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How were your first few years of Ecommerce?

11:57 am on Sep 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I've just set up an ecommerce store selling widgets in a highly competitive market with an average price of $20/widget (I love these widgets hence why I'm selling them). I've spoken to a few other ecommerce owners who have now run their businesses for over 5 years. They told me that the first 2 years were really very slow and one person said they didn't get their 1st sale until their 5th month and that their 1st year was terrible! But 5 years on, they seem to be doing OK for themselves.

I've started to optimise my site and I'm going to start using adwords. But I'm curious as to how other ecommerce owners found their first few years of trading - did you almost give up and do you have any useful tips or ideas for a young startup?

5:01 pm on Sep 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

You could get all kinds of answers to this.

Here's an example. Couple of years back I launch two sites within in 30 days of
each other. Both had good product value. Each product was something people used frequently and normally not found in local stores.

The results? Second site went ballistic and has been a good earner every since.
First site started out slow and got slower, finally had to be put to sleep.

I would of bet my bottom dollar that the first site would of been the winner!

The moral of this little story? You just cant tell sometime what will succeed.

You research, test and finally put it out there and watch it either sink or

As the old saying goes " you bet your monies and you take your chances"...KF

8:40 pm on Sep 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

thanks king_fisher. how long did you give your first site - a year? Mine started OK, but it's really slowed down, less than 6 months old though...
10:13 pm on Sep 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member


Yes at least give it a year. Change it up a bit and test. Maybe some new keywords. Make sure your in a good niche. If there is no large market for your
product/service you just might be flogging a dead horse.

Some time times you can just park the site and let it seek some aging, organic
wise.(no ppc) After you have spent all the time and money developing the site
give it a chance, But after a certain length of time you are well advise to cut
your losses and move on. Hope this helps...KF

6:37 pm on Sep 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I've read and heard over and over that 5 years is the big mark. If you keep at it and keep expanding your offerings, the word is you will be successful after 5 years. This was exactly true for me.
6:50 pm on Sep 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator lifeinasia is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I think it was about 5 years until we stopped bleeding as well. :)

Part of it had to do with the market, part of it had to do with our marketing, and part of it had to do with the way we were doing things. If we'd had the 5 year's of knowledge/experience ahead of time, we probably could have implemented the 2nd & 3rd changes much sooner (not a whole lot you can do about the market itself) and things probably would have been a lot different. Unfortunately, hindsight usually doesn't kick in that soon.

9:29 pm on Sep 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for your contributions Tonearm and LifeinAsia - although 5 years is a long time, it's also kind of encouraging to hear that. So fingers crossed when my website hits its 5th birthday, I'll be able to upgrade from a cupcake to a proper gateaux! :)

LifeinAsia - you said that you probably could have implemented the 2nd and 3rd changes sooner - would you mind sharing your tips for marketing with a newbie?

My site is fashion related and I've started optimising the site, getting free backlinks (where possible), writing articles, trying to get some PR and I'm considering starting a blog. What worked well for you? And also what didn't? One mistake I made was paying for a little online advertising and I wish I hadn't!

All knowledge/hindsight from those in the know is gratefully received! :)

9:59 pm on Sep 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator lifeinasia is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

LifeinAsia - you said that you probably could have implemented the 2nd and 3rd changes sooner - would you mind sharing your tips for marketing with a newbie?

Well, that was back before AdWords. About halfway through the 5-year term, we started doing some PPC advertising on Goto/Overture- just a few dollars/day, but didn't spend a lot of time tweaking things. I know now that we should've spent more and spent it more wisely, and that you need to do a lot of work to track ROI closely and constantly tweak things.

Back then it was a lot easier to get links- we should have done a lot more work in that area as well.

[edited by: LifeinAsia at 10:01 pm (utc) on Sep. 4, 2007]

7:33 am on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

thanks for your input LifeinAsia - so basically what you're saying is spending your marketing money wisely using pay per click campaigns (targeting the right keywords rather than general keywords) and constantly link building. I'm sure there must be more to do if anyone else can offer what's worked for them? Thanks!
3:15 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator lifeinasia is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Absolutely. There's also offline advertising. We dabbled a bit in it, but it wasn't really the right market for it. Just like PPC, we might have done better if we had more experience and were smarter about it. But we didn't want to commit a huge budget to offline media, especially since we had no idea what would work well. But for the right market, offline advertising could provide great ROI.
5:18 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member


Are you selling stuff? The single biggest mistake I made over those 5 years was spending WAY too little time expanding the product line. Spend a little time on that every single day. That is golden advice. :)

6:35 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

LifeinAsia - thanks for responding. I paid for online advertising, but it's not even given me a referral! So I wouldn't do it ever again. I've been told that I also need to get some press coverage - again difficult when i am on a tight tight budget as I couldn't afford any services.

