Turning Around a Troubled Online Store

A few posts back I highlighted and offered advice on the purchase of – an online store specializing in concessions equipment. With the deal finalized I wanted to provide Andy (the new owner) guidance on next steps to maximize the store’s potential, especially given its history of sub-par customer service, declining revenues and possible SEO penalties.

Below are six suggestions to help turn the store around and restore to full fledged concession-selling glory:

Tell Customers About New Ownership

The previous owner seriously dropped the ball with customer service, which almost certainly resulted in lost business and damaged trust. To help salvage what customer base is left, I’d send out an email to all customers letting them know that is now under new ownership.

In the email, I’d be 100% honest and acknowledge the lapses in customer support that occurred and stress that outstanding customer support is a top priority going forward. In the email, I’d include a headshot of Andy – the new owner – as well as a graphical signature signing a pledge to superior service. If Andy can follow through with this promise, he’ll likely be able to retain some of the customers who previously had written off the company.


Upgrade Customer Support Systems

If you’re going to be boldly declaring superior service, you better be able to follow through with it! A quality help desk integration will go a long way toward ensuring that customer requests are properly addressed in a timely manner. I personally use Zendesk for the powerful customization it offers, but would also recommend something more streamlined and easier to setup like HelpScout. The platform doesn’t matter as much as getting a quality support solution in place.

I’d also make sure the phones are working flawlessly. If customers leave a message, they should be informed of what time period they can expect a reply. I’d also remove the obvious stock photo of the girl with the headset next to the 800 number as it’s a bit impersonal.


Really Understand The New Niche

The most difficult aspect of buying a niche eCommerce business isn’t the web hosting, technical aspects or financial issues – it’s having to become knowledgable about an entirely new niche and customer base. In order to craft a quality, highly-covering website Andy will need to be able to answer two questions:


#1 – Who Are The Customers?

Who is buying all this concessions equipment:  Elementary schools? High schools? Traveling carnival concession stands? Horse tracks? What does the customer base look like?  Understanding who his customers are any how they are using his products gives Andy the ability to best serve them.  It also makes future marketing efforts much easier.  By knowing exactly who his customers are, Andy will be able to identify the online communities where they hang out that will likely be the best marketing opportunities.


#2 – What Problems Do They Have?

Understanding the specific questions and problems customers have will be instrumental to Andy’s success. Otherwise, he won’t be able to address and overcome buying objections. By understanding these specific problems, he can craft a unique selling proposition(s) that helps the site stand out and win business. A few examples:

Perhaps a frequent objection faced by schools is getting approval to purchase expensive concessions equipment. If so, offering a detailed report on how concessions equipment generally pays for itself it less than three months (from the profits generated) could help earn the approval necessary and win the sale. Not only could such a report help increase sales, but it could be a potential resource that earned links on the website.

Or perhaps schools (like many government organizations) have an involved process for invoicing and paying for products – one that many vendors aren’t willing or able to accommodate. If Andy can streamline that process for them and advertise it’s something specializes in, he may be able to earn a lot of extra business.


Answering These Questions

In will inevitable take time to learn the ins-and-outs of a new niche and customer base, but he can do a few things to expedite the process.

First, he should interact with customers via phone as much as possible. It’s not necessary to offer 24/7 phone support, but when trying to learn about new customers nothing beats talking with them on the phone. Secondly, Andy should use surveys to collect relevant data about customers. Options include sending out a survey to past customers and/or adding a survey to the “Order Success” page of the website. By asking questions like:


“Why did you order from us?”

“What are you using this product for?”

“What problems did you encounter buying this equipment?”


……he’ll be able to learn a tremendous amount about how to best serve his customers.


Limit the Size of the Catalog

Like I frequently mention, it’s crucial to offer high-quality information to succeed in eCommerce, especially if you’re drop shipping. But this content creation takes time and it’s impossible to do it well if you’re spread too thin.

A quick Google search shows that the website has 23,000+ indexed pages! Not all of those pages are individual products (and many may be duplicates) but it does illustrate the vast quantity of items available on the site.

