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How to Grow Your Ecommerce Business: 7 Lessons From a Startup Founder

10 min
How to Grow Your Ecommerce Business: 7 Lessons From a Startup Founder Cieden

Hi everyone! Recently I got to chat with Jennica Chiang, Founder of the eCommerce startup ShopSuki. They've done amazing things in online grocery shopping in the Philippines, growing massively in just three years.

ShopSuki is no small feat: 25,000 SKUs, over 200,000 customers, and an impressive NPS score of 78, showcasing their excellence in customer experience! Jennica's journey is a real masterclass in how to grow your eCommerce business.

In this post, we're sharing all the cool insights and tips from Jennica. These lessons are excerpts from our podcast episode, giving you a taste of the valuable discussions we had. Perfect for anyone dreaming of eCommerce success or looking to level up their business. Let's dive in!

Lesson #1: User testing cures personal biases

We've all got our biases. Take me, for instance – a design-driven person who came from fashion school, where design and aesthetics were everything. So there's certain things that I would love on the app; but just because I love something in the app doesn't mean it’s right for our customers or sales. 

Like that time I wanted this massive, gorgeous banner that ended up eating up half of the screen space. User testing showed us that the big banner is horrible for conversion rate optimization because it’s not really shoppable – you still have to go to another page. So you're missing very valuable real estate.

That could be the actual products, like your best selling products on the front of your homepage, or celebration related gift sets.

Below you also can find top-3 banner sizes that have the highest Click Through Rate (CTR), according to the research conducted by Eskimi.

Most popular static banner size for desktop is Medium Rectangle (300x250), for mobile – Mobile Leaderboard (300x250).

So these are learnings that we’ve seen with the actual numbers of homepage conversion. And I think without the huge amount of user testing during the design stage, we would have made some very fatal mistakes. 

So there were some word choices around discounts  or vouchers and sales – about words that we use and where they were placed on screens that caused a lot of confusion for customers.

The flow between our category pages and product pages has evolved significantly from our initial vision to its current form, largely due to the feedback received during user testing with Cieden. This process has yielded many surprises.

Lesson #2: You will always overlook valuable things while scaling

I think the first two or three months of ‘go, go, go, scale, scale, scale,’ were so inefficient. It wasn't about optimization at all but rather how we could meet the demands of our customers and deliver great service, even if it meant dealing with massive stacks of paper for recycling daily because everything was printed out.

There was no technology in place. So I think the biggest challenge was going from something like that where everything was about like, ‘grow, grow, grow’ to like, ‘we've done the growing now and there's a lot of inefficiencies and processes that haven't really been polished. 

And because of that, there's gaps in terms of where we can sometimes fail with service, because we haven't thought things through. Where we fail in terms of employee training. Because there's so many changes that happen all the time. How do you make sure that everybody is aligned and that this is the new process now. So the boring part is much needed.

Having an operations excellence team

Now we have a team called Operations Excellence, which we established after a customer who was also a really good friend called me and said, ‘I don't know if you've noticed this, but before everybody I spoke to was really friendly, really upbeat. And now I feel like after somebody from your company calls me, I'm in a bad mood because they don't sound like they're enjoying their day.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is one of the worst pieces of feedback that you could receive from a customer.

So I went back downstairs and I asked some of the new starters, ‘What have you been told about? How do you initiate a conversation with a customer? And what steps do you go through?’ They're like, ‘Oh, they just told us to do it as quickly as possible and make sure that all the amendments are correct.

Then, I asked them about the greeting, about questions not related to sales in any way. They replied, ‘Sorry, but we haven't been told that.’ So, there's a gap here in terms of the standards that we want to achieve and the standards that we're able to sustain at scale.

Hiring the right people

I would double down on the emphasis around having good people. In the beginning, we made some very spur of the moment decisions or we had to hire very quickly because we had to scale a certain way.

When you're forced to hire quickly, compromises are often made on how thoroughly you vet candidates because you're so desperate to fill positions in your business. And sometimes, having the wrong person on the team, rather than having no person on the team can actually have a greater negative impact on your business.

Hiring the wrong person can cost you more than 3X the employee’s annual salary, according to REC.

So I think that's one of the big pieces of advice I would tell myself is to think more carefully about what kind of people we should have on the team.

Lesson #3: Customer service is the core of business

In our language, 'Suki' means a loyal customer. So that's why everything we do is about customer retention and having a sincere service.

Because groceries are so personal. It's not like you buy groceries once a year. And if people buy groceries once a year, maybe we would care a little bit less. But if you buy groceries weekly or you buy groceries every time you get paid, it’s something really personal because it's part of your routine.

That's why it's ingrained amongst everybody in the Shop Suki team, how we should treat our sukis, our customers.

Forget about outsourcing customer service

Because customer service is one of the most important roles, this is a function that I cannot imagine ever outsourcing. Because I think people, some companies assume that customer service is like an independent department. They're often there to clean up the mess after something goes wrong.

The Founder and CEO of Shop Suki Jennica Chiang thinks startups need to rethink the function of customer service.

But actually, I think we need to rethink the function of customer service. And that customer service should actually be at the core of the business. And our business decisions should be based on the feedback that the customer service team gathers. So our customer service team actually leads part of our weekly operations meetings, where they let everybody know the most critical customer concerns.