Tonearm - I sell fashion related widgets and I'm only averaging about $200 in sales a month! After all costs (both cost of goods & website costs) have been taken away, I have nothing left. With expanding product line - do you mean product line as in expanding the different product categories i.e. round widgets, square widgets and so on, or do you mean product offering in each product category i.e. coloured round widgets, sparkly round widgets and so on? Also, I'm finding the photography costs are very expensive as i need a professional. The website is burning a big big hole in my meagre finances!

I didn't expect a get rich quick, but I expected to be doing better than $200 a month in sales and I am only hoping that it will get better....does it get better? :)
p.s. my daily unique visitors is only about 50 at the mo :( Can any tell me what I should be aiming for?

7:53 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I'm getting about 300 uniques per day, all free. Expand your product line in both ways. I'm finding that twice as many products equals twice as many sales. Wish I would have started expanding long ago.

Photography. That's another huge mistake I made at the beginning. I photographed all my stuff and that's probably the biggest reason I didn't expand. Can you use supplier-provided images? Even though you may think it does, it doesn't matter if everyone else has the same image, the image is blurry, too small, has a weird background color. Just get more stuff online in a rapid fashion. I was too focused on running a "high-quality, professional" operation. Sell stuff!

8:21 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for that Tonearm. 300 uniques a day is great, can I ask how long it took you to get that? What kind of conversion rate should I also be aiming for? Also, are you selling more niche products i.e. not fashion related widgets - I only ask because I feel that (with hindsight), I have entered one of the most competitive online markets and there are literally thousands of similar sites to mine out there.

Photography - it's interesting what you said about it. I've been told time and again to ensure that I get clear images of my products as bad blurry ones don't instill any confidence in your product. But from what you say, it's ok to have blurry images?

Thanks for the tip on getting more stuff online. I've learnt to buy as little qty per product too.

So, more variety = more sales?

8:39 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I've been in business for about 5 years. Try for a 1% conversion rate as a baseline and then improve from there. 2% is great and more is really high. Of course that varies by industry and the source of your traffic. I actually don't have too many competitors and I don't know of any that are really doing the same thing I am. Definitely niche. You need to make sure your business makes sense considering profit margins and competition, but if you decide it does, just go for it and offer a whole bunch of stuff.

Big and clear images will always work better than small and blurry, but small and blurry is infinitely better than no image or no product.

8:51 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks - my conversion is probably about 0.5% at the moment, so I need to get that up to 1% as my first goal.

You sound like you are in a good niche which certainly helps. I think my profit margins are OK, probably could be better, it is just competition that is tough - as trying to get onto the 1st page of google for my industry search terms is, to put it bluntly, impossible.

Did you do lots of SEO too?

9:27 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I redesigned my site from the ground up twice, taking into consideration all I had learned about SEO each time.

Try to focus on "the long tail" with your search engine keyword targets, which means optimize a page for "Super Blue Widgets" instead of "Widgets". Then you will be on page #1 for "super blue widgets" instead of page #30 for "widgets".

There are ways to compete other than price. Maybe try pulling people into your site with a good blog, articles, or product reviews, although I do none of those. Hype your incredible customer service but not in a spammy way. Also, definitely, try raising your prices. Seriously.

9:39 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for the advice! I really appreciate it. I'm going to look at my keywords now and make sure that I optimise each page properly.

I'll try raising my prices too...wasn't sure whether to or not because one of my regular customers told me that they love the fact that my widgets are of a certain price point. But I think I really do need to raise my prices over time. Thanks for your advice! :)

9:42 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

No problem. I've experimented with my prices a lot and I was astonished to discover that I actually have a significantly higher sales volume with higher prices. Higher volume + higher prices = OK with me.
9:45 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Wow - that's amazing to hear! A shop owner told me that once and I couldn't believe it, so it's interesting to hear an ecommerce owner tell me the same thing!
10:40 pm on Sep 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Tone Arm is right. Price it too cheap and people will think the product/service
is cheap, too high of course and people think its overpriced. There is a real
knack for getting it just right! You have to play around with it a little...KF
10:56 am on Sep 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Apologies for the late reply - thanks everyone. I have started to raise my prices, my daily unique visitor count is slowly creeping up, slowly I mean by a handful, but it's still progress :)

I've taken on board about expanding product offering - the only crazy thing that is hindering the rapid rate I can do this at is the cost of how much it is to get photographs of each product :(

Can anyone recommend a good book or a good place to start learning about using adwords, ppc? thanks!

p.s. How do you know when you get to the point that you really are flogging a dead horse and give up? And is 25 sales in 6 months bad going (considering 10 of those were in the 1st month)?

11:34 am on Sep 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Good luck with your site new01.

