The 4 Deadly Sins of eCommerce: How We Rescued a Dying Business (Part 1)

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April 15, 2018

Written by Helene Nazaryan

Reading Time: 7 minutes

More than 90% of all e-commerce startups fail within the first 4 months. Yes, success in e-commerce is pretty tough. But saving a dying business is even tougher.

Now, imagine an e-commerce business with a crippled website, no google rankings whatsoever, no funnels, no email marketing, no chat/telephone support and of course no sales!

This was the story of MSB, short for an e-commerce shop for mobile signal amplifiers.

When MSB filed an enquiry asking for help with a very slim budget our support team didn’t hesitate to turn them down. Client acquisition protocol clearly said so, as did common sense.

Luckily the story didn’t end there. While leafing through the monthly report on rejected projects this website grabbed my attention. What was clearly a poison pill I saw as an opportunity. The heroic challenge involved had me hooked.

We took the project.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

Without losing an extra second we embarked on a yearlong journey of meticulously crafting almost every aspect of MSB’s website and digital marketing strategy.


The MSB had 4 fundamental problems:


  1. Vague Target Market
  2. Weak Value Proposition
  3. Poor Traffic Segmentation and Targeting
  4. Suboptimal Conversion Strategies


Most e-commerce businesses experience at least one of these problems. In fact, in my years of digital marketing experience I have encountered these problems so often that I gave them a name: “the 4 deadly sins of ecommerce”.

What follows is the story of a once failing business, which sold the wrong products to the wrong people in the wrong way. A business that once committed all the “sins” and was on the verge of collapse, that has now emerged as an almost all-dominant name in their niche!

Given the sheer amount of work done, not to compromise the details I have decided to publish this case study as two interlinked posts. The remainder of this post will address marketing strategy issues, namely first two “sins”:

  1. Vague Target Market
    1. Mobile Signal Boosters didn’t have a buyer avatar
    2. Had no message that spoke to the target audience
  2. Weak Value Proposition
    1. Poor Refund/Warranty Policies
    2. Wrong Price


The second part will address more technical aspects of digital marketing strategy implementation, namely the last two “sins”:

  1. Poor Traffic Segmentation and Targeting
    1. Lack of Channel Diversification
    2. Inefficient optimization of PPC advertising
    3. Absent SEO strategy
    4. Poor Remarketing
  2. Suboptimal Conversion Strategies
    1. Non-compliant website

As a bonus at the end of each section I include key takeaways that you can implement to improve your own ecommerce website and make sure to stay clear of these “sins”.


Just before we dive into it here’s a taster of some of the results we produced for MSB:


Results Screenshots


Without further ado, here we go:


1. Vague Target market


“Customers buy for their reasons, not yours” (Orvel Ray Wilson)

[could be quote box].

As intuitive as this statement sounds, far too many businesses miss this point. They try to sell what they have rather than supplying what the customers want.

To know what your customers want you need to first understand who they are. Sure, obtaining this knowledge is hard, but it always pays off!  Just like it did in the case of MSB.

Imagine your typical buyer. That is your buyer avatar (or your the target market). Who is this person? Why do they buy your products? What are their main concerns when buying?

Obtaining the answers to these questions is crucial to successful marketing.


If you do not know who you are selling to, how could you possibly come up with messages that speak to your customers?

How can you possibly come up messages that make them excited, that make them think: “Yes! That’s exactly what I need!” ?

Take for example TacoBell:

The answer is: you may be lucky a few times, but generally you can’t.

The MSB only had a vague idea about who their few customers were. What’s even worse, is they didn’t know what types of customers were out there in their market. Of course you can’t pick if you don’t know what the options are.

So indeed, they struggled coming up with effective marketing campaigns.

Fair enough you may think, but how can you get the answers to all these questions?



Data! And what better tool is there than Google Analytics?

Sadly the MSB only had a handful of past customers to analyse. So we went on to research buyers of their competitors’ products. We had to be certain!

We analyzed people who were subscribed to competitors’ social media pages, looked at their reactions to posts, read through every single review that could be found!


We compiled a detailed document: 10 full pages of findings. But here are some examples:

About 72% of booster buyers were male, 31-50 of age, preferred calls to emails, were very price oriented, predominantly used LinkedIn and Google. You can read all the findings and methodologies in our Avatar Building Guide

[link to a blank page with CTA, “Article about to be published, subscribe to be informed when it’s ready”] .

