How To Build an eCommerce Brand


Smartebusiness will be exhibiting at eCommerce Show North this year.


Imagine for a second that your ecommerce store is a market stall, and it’s in the middle of a market square with all the other market stalls selling exactly the same stuff as you are. This is what online is like, it’s a really tough world and it’s very competitive. As a customer online, this is what they are faced with, an online market square with a number of retailers selling the same thing. So how can you stand out from the rest?

Imagine you are at the back of the market square, and the guys at the front are offering free delivery, and 365 days return, and if you buy today we’ll give you £20 off your order, and we guarantee to be the best price. And you’re at the back, saying well, we’re more expensive, our delivery is 3-5 days and our returns policy is non existent! Who would you buy from?!

Your value proposition has to be right… so make sure it is. Before you even come to think about building a brand, make sure the value proposition is right as this is the first step to success online.

Don’t compare yourself to the big retailers

The biggest mistake you can make when you’re still a small eCommerce store is comparing yourself to the big retailers, and by big retailers, we mean the brands that have multi-million pound advertising budgets. It’s so common for us to meet a new retailer and all they want to do is be like Made.com (for example.) but what most retailers don’t consider is that Made.com have been in exactly the same position they are. It’s taken them years to build their brand and they have been extremely successful, but everyone starts somewhere! Apple is also a great example. They can get away with just using their Apple logo because everyone knows who they are, but when they first started out, they wouldn’t have been able to do this. People would be questioning who they are.

A really cool trick is to use waybackmachine to look at what the big brands messaging/CTAs and USPs were when the started, its fascinating and really helps when thinking about your value proposition and your strategy for growing the business and your brand.

Are you selling problem solving rational products or emotional lifestyle ones?

Think about what you are selling. Products normally fall in 1 of 2 camps, its either a rational problem solving purchase or an emotional one. And this completely dictates what the ecommerce site says and does. Think about the differences between selling a luxury throw for the sofa or a car battery (these are 2 of our clients!) If I tried to get you to buy a car battery when you didn’t want one I couldn’t even pay you to buy one! But when you need a car battery it’s a life or death situation and you need one NOW! The car battery is such a problem solving rational purchase that you have only 4 hours to get the sale. But the luxury throw is such an emotional one that we might have 30 days to get the sale, and we’re selling the dream here, the lifestyle. You can see here that the brand messages are completely different and so the eCommerce site has to be also.

Are you selling your own products or is it your own brand?

This is a massive one as it will dictate your whole offering. Consider the differences between AO and Boohoo. AO sell other peoples brands, and the value is in the brands they sell, so they have to focus on ‘something else.’ They chose brand values of price, availability and service. We all know that it can be a nightmare when your fridge breaks or your washing machine and you need to get back up and running fast. Their speedy delivery and complete flexibility over timeslots instantly creates a fantastic experience for their customers. And to have them turn up and fit it for you and take away the packing for a small extra cost takes away the need to ring a number of tradesmen getting quotes, finding out when they can come over, and it may be two days after the fridge arrives. AO really have thought about what their customers want and it’s paid off hugely. Boohoo sell their own brands so this is a completely different proposition and focus for them. They focus on fast fashion and playing with the pricing architecture by offering time bound deals. They are fantastic at making you feel like you have to buy that dress right now or you are going to miss out and this works fantastically for converting those customers that may be just browsing.

The KPIs really matter,  and you need to know what they are.

At Smartebusiness, we could talk about this one all day, in fact I actually wrote a book about it! It’s something i’ve always been really passionate about throughout my 15 years at Smartebusiness when after some time working with retailers, I realised the key to their success was really all in the numbers. It’s just basic maths.

I can’t talk about this all day so i’m going to give you a whistle stop tour in 2 minutes!

We all know eCommerce revenue comes from traffic x conversion x average order values. i.e. its very much a mathematical equation, and a very simple one. Stop thinking emotionally about your eCommerce store and focus on the fundamental maths of the revenue. These are the basics, but when you delve a tiny bit deeper you can see where your eCommerce site is strong and weak within about 20 seconds!  The main KPIs you need to know about are:

·       Traffic – average is 50000 per month

·       Average Order Value – average is £50

·       Conversion rate – average is 2.7%

·       Add to basket % – average is 8%

·       Proceed to checkout % – average is 40%

·       Checkout to order – average is 85%

·       Internal search usage of overall visits – average is 9%

·       Internal search conversion is x4 average conversion rate

·       Overall bounce 40%

·       Home page bounce 25%

·       Category page bounce 50%

·       Product page bounce 60%

·       Average items per basket – 1.5

·       Average purchases per customer per year – 1.6

So, how do you compare to the above?

