Why now is the perfect time to refocus your E-Commerce Efforts

In March 2017 the UK Government published their Digital Strategy1, the document covers a broad array of digital considerations including connectivity, digital skills, digital start-ups and security. Section 4 talks about ways of helping every British business become a digital business, an area which takes additional importance due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This spurred a number of initiatives aimed at helping close the digital skills gap and encouraging digital adoption. One initiative is the Productivity Council, established to drive engagement with business and improve productivity through appropriate use of digital technologies, whether this be maintaining an online presence, adopting cloud technologies or selling online.

In 2018, E-commerce in the non-financial sector contributed £688 billion to the UK Economy, rising from £582 billion in 2017 (ONS2). Given the general upward trend and with the Covid-19 pandemic it’s not hard to imagine this topping £1 trillion this year.

Many businesses do e-commerce very well, in fact in 2018, 20.5% of turnover of businesses with 10 or more staff was done online (ONS2). This still leaves almost 80% of business done through traditional means so it begs the question what is holding business back? Why are businesses not as digitally focused as they could be?

There are potentially a number of reasons:

  1. They lack the skills or know how in either setting up an online shop or how to manage the marketing aspects.
  2. They’ve dipped their toes in to e-commerce in the past but didn’t have the success they were expecting or got burnt by an agency who didn’t fully understand their market or offering.
  3. The perception that their customers are not online or looking to buy their products online.
  4. A general low priority afforded to digital transformation.

Covid-19 has presented a unique opportunity, people are having to buy more online. In the online grocery market alone, there is expected growth of 35% to £16.8 billion in 2020 (Mintel3) with other sectors following similar trends.

So what are the reasons for businesses to reevaluate e-commerce?:

  1. Improved technology – the systems and devices we use have improved massively over the past 20 years but a few key areas have specifically helped e-commerce:
    1. Smart phones and responsive websites – with smartphones in almost everyone’s pockets, people have the means to easily buy online wherever they are. This coupled with the move to responsive web design means that sites are designed for a range of devices and screen sizes. This has helped improve usability and as a result conversion rates.
    1. Better e-commerce platforms – many of the large e-commerce providers such as  WooCommerce, Shopify & Magento have become mature platforms. They support all the common features people need to sell online and are expandable into many complex and niche scenarios. This coupled with improved back end systems for functionality such stock management and CRM has made the whole process much smoother.
    1. Improved security – a focus on security across all aspects from payment gateways, browsers, operating systems and e-commerce platforms. This has helped give confidence to consumers.
  2. Decline in physical shop usage – the high street has taken a beating throughout the Covid-19 crisis:
    1. Shops have been closed or have reduced capacity & opening hours.
    1. A change in the way people work, more people are working from home and not in tows and city centres.
    1. Older generations being forced to adapt through shielding.
  3. More accessible ways to reach customers – mature online advertising platforms such as Facebook, Google Ads and LinkedIn make it much easier for businesses to reach their target audience.

So what is next?

The shift in consumer behavior may have long term lasting impact. Habits that people pick up and the ease of shopping online is likely to represent a permanent change. E-Commerce was a growing area already and it looks like this trend will continue and accelerate.

The UK is well positioned with expertise in selling online across the country and the UK government has identified the Digital Economy as a key growth area to support. Consumers are more willing than ever to use e-commerce and improved platforms have made setting up a site easier than ever.

If successful, increased digital adoption could play a crucial role in closing the UK’s productivity gap with its peers.

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-digital-strategy
  2. https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/itandinternetindustry/bulletins/ecommerceandictactivity/2018
  3. https://www.mintel.com/press-centre/retail-press-centre/mintel-forecasts-online-grocery-sales-will-grow-an-estimated-33-during-2020

An edited version of this article featured on the Centre for the New Midlands.

Flash

A nice retrospective into the rise and fall of Flash by Ars. Back in the mid to late 00’s Flash was an undeniable force and whilst my path took me down CMS technology almost all the most creative websites used Flash in some way.

