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Ecommerce technology is improving all the time, but the retail market also grows more competitive.
What must it be like to start your own ecommerce venture from scratch?
Postcards Home founder, Lucy Coleman, has recently done exactly that. Her business offers homeware and gifts from independent designers around the world; Lucy describes it as 'products that transport us to our favourite places'.
I caught up with her to ask about her journey so far.
Tell us how Postcards Home started.
It began in Kerala, South India when I was living in Thiruvananthapuram with my partner for his work.
Anyone who’s been to Kerala will know that the state is full of shit-hot techies and completely fearless entrepreneurs, so I don’t think I had much choice but to start an ecommerce venture.
It all happened quite organically – I’d met a number of inspiring designers in India and Japan and I was struck at the lack of imprint these incredible creative teams had in the UK.
So, I built a site on Shopify, ordered stock and it started from there.
What was the most challenging part of launching an ecommerce site?
The hardest bit of launching the site was actually pushing the button to go live.
When you lack budget and staff, of course you’re not going to be happy with the initial site – you see a million things you’d tweak and optimise, but it is so important to start getting Google to crawl the site as soon as possible so you’re building authority.
Having said that, I think launching an ecommerce site is the (relatively) easy bit – it’s making that site perform that is hard.
I focused on UX, SEO and mobile during the build, but was painfully aware that this would not be enough alone to sustain the sort of traffic and sales I needed. Success post launch has been the real challenge for me.
Has it been easy to navigate the world of ecommerce platforms?
Shopify's marketing is so strong that when I looked around and read up about it I knew I wanted to use it. Its ecommerce sites are safe, simple to build and impressively optimised.
I knew optimising for mobile was important to me and Shopify does that much better than the rest.
I have a basic understanding of coding which has allowed me to tweak a few bits in the template I chose, and Shopify’s live support is a life-saver.
At any time of the day and night I can instantly talk to a member of the team about anything from design tweaks to MailChimp integration etc.
[Note from the editor: other ecommerce platforms are available!]
What mix of paid, earned, owned media are you using in your marketing?
At the moment I’m heavier on paid than I will be in the future, but as I build more visibility organically I’ll be able to rely more on earned than paid to deliver a base line of traffic.
I do a fair bit of PPC and I’ve just started Facebook advertising. I try to be as responsive as possible with my PPC – focusing on campaigns around the designers I stock (including any coverage they might get) and niche design trends to drive CPC down and improve conversion.
I try and keep my owned platforms as content heavy as possible for SEO, and reach out to bloggers and other brands for collaborations (and backlinks!). I think social could be a great driver for me but having always worked on brands with talented community managers I am still learning the skills on that one!
In terms of earned, I am currently reaching out to bloggers and influencers to collaborate on competitions and posts.
Generating sharable content for the blog has earned me social shares and I am slowly and steadily building up a community.
What have you had to sacrifice because of lack of budget or staff?
I started my career in FMCG start-ups but moved on to Unilever, eventually working on their digital advertising, so I’ve been spoiled in the last few years with healthy budgets.
Dropping marketing spend down a couple of million has been a bit of a shock to the system, but it forces you to be reactive and nimble and so close to the campaigns you’re running, which is incredibly exciting.
Essentially, I've sacrificed the use of experts. I miss being surrounded by seriously talented planners, creative teams, designers and project managers who are focusing on your project.
When you are forced to jump into these roles you’re all too aware of your knowledge gaps, but you embark on a steep learning curve to learn to do everything yourself and there is real satisfaction in that.
Did you previously sell offline? If not, how have you generated word of mouth?
I did not. I’ve tried to harness some word of mouth from my designers – some of them have a well-deserved, keen following in the design world so I build campaigns off the back of that to improve traction.
I also do a lot of flyer dropping across London and always have a pack of business cards with me to strike up conversion with anyone who will listen.
What is the end goal? How does the business scale with its current architecture?
World domination. Or at least design representation from all countries around the world. Same thing, no?
What one piece of advice do you have for SMEs who want to launch in ecommerce?
Do it and do it now.
hat way you can either manage things yourself or outsource with conviction.
To plug your knowledge gaps, take advantage of free courses (of which there are so many good ones), read up online using resources like Econsultancy, HMRC and Start-up Digest, and build a network of people cleverer than you who can help you understand different fields and challenge your ideas.