eRetail Therapy - Confessions of an e-ntrepreneur

So you want to setup an e-store? Make your fortune online, working from the end of your garden. How hard can it be? Very! Read on my friends.

Friday, 17 July 2009


Flashback to Early 2007

We took the decision to change web companies, I think basically because I was suspicious of how our previous developer could reduce their price to a quarter of their original quote in an instant. Our new developer could also provide reasonably priced hosting as well, although not as cheap as, which are basically free. In fact, if you’re just starting out and need a basic information only site and cheap domain purchasing I don’t think you can beat the Canadian doteasy.

Fluid took the existing site as a basic structure and went to working adding ‘their’ shopping cart. Once again, in retrospect I should have asked which shopping cart they would be using and took more time understanding the implication of how the payment processing process would work. More of why I should have taken an interest in all this later.

Anyways, once we’d got the basics of what the site was roughly going to consist of i.e. home page, about page, contact us etc Fluid quickly came up with the same list of question the Dr Aitch had. Unfortunately, I can’t find that list of questions, but the long and the short of it was “what are you going to be selling then and how would like it presented?”. Now you’d think that would be a pretty simple question and perhaps if we just sold a few pair of espadrille shoes it would have been. But we didn’t and it wasn’t. Our little shop actually sold quite a range of products from tablecloths and napkins, to tea towels, oven gloves, quilts, cushions, deckchairs, seat pads, bread baskets, fabrics, designer jewellery and a whole bunch of espadrilles. Now cramming all that into half a dozen categories and coming up with short & long descriptions that didn’t sound too crass was far harder that it sounded. In fact it took months simply because it was a task that seemed too daunting to even begin. I even remember taking the laptop on holiday and working on it (in South West France, of course). The whole project was now on hold while I struggled to decide what was going to be listed.

So what were we going to put on the site? Well, everything of course, it was our online market stall. And this is when I started to think the whole idea was crazy and we would never get it off the ground. Not only did we have something like 20 different types of product to list, we had 10 different ranges of design in each. Even with my basic mathematical skills I could see we were going to need 200+ good quality photographs to stop the site saying mostly “Under Construction”.

The project remained on hold……

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Cabin Fever

And so things ran along quite smoothly for the next few months. I didn’t really have any way of monitoring the website so I had no idea if anyone was visiting it. We seemed to have inherited a good organic ranking in Google but for what keywords I had no idea, as I wasn’t sure what keywords, meta-tags or indeed what an organic ranking was back then. I submitted the site to as many search engines as I could find, but never tried to get any back links, or tried to put our products on any third party sites.

The Christmas season was pretty good, but again and again we kept getting asked if it was possible to buy online and inevitably we came to the conclusion after about 9 months that what we needed was an online store.

It was time to go back to Dr Aitch and get an idea of how much this was going to cost. Surely it couldn’t be that expensive, after all it was just a matter of adding a shopping cart on the side of the current site, wasn’t it? But… didn’t someone saying something about that not being possible a year ago?

Bolting on the shopping cart of course wasn’t possible, being something to do with an incompatibility between metric and imperial thread sizes I believe and that meant a fresh start, more money, and plenty of it.

Dr Aitch gave us a very comprehensive run down of what was going to be needed and that list seemed to be extremely long, in fact it didn’t make much sense at the time, but as we progressed in trying to build the online shop I began to realise why the list was so extensive. However, that price still seemed extremely high, even after negotiations and especially considering what we had shelled out for the original site a few months ago. Then one evening at a less than sober birthday party we were recommended to Fluid Studios by someone whose name I now can’t seem to remember. Time for some competitive bidding I think.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Flashes Before Your Eyes – Part 2

Flashback to June 2006

Mrs G made an appointment for Professor Photo to make a house call whilst I was at work and he arrived with his bag of tricks and an expensive Nikon D2X. Now this was a man who knew how to take photographs and was also used to turning up and working with clients who knew what they wanted. When Mrs G said that we wanted pictures of some shoes, well, that didn’t really help much.

The Prof turned out to be a task master who had Mrs G ironing tablecloths, stuffing espadrilles and setting tables all day long. He took a relatively small number of shots that actually turned out to be photographs rather than my snaps, and if we had had some semblance of an idea about what wanted in the first place, Mrs G & He could have accomplished three times what they did.