With the move to mobile platforms it was hard to imagine how desktop browser Flash applications would migrate and it turns out the industry was moving in a different direction anyway. But even with all its weaknesses I can’t help but feel the web lost something with the demise of Flash. Modern usability and accessibility standards exist today in part by the mistakes people made with Flash and it was a truly creative time when almost anything was possible.

Flash is now just a piece of nostalgia – would love to get peoples thoughts on their past experiences…

The Centre for the New Midlands

Back in 2005 I was in my second year of University in Coventry, it was here I met Chris Smith. We both used some of our spare time working for the University showing prospective students around on open days. We would give talks and help them understand what the University and city had to offer.

Fifteen years later and we both have businesses, I’m Director of Information Solutions/The Web Orchard and Chris’ is Director for the Centre of the New Midlands.

Chris’ path had taken him to setting up a thinktank dedicated to the Midlands, a rare yet golden opportunity to help focus on the region’s development and how we can do things differently to build a brighter future.

As part of this vision is the areas digital future, a focus we’ve been able to assist with. In it’s first part, a website for the Centre and moving forward, assistance with digital transformation for businesses and organisations.

Coming out of the Covid-19 crisis the Midlands is going to face a new set of challenges. We strongly believe a number of these can be met with creative IT solutions, whether that will be through increased remote working or innovative web services.

We want to be part of the future success of the region, hence our work with Chris and the Centre has been so important. View website below:

Support Shrewsbury

We’ve had a great opportunity to work with Shrewsbury Business Improvement District in developing the website for Support Shrewsbury https://lnkd.in/gnuq2TT

The site is an online marketplace to give people the opportunity to buy vouchers and products for their favourite Shrewsbury businesses to help boost recovery after lockdown.

We worked on the technical aspects of the project, the challenge with the marketplace was ensuring that vendors had sufficient control over managing their store front and that the site kept an overall look and feel in keeping with the Shrewsbury branding.

The website was developed in conjunction with Shrewsbury BID, providing shops and businesses with income and support during lockdown.

Time

I distinctly remember visiting offices as a child with clocks on the wall with time zones from major cities like London, Paris, New York & Tokyo – so to help with working from home the kids have made some but with meal times on 😂

iOS/Android App Development for Kingston First

Working in partnership with the UK’s first Business Improvement District (BID), The Web Orchard have contributed to the ongoing success of the ‘Keep It Kingston’ campaign developed by not-for-profit membership organisation, Kingston First.

Launched in 2017, the Keep It Kingston scheme offers multiple benefits to members; including free marketing opportunities through which to promote their brands and businesses as well as fantastic benefits for their employees that provide them with exclusive discounts across the town.

Originally launched as a card with a directory of offers on a section of the Kingston First website (which was also designed and built by The Web Orchard), the Keep It Kingston initiative experienced fast success and quickly grew amongst Kingston First’s members and employees; over 13,000 cards were in circulation in 2019. With greater traffic going through the Kingston First website to access information on the Keep It Kingston scheme, the management team decided to reconsider the customer journey that their online users were experiencing, Kirsten Henly, Chief Executive at Kingston First comments:

“As the scheme grew, and following feedback from our members and users, we decided to evolve the scheme and provide a fully digital Keep it Kingston function. Our priorities were to make the scheme more user-friendly and create a platform which enabled understand more clearly how the service was performing and being used. We tasked The Web Orchard with creating a bespoke Keep It Kingston App and a linked website. The Web Orchard were already our existing chosen partner with respect to our main B2B website, so we had no hesitation in turning to them for help with this new project.”

Pete White Director at The Web Orchard expands:

“Further to designing and building the website to enable Kingston First to promote themselves, the town and the businesses within the BID, we very quickly saw an opportunity to increase reach, accessibility and interactivity for the Keep It Kingston scheme via the development of a complementary App. Applicable for iPhone and Android devises, the new App enables Kingston’s business community to quickly and easily take advantage of the array of money saving opportunities developed by Kingston First.”

