Starting out in e-commerce: six essential tips from successful founders

Business, Editor's Choice | Tue 20 Feb | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: White & Green founders, L-R, Danielle, Sari, Andrea and Rebecca Winckworth.

Six top tips for creating a successful e-commerce company…And the mistakes we made before learning these! By Rebecca Winckworth of Irish e-commerce company White & Green.

White & Green is an Irish-based e-commerce company, set up by the Winckworth family to sell 100% organic Fairtrade luxury bedlinen. Mum Sari, an interior designer, and daughters Rebecca, Andrea and Danielle, run the business, selling directly to consumers online to make the ethically produced goods more affordable. Rebecca, who has a Master’s in International Development from the London School of Economics is an expert on development, labour rights and Fairtrade, and after going through the learning curve of setting up an online business, now has plenty of wisdom on that process to pass on to aspiring internet entrepreneurs.

  1. Find a .com Business Name

Unfortunately, we had gone ahead with White & Green and .ie as a brand name and website before it transpired that .com was on sale by a broker company for several thousand euro. You can avoid our mistake by creating a name that is totally unique and available in .com version. Carry out a domain search on Blacknight, Go Daddy, or a similar platform (there are loads of them) and buy the .com immediately. No matter what people tell you about newer extensions such .org, .company, or .business etc, you simply can’t beat .com for worldwide consumer recognition and trust.

We also highly recommend you check all major social media platforms when choosing a name. It is increasingly difficult to find the handle you want on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and it’s important that you don’t send customers on a wild goose chase trying to find your brand online.

  1. Hire Experts

Now that you have your brand name and your domain. You need to find two separate experts (these are two very different skills) to get you to the next stage.

    • Graphic Designer

Your brand logo and “look” must reflect your product and your values. You might find fantastic experts online at or who will create your brand guidelines cheaply for you. Or you might decide to spend more on someone local with whom you can meet in person and form a long-lasting relationship. We have employed people remotely before and they disappeared for weeks or months at time, just as we urgently needed them! When setting out the work to be done, try to look holistically at the company: logo, labels, packaging, brochures, business cards etc. Though it’s perfectly acceptable for elements of the brand to evolve over time, if you can get most things right from the start, you’ll have much less work to do down the line!

    • Web Developer

It is absolutely possible to create your own store if you are willing to put in a lot of time! However, at White & Green, we have always opted to work with expert web developers to make sure that everything is done professionally. Websites are temperamental and very often things go wrong when you least expect it. Having the experts there means these issues are minimised and fixed more quickly than if you try to do it all alone. It can take a long time to find the right fit for your team, we recommend word of mouth and asking for feedback from other clients before you sign any contracts. Much more on how to minimise technical issues on your site in point 4!

  1. Know What You Want For Your Website

Once you have the graphic design and the web developer in place, it’s time to tell them what you want. Do your research and know exactly the look and feel for your brand. The more vague you are, the more room for error. Don’t be afraid to take inspiration from companies and competitors that are doing really well.

Know exactly what pages you want, what they should say and how the user should feel while they browse the site, e.g. inspired, calm, excited, etc. Strong photography is essential, see more below!

  1. E-commerce Platform: Go with Shopify

Too many crashes and technical faults later, we’ve learnt the hard way that we chose the wrong initial platform for our site. We used Woocommerce, which is an extension for WordPress. The problem with Woocommerce is that all of the themes and plugins are made by third parties, which constantly have to be updated. They also regularly conflict with each other or with Woocommerce creating malfunctions on the store. This platform also requires a third party server. These servers can be slow and can even crash if you have too many visitors at once! When we were on Dragons Den, we upped our server to 100,000-viewer capacity and the site still crashed!

We are soon moving to Shopify, which is a one-stop shop for ecommerce. All hosting, themes, plugins are created/managed under one roof and there is a 24/7 team of experts available to help with any questions. With over 600,000 stores around the world, this platform runs stores for celebrities such as Kendall & Kylie Jenner, Lady Gaga, Adele and yet it is really easy to update yourself once you’ve had a look around. They also provide logistics and POS solutions so your whole business can be integrated; essential for stock management!

  1. Strong Video and Photo Content

Visuals are absolutely key to online success. Landing pages with video can lead to up to 800% higher conversion and customers are four times more likely to watch a video about a product than to read about it. Moral of the story- you have to create video content for your website and social media. We were reluctant and camera-shy at first, but since we have started uploading short (1-2 minute) clips, we have seen a huge increase in user engagement.

We also highly recommend that you get your entire product range professionally photographed against white background. This is essential if you intend to sell through sites such as Amazon or Ebay in the future. Set up a photograph style and stick with it, e.g. flat lay, side angle etc. It’s also important to create lifestyle content as customers on your own website will expect a mixture of both. The more visual content you have, the better! If you are stuck for content for blogs or social media posts, you can also use stock imagery for a small subscription, or even for free. Though (of course) you cannot use stock imagery to represent your products!

  1. Get the Bureaucracy Out of the Way

Though it’s easy to leave the nitty-gritty to a later stage, we really recommend that you start the way you mean to continue. Make sure you set up your bank account, register your company name, establish the legal entity of your business and register with the tax office. We also recommend that you register for barcodes and allocate SKUs to all of your products. This means that all of your products will be labelled correctly and ready to be sold B2B should that opportunity arise. Otherwise, you may find yourself printing out hundreds of labels after initial production and sticking them on yourself…..yes, we had to do that and we encourage you not to!