The Design Business Show 181: Navigating the eCommerce Space with Chloë Thomas

Director : Melissa Burkheimer | April 15, 2022
Check out episode 180 of The Design Business Show with Chloë Thomas to learn all about the eCommerce industry!

Best selling Author, International Speaker, and host of both the Award-winning eCommerce MasterPlan Podcast and the brand new Keep Optimising Podcast.

Chloë is one of the Top 30 eCommerce Influencers 2021 (Scurri), and her podcasts are regularly included in lists of the top eCommerce & marketing podcasts in the world.

Chloë Thomas has been in eCommerce since 2003; she’s worked client-side, agency-side, and adviser-side. Working with a wide variety of retailers from high street omnichannel operations to fresh online-only start-ups, covering international launches, subscription, B2B, and even dabbling in marketplaces.

Chloë’s specialty is solving eCommerce Marketing Problems, from how to increase new customer acquisition to improving the performance of email marketing newsletters or finding the right new website provider.

Here’s what we covered on the episode:

Chloë’s Start to eCommerce + Running a Marketing Agency

  • How Chloë worked for a big bank, which she hated, so she started applying to any marketing job she could find
  • Chloë shares that she started in eCommerce  back in early 2000 at a retailer in the UK, where she took on their catalog marketing – she got addicted to the stats and watching the money roll in
  • We talk about how sometimes the best thing you can do is leave where you are, even if you aren’t entirely sure where you’re going
  • Within a year of working at the retailer, Chloë became the direct communications manager, which meant she was in charge of anything they put through the post
  • Chloë was responsible for their in-store loyalty program, catalog, mailings, was heavily involved in email marketing and anything else that she could get her hands on that involved eCommerce, which drove the web manager mad
  • When Chloë set up her marketing agency, the same web manager that she drove mad came to work for her
  • The retailer Chloë worked at sold gifts, and she says she worked there for two Christmases, but the second Christmas, they went under
  • Chloë was 24 or 25 when the retailer went under, but she had made enough of an impression in the industry that she got calls from some interesting people to see if she wanted to work for them
  • How Chloë sat down with 3 of those people, and one offered her the head of eCommerce role for their group of mail-order businesses – which was about 6 different businesses, all not doing much online but that had big customer bases
  • If this business worked out, they planned to turn it into a marketing agency
  • In her new role, Chloë had a wonderful time building websites, sending the first email campaign, doing the first Google Ads, SEO, affiliate marketing, etc.
  • A year after Chloë started the head eCommerce  job, they turned it into an agency – Chloë ran the marketing agency for 10 years and sold it in 2017
  • On day one of the marketing agency, they took the marketing activity they had been doing for the mail-order brands and rolled that into the agency – they were an outsourced online marketing team for those businesses doing everything that modern eCommerce and digital marketing teams would do
  • Over the next 10 years, they worked out different areas of their business model because parts weren’t as financially sustainable as the industry evolved, so they ended up narrowing it down to primarily Google and Facebook Ads with a little bit of email marketing
  • Chloë shares some stories of mistakes she made in the past, like not having contracts and not chasing invoices to get paid, and how they were able to overcome the mistakes
  • How Chloë implemented contracts and brought a bookkeeper on to chase all the invoices for them, and they started invoicing at the beginning of the month with a 14-day payment term instead of at the end of the month, so if they did have to stop working for a client because they weren’t paying it would all happen in the same month, limiting their liability
  • 5 years into running the agency, Chloë realized it was the wrong business model for her to be running because she took a talent dynamics test and read a book that gave her a lightbulb moment of realizing she was an introvert
  • How managing the team, the clients, and the new business process was too much for Chloë to handle, so she delegated some management to other people within the agency but says she never found a good way of delegating the new business, which is why Chloë decided to exit and sell the agency
  • Chloë tried various ways to sell the agency and, in the end, had an awesome team member who still runs the business now buy it from her

