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Andrew Youderian from eCommerceFuel talks e-Commerce trends

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Andrew Youderian quit his job as an investment banker and decided to start his first eCommerce business in 2008.

Since quitting he has set up a number of online stores from scratch, and started eCommerceFuel – a blog dedicated to providing lessons to individuals and small teams hoping to grow their online store.

Hi Andrew, thanks for doing this interview. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I’m a full time eCommerce entrepreneur and have been for the last six years or so. I run an eCommerce business, Right Channel Radios, as well as an eCommerce community at eCommerceFuel.com. There, I write about eCommerce, share what’s working in my business, interview other people on the eCommerceFuel podcast as well as run a private community for experienced store owners and eCommerce professionals.

You quit your job as an investment maker to start on an eCommerce business, very brave! What was it about the eCommerce sector, in particular, that appealed to you most?

For me, it was a couple of things. First, the scalability of eCommerce was really attractive. The ability to be able to create a business that could grow quickly without requiring similar increases in terms of staff, equipment or my time required was really attractive. Secondly, the location independence of eCommerce – particularly drop shipping – was also very attractive as I love the idea of running my business from anywhere.

What made you want to document your journey on eCommerceFuel? Were you surprised at the level of positive engagement you received at the website?

When I got started, I saw a really big hole in the market in terms of people who were writing about eCommerce. There were blogs that catered to the large corporate/enterprise eCommerce crowd but no one was really talking about eCommerce from an individual merchant or small team’s business perspective. That is, eCommerce companies with between one and 20 employees. I felt like I had a lot of experience to share in that arena given my experience doing it full-time for the previous four years.  So I dove in to try to offer as much value as I could to the market.

In terms of the reaction, I was pleasantly surprised at how my eCommerce content was received and the engagement people showed in terms of commenting, sharing and just providing strong feedback.

How are your eCommerceFuel members respond to the challenges raised by mobile and alternative payment methods?

Mobile is a tricky situation. If you have an existing website and need to retrofit it for mobile you have two options; you can start a second site that is mobile optimized and direct people there OR you can re-design your existing site in responsive format. Both are fairly time intensive to do which can make it tough for smaller eCommerce entrepreneurs. Sometimes it’s worth the investment and sometimes it’s not.

In the eCommerceFuel private forum, we have heard differing reviews from people in terms of how much a mobile optimized site increased their conversion. Obviously, mobile has been very popular and mobile usage has increased dramatically.  But some merchants in our private forum have seen massive increases in terms of conversion while others have actually seen almost no change. Obviously, more often than not, you’re going to see a gain if your site is designed to cater to mobile visitors but you do need to think about the return on investment in terms of a mobile site for your particular audience.

Alternate payments like Bitcoin (I’m guessing that’s what you meant by “alternative payment methods”) are an interesting area.  I’d say the majority of merchants are not implementing it yet. It’s not because of the implementation is tricky, that is fairly easy to do with plugins for shopping carts like Shopify and Magento. But what’s more difficult is the volatility risk.

With Bitcoin being so volatile, increasing and decreasing in value so rapidly, it can be risky for merchants to hold Bitcoin if they don’t want to assume that risk. So, they’d need to immediately convert their Bitcoin over to dollars to be able to mitigate that.

I am very interested in Bitcoin and the crypto currency space in general but it’s not something that merchants, I think, are widely adapting yet.

Product reviews are crucial to eCommerce merchants, especially if you are selling an existing item that is sold other places. As a small merchant, the educational process is one of the biggest ways you can differentiate yourself.

As consumers get more demanding in terms of customer service levels and delivery times, what technology services are you looking at keeping up?

First, I think small merchants need to get better at telling their customers the exact delivery times of the items that they’ve ordered. Amazon does a really good job of this. Currently, we’re retrofitting one of our sites, Right Channel Radios, to do that now.

Secondly, I think small merchants to the extent they can, will increasingly start getting their products closer to their customers geographically to save on shipping and speed up delivery times. If you can store your products in a warehouse on both the west and the east coast, then you can get your products to the customer faster at a lower cost and you don’t have to pay exorbitant fees for expedited shipping. That’s something we do at Right Channel Radios.

And finally, I think it’s important to not nickel-and-dime your customers. Four or five years ago having customers pay return shipping fees was fairly standard.  But now with the customer service bar being raised across the board, I think you really need to be proactive about making sure that your customers don’t feel like they’re being taken advantage of. Even if customers don’t say it, if you nickel-and-dime them and charge them for things that other companies are not going to, they are going to notice that and they are likely not going to come back.

What is your opinion on reviews and social sharing to boost sales? Are eCommerceFuel members implementing this as a positive change?

Product reviews are crucial to eCommerce merchants, especially if you are selling an existing item that is sold other places. As a small merchant, the educational process is one of the biggest ways you can differentiate yourself. And one of the reasons that Amazon does so well is that they do have a lot of product reviews. People go to Amazon to research and learn about a products from the huge number of reviews they gather. So I think it is a really critical part of building a solid niche eCommerce brand.

Social sharing is a bit murkier. In terms of the returns eCommerce brands see from their social efforts, it really is dependent upon the product line and the niche. If you look at a company like Diamond Candles that sells candles that have a ring inside of each one of varying value, potentially up to $10,000, their model works very well for social.  People love sharing their candles, they love sharing the rings that they find and when somebody gets a very expensive ring, that’s somehow that can become a viral video on social. So, the social lands very well to that model.

For a lot of other niches, however, social may not be the best used of your marketing efforts. You may want to put more time and energy towards SEO and content marketing and paid traffic.  It really depends on the business.

Aside from SSL certificates, what are other methods of security you and your members used to protect the security of your customers?

I think for most small merchants, it makes sense not to store credit card data on your own servers if you’re hosting your own shopping cart.

By not storing credit card data, it does not necessarily mean you don’t have to be PCI compliant. You still do to some extent but it does minimize the risk that somebody can hack in and take the most sensitive pieces of customer information – the raw 16 digit card number. By not storing credit card data on your server and instead using tokens and linking up to the data on a third party trusted site like Authorize.net, you can get a lot of the benefits of allowing customers to be able to reorder easily without having to have all the security headaches.

What does the future hold for you and where do you see eCommerceFuel and your stores going in the future?

My vision for eCommerceFuel is to turn it into the web’s top blog and private community for independent and experienced store owners. Currently, we’re investing heavily in content and team members to really be able to achieve this vision.

On the operations side, I always want to be able to be running my own eCommerce store to make sure that I am plugged into that community and that I’m in-the-trenches.  Currently with our eCommerce store, Right Channel Radios, we’re working to emphasize a very personal and human aspect. Having a real-world face tied to our businesses is going to be really important in differentiating ourselves relative to Amazon and other large competitors going forward.

Eventually, I’d love to manufacture my own product as well. In my opinion, creating your own product and brand is really the strongest way to build a meaningful eCommerce platform in the future.

Nublue work closely in the eCommerce sector, both in hosting and designing eCommerce sites! Contact us to find out more.

Stefan

Author Stefan

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