We’re excited to announce the launch of Conversational Cafe, a new interview series featuring some of the brightest minds in e-commerce and social commerce chatting with our Director of Partnerships, Marie-Claude “MC” Léveillé. An early Shopify employee, MC has seen it all when it comes to ecommerce acceleration. And her insatiable curiosity for all things tech and trends shines through in episode one.
In this edition, MC sits down with Piers Thorogood, Managing Director and Co-Founder of We Make Websites, which Harley Finkelstein, Shopify’s Chief Operating Officer, has called “one of the most successful e-commerce agencies on the planet.” We Make Websites exclusively works on Shopify Plus ecommerce stores, which has worked with top brands like Dockers, Hasbro, and Lauren Conrad Beauty. With offices in New York and London, the team behind We Make Websites shows know signs of slowing down.
Read on to hear Piers’ takes on internationalization, UX, and how We Make Websites business nailed it by finding a niche.
Marie-Claude Léveillé: When you started We Make Websites, did you ever think it would become what it is today?
Piers Thorogood: I’d say no! We didn’t have much of a plan at the start. We liked the idea of escaping our day jobs, and we liked the idea of building websites, but the plan was ‘Let’s do this to make some money, let’s build a SaaS product, and see how it goes.’
But what actually happened was it turned out we were pretty good at building websites, and the idea of trying to do another SaaS product on the side sort of fell away.
The plan came two or three years in, when we decided ‘Let’s focus on ecom, let’s focus on Shopify’ and suddenly it took off. And we realized ‘Oh, this could turn into something big — let’s start hiring people and growing it’.
What would you attribute your success to?
I would definitely say finding that niche: Shopify doesn’t seem like a niche now, but at the time, no one was focusing on Shopify. Especially in the UK, it wasn’t really a known entity; we just really liked it, had used it a bit and thought it could be the thing for us.
As soon as we changed all our marketing to be e-com and Shopify focused, the leads just started pouring in. In a matter of months the whole business changed. So, that one tiny decision was the thing that changed the trajectory of the agency. We were also lucky: we caught it right at the right time.
We’ve seen tremendous growth in e-commerce during the pandemic. What do you think have been the biggest challenges for brands and agencies during this time?
For us, like so many businesses, at the start of the pandemic it was a panic — like, ‘What are we going to do?’ A lot of our clients had a big physical store presence, or were dealing with physical retailers, and initially people were stopping projects.
But over a couple of months, we were fortunate that e-commerce became the focus.
Everyone shifted to their owned channels — their websites — and thankfully we were there to support these brands. And what felt like a temporary shift at the time has become permanent, which has been great for our business.
If you had to pick a ‘topic of the year’ — something that your clients are bringing up to you often — what would it be?
I would say headless commerce. When we’re engaging with new clients it often comes up in conversation, and it can be a confusing topic. We help people navigate that world and to know what they’re getting into.
The other hot topic is internationalization. We have all these brands that are looking to expand, and that means expanding geographically. We help them make the right technical decisions, the right UX decisions, and help them expand in new geographies.
Let’s dig into that a little. What are some of the pitfalls of going international that brands might overlook?
People often think about the logistical side — you know, ‘we need to ship our products there’ — as well as translating their website to another language, and accepting other currencies. But there’s so much more to it than that.
When you’re entering a new market, you need to think about the cultural differences that could impact how a brand presents themselves to the new market. One example that stands out to me are direct-to-consumer mattress businesses — there are a lot of them out there! For a brand in this sector that is expanding into Germany, they will quickly discover that ‘double’-size mattresses aren’t a thing in Germany; nobody uses that size. So cultural differences are important to consider, even from a product perspective.
Other elements to consider are how you receive payments. In the US and the UK, for example, we just assume everyone uses credit cards to buy online, but in other countries it’s common to use debit or bank transfers.
As a brand, what you want is to make it feel like a local shopping experience for people in that territory — for it to be as comfortable as if they were buying from a brand based in their home country.
Let’s talk a bit about user experience. For brands, what three things do you think are most important from a UX perspective?
First, it’s important to focus on the whole customer experience. Often when we talk about UX, we’re too focused on only the website experience: how it feels for a user to navigate the website and so on. But that’s just one piece. Emails, customer support, packaging, post-sale service experience, returns — brands need to consider how all those elements work together to create a whole experience. The entire experience should be frictionless.
Second, I think it’s important that brands focus on making the experience of shopping with them enjoyable. Yes, you want to aim to create a frictionless shopping experience, but on top of that you want to bring in elements of fun — you want to be surprising and delighting the customer.
There’s a lot of ways you can differentiate yourself from your competitors and make your experience more enjoyable. Often it comes down to the creative on the website: the copy you use, nice animations, that sort of thing. Assuming all the basics are in place to create a good experience, that layer on top is really what gets people coming back.
Curious for more insights? Watch the full interview on our YouTube channel here.
This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.