There are also a number of products completely unrelated to the concessions market listed for sale including pet products, golf equipment, baby carriers and drywall tools! Offering such a smorgasbord of products makes the store seem less like an authority source for concession equipment and more like a flea market.


“Would you like to order a baby carrier with your new popcorn machine?”


It’s impossible to create quality product pages and know items well when so much is being offered, especially for a one-man team / small company like Andy. Limiting the number of items for sale will help him specialize, increase the quality of product pages and really get to understand the items he’s selling.

How best to get started with this undertaking? I’d start by removing the categories that aren’t related to concessions equipment. Next, I’d start looking through the sales history to see which products sell the best.  As Andy starts getting to know his customers and the niche better, he’ll further learn which items and product lines are most popular. With this knowledge, he can start parring back the items that don’t sell well and start focusing on the ones that are popular and/or make the most money.


Experiment with Pricing

From the financial report in the prior post, we learned that the drop shipping gross margins for are in the 18% range. With margins in this range a small increase in pricing can have a dramatic increase on profitability.

An example:  Say Andy is selling a popcorn maker for $118 that costs $100 – representing an 18% markup. Increasing the price by $10 to $128 represents a 8.5% price increase to the customer but this seemingly small change results in a massive 55% increase in Andy’s bottom-line profits!


8.5% Price Increase: From $118 to $128

55.6% Profit Increase: From $18 to $28


While orders may drop slightly due to the increased price, the massive jump in gross profit will almost certainly make up for the difference. Plus, Andy will be processing fewer orders which will cut down on his customer service costs.

It can be hard to test price increases across an entire catalog, so I’d recommend testing increased prices on the bestselling 20 or 30 items. These popular items likely make up the majority of sales and the pricing experiment will be much easier to implement. It’s important to establish a clear profitability baseline from which to start and measure the results on profitability that the pricing changes have before making any permanent decisions.


Invest in Quality Product Pages

Spending time creating high-value product pages will pay off immensely with increased sales. While some of the product pages offer in-depth information, many are lacking – like the listing for the popcorn cart below:


Adding multiple close-up pictures, video, additional products specs and customer reviews would result in significantly more sales of this $300 popcorn cart.


Investing in better product pages will be instrumental to improving sales for But what exactly does a “high-value” product page look like? I could (and probably should!) write an entire post on this, but they should contain:

  • Unique, original and useful copy
  • Quality pictures of the product
  • Information on how the product works, is operated and is maintained
  • User reviews of the item
  • Product weight and dimensions
  • Rich media (videos, manuals, etc)


Creating quality product pages takes a lot of time and I’d prioritize my efforts by focusing on the most popular products and the products that earn the most profit. Once Andy has solid product pages for the popular items – which will result in the largest conversion boost to sales – he can move on to improve the listings for the other products in the catalog.

For some inspiration and ideas on how to create top-notch product pages, see these posts on Creating Killer Product Pages and these 10 Tips for Improving Product Listings.



What I Didn’t Mention: Marketing

As someone who is a huge proponent of the importance of eCommerce marketing, I wanted to explain why I didn’t include that in this hit list of things to address. If was a brand-new store, I’d encourage Andy to slap up a simply storefront and then focus on marketing for the majority of his first six months in business.  Without much traffic and before knowing your niche / customers, it doesn’t make sense to try to create the perfect site.

But is generating a decent amount of traffic: approximately 16,000 visit per month. Given the site’s history of poor customer service and other issues, I think there’s much more upside to improving the experience for existing customers as opposed to trying to drive more traffic to a site that could use improvement. Only when the legacy issues are resolved does it make sense to place an emphasis on marketing and SEO.


What Do You Think?

Did I miss something major that Andy should be focusing on? Or disagree with my priorities? Let me know in the comments below!


Photo by Webgol

Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000 vetted 6 and 7-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

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  • Great post Andrew!! These tips are helpful not only to someone with a stuggling site but also to someone who is just starting like me. I recently found your site and I am a huge fan. Keep up the great work and thank you for the valuable info you provide to us!!


