Exporters and would-be exporters will hear tips on how to build an effective e-commerce site from a pro on May 5 at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver. Brennan Loh is director of business development for Shopify, an e-commerce platform service provider that was founded 12 years ago and now boasts more than 243,000 customers in approximately 150 different countries. Given that there are 196 countries in the world today, it’s fair to say Shopify is truly global. Loh gave ExportWise a preview of some of the things he’ll discuss with his Vancouver audience. Click here for information on registration.
Consider the customer experience
First, he said, you need to think about the experience you want to provide to your customer, and also how flexible you need to be with your site.
“User experience is really important because the shift to mobile is not coming, it’s here,” Loh said. “More people are visiting Shopify sites from mobile devices than from desktops.”
The conversion rate on mobile devices has been very poor traditionally, because the devices are small. But those hurdles are quickly being overcome. Today, conversion rates — the rates at which people shift from browsers to buyers — are starting to be the same on mobile devices as desktop, and more people are spending time looking at shopping sites from their mobiles.
For that reason, platforms that take care of the user experience, such as Shopify’s, are growing, he said. Rather than buying software you have to keep updating, Shopify customers pay monthly fees ranging from $9 to $179, and the company continually updates the software.
Tell your story with heart
Once that’s taken care of, successful brands make sure the story or messages on their website are authentic and genuine.
“In a world where Amazon is continually driving the cost of products down, one thing it’s not doing a lot of is offering a breadth of unique products,” he said. “Our customers are selling unique products and they’re communicating that with their sites. A lot of our stores also invest in amazing photography. The quality of the products is well reflected through the visual. If you don’t have a lot of money to invest in AdWords or marketing, do what you can to tell your story.”
Be where your customers are
“A lot of our best entrepreneurs focus on building communities in their online store,” Loh said.
Ask yourself, if you have a presence across the top mobile applications, do you have a strong Twitter presence? You need to invest in the platforms where your audience is spending the most amount of their time.
He said being on Facebook is kind of like the old Yellow Pages — it’s a necessity for most businesses — but if your audience is younger, you may need to pick up platforms such as Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram.
Sort out your shipping
Amazon has set a high standard with its ability to ship around the world within two business days and as a result, consumers are becoming demanding. If you’re a small business and you’re juggling multiple responsibilities, getting products shipped in two days is a tall order.
“Many of our merchants are housing inventory in warehouses that put it closer to their end customer,” he said. “That’s a trend we’re seeing a lot more.”
Shopify’s story in short form
Canada’s e-commerce darling started 12 years ago “out of necessity,” Loh says. It was 2004 and Tobi Lütke was looking to sell snowboards online. At the time, he had two options. He could list them on marketplaces such as eBay, which were convenient, but not necessarily great platforms because you couldn’t control design, brand or user-experience. Or, he could have someone build something custom that would cost maybe $50,000 or more — not something that was feasible for a small snowboard salesman. So he and his partner built their own platform.
“About six months in, Tobi was getting approached by all kinds of retailers who wanted to license the platform to sell everything from hats to shoes to furniture,” Loh says. “They realized selling snowboards was a good idea, but selling software was a great idea. That’s where it all started.” At the Bridgehead coffee shop on Elgin Street in Ottawa, the two built their business.
Fast-forward to today: The company has grown from two founders in a coffee shop to more than 1,000 employees and offices in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Waterloo. But Shopify’s value proposition today remains largely the same as it was in the beginning — to provide an easy-to-use solution that’s as brainless as starting a Facebook account.
“We wanted it to be beautiful to reflect the quality of the brands and we wanted it to be scalable so if you grow from selling three T-shirts a month to selling 100,000 a month, you don’t outgrow Shopify.” Finally, they wanted to make sure it was low cost.
Although the company has enterprise-level retailers such as Gatorade, Nine West and Tesla, the bulk of its customers are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
“We see ourselves as well positioned to represent small- and medium-sized businesses around the world,” Loh said.