Being a man of the camera myself I of course wasn’t keen to get involved, balking at the cost. Initially, I thought the results we ‘OK’, if not a little expensive, however, in retrospect and having tried to duplicate the good Professors work for several years, I can say in all honesty, sometimes it pays to get a professional in. At least 90% of the photos I’ve taken since we started have been consigned to the trash icon, but now I’ve started blogging and looking to refesh our site I find myself going back to his work more and more and thinking, “actually, these are really rather good”.

e-retailtherapy Fact No 3: Sometimes it pays to get a professional in, even if it does seem to cost an arm and a leg. However, make sure you prepare well first and ask their advice before you start. You’re paying so you need to make the best use of their skill set, in this case taking photographs and not discussing settings and the virtues of ironing tablecloths.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Breaking News - We're in the press!!

Breaking News indeed. Our little company espadrille made it into The Times this Saturday and one of my photos was featured in the magazine. How cool is that!

This is the photo that was featured, although The Times do seem to have some good Photoshop experts as there was no background shown at all.

It was only a little feature, but it did make us smile!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Flashes Before Your Eyes – Part 1

This is the first of a multi-part episode. Unusually though this story arc is going to be spread over a number of years and is in fact still an on-going saga.

Flashback to June 2006

Getting the overall design for the first site was pretty easy, although I hadn’t appreciated just how difficult it is to come up with words and content. Luckily I had inherited a whole bunch of lovely prose from the previous owner of and with a few flowery sentences of my own I was there. I prototyped the layout of the site in Word, to get an overall feel for what I wanted, then handed that over to Dr Aich with the proviso that he could throw it all away if he could think of anything better, which of course he could.

What every website needs, even if it’s for information only, is great pictures and we all have at least one camera don’t we, so how hard can that be? Yes, you’ve already guessed the answer.

My daughters Olympus Mju compact had enough mega pixels to support a Nasa mission, so we started snapping away. It was around this point I finally realised just how difficult it was going to be. How do we arrange this stuff? We have dozens of lines, what do we photograph? It’s all got big creases in it from packing and they look dreadful in the photos and we can’t afford to write off stock just for this. We snapped away all evening at tea towels hanging from various parts of the kitchen and pictures of oven gloves and bread baskets on the counter, but it quickly became apparent we needed professional help. Of all the photo’s we took I believe only one remains on the site now and those that were used back then needed some serious digital ironing from Dr Aich’s team, but this was only the start of the nightmare.

Thankfully, Mrs G knew a professional photographer from up the road and enlisted his help, at a cost of course. Mrs G thought working with a professional was going to be easier than listening to the stream of expletives coming from her husband, but little did she know…

Monday, 22 June 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land

Flashback to June 2006

About a month before we opened we figured we had better get a logo and an espadrille website sorted out. Aich creative came up with half a dozen concepts for our branding and after a few adjustments we were ready to go. Now all we needed to do was design our spanky new site. To start off we figured we shouldn’t open an online store immediately and should just concentrate on the shop. We therefore decided that the site we needed would be for information only. Dr Aich was very up front about the different options we had and how if we were ever thinking of launching an e-store we really would be better off building it now. The downside of this approach was the cost, which was about 3 times the information only site. So, despite repeated warnings we decided to go with the cheapest option.

Now the result of this decision you’ve probably already guessed. The ‘information’ only site was pretty much a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, Dr Aich did a very good job and the site looked great, however, the most frequent comment we got was “so, how do I buy online?”. After about 6 months, when we’d missed out on the buoyant Christmas season of 2006, we went back and asked what would be involved in converting our site to an e-store and were not surprisingly told that there really wasn’t a conversion option and we’d have to start over. Dr Aich had been right along.

e-retailtherapy Fact No 1: Listen to the expert you’ve paid to give you advice.

e-retailtherapy Fact No 2: Investing in the right thing up front is far cheaper than trying to reverse engineer it later.

Thursday, 18 June 2009


Flashback to July 2006

So where to start? I seem to recall it all seemed so simple back in the day. Mrs G had found some products she wanted sell and had located some stock in the UK. She established relationships with suppliers in France and sent out proformas’s spending a significant amount of money, although back then of course Sterling was king. She’d found a little shop, brought some fittings and got me to spend many evenings painting our newly fitted custom built shelves.

So what was the next logical step in our planned espadrille & tablecloth empire? Why a logo and a website of course.

As part of the deal when we took on the stock I was also given the domain. I thought this was quite a steal at the time and surely e-success was only just around the corner.

We engaged a local website design company called aitch creative. They lived up to their name and were indeed very creative, coming up with our logo which I still love. Unfortunately, I didn’t really heed their advice regarding creating a website, which ended up costing me hundreds. But I’ll save that story for next time.

Anyway, with our new logo freshly applied to the front of the shop Mrs G opened in July 2006, in what I remember was the last nice summer we had. Everyone loved the shop, loved the product lines and loved her. Life was good back then.