e-Commerce website is live, so now what?

As usual, I write this story from my very little own experience running handig.nl together with my associate Jan. We have acquired this domain name three years ago, and we built a spree-based DIY-store on it. We are an IT company, focused on technology. Small wonder we did not get it right the first time…

We had it all, a lot of products, a sturdy backend, a good design and competitive prices. In the end we did not manage to get the site profitable after two years. So as we lay defeated, face down in the dust, we reflected on our chosen path, and gave it another shot. “Dust yourself off and try again.”

What are pitfalls for junior entrepreneurs like ourselves? An old saying comes to mind: “The gunner to his linstock, and the steersman to the helm.” I knew nothing of DIY products, none of the intricate details of product margin analysis. I was so focused on getting the technology right that I forgot all about the main reason to have a store: to make a living from selling DIY products to the customers that need them. I had no idea who my customers were. I didn’t know what they bought, and even less why they would use it. I never used a hammer, so how can I sell one ? So now we stick to our linstock, and got us a steersman for the helm.

We got our priorities right this time :

  1. Customer: Understand who buys your products, and why.
  2. Product: Sell products your customers want. Sell products you would buy yourself. Know everything there is to know about the products you sell, so your customers respect your authority as curator.
  3. Service: Never settle for an OK service. Go the extra mile to ensure your customer is fully satisfied, so he will remember you when he needs your product again.
  4. Website: The website is merely a vehicle that enables the above. We have seen the ugliest websites be quite successful, and the prettiest websites fail. This is why handig.nl V2.0 is stripped down to the bare metal: show products, add to cart, checkout and pay.

So last week was tough, for the entire team. We started out with 52 products of which we had proper master data (one brand of paints, Histor). The log of our search function (the only way to navigate the website) showed us a variety of things people were looking for: hammers, lawn mowers, faucets, doorbells… And all we offered was paint. So we put everyone to work on gathering masterdata. Just the bare essentials : Name, description, picture, price. As of today we have 12000 products on our website! Thanks team!

This automatically triggered to our first useful after-go-live developments: Pagination and faster search. Small development, big impact.

Now comes the hard part: go over every product again and enrich it with the proper details: Benefits, downsides, detailed specifications, related products, multiple high resolution images…