I also sell fashion related widgets in the UK. My site is around 3 years old and I'm getting about 700 uniques per day. Conversion rate is currently 1.9% overall but varies widely depending on the traffic source. Last 30 days results:

Google organic 0.8%
Froogle 2.9%
Other price comparison sites 3-7%
Mailshots to existing customers 15%

These figures go up considerably in the month or so before Christmas so you should concentrate your advertising budget in November/December.

I put a lot of effort into getting first page in SERPS for what I thought was my main keyword. I ended up with lots of traffic but a very low conversion rate. You're far better off optimising your site for more specific search queries, ie make sure your Pagerank is filtering down to your product detail pages. Last month I attracted visitors using around 4,000 different search terms.

If you're selling fashion related widgets I certainly wouldn't try to compete on price. Many people equate price with quality so often raising the price will increase sales. I certainly found that.

I do a lot of the photography myself. If you have the right equipment you can get pretty good results. You just need a cheap digital SLR camera, a tripod, a portable light box (assuming your widgets are pretty small) and a copy of Photoshop to adjust the colour balance at the end (making up for your lack of proper studio lighting).

3:16 pm on Sep 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for your input StuWhite - is your site the one listed in your profile? I had a quick look - looks good, but I think even what you are selling is more niche than my widgets. My widget area is in one of the most competitive areas of online commerce, unfortunately!

Thanks for the advice on price as well. It seems to be the consensus.

I also wonder whether I am offering too broad a range of widgets for different age groups...

11:26 am on Sep 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I had a remarkable "enlightment" half a year ago, when I visited a traditional fair on deco-stuff which is probably comparable to fashion insofar as new trends are very important:

SEO relies on WORDS.
Although the internet is said to be the medium by means of which information spreads most quickly, this definitely does NOT hold true for the process of establishing the WORDS of new trends as brands. In this area you will only profit from organic serps AFTER the magazines and B&M-shops have established the new trends and brands of the producers, because only AFTER that, people will begin to type those words into the input-fields of a search engine.

So I think it should really be called into question whether targetting organic serps is really the best way in fashion-related businesses. Maybe you'll be better off with adwords or other forms of advertising (though I personally would not). I think this topic is worth a front-page thread of its own.

I'd second the five year thumbrule, though I believe that if I had known at the beginning what I know now, I would have managed it in two or three;) My biggest mistake was to programm a javascript-based shop-system on my own, which temporarily threw me out of the serps completely. Meanwhile I switched to a php/mysql-based solution and this is much more flexible. It is still self-made and thus unbeatable with respect to finetuning to the latest insights in SEO, so I also believe that all the mistakes I made will be very fruitful in the long run.

We have a bit more than 2000 uniques per day now, with estimated 400k turnover this year (knocking on woods). All organic. These uniques however don't say very much, because we offer somer pure informational services for some of our products, and these are the pages most frequently viewed, but I think many of those viewers will come back some time later and then buy the stuff. We have about 200 visitors every day, who open up at least a second page in our shop system (so presumably human beings, since spiders generally do not push buttons;), and receive about 15 orders a day from them. Approximately the same amount of orders additionally comes in via fax and telephone (some customers send our shopping cart to the printer, fill it in by hand and then send us a fax. Never found out why;)

7:31 pm on Sep 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Interesting insight Oliver, thanks for your input. I agree with not relying on other forms of advertising, but I have yet to use adwords - as I am currently learning about the topic and how best to create them.

You seem to be getting a lot of uniques a day - I can't wait until I get that many! Just out of interest, how many on average were you getting towards the end of your first year if you don't mind my asking? It would be interesting to see how your traffic increased over time.

p.s. I can't wait to get one order a week! :)

6:07 pm on Sep 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

> how many on average were you getting towards the end of your first year

Difficult to say, since I swichted my hosting company and did not archive the old logfiles. In the beginning, my website was more a hobby than a serious business approach. We started in 2001 in a true niche branch, and I was quite amazed to indeed get the first mail-requests due to such a really crappy web-project, which in fact it was then. Particularly after I FTPed the beginnings of my products database as a mere html-table: It contained many many words, which appeared nowehere else on the web then, but people were indeed searching for these words. But these times are long gone now, I think.

But if you use adsense, you don't really have to "wait" to get more visitors: It all depends on the money you are willing to invest. Whether you get a proper RETURN on your investment primarily depends on your website usability (and perhaps your pricing).

Another interesting marketing strategy is to actively post in forums and newsgroups related to your products. If you bring in a considerable know-how and don't focus on promotion too much in the beginning, people might appreciate your help and be more likely to order from a small company due to the trust you built by your postings. But be careful with this: You might waste a lot of your time, if you don't focus enough.

8:10 pm on Sep 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks - all makes sense. Do you think the overall 'Look' i.e. the colours of a website can put people off i.e. if too pink, then it might put adults off or too bright etc? - Even if website usability is fine?