Now that we knew who their potential buyers were, we could also come up with a message to address their wants. In our research we found a few clear frustration triggers that incited interest in signal boosters:

  • Dropped calls
  • Having 1-2 signal bars on their phones.

So our message became: “Eliminate dropped calls and go from 1 signal bar to 5 instantly!”. You still can find this message on’s homepage.

Can you come up with a better prospect hook? Let me know in the comments below!

[CTA: Not sure what’s your target market, or how to do the research, contact for free audit of your market]


  • Weak Value proposition: poor Unique Selling Point (USP)


Why is what you offer better than the competitors’? Every successful business should have an answer to this question! Is it price, is your product good value for money? Is it the service you provide with it? Both or other?

Whatever the case, the chosen factors should work together to create a consistent image of the product, brand and the company as a whole.

Most crucially though: your USP should be dictated by the market!

Do you recognise these famous USP’s ?

MSB had chosen to offer extended refund and warranty policies to differentiate itself. They offered an extensive refund policy of 6 months and a whopping 3 years warranty.

The main product they were promoting was an extra powerful signal booster which could cover a large area. Due to the extra power features, they sold the booster at an astronomically high price.

Unfortunately this offering did not appeal to any market segment. Why ? Because the market was very price sensitive! More precisely the extended warranty and refund policies did not create enough perceived value to offset the high price.

So guess what happened?

People abused the offer, purchased boosters they didn’t really need and in 6 months would send back their purchase for a full refund.


Price focus strategy!

Our earlier research suggested that the biggest market segment was for boosters covering 100-150 square meters (sqm). So we concentrated our promotion on a good quality booster for areas up to 150 sqm (instead of the extra powerful <800sqm booster that MSB used to focus on).

The most competitively priced booster on the market for areas up to 140 sqm was priced at around £315. We priced our 150 sqm booster at £ 205, over 30% cheaper!

We then dramatically reduced MSB’s refund terms (from 6 months to 2 weeks) and warranty terms (from 3 years to 1 year). We made these terms match those of the market leader.

In essence given the price sensitive market, we shifted the USP from refund and warranty terms to the price.

This plummeted the store’s refund rates and kept at bay “freebie-seekers”. As could be expected the 150sqm booster turned out to be the bestseller. In fact it attracted so much attention that over 27% of all other booster views on the MSB website originated from the suggestions section of the <150sqm booster’s page.

[Not sure how strong your USP is, or how to improve it, contact for free audit of your competitors]



  1. Don’t put off research! Although you may think you intuitively know the market, the numbers may disagree!


As a rule of thumb for the first 6 months of building your e-commerce website you should spend at least ¼ of the time studying your competitors, their customers and the market.


  1. You need to know your target market: create a clear buyer avatar!


I urge you to sit down with a blank piece of paper and write down at least 10 characteristics about your typical customer. Then write down at least 10 things you would like to know about that customer. You can also have a look at this guide to help you along.



  1. You should have a clear, concise, powerful USP that talks directly to your customers’ needs and preferences.  


Once you have done your research this should be easier. As an exercise to check you have nailed it imagine that I am a potential customer that just messaged asking “why should I buy your product”.


You should be able to write the answer in a single 20 word sentence.


  1. Make sure your marketing strategy is consistent!


By now you should know your typical customer and what they want. Decide on what offer would best meet those wants.


Now attempt to write down in 5 words how you would like your offering to be perceived by your potential customer. Whether it’s the price of your product, its pictures, website layout, services offered, whatever you may be deciding: always make sure that all aspects work in the direction of building the 5 word image.


That’s digital marketing strategy nailed, how do you implement it though ? Read on to find out! [part 2]


[Not sure if you are committing any of the deadly sins, contact us for a free audit]


Helene Nazaryan
Helene Nazaryan is a digital marketing service manager at Smarketa. It is 6+ years that she has been leading our team of SEO experts specialized in ecommerce search engine optimization. Helene has managed a portfolio of 500+ online stores to rank higher on the search engines (Google, Bing & Yahoo) and continuously increase the organic flow of their targeted customers. She likes to share her experience and educate on how to advance an Ecommerce site on the SERP.