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A website is only a tiny part of what is involved in running an online business and it is this that some of us in the digital business can easily forget. 

Our industry would be a lot more interesting if more digital people found time to think like clients. I sell stinky cheese, duck confit and tinned cassoulet and it has given me a different perspective on the issues around running an ecommerce store and all that goes with it.

When my company the OTHER media started in the business 18 years ago our clients were happy for me to use them as examples in my teaching and training.  I still can at a high level, but as their revenues online headed for the millions it became clearer that this was no longer possible.  I needed a new case study without the same commercial sensitivity.

Meeting Stephen Harrison, a veteran store holder from Borough Market, provided just the opportunity and together we started Market Quarter (www.marketquarter.com) with the same range of French food and wines that he had been selling since 1998 from a permanent stall in the market as Le Marché du Quartier.

We built the site ourselves (to keep the costs minimal) and for the last three years it has grown both in revenue and business complexity.  When you do everything yourself from taking the photographs and writing the product copy to packing the products and handling customers it really drives home what is involved for clients back at the agency.

Getting started is easy; especially using tools like Shopify that allow you to build a site quickly and easily. But the site is only a tiny part of what is involved in running an online business and it is this that some of us in the digital business can easily forget. 

The site, like a newborn child, needs constant attention and so do its customers.  We all know this instinctively and tell our clients so, but unless you actually experience it, you wont fully appreciate just how much is really involved: packaging, deliveries, Google visibility, broken jars, sell-by dates and “I need it for dinner tomorrow”.

Not surprisingly the hardest part has been the unrelenting need for new content ideas, photography and editorial, but these really do make a difference to the site’s visibility and traffic, albeit more slowly than you would like.

The flipside of the effort involved is the opportunity to experiment; with pay-per-click advertising, analytics, promotions, email marketing, social media, conversion optimisation and all those other tactics we encourage in our clients.  Having skin in the game changes completely how budgets are spent and where your limited time should be invested. I love the immediacy of being able to try out a discount or special offer (without getting anyone else’s approval) and seeing the effect ripple (or not) through the business.

Currently we are rebuilding the site in Magento, experimenting with real-time analytics, sourcing and adding new non-French products, redesigning our email and PPC while completing the end of year figures and dealing with a courier delivery failure.

I am extending my active experimentation to other areas too and spend weekends designing mashups, noodling with APIs and creating data visualisations that might help sell more cheese and at the same time help me work with my ‘real’ clients who have the same demands and constraints but on a larger scale. If it all sounds exhausting it is but I would not have it any other way. 


Published 15 August, 2011 by NMA Staff

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