On the new App and her experience of working with The Web Orchard, Kirsten concludes:

“The new App has been overwhelmingly popular and well received by our members, with 5,000 users on board in just 3 months. It’s one of our most accessed services which is great for both members who have employees using the scheme and for members who are providing offers.

“The Web Orchard team took the time to understand our goals and have translated our brief into an excellent product. We continue to work with The Web Orchard on further developments for the App and benefit from their insight and straightforward approach to problem-solving, alongside supporting us to get the best out of App for our members.

Meet Franz

I want to quickly mention a piece of software I’ve been using for a while – with the increase in remote working we’ve been inundated with various communications software whether it’s MS Teams, Skype, What’s App, Slack or Facebook.

All want to install new pieces of software or fill up browser tabs making it difficult to track where notifications are coming from.

Franz groups the various services together in one application. Simply install then add the services you use – all notifications are then routed through one app (and can be muted) and you know that all your communication is in one place.

Download from https://meetfranz.com

Iraq Business News

Just over six years ago we took over the news site Iraq Business News and its associated publications in Iran in Libya. We’ve seen the rise and fall of Isis and the knock-on effects that has caused for people and business. 

In that time the Iraq website has received almost 10 million page views from 2.4 million users in 217 countries. The weekly newsletters for all three sites have been read a huge 1.7 million times.

The site survives thanks to its sponsors and with stats like the above we like to feel we have a strong value proposition – for more see…  www.iraq-businessnews.com

hello

Born and raised in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, I’ve spent my career in the IT/Web industry. At school I took a keen interest in computers & the internet and it was here I started my first blog. Over two decades later the website is still going strong.

In 2003 I set up a web hosting company whilst at University – Switchweb. I graduated in 2006 from Coventry University with a first class honours degree in Computer Science.

I joined Information Solutions Ltd in the summer 2006 and worked up the ranks to a director. The company has won many awards and delivers IT support services to a range of businesses and non-profit organisations.

I also set up and run a successful web agency, The Web Orchard, we’ve built a reputation for developing complex web applications for organisations around the world.

My side projects include Love Shrewsbury and Iraq Business News. The latter has received over 10 million page views and its newsletter has been read over 1.7million times since we took over the site in 2014.

I’ve been involved with ShropGeek for a number of years and have helped organise the three (R)Evolution conferences as well as numerous smaller events. 

In 2010 I published my first book, Travel Photography showcasing some of my photography from around the world.

Day to day I spend most of my time coordinating projects from our office in the centre of Shrewsbury.

My projects/companies include:

www.info-sol.co.uk

www.theweborchard.com

www.loveshrewsbury.com

www.iraq-businessnews.com

www.switchweb.co.uk

www.imafish.co.uk

www.imachistory.com

That time we had a website on Dragons Den

I was cleaning out my pictures folder earlier and came across the below screenshot. Five years ago a customer approached us wanting a new website ready for their appearance on the BBC show Dragons Den – the only problem – the show aired on prime time BBC2 in 2 weeks time.

Not to want to miss such a great opportunity we pulled out all the stops to get the site designed, built and populated with only a few hours to spare. The next problem – what to do if the 3 million people watching the show wanted to visit the site?

Fortunately, in our planning we had separated the front-end homepage & product pages from the shopping cart functionality based on the assumption most people would simply want to check out the company rather than purchase its products.

We configured Drupal to generated static pages then used Cloudflare to cache our assets for a long period. The result was that the 250,000 visits the site got over a 90 min period were almost all served up with content from the Cloudflare network and the company received more orders in that period then they normally would in a month.

The achievement for me wasn’t that we got the site designed and built in such as short period, its that we kept it up, loading fast and fully exploited all the PR the show had given the company.