A new sport feels great when the conditions are optimal. This is the situation in many online stores at the moment. The wave, raised by the pandemic crisis, carries still, but the smart ones would use this upbeat time to train hard, so that they could catch the next one, too. Read my thoughts about what to focus on right now in order to thrive when the competition tightens.
Sometimes it’s nice to be lousy at something. Naturally, I’m not talking about my work with clients, but my own hobbies. Learning new is the coolest thing, and you can find new viewpoints to business as well when you can’t help yourself but start over and over again.
Back in the day, I was one of the first snowboarders in Finland. The sport was unknown by the masses, I made the boards from plywood with my own hands (one of them is in the collection of the Finnish Sports Museum) and I had bruises and dents all over my body, but it was the coolest of times. It wasn’t time to go home until it was pitch-dark, and limbs were frozen still. And even then, for only a few hours maximum.
But then, the sport exploded, and, for a brief moment, I had my own snowboard shop and later on my first real business, that organized coaching internationally and MTV’s snowboarding events in city centers. And again, everything was cool. Instead of focusing merely on my own development, I got to be a part of the blast of the whole sport in the country.
After that, there have been many cool new things along the way. Last summer, I discovered another one: I started to practice wing surfing. To make it simple, you take a small surfboard and screw a pole with a fin to the bottom of the board. Then, instead of a mast and a sail, you take an inflatable sail that looks like a kite and raise it hand-held above your head, and then it’s go time, until the board rises, not to a surf but onto a foil (a little bit like an America’s Cup boat). Of course, you don’t do everything from scratch by yourself but order the new equipment online. And, of course, the board won’t rise onto the foil immediately, but before the first proper ride you’ll end up face down tens or hundreds of times.
And when you finally start foiling – and feel like royalty for a moment – a bigger gust of wind comes your way or you reach the shore unexpectedly and you have to make a turn. And yet again, you’re face down in the water.
I bet it takes a certain character to spend your summer this way, but so does entrepreneurship. Last summer I had the time to contemplate the wild west of e-commerce that the corona pandemic created. The industry is surfing, possibly even foiling at times. According to the e-commerce index, the order amounts grew by 75 % in Q2 (2020) compared to the previous year. New entrepreneurs were emerging left and right. Across the pond, we heard an echo: Amazon was coming to Sweden and soon after that, Finland.
In boarding, one successful ride doesn’t get you very far. You need to have perseverance and humility to train so that you can catch that next and bigger wave, fiercer wind, and get your turns right. And your head needs to cope with the guy next to you, already making bigger jumps than you can.
The analogy to e-commerce isn’t very farfetched. The conditions are now in the merchant’s favor, and everything is going smoothly. It doesn’t take long before the winds change and the ones remaining are the ones who stayed humble and kept on learning more, even when things were rolling smoothly.
This reminds me of another incident from my path. When it became obvious that snowboarding was winning among the youth, new snowboard and snowboard clothing brands were popping up here and there. The sport was the blue ocean that everyone wanted to be involved in and get their market share. One of the first brands to appear on the slopes was Burton. The founder, Jake Burton Carpenter, really listened to the snowboarders and developed the boards according to their demands. Simultaneously, he spent easily over 100 days of the year snowboarding. That’s an easy way to understand your clientele. That’s why Burton Snowboards is still with us, while hundreds of others have disappeared, and while Jake himself has left the slopes of our world.
The same applies to e-commerce. The barrier to entry is extremely low: just call someone to set up your store, create your own or buy a turnkey solution. And now that e-commerce is all the rage, the clients are there as well. The cash register keeps on singing and merchants smiling. Feels like the whole industry is foiling.
If, at this point, you think you’re good, keep that to yourself, and focus on what you don’t know. Otherwise, you’ll be face-planting, or twist your knees, or hit your head in the bottom rocks with ugly consequences. It’s best to learn to love what you can’t do and focus on becoming better at it.
Upseller, our company, was the pioneer in digital sales. We started from nothing and had a lot to learn before we developed the confidence to face any sort of sales situation possible. Now we know how (but still train every day). Today our duty is to oversee that digital sales as a sport develops as well as possible.
Now that investments have been made and the weather conditions are excellent, everyone is selling like crazy. But what about the next wave? Are you ready for that?
When preparing for the future remember at least the following:
1. E-commerce is a sales sport, not a technological performance. To succeed, you need to be a merchant. Think, what it means to be a good one. (A hint: Jake Burton was an outstanding snowboarder, but also a merchant)
2. When distribution is up and running, it is not a source of competitive advantage. Your clients and products are the most important factors.
3. The worst enemies of an e-store aren’t other e-stores, but the time thieves, that take your time away from the essential things. Many spend endless amounts of time on platforms, integrations, payment methods, and whatnot. Or organizing product data, shipments and returns. Get things done and out of the way. Decide, do, outsource if needed. Don’t spend months on end tweaking details, that only have a marginal effect on the outcome.
4. When it’s time to scale, seek help. When the products are good and developing, and the clients are there, and you’ve become one with your inner merchant, it’s time to take bigger steps. The key here is automation. Ask advice from the experienced to learn how to do it without creating a time thief and so that the clients will enjoy it.
5. You can’t beat Amazon with selection or price. To manage in a world where everything is compared to Amazon’s superior powers, you need to find a niche, where you can stand out and be excellent. My own, Finnish favorites in this category are: varuste.net, varusteleka.fi ja kaalimato.com. They all stand out in their sport, and they can all focus on growing their own business instead of fearing Amazon.
So, don’t forget to practice your turns and moves for the tougher times now when the conditions are still great. That way you can catch and foil the next wave, too.