This is the first in what will no doubt be a series of posts on the design of webtogs.co.uk. We looked at lots of ‘out of the box’ type solutions, including open source offerings like oscommerce. In the end, we decided to develop our site from scratch. For us, with the development team we have on tap, this was a fairly easy decision to take. I think if you don’t have that benefit, it’s a scary thing to take on and do well, but perfectly possible.
As with all things, money comes in to it too. Even with our advantages, the cost of a total build from scratch would be far higher than integrating one of the many solutions already done. For us, the flexibility to do exactly what we want, outweighed the increased cost in money and time terms.
I take my hat off to the many open source developers who have put together oscommerce. It’s a great bit of kit, with some really useful librarys for a whole host of things ecommerce related. We were quite excited at the prospect of starting webtogs on a osc base, but after chatting to several ajax / php developers who had played with it in the past, some of the features we wanted for our site were going to be a nightmare to integrate with osc. If your looking to build a shop online and have some technical help / skill, I think osc is a great product, but like any ‘out of the box’ solution, it has it’s limits.
Shopify was another solution we looked at. It’s an interesting platform, with some nice templates, but we reckoned we’d hit a brick wall fairly quickly on lot’s of areas. In particular, search is a big issue for us. We’ve spent some time working on a Tags based structure to allow for ‘natural’ search, in so far as it’s possible, and shopify (along with some others) just wouldn’t have allowed this kind of approach.
I had an interesting day today, as Hamish Dunn the MD of Mountain Equipment paid us a visit. Being big fans of the gear, weâ€™d pursued ME to become a Webtogs supplier, so were chuffed to get the account and a visit from the big cheese to boot.
Whatâ€™s this got to do with starting an e-commerce company, I hear you sayâ€¦ Well, lots of brands are less than impressed with the Internet and how their products are displayed and sold. Many see the opportunity, but have been let down by silly price cuts, poor product images and lousy customer service. This is especially true for the outdoor industry, with many brands refusing to supply web only retailers point blank.
My meeting with Hamish was hugely interesting, as it gave me an insight into how the major brands in our sector view the Internet. From his point of view, I think he was simply there to check we werenâ€™t a â€˜bunch of Muppetsâ€™.
The common thread to this seems to surround price. The temptation with a web only business is to leverage the cost savings as compared to bricks and mortar retail, and pass these on to the customer, in an attempt to make a smaller margin but on far higher volume. This strategy works in some markets, especially consumable goods, media items (dvd, cd, etc) and consumer electronics.
In a market like outdoor, this is far harder to pull off. For one thing, the mass market volume simply isnâ€™t there. For another, most products tend to be high priced items that feature cutting edge technical features. The quality of service the consumer receives at the point of sale is also far more relevant, as products tend to be designed for a specific use, have to fit correctly, etc.
I donâ€™t think itâ€™s practical to offer top notch service and specialist advice, whilst selling core, in season, product lines on a 10% margin. I also think that companies such as Zappos, Amazon, etc have built tremendous brand loyalty and have done it based on number of factors, not just price. I recently bought a CD from Amazon and paid Â£13.49. Without a doubt, I could have found a better deal elsewhere, but I know Amazon, I know I will get the CD.
Translate this to a more specialist market, where other service factors come into play, and the brand of the retailer becomes even more important.
So Webtogs will always be competitive on price, and offer great value. But will we be the cheapest on every product? Not if it means a cut in the service levels we offer our customers, thatâ€™s for sure.
Having read the various press articles on companies losing their domain names, normally to US companies and especially for .com domains, we decided to trademark the name ‘webtogs’. Whilst our primary motivation was to protect the online name, it’s also good to do for general intellectual property (IP) protection anyway.
It’s an interesting process that we’d never been through before, but rather than hire an ‘expert’ or use our lawyer, we thought we’d try ourselves, in an effort to keep costs down.
It’s actually quite easy. The patent office websiteÂ is not bad and has lot’s of useful info to help out TM newbies such as us. After a bit of digging we discovered category 35 fits online retail the closest, so we entered that as our designated classification. There’s a good general list of classification categories and their numbers here.
We applied for the name ‘webtogs’ and our logo, which needed to be a certain size and in TIFF format. TIFF has the option to save the RGB colour profile in the image, via Photoshop, so we did this, rather than mess about with pantone colours.
In the end we opted for the online application, which was surprisingly easy to do and only took 10 mins or so. For the princely sum of Â£200 our application has been recieved and we await the outcome with bated breath .
I think the main concern for us is the term ‘web’ in the company name, which is fairly generic, but we sit in hope!
Here’s the logo file we uploaded as part of the online application…