Own these, love these, they are your friends, and don’t stop looking at them, ever. They are the only things that matter in your world. This is why you are in business, and the only way to scale your growth.   

If you want, I can share our ecommerce KPI dashboard which puts all this together in a simple excel sheet and shows how you can grow over the next 3 years, its fascinating to see what the revenue can be if you tweak the kpis. Just email enquiries@smartebusiness.co.uk and we’re happy to share this with you or send over a copy of our book.

Once you have understood your KPIs and value proposition you can start thinking about your brand a bit more… so now you think about…

Why should people buy from you?

It doesn’t matter what your eCommerce site looks like, what ecommerce platform you are on, if people don’t want to buy from you, you can’t scale your revenue. It’s simple, you have to have something people want. Start thinking about all the anxieties people go through when buying your products, what are they worried about, write them down. Here’s some nuggets of wisdom I always tell our clients.

People trust the reviews, questions and answers more than the description you will write.

We can thank Amazon for this, because they really made us look at them, and so we should. People like them because they are real and we trust them. Social proof should be a huge part of any retailers strategy. Especially with the increase in influencers, and the use of video. We heard this week that instagram are moving IGTV to the feed and so video content is going to be used much more. This gives a massive opportunity for retailers to use this to not only tell their story, but to use powerful social proof like video customer reviews or product demonstrations.

Look at your reviews that are middle ratings as this is where the golden information is.

Reviews that are 5 out of 5 tend to say, ‘excellent, great’ and the reviews of 1 out oft 5 tend to say, rubbish, avoid! So we don’t learn much here, but if you look at the 2/5, 3/5, 4/5 you start to get some awesome insights. I always suggest categorizing them into groups e.g. how many were delivery related, or price related, and then monitor them over time.

Now you have all of the above in place, it’s time to start thinking about an emotional connection. You should have a well defined niche.

Do you remember the story of how the yoyo became the coolest product in the playground? It goes something like this…

They asked a child at school, ‘who is the coolest kid you know’ and he told them it was James. So, they asked James the same question, and he said Peter. They ask Peter the same question, and over and over until they found the ‘coolest’ child in the school. They eventually found that the coolest kid was a lad called Kevin, and they gave Kevin the yo yo. They knew that Kevin was the one child that influenced the whole school. This is exactly what Instagram is like. The rules haven’t changed. We are all still influenced by influencers whether we like it or not!

Building an eCommerce brand doesn’t happen overnight. You have to first ensure that the fundamental drivers of your business are in place, the value proposition, the KPI’s and then start to create that emotional connection with your customers. And remember, eCommerce is a process, and so you will always be making tweaks to keep up with your customer needs. The worst thing you can do is think that what is working now will always work forever. You will become stagnant and your customers will start to go elsewhere. Look at the buzz ASOS created when they introduced ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ so people could try on the clothes and send the ones back that they didn’t like, all without having to part with their money. It revolutionised the way people shopped and now a lot of fashion retailers are following in their footsteps. Innovation and new ideas will make you stand out from the rest of the crowd. But make sure you do your research and make sure your innovative ideas are going to delight your customers! After all, your customers are key!

Smartebusiness are eCommerce Growth Specialists that provide Paid Digital Marketing, Magento Development and Growth Consultancy Services. With a team of ex retailers that have worked in house for big eCommerce brands such as Lullabellz, Missguided, Simply Be and many more, Smartebusiness have 15 years eCommerce experience and are well placed to give retailers turning over between 2 and 20 million online some fantastic growth advice at the show this year.

We’re offering a free 1-2-1 KPI Growth Benchmarking session for retailers at Ecommerce Show North and we have limited spaces left at the show. Please email enquiries@smartebusiness.co.uk to reserve your slot.

I will also be on hand delivering an awesome speaking session about scaling from 2 million to 20 million. Be sure to watch the session and pop by to our stand next to the Magento theatre.
Written by Ian Hammersley – CEO of Smartebusiness, eCommerce Growth Specialists. And Author of The Ultimate Guide to Ecommerce Growth.