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Author Archives: Chris

Never Knowingly Over-Designed

When I first start working with a new client I always ask them to list two or three ecommerce sites they really like. This serves two functions: so I can get an idea of my client’s tastes, and also to give me something to fire my imagination when I’m coming up with design concepts. Interestingly I’ve noticed of late that there is one ecommerce site that gets cited more than any other as something businesses aspire to emulate – John Lewis (

What is it that makes this site so good? Why is this site held up more than the sites of the other high street brands as an example of how to do great ecommerce? Here are my thoughts on the matter.

Mega Useful

The most prominent feature on the site is the ‘mega-menu’ – the main … READ MORE

Shop Mobility – The Challenge of Mobile Ecommerce

Many of my customers are finding up to around 20% of their visitors are now using mobile devices to visit their online stores. However, the proportion of these mobile visitors that then go on and place an order is miniscule compared to people who visit using a standard computer.

Quick note: You can find out how many people visit your store using mobile devices by using Google Analytics. Check the ‘Operating System’ results – for example on my site I can see that 10% of my visitors use iOS (i.e. iPhones).

This is the challenge that is now facing all ecommerce sites: how do we encourage people using mobile devices to go on and place orders? For the last 10 years web designers like me have spent hours upon hours trying to create stores that just work correctly on all … READ MORE

RIP HMV – Will browsing soon be a thing of the past?

Being a child of the 80s, and a music fan, I spent a huge amount of my teens and twenties in Our Price (gone), Virgin Records (also gone) and HMV (you get the idea) leaving through the CD racks, sniffing out special offers and making new discoveries. There was no better way to kill an hour while waiting for friends then rummaging through the shelves, anticipating that moment where you’ll find the CD or movie that will change your life forever.

But with the announcement this month that HMV has entered the hands of the administrators, I do start to wonder whether that whole way of experiencing retail will soon be a thing of the past. These days you just go to Amazon or eBay, search for what you want, add it to your basket and you are done. In … READ MORE

Random River’s Secrets For Successful Websites

There are three things that are essential to make your site work.


There’s no point having a presence up on the web and not telling anyone about it. It’s like holding a party, but not sending out any invitations.

Visibility is key – if you’re not seen, you may as well not exist.

There are two parts to visibility.

Normal (Offline) Marketing – No-one understands your customers better than you do. What Random River can do is help you with ideas about how to reach them and to provide incentives for them to visit your site. Traditional marketing methods such as magazine advertising, direct mail and roadshows are proven to be as successful, if not more successful, than promotion purely through the internet.

Online Marketing – Search engines are free to be listed in, but the amount of effort … READ MORE

Common Ecommerce Mistakes #2: Making Your Business All About You

In the last article we met a customer of mine with an online gift shop idea that was doomed to fail before it even got off the ground. In that article I talked about the mistake he made trying to sell lots of different types of products on one website.

Sadly for him, that was not his only mistake…


A Difficult Question

“Who are your target customers?” I asked.

He looked at me blankly. I tried rephrasing the question.

“What sort of people do you think will be shopping at your store?”

“Well… Everyone”, he replied proudly, “everyone needs gifts don’t they? And my gifts are brilliant.”

He is no longer trading.


Find A Need And Meet It

You see, the problem with most startup ecommerce businesses is that they are terribly excited about what they are planning … READ MORE

Common Ecommerce Mistake #1: Get Niche or Get Out

Originally published here:

One of the most common mistakes new online businesses make is trying to sell too many different kinds of things.

Last year I sat down with a lovely chap in his fifties who had an idea for an online business that he was really excited about, and he wanted me to help make his dream a reality. He had spent the last six months going round craft fairs and trade shows looking for unique and unusual gifts that weren’t available on the high street and he was going to create an online store that offered them all to the public.

“Great” I said, “So what sorts of products are you selling?”

“All sorts” he replied. And he wasn’t kidding. He had a selection of beautiful environmentally friendly candles, a range of cute animal slippers for kids, … READ MORE

The Truth About SEO

In last month’s blog post I talked about how you can influence how relevant search engines think you are by tweaking the content of your site pages.

I gave you some simple things to look at that were well within your control and will have a real positive effect.

This month, however, is where search engine optimisation gets ugly.

Get Into The Mind of Google

You see, the content on your page is only half the picture.

Imagine you are Google for a minute and Mrs. Jones approaches you and asks you to recommend a shop selling cakes in Bristol. You, as Google, want to make sure that the recommendation you give Mrs. Jones is of the highest possible quality so she will come back to you again next time.

So you have a look and you find three … READ MORE

The Only SEO Guide You’ll Ever Need – Part 1

Originally Published Here

Search Engine Optimisation is such a massive turn-off for most businesses. What I hear all the time from my clients is that it’s confusing, it’s highly technical, it takes a huge amount of effort, there’s conflicting information out there about how to do it and no matter how hard you work at it, there will always be some other competitor out there doing it better.

This is an attempt to cut through a lot of the waffle and jargon. More importantly, it should give you a few things to work on with your websites that will actually move you up the search engine results over time.

Relevance is Everything

Let’s start by going back to what Search Engine Optimisation is trying to achieve. We know it’s all about getting you as high as possible on search engine … READ MORE

Actinic Online Part 3 – Menus

If you’ve been following the story so far (here and here) you’ll see that so far in Actinic Online I’ve come up with a straightforward but attractive design I think is achievable, and also worked out how to get at the CSS of the site to start implementing some custom fonts, colours, graphics and backgrounds.

Next job was to add in a top menu, a sidebar menu and a footer menu. Unsurprisingly, to get at these you go to ‘Site > Menus > All Menus’

Configuring menus in Actinic Online is a neat distillation of everything that is great, and everything that is frustrating, about Actinic Online.


It’s great because it’s so intuitive to add an item to any menu in the design. Simply highlight an existing menu item and a little pop-up menu comes up within … READ MORE

Designing With Actinic Online – Part 2

Having come up with a design I think would work in Actinic Online (original article is here if you haven’t seen it) the next job was to get access to the design options in Actinic Online and start playing.

If you are doing a custom design, you can start in one of two places. Either you can start with a ‘SmartSkin’ or you can just pick a static ‘Site Design’.


It is quite good fun to play with Actinic Online’s SmartSkin editor ( go to ‘Site > Site Design > Modify’ then click the ‘Use a Smart Skins Design’ link). This bit of Actinic Online is intuitive and well presented (and therefore has clearly been written by different developers than the rest of the software…) You can use to change the colours and sizes of all the main … READ MORE