Patrick Gill, co-founder and head of marketing at eCommerce Outdoors (TackleDirect, PennFishingStore.com, and IslandBeachGear.com), opens up about how to avoid his mistakes (notably his biggest regret) and improve your online store’s chances for success.
1. What are the three most important metrics that you track?
A. Conversion rates
We monitor both conversion from arrival to the cart and conversion once people are in the cart.
B. Inbound links
This is really important. Spending the effort on link building really helps build traffic and organic rankings.
C. Average order value
We’re constantly trying to grow this. Even if your conversion remains flat, if this number increases, then your revenue will rise, too.
2. For a new retailer just starting out, what are three things you would recommend they do?
A. Focus on a niche in which 1. you see a need, and 2. you are absolutely confident that you can serve the market better than your competitors. There is no sense in entering a market where you can’t do better than what is already available.
B. I encourage new retailers to really spend a lot of time in developing a great product database. Write your own product names and product descriptions. Gather accurate product dimensions. By creating your own targeted keyword content, you will rapidly generate traffic.
C. Understand that ecommerce is completely different than other types of retailing. I think a lot of existing small retailers with a physical store think that they can just launch a website and the money will roll in. An ecommerce site is another business. In order to really grow and build a profitable website, you have to treat it as your own distinct business. It requires time and money and dedication through a lifecycle where it can reach profitability. In my experience, it takes several years before sites are generating hundreds of thousands, if not, millions of dollars. There are, of course, exceptions such as Zappos, which launched after we did and is now doing around a billion annually. Two important differences between TackleDirect.com and Zappos; 1. they had much more funding, 2. they entered a much larger market. In contrast, our company is your classic small retailer in which we have to figure out how to do things on our own because frequently, an outsourcing budget is unavailable.
3. Benefitting from hindsight, what are some things that you did that you wished you hadn’t?
A. I wish that we had started with a real time inventory model.
B. I wish we had focused very early on developing a complete product database with all the product attributes you need to do things like really good site search, product merchandising and on-the-fly shipping calculations and up-selling. Creating this type of database after you’ve launched is an enduring headache.
C. Another missed opportunity was failing to create in-bound, text-based links. It would have been really nice to have had those from the beginning because we’re now working very hard to catch up in this area.
Finally, a decision that is in hindsight more strategic than tactical is selecting a really large market to pursue. While we’ve enjoyed really good success and been part of thousands and thousands of fishing memories all over the world, I wish I had picked a larger market. We’re the largest independent fishing retailer in the United States for some product lines and yet, we’re still a pretty small retailer in terms of sales. To balance this ceiling, we’re looking at expanding into different categories.
4. What single thing that you’ve done has had the greatest impact on your business?
It is really difficult to pick just one but I think the most valuable has been our Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts. We learned early how to do it well and it continues to be effective. We wouldn’t be where we are now if we hadn’t learned how to tweak page content. The time you spend today crafting your initial product pages will pay off hugely down the road. We see the benefits every day because even our new product pages have good ranking due to their interlinking with existing pages that are very highly ranked.
5. The proverbial magic wand…If you could wave one and invent some technology that would make your days easier, what would it do?
For us, the magic would start at the back-end where our current processes are separate, cumbersome and require time to talk together. The challenge is finding something that has the right amount of functionality at the right price. We’ve looked at ERP systems that can do lots of things but they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. What I’d really love is an integrated system that would handle our accounting, order processing, management and fulfillment. Give me something like that that wouldn’t bankrupt us and I’d be really happy.
Thanks Patrick for your insight. Now go take a day off and get some fishing in!