Chloë’s Podcasts + Changes in the Industry

  • These days, Chloë is a podcaster and speaker who runs the occasional virtual summit
  • When Chloë left the agency, she had one of her podcasts and shares she did a certain amount of coaching and consulting – she had to see if her other business could make money because it had always been funded by what she made at the agency
  • Chloë realized that she could make money, but her next question was, could it make money in a way that gave her back as much energy as possible – that meant getting out of coaching and consulting, and the only way to do that was to launch a second podcast
  • How running the podcasts can be a little exhausting, but Chloë says it’s fun work, she can outsource a majority of it, and it has been very lucrative
  • Chloë shares that she monetizes the podcasts entirely by sponsorships because she hasn’t had success making money on the backend
  • Chloë says she’s lucky to be in the eCommerce  business because there is currently a lot of growth; there are a lot of software and service businesses and others who are desperate to get in front of other eCommerce  people and want to sponsor podcasts
  • Along with finding a viable business, Chloë says you need to find a business that suits you – there is nothing wrong with wanting to make money and wanting to be happy
  • Chloë explains that she is lucky to be able to monetize her 20 years of experience, brand awareness, and growth in this industry and is currently riding a very nice scenario where there are lots of people wanting to sponsor eCommerce  podcasts
  • How Chloë also knows that the podcast industry is going through many changes at the moment and that it is heavily dependent on the Apple platform and the Spotify platform, which doesn’t make it the strongest, and although it’s going well now, she is considering what comes next, which she admits she hasn’t worked out yet
  • One idea they have been playing around with is sponsored emails to their list, and Chloë shares they have a couple of options that they could do involving their virtual summits

Creating Long-Term Success

  • When it comes to creating long-term success, Chloë says as you reach the point of solid profitability for whatever you’re currently doing, that’s the point to start testing the next idea because you’ve got the cash to do it, and you should be able to find the time to do it and then hopefully one of the ideas your testing will also peak
  • Don’t sit smugly on the crest of your wave; always be looking for what the next thing is going to be
  • This is the first time that Chloë has been keenly aware of finding the next thing she’s going to do and has been actively exploring it
  • Chloë has had her fair share of failures and says that her marketing agency went under twice due to various misdirections, which showed her why it’s so important to constantly be innovating and testing
  • We talk about the elements that come with running your own business, like freedom but all the responsibility that also comes with it
  • If Chloë could tell her past self one thing, it would be, be you and be you sooner because she had to learn that she was an introvert to build a business that suited her and gave her energy back
  • Another thing Chloë would tell her past self is to say no more often, which Chloë struggled with for a long time
  • Going back to Chloë’s why for everything has been, she hates waste; she cannot stand wasted opportunities and businesses not doing things that they should be doing to get them great results because they don’t know they exist or are scared of them
  • Everything Chloë has done has been about helping eCommerce  business owners and eCommerce marketers make better decisions within their business to help them run better marketing
  • In terms of building her brand, Chloë has played to her strengths, and although she is an introvert, she is also very good at taking complex things and making them make sense, Chloë’s good at standing on a stage and involving an audience to teach them something, which she has leveraged in every stage of business

How Creatives Can Help eCommerce Businesses

  • Because of the pandemic, many people started buying online and will continue to buy online, but in the eCommerce industry, a lot of businesses started selling online, so the competition levels have gone up a lot
  • How consumer behaviors have changed, they are more interested in ethics and sustainability and also want more of a connection with the companies they buy from
  • Chloë talks about the cookie issues that have happened with the Apple updates on the iPhone, which are going to happen on Google later this year, which impacts some of the gains you can make in your advertising and marketing through the algorithmic side of things
  • With all these changes in the eCommerce industry, if an eCommerce business wants to do well with selling products in 2022, they need to invest in stronger creative – you need to have the ad creative, the email creative, the PR creative, etc.
  • Chloë says all these creative elements need to be great copywriting, graphics, and videography that tell a story that aligns your brand to key missions and movements that embrace your customer content and bring them to your business
  • To step up your game as a creative, Chloë says to look into storytelling; founder story, product story; these things are really big for consumers – also, look at how to pull together user-generated content to a video format
  • A lot of eCommerce  brands only have written testimonials and reviews on their products, but Chloë shares what’s working well in content is video content – so turning those written reviews into great graphics or videos is a good idea
  • Chloë shares that a big opportunity in the eCommerce industry is for creatives to help businesses create better product pages, homepages, email content, about us pages, etc.
  • How this year, Chloë thinks we will see a lot of eCommerce  brands looking to hire in-house creative skills, freelancers, or agencies to help them test ideas
  • As we get into July – September, Chloë thinks we may potentially reach a point where there is more demand for creative services than there is supply
  • If you don’t currently have something on your page about helping eCommerce  businesses with these things, Chloë says now might be the time to be building those up
  • If you want to understand more of what is happening in the eCommerce  space, check out Chloë’s eCommerce MasterPlan Podcast, which is an interview with a different retailer each week where they are currently focusing on growth as much as sustainability and going carbon-neutral
  • On Chloë’s Keep Optimising Podcast, they focus each month on a different marketing method, which has a lot of creative input


Links mentioned:

Keep Optimising Podcast 

eCommerce MasterPlan Podcast

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