AIB Start-up Academy Coach Vinny O’Brien on mastering the E-commerce space as a start-up

Vinny O'Brien gives a talk at the AIB Start-Up Academy.

For any Start-up, it’s absolutely crucial to have an e-commerce strategy. This week AIB Start-up Academy mentor Vinny O’Brien, Head of Marketplaces at Luzern, has been teaching the Start-ups about the challenges and opportunities available in the e-commerce space. Read on for his tips on e-commerce which you can put into practice today.

Broaden your perception of what e-commerce can be

I wanted to show the Academy finalists that e-commerce is about more than just buying and selling t-shirts online. On a daily basis we interact on mobile banking, we use government tenders, and we pay utility bills online. All of these are forms of e-commerce. E-commerce is a series of practical steps that should be taken to enhance your business. And they should be clearly understood from an operational and cost perspective. I don’t think Start-ups should shy away from it. But they should understand when it’s right to engage in e-commerce for their business. Or be able to say why they’re not engaging, and determine when in the life cycle of their product it will be appropriate for them.

Developing an e-commerce strategy

The first thing to understand is where e-commerce fits in for your business. For example, you might require a customer service function. Or you might require a multi-lingual customer service function or a 24-hour customer service function. You need to relate that to the audience you’re trying to capture. Some people will have a product that’s local and will be always local. But some businesses have a global audience, and as soon as they step into the e-commerce space they should be aware of the natural steps they have to take. You need to be aware of the demands on your time because you won’t necessarily have a team behind you.

How to build trust in your e-commerce platform

Reputation marketing is extremely important when designing an e-commerce platform for your business. Use things like Trusted Shop or Reevoo and do that on both the store and product to build trust. Be PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant and make sure that people understand what that means. Look to leverage partners who have trust behind them and can validate you by association. If you have a partner like Stripe or PayPal or a blue chip company that’s going to trial your product, they’re the guys who can build a testimonial for you.

3 key considerations for your e-commerce platform

1. Be aware of the costs - Companies will jump straight into it and then realise, the cost of their product to produce is twenty euro. Add in marketing, payment processing fees, and all of a sudden a healthy profit margin has been eroded through costs they haven’t factored in. Many Start-ups don’t consider how broad e-commerce is. If you look at a customer journey, what are the touch points that you will need to cover in a company? This can range from warehousing to marketing to customer service to packaging. These are all difficult things to manage yourself if you’re a small business.

2. Make things easy for your customer - Enhancing your fulfilment options should be a key consideration. Paying for shipping is something people are willing to do if they can get something quicker and in a more convenient location. I don’t think there’s as much pressure to absorb all those costs necessarily. Where it was inequitable for businesses to look at these options three years ago, it’s worth revisiting now because the cost of it has come down.

3. Leverage your existing network - Use the network you have and get people to influence on your behalf. If you’re using social media, get people you know to talk about your product and to use it. If you can get the product in the hands of people who might be able to influence your market that can be key. For example, we worked with Jawbone and Oprah Winfrey picked out one of their products in her stocking fillers for Christmas. As a result, we won about 3.5m sales in 24 hours off the back of her being on social and talking about it. That’s the power of a person using their social media presence for your brand. I think asking for help and asking for validation are all things that people should do. There’s definitely good will in Ireland towards Start-ups right now and people are willing to help.

Learn More about Growing Your Business

The AIB Start-up Academy sees 11 new companies compete for the chance to win a prize package worth €250,000 to develop their business. Find out more about this year’s AIB Start-up Academy finalists at The Irish Times, follow their progress on @AIBBiz, and check out our photo album on Facebook.