And there's accountability across every single team on what we need to do regarding those specific concerns. So all of the biggest customer concerns are in our company announcements every week and every month. Because I think we just want to be really sincere when we say that our sukis, our customers, are front of mind.

Lesson #4: Ads don’t build relationships

So one of the things that I always say to our marketing team is what's in it for me? Why should I care?

Especially in social media and even in our inboxes on our phones, everyone's bombarded with messages from brands saying, ‘Me, me, me, listen to me, listen to me, buy this now.’ And I think we as consumers have gotten a lot better at blocking these out, right?

So, one thing we've tried in our marketing is to make it a conversation with our 'sukis'. We want to give them something funny to brighten their day or start a conversation with them. We ask them what are their best recipe tips for Christmas, what are their favorite dishes or what meals remind them of their childhood. It's more of a conversation rather than saying, ‘Hey, by the way, we're an online grocery. Shop online, download our app.

Conversations with customers should be more authentic rather than salesy.

Because if people don't care, they will skip those kinds of ads. And if they're interested in your brand, they would download your app and if they see the benefits of that, they would purchase. Therefore, genuine conversations and engagement, reflected in our tone of voice and messages, are the main paths we follow with our 'sukis'.

Lesson #5: Smart supplier partnerships enhance platform uniqueness

I don't think any grocery out there has thrived without building strong partnerships with their suppliers.

At Shop Suki, we have several partnerships. KCC is our supply chain partner and our source of goods. At the same time, we are their eCommerce arm. In terms of operations, that is definitely a key partner and we wouldn't be here without them.

On the other hand, we have our suppliers. We've partnered with P&G, Unilever, Colgate, and a lot of big national brands like NutriAsia. These are definitely mutually beneficial partnerships which are crucial in the world of groceries.

Why? Because through eCommerce we were able to capture a lot of data that otherwise wouldn't be captured in store about how people behave, how people shop. And this is data that we've been able to share with our brand partners that has been really insightful and useful for their businesses as well.

And of course, on their part, they've helped us with tailored promotions for our 'sukis'. So it's also very beneficial for us because customers can get savings and special bundles that are on our platform exclusively.

Lesson #6: Balance quantitative and qualitative measurements

Evaluating the health of the product

In assessing the health of our app, Active Users is a go-to metric, standard yet crucial. Notice a big swing in these numbers, especially after launching a new version? That’s a red alert. 

Another metric that really makes me lose sleep is Uninstall Rate. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of new installs, but let’s be real: if your uninstall numbers are half as much as your installs, then we've got a problem, no sugarcoating it. These are the real deal-breakers, the numbers that tell you how your app is really doing.

Assessing the business's vital signs

In terms of the business, Revenue is the most important thing because you could have the best product in the world, with zero latency, zero uninstalls, high install rate, but nobody's buying anything through it. What's the point? It's like you've built a very beautiful showroom with no customers. So, Revenue is top of mind.

We also look at Average Order Value (AOV). We've definitely seen an increase in average order value in the past year. But we need to understand that it might happen because inflation has hit the Philippines and the grocery space particularly. So this is definitely one of the contributors to high AOV.

We analyze the Unique Number of Items in each order to gauge customer engagement with our product range. Additionally, we monitor engagement with our fresh category, as online purchases of fresh items significantly indicate customer trust in our business.

So, we have established a benchmark for the percentage of baskets containing fresh items, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish. Achieving this benchmark consistently is crucial, as it represents a significant indicator of the trust our customers place in us for these essential purchases.

The most important eCommerce startup metrics to watch out for are Revenue, Active Users, Uninstall Rate, Average Order Value, Unique Number of Items.

Qualitative measurement

Beyond the quantitative metrics like installs, order values, and active users, there’s an invaluable asset – user feedback. It's as crucial as the numbers themselves, guiding you on how to elevate your business. Truly listening to complaints, however, is a challenging task. After all, people generally prefer to complain rather than compliment, don't they?

When faced with criticism, the instinct might be to cover your ears and put your head down, especially when you've poured your heart into your work. Yet, the effort someone makes to write a detailed review, voicing their concerns, is a sign of their investment in your app. They're not just users, they're customers who care deeply about their experience and want to be actively engaged.

So listening to this feedback and making sure that all channels are open to get this feedback is super important.

Lesson #7: Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities

For a first-time founder, it's natural to lack a clear long-term perspective, which can often make every problem seem more significant than it truly is in the broader context.

When I was just starting, every little problem was a meltdown level problem. But now, if you come to me with those problems, then I'd probably just laugh it off or say, ‘It's okay, it can be resolved.

And sometimes, you feel such pressure that everything needs solving immediately, making that sense of urgency beneficial, as it leads to quicker problem resolution.

But in some ways, that sense of urgency can lead you to make decisions that aren't really thought through. That has a bigger negative impact on the business, like hiring the wrong people. 

So take a breather, take a step back and really think about all the implications of the decisions that you're about to make.

And actually, in some ways, you do need to make a few bad decisions because of some of these things that I'm telling you, there's no way you'd learn it unless you've really screwed up. It's just a part of the learning experience.

Wrap up

In the vibrant world of eCommerce, the right team with the right intention makes all the difference. As you dive into this journey of how to grow your eCommerce business, may you find those people who align with your vision and drive your business forward. Wishing you all the best in your quest for professional excellence and success in your ventures!

Want more pieces of advice like this? Check out our podcast about product management and design. See you there!

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