This is the next installment in my series on launch, growing, and selling an ecommerce company. For the first installment, “Part 1: Choosing Partners,” I interviewed my Beardbrand co-owner, Lindsey Reinders. She and I talked about the importance of supportive and knowledgeable partners. We addressed how to pick the ideal partners and the way to resolve inevitable conflicts afterward.
With this setup on choosing an ecommerce platform, I talked with Carson McComas. He’s the founder and CEO of Gas Made, a Spokane, Wash.-based ecommerce agency, launched in 2000, that specializes in Shopify development and email marketing using Klaviyo.
What follows is my whole audio interview with McComas and a transcript of it, edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Would you give us an overview of Gas Created?
Carson McComas: Gas Created is a digital agency. Our attention is ecommerce. The platform that we work with is Shopify — we are a Shopify Plus partner. We are also a Klaviyo platinum partner. Klaviyo is an email automation tool for ecommerce. I began Fuel Made back in 2000. I’ve been around quite a long time. We have been locked in on ecommerce and Shopify for about the past eight decades.
Bandholz: Why did you select Shopify?
McComas: In the first days of ecommerce, the choices were pretty slim. I could never find a platform that gave us the flexibility we wanted. Shopify came on the scene with the promise of design flexibility. This was important to us. So I keyed to them in ancient days, when it was in beta.
We finally had a chance [to use Shopify]. I said to the customer,”Look, we want to build your store on Shopify. If it does not work out, we will build it on a different platform.” So it was rather low-risk for them, except for their time. They were game. We built that first website on Shopify and fell in love with this platform. The rest is history.
Bandholz: I am cheap at heart. I used to lean toward open source together with both primary platform alternatives, Magento and WordPress. I immediately discovered, back in 2010 or so, that Magento would only crash. It would just use all the tools of this server.
McComas: Unfortunately, that still plagues a whole lot of people working with Magento. You need to know what you are doing and have the perfect team behind it to keep it from doing this.
I hear from lots of Magento people who say, more or less,”I am tired of being an IT company. I need to be an ecommerce business. I wish to concentrate on product and customer experience, and that type of thing.” And that is something Shopify has done a fantastic job with — taking that technical burden from shop owners.
Bandholz: What are the significant ecommerce platforms?
Bandholz: What if a new entrepreneur look for in a platform?
McComas: I confess a bias towards Shopify. Start looking for a solution that will permit you to concentrate on the things that actually matter, which is producing good products, good resources, and a fantastic customer experience. Don’t spend much time at the weeds from a technical standpoint. That is kind of a pitch for Shopify. BigCommerce will do these things also.
If you would like to remain open source and you love the WordPress world, contemplate WooCommerce. There are a lot of successful shops on this platform. You require somewhat more technical sophistication. Magento I would not consider for a startup.
Bandholz: If a new entrepreneur reach out to web designers for aid?
McComas: You can get pretty far by simply grabbing a theme from the theme shop on Shopify, WooCommerce has topics also, as does BigCommerce. Even Magento does. From the Shopify world, a theme will cost a couple hundred dollars. There are free ones, also. With great photography, a new merchant can get pretty far with that.
The opportunity to begin employing a web designer is about the next level — once you have got traction and a product market match. You’re trying to grow from that point.
Concerning budget, there are 3 levels. First, there is the do-it-yourself mode, that’s the cost of this motif and your time to set this up. The second choice would be bringing somebody into improve on your own theme. You could probably get that for a couple thousand dollars. The third option is an whole customized theme — something special. That would cost $30,000 or more, typically.
Bandholz: If merchants emphasize mobile optimization over desktop?
McComas: I would not even think about building a website without believing mobile first. For approximately 85 percent of our customers, nearly all traffic comes from mobile.
McComasWe see exceptional uses of photography as well as other resources, such as storytelling and example, to create a sense of community. It is a cohesive experience from mobile into the desktop website and back again.
Bandholz: How can a merchant obtain more email addresses?
McComas: It changes based on your targets. The very best thing to do would be to ensure people see the email opt-in, and you are giving them some sort of an offer. That may have a pop-up or an opt-in that pops up or down to the display, and states,”Do you need 15 percent off? Click here and give us your email address”
Based upon your brand, running competitions can be particularly effective.
Bandholz: What are common mistakes in building an ecommerce website?
McComas: Seeing copy and photography as an expense rather than part of your brand and narrative that brings a return. Another one isn’t designing nicely for mobile. That’s a massive mistake. If you do not do that, you are in trouble.
New merchants sometimes do not consider return policies and shipping policies, and they are not communicating those to buyers. Or maybe their shipping prices are concealed until shoppers get to the checkout.
Early on you wish to be collecting email addresses, and linking them to your social accounts. Engage the readers so that they can be repeat customers.