not having credit/debit card or PayPal payments accepted.
And the research shouldn’t cover just platform features. If you’re going to deliver your products – how are you going to do it? By post? By courier? Do they allow late delivery?
Do you allow guest checkout? Do you send your customers a reminder email when they don’t finalize their purchase?
Is it easy to add new categories, images, videos? Is your content SEO optimized?
If your customers expect a certain feature from your shop, make sure it can be included. Now or in the future.
Talking about the feature takes to the third thing on my list:
Choose a platform that’s easy to maintain and develop.
This should be rule number one, actually. When I chose WordPress and WooComerce I didn’t know anything about e-commerce platform. I learned it the hard way.
After my store was built I found out that including additional features required me to involve the developer once again, which of course meant more money. Maintaining the platform was also a pain as the platform and plugins were constantly updated which led to weird issues popping up. So I had to always be in touch with the developer asking him to fix stuff. I was spending more money than I actually made by constantly fixing the same errors.
Time was also a resource I didn’t had. I had my job, and when I thought about launching my store I always saw it as something I could invest one-two hours a day, maybe more on the weekends and grew it until it may become profitable enough to become a full-time job.
In the first months, I felt like a had a second job which turned the experience into a drudge. I had no time for myself anymore and even though the shop was selling puzzles, the profits were low as I was spending money on the developer. After 9 months I decided it wasn’s something I could keep up doing. So I decided to sell everything I had in stock and then close it.
By that time I sold 2356 puzzles to 357 individual customers. The average order value was 35$. During that time I’ve also spent close to 900$ on development costs.
I still own the web domain and dream about having the store re-launched. I would probably do things about a bit different now!
Written by Paula M. Edited by Ionut Constantinescu