  • Good list Andrew. I think improving customer service, adding more product information, and improving the quality of the product pages are great suggestions. All three are among the key factors for increasing the trustworthiness of a website.

    An additional suggestion I would make is adding a loyalty program. If I’m understanding the business correctly, would benefit from a strong base of repeat customers? If yes, offering a loyalty program will obviously create an incentive for repeat customers, as most understand, but it will also increase the trustworthiness of a website as well. The reason is, a loyalty program gives a company more opportunities to interact with its customers, which builds trust, and it communicates to the customer, “our long-term relationships with customers matter to us,” which also increases trust.

    Good work, man. I’m looking forward to your thoughts.


    • Good point, Kev. With a business model like theirs where they’ll be needing a steady supply of popcorn / cotton candy / nacho sauce (etc, etc), a loyalty program is a great way to take care of and retain repeat customers. It’s always much easier to take care of an existing customers (and earn repeat business) than to go out and find a new one.

  • Andrew, really great information here.

    I think there is lots to be learned by looking at why some ecommerce sites aren’t doing so well – and this post proves it.

    I like that you focused alot on increasing conversions and focusing on the strategic products. It makes sense, they are getting good traffic, like you said, converting more of them into customers at more profit each can really turn around the store.

    Recently, I have been trying to improve my conversions by making key customer paths more obvious. For example, users were hitting my website and not understanding my product or where the online store was. There was a huge bounce rate. Increasing the size of the ‘go to online store’ button and adding more informational posts decreased by bounce rate by 10%, which doubled the amount of customers actually staying on the website.

    Do you focus much on these stats, such as bounce rate?

    Also, what are your thoughts on conventional eCommerce store fronts; the common 2-3 coloum layout. Is it really the design we should have for the landing page? I feel that viewers instantly understand that it is an online store, but their other needs such as understanding the product, and finding the product that they’re looking for (in a certain category) can be more difficult with the typical store front.

    • Bounce rate is a great way to quickly identify pages that aren’t doing a good job of properly engaging the customer. While there are a few circumstances where a high bounce rate could mean the customer is getting all the information they need and leaving (like a dictionary definition, for example), often it means there is a lot of room for improvement. So yes, I think it’s a valuable metric.

      In terms of store front design, the format really depends on the product you’re selling. If you’re selling car parts and the most confusing aspect is finding the right part for your particular model, then having a very utilitarian and obvious search box on the homepage will be critical.

      However, if you are selling high-end clothing you’ll probably want to use that homepage real estate to display some of your best, most popular items and drive an aesthetics-based experience.

      Hope this helps!

  • Sage advice here. I would also suggest adding an upsell. What is something they might need with it? You’ve already paid for the shipping so its alot more profitable.

    Since they had live chat I would suggest to him to read the chat logs. You will learn alot from that. These are my 2c.

    Nice post Andrew 🙂

    • Great tips, Kris! The chat logs, and any email logs (if available) would be tremendously helpful.

      Hope you – and business at your store – are both doing well!

  • Great stuff couldn’t agree more. One thing I will add on the survey piece is that it’s almost always more useful to create open ended surveys then to have multiple choice or dropdown answers. It may make analyzing your results more difficult but the ability for responders to write freely gives you much more in-depth insight into things you would never think to list. I am a big fan of for these types of things but is also very popular.

    • Good tips, Dave – and I’ve found the same to be true. If you don’t force your respondents to pick one of 4 pre-set answers you get much better data.

      • Of course! I found 2 other minor issues as well…in your toolkit you mention Fee Fighters, but Groupon bought that site and it no longer functions the way it used to, now it is itself a payment processor, and doesn’t shop around for you. The other one is that on an ipad, the popup window for the ebook goes off the side of the screen, so users can’t click the X to close it, and you can’t resize it or move it to get to the X, so you’re pretty screwed unless you figure out that you can click elsewhere on the screen to get back to the site.

        • Thanks Stavros! Fee Fighters has been removed from the Toolkit, and I’ll look into the iPad issue. That IS a problem – thanks for letting me know.

  • Any update as to how the changes he has made have helped the store six months later?

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