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Rick Nichols: “Be prepared to support your customers”

Be prepared to support your customers. People today actually need more contact with a real person using eCommerce than they do with a traditional brick and mortar. If you don’t have a support operation that connects with your customers you will not be successful. I am always shocked to see businesses delegate customer support to […]

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Be prepared to support your customers. People today actually need more contact with a real person using eCommerce than they do with a traditional brick and mortar. If you don’t have a support operation that connects with your customers you will not be successful. I am always shocked to see businesses delegate customer support to their least paid and most poorly educated about the business. You need to turn customers into advocates with great support. Take great care of your customers and they will always take care of you.


As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick Nichols.

Rick and his firm The Web Designs Group have been helping entrepreneurs sell their products and services online for the last 12 years. The key members of the team bring decades of experience in marketing and advertising to the firms clients. The company develops its own fresh talent using a mentoring program with design school graduates.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

The key members of our team and I worked for major fortune 500 employers in our area and got to know each other through various joint marketing programs we developed for our employers.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

As with any independent small business owner the Aha Moment occured when our creative ideas bumped up against the inertia of corporate culture. Modern marketplaces are now so dynamic marketers have to be able to respond to opportunities quickly. This is the classic dilemma faced by all companies that become large. Their size generally hinders the kind of explosive entrepreneurial gowth and aggresiveness that powered the firms early success.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I can’t remember ever considering giving up. The freedom to things our way was simply too liberating. I do laugh when I look back at the tools we used back then. Both the hardware and software landscapes have changed so much. I marvel at the creativity of the people who are building the clever tools we are using now to craft better solutions for our clients.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

We are the busiest we have ever been. The Covid shutdowns have caused our business to skyrocket as the owners of brick and mortar stores that were shuttered due to the virus discovered they no longer had a way to distribute their merchandise.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that? What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Two things differentiate us. We invest in real people who provide “old fashioned” person to person service. We refuse to automate any of our customer service work. The other is we are not successful unless our clients are successful. We make a significant extra effort to guide our clients in the marketing follow through of their online stores once we have completed the development and publishing of their websites. Sometimes that involves setting up a Google ad campaign or getting on Amazon, Wallmart and Target virtual shelves.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Don’t lose personal touch with your customers who are real people just like you, and value the personal contact and relationship you have to offer.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Not really.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

We are seeing clients monetizing their existing traffic by adding product categories through affiliations with companies that tend to be the leaders in their niche. As an example I have a client who runs pet hotels. She dramatically increased her revenue when she added opportunities for her existing customers who were coming to her website to make reservations to order products from Petco and Chewy. This is the same marketing idea behind putting a Starbucks inside the entrances to grocery stores.

Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Join them don’t try to beat them. We encourage our clients to put their products on the virtual shelves of Wallmart and Amazon in addition to many others like Target to get invaluable exposure.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

They expect instant success. Every successful business can have an incubaton period measured in years. Don’t expect to be an overnight success. Traction takes time to build.

In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Fullfilment is the most overlooked aspect of ecommerce. Too much packaging is boring and little attention is paid to the actual presentation of the long awaited product when the customer opens it. How boring is a brown cardboard box! Great consumer companies like Apple are the classic example of amazing packaging. Likewise tracking and after tracking which means contacting the customer a few days after the product has been delivered to be sure ther are no disappointments so the customer feels their reason for the purchase has been validated.

Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?

There are so many analytical data gathering tools that my best advice is to read the data and respond to its message. I don’t think we need more tools just more time.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?

Try to understand why people are choosing your brand over a competitors then find ways to increase that value aspect of your offering. Keep giving them more of the product magic they are buying.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Simple, just ask customers for their opinions about the product or service after they have bought. Successful business people are always anxious to hear what their customers really think about their products and services. That is the only way then can improve and compete.

One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?

Always answer all of your reviews especially the poor ones. A poor review is important feed back that you cn use to improve how you operate. Dont use the same canned phrases to answer negative reviews. Make them sound like they are sincere and from the heart. You may not turn the negative reviewer around but you will have a very positive influence on the next customer who reads your reviews.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. A product that solves a consumer need or problem. Every successful product solves a person’s problem. I built a website for a company that built personal hepa air filters worn with a lanyard around the neck. The original concept was to screen airborne soot and particles from dirty city air. When Covid came along all of a sudden the product turned out to be the perfect solution for health care workers and sales took off like a rocket. It was suddenly solving an urgent problem. Always be looking for ways to anticipate problems other people will have and solve them.

2. The price needs to be competitive. With all of the internet comparison shopping available you cannot get away with sloppy pricing. Be sure your value proposition makes sense. Me mercilous in reducing your costs to produce your product.

3. Be prepared to support your customers. People today actually need more contact with a real person using eCommerce than they do with a traditional brick and mortar. If you don’t have a support operation that connects with your customers you will not be successful. I am always shocked to see businesses delegate customer support to their least paid and most poorly educated about the business. You need to turn customers into advocates with great support. Take great care of your customers and they will always take care of you.

4. You must be prepared to spend some money to advertise your products. Google display ads do a great job of giving a product exposure while giving the start up entrepreneur tight control of their advertising expenses. Don’t expect the world to beat a path to your online store if they don’t know you are there. Build your brand through exposure.

5. Always be doing everything to make people aware of you. There is no single magic bullet. All of the most successful people I have ever met will tell you that the key to their success is they are prepared to do everything it takes to be successful. Success does not come without hard work and great attention to details.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Everyone has a great idea for a unique product. I never cease to be amazed at people’s creativity in solving problems. Successful products are always great solutions to a problem someone has.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Simply visit our website at webdesigns.group to see what we are up to.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


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