Al Garnsworthy runs The Chocolate Society, selling fine chocolates online through his Shopify store. He shares how he’s overcome some of the challenges of running an ecommerce business and the benefits of using Shopify.
Why did you start your ecommerce business?
I bought a bankrupt business in 2010 because it owned chocolate.co.uk and we wanted that domain name. Once we’d acquired the business with its domain, we started getting people contacting us to ask when we would be selling chocolate again. So we decided to try and get the products made again, we launched our first online shop the same year, and started using other companies to produce the chocolates. We found that these weren’t up to the standard that we wanted, so we now have our own factory where we produce the chocolate.
We’re still a fairly small business but as well as selling online, our chocolates are stocked in Harrods, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. Our main focus is UK sales, but being online we can send to customers all over the country. It’s also quite a seasonal business, so we will be quieter in the summer and busier in the winter, so being online allows us to be quite flexible and responsive to demand.
What platform do you sell on?
When we first launched we had a bespoke ecommerce site on the ASP.net platform. It was quite clunky and expensive, customers were frequently having problems with our site, and we just got to the point that as a small business we needed to look at other options.
When I came across Shopify, I realised that all the functionalities that I wanted to be custom built for the business were available through Shopify plugins. Those plugins make a massive difference for small businesses.
What have been your biggest challenges selling online, and how have you overcome them?
The toughest thing was getting parcels out of the door. Up until we started using Zenstores we were manually creating the shipping labels ourselves. If it was a quiet day it wouldn’t take too long, but come Christmas we would have someone creating labels all day every day.
Around busy times like Christmas and Easter we were having to take some of our products out of stock because we were at the maximum of what we could actually get dispatched. As a seasonable business, we needed to be able to handle the busy periods.
So being able to print out large numbers of shipping labels from the label printer has been essential. It was the slowest part of the process, and now it’s the quickest part.
Why do you use Zenstores?
What Zenstores does is something that I’ve been looking for for years with our website. Having the custom development done to our old website to do what Zenstores does would have cost a fortune.
Zenstores solves one of the biggest problems for small ecommerce businesses; creating shipping labels is the bottleneck that can really hold you back.
How do you market your business?
We’re using a lot of the standard online marketing tools; Pay Per Click (PPC), and growing our database of email addresses as email marketing works well for us. Since we relaunched our shop on Shopify we’re focusing on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
What advice would you give to someone looking to start an ecommerce business?
Today it’s easier than ever to launch an ecommerce business. With something as accessible as Shopify, it’s possible to test a concept quicker and cheaper than before, without spending loads on development. If you have the idea for an ecommerce business then give it a go as quickly as possible, see if it’s viable.