Designing E-commerce Experience for DTCs: Q&A with We Make Websites

On the back of their launch in New York, DTC Daily speaks to Alex O’Byrne (pictured below), director & co-founder, We Make Websites, to discuss how the e-commerce agency is carving its niche in the market, designing an e-commerce experience for DTCs, and what’s next for his company. 

How does We Make Websites differ from most e-commerce agencies? 

We’re niche. We build e-commerce sites on Shopify Plus only and we focus on growing international brands. There are thousands of digital commerce agencies in the world, 140 Shopify Plus partners, but only one with a specialism in international e-commerce and that’s us.

We Make Websites has been around a decade, which is a long time in this game, and we have a client roster today that lines up with our wishes from 10 years ago. It’s been purposely moulded by excelling at what we do for brands: make their websites and make them more money whilst improving operations.

How and why do e-commerce agencies need to adjust their approach to cater for DTC brands?

DTC brands need to excel at two things compared to a traditional retailer or manufacturer.

Firstly, brand. This should be the core competency of any DTC company, so that means knowing who your customer is and what makes them buzz. Making sure each touchpoint along the customer journey reflects this is key and that means using technology that gives you full creative control.

Secondly, data-driven marketing. The secret to profitable e-commerce is customer lifetime value (LTV) needs to increase beyond the first purchase, so that means effectively re-marketing so that customers come back for more. High retention rates should always be a goal.

Alex O’Byre, director & co-founder, We Make Websites

Combining both of those will give you not just loyal customers but customers that love your brand.

If you are a brand business and not a product business, you should be doing both of the above. Another way of looking at it is, if you are a DTC brand that would never dream of selling on Amazon, you need to make sure that your sales channels are exceptional.

You guys have just launched in the US – what was the process for getting ready to set up there? What sort of market research did you have to do? 

Since we had a few clients in the US, we know there was a need for what we do and the international e-commerce expertise we offer brands. I did visit New York to scope out the ‘scene’ and my feeling was that there was nobody doing exactly what we’re doing. That was about the extent of the research.

We like to be lean, and as a digital agency there wasn’t a huge upfront outlay.

You can think of an agency as supply and demand; that’s clients and talent. For clients, I am a big believer in saying one thing clearly and then just getting out there and increasing your ‘luck surface area’. Martyn Boddy, Head of Partnerships at Shopify, convinced me to stick a load of money behind the bar at a trendy Manhattan spot and invite everybody I knew in e-commerce. It worked and that was the start of the growth of my U.S. network.

Today, we have a more robust marketing operation including our Brands of TMRW network for DTC brands, which has some incredible members including M.Gemi, Calvin Klein, Basic Outfitters, Splendid Spoon and Dagne Dover.

For talent, hiring in New York is difficult. The best advice I can give is to interview a lot of people and make sure you know what you want. Oh, and you get what you pay for. And New York is expensive.

And before anybody asks, no we’re not in a WeWork! We started off in a couple of indie co-working spaces but now have an office on Park Avenue.

With so many DTC brands launching all the time, how can a new DTC stand out? What makes an excellent direct-to-consumer site?

DTC brands rely on inspiring their audience. We all use Amazon for our day-to-day purchases, but often we want something a little special when we buy directly from a brand. We want to learn more about the product, the brand and maybe even the founders. A quality e-commerce website needs to tell that story.

So having content that informs and inspires is key.

You also need to build trust. Good design builds trust. Having a website that truly conveys your brand, is following best practice and is a pleasure to use is key.

Next, you need to make a checkout that is frictionless. Ruthlessly eliminate unneeded steps and make sure to watch real people using your checkout in person, look for areas of confusion or irritation. 

Finally, to increase LTV you need to be using automated marketing to encourage repeat purchases. You can use email segmenting or loyalty programs, there are tons of options in the Shopify ecosystem.

All of this relies on having a product and brand that resonates. A good website will never be able to overcome a bad product.

Now you’ve set up in the US, what’s next for you guys? 

We’re just keen to build up the New York office further and we also have plans to increase our Canadian operations.

We’re also keen to move on from the “number 1 Shopify agency” type talk, which I think we’ve grown out of as a company. We want to focus on being the best at what we do, which is Shopify Plus for international brands. I don’t fuss too much about what the competition is doing. I know where I want us to be. I just need to focus on us getting there.