Darren Ratcliffe

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Founder and Head of eCommerce at Digitl shares his insights on multi-channel retailing, chatbots, automation, and running his own agency

Hi Darren! Great to have you speaking to us. Can you give us some background about yourself and Digitl?

Darren: “I started out as a website developer back in 1999, and as the industry evolved started to specialize in eCommerce development and retailing — it’s an area that has always excited me and I guess you could say that I’ve been there since the very start of that industry.

Throughout my career it started to become apparent that I would like to work for myself and take control of my own future, so in 2007 I set up my first agency RedStar, which was a traditional website design agency.

In 2014, we went on to secure investment in the business — ultimately this didn’t work out for me (it’s a long story) and I went on to leave the agency to set up Digitl.

Our business model at Digitl puts multi channel eCommerce at the center of everything it does — having seen lots of agencies that offer eCommerce as an added-on service we keep this central to the core of what we do.

Our team structure consists of 14 people covering the design and development of solutions for our clients, which directly helps accelerate their digital growth. Our clients range from smaller owner managed businesses like Rock on Ruby and LED Controls through to national and multi-national retailers like JD Fashion PLC, ebay and Millets.”

team at Digitl
Darren and the team at Digitl.

What kind of services does Digitl offer its clients?

Darren: “As an agency, we offer a complete solution for our clients. This can start with the design and build of a new website and runs right through to the promotion and marketing of that website through search engine optimization, social media marketing, and pay-per-click advertising.

Through our experience in the eCommerce retail sector and has worked directly with companies like eBay, we are also in a perfect position to offer consultancy services for retailers who are looking to grow their sales or trade more effectively.

We like to give something back so we offer a range of free meetups throughout the year in the UK, host an annual conference in Manchester, and run a series of webinars in collaboration with the Department of International Trade. All of these are free of charge.”

What is the unique selling point for Digitl as compared to other eCommerce agencies?

Darren: “There are lots of agencies out there that offer eCommerce as a service, but we are yet to see another agency that specializes in helping clients integrate with marketplaces like eBay and Amazon. Having worked directly with eBay since 2009, we have exceptionally good experience in this area.”

We are also the only agency to offer an outsourced Head of eCommerce service too — which we have designed to help sellers by offering board-level strategic advice on a part-time basis until the point that they are ready to employ somebody in that roll full time.

Digitl positions itself as an outsourced Head of eCommerce for its clients. Top: Digitl designed the website for Kanso, a specialist recruiting agency based in Manchester. Bottom: Freeride Project’s web portal, built by Digitl.

What aspects do businesses need to focus on when it comes to multi-channel eCommerce? How do the challenges and opportunities differ as compared to selling on a single channel, say just through the website?

Darren: “There are lots of areas that people need to consider in order to ensure multi-channel commerce and retailing is effective for their business — but let’s start with three essential points.

  1. Make sure you manage your stock right. We see lots of sellers who start listing products on eBay and Amazon and don’t have any real control over their stock. This leads to selling items you don’t have and with marketplaces, this is unforgivable both with the customers and the marketplaces. You can avoid this by making sure you have an effective integration with each marketplace you trade with that will automate some of this.
  2. Understand the rules of the game. In the UK we have two dominant marketplaces with eBay and Amazon so this doesn’t have to be as difficult as it is in other countries with a more diverse industry. Amazon buyers will often pay a little more but care more about delivery which you can now get within the hour. With eBay, your buyers will be more price-conscious, and if they have to wait two or three days for their product then so be it.
  3. Getting your customer service right is essential and this links to both points to some degree. Make sure your customers get the products they have asked for in the time they expect it and then make sure if something goes wrong you go beyond their expectations to help. Both marketplaces will penalize you for failing at any of these things which could see you given trading restrictions or kicked off the platform altogether.”
Marketplaces like eBay are one of the opportunities provided by multi-channel commerce, expertise of Digitl.

What growth strategies in eCommerce are good bets for businesses? Or what are the most common growth strategies that you see businesses miss out on?

Darren: “When it comes to eCommerce for many of our customers, marketplaces are great for growth. Despite having such a strong digital economy though, we only have two key marketplaces whereas in other countries there can be anywhere up to 60 — so looking at export and other overseas marketplaces can be really effective.

With your own website, usability is key, and investing constantly in the user journey and experience of your website will reward you with sales — there is absolutely no doubt in my mind about that.

It’s a technical industry, so there’s a lot of scopes to build automation for your business. Many of the platforms that are available are SaaS / cloud-based tools so will often cost a small monthly charge rather than have a large up-front fee.”

From a technology point of view, how is eCommerce changing with chatbots and automation coming in?

Darren: “Chatbots are in their infancy, but as we learned in our 2018 eCommerce Trends report they are going to be really important this year. They can offer round-the-clock service to an increasingly impatient and fickle customer base. Take the time to set them up properly, spend time monitoring and improving them and they will help your business grow.

That said, I don’t think you should ever discount human interaction. If you look at companies like Thread, they use “real” stylists to help match their clients to the right sorts of clothes for them. I’ve just signed up with the service to see what sort of products my personal stylist suggests for me.

If you have really good, optimized product data you can start to take advantage of personalization too. Companies like ASOS and River Island will offer you products that are suited to your sizes, to make sure that the products you look at are ones that will more likely fit you. Great for sales and also great for reducing return rates.

There are tools available like Nosto that are really accessible for retailers due to their low price point, taking a small share of any profits they generate rather than having one large monthly fee.”

Magento is one of the most popular platforms for eCommerce. But apart from it, what other eCommerce platforms do you see clients also using?

Darren: “In 2017 we saw a huge shift away from Magento and a movement towards other eCommerce platforms. We are independent of any platform we work with and match our clients to the best platform for them.

If you’re in eCommerce for fashion, Shopify is a no-brainer. Especially when you look at the growth that Gym Shark has had, and even Boo Hoo (who runs on Magento) has started to launch eCommerce fashion sub-brands on Shopify.


Alongside this, there’s Shopware that competes with Magento well at the Enterprise level and is worth considering. Alongside this, in the B2B sector, ORO Commerce is very good.

It’s all about understanding your requirements now and the future eCommerce requirements and budgets you may have. Get the right retailing channels & platforms, and it can save you a lot of headaches and money in the future.”

Can you tell us the typical process and timeline when you undertake eCommerce development for a client? What process or methodology does your team follow, and how involved is the client through this process?

Darren: “For most of our clients, we use a hybrid of the waterfall project management system (I am quite old-school) and Agile together. I think for more complex projects with a limited budget this is the most cost-effective way to get good results.”

Typically a project for us will take 3–5 months in total to complete, so we make sure that we use the right tools to make this process a lot easier for our clients, and that makes us a more effective and efficient agency as we have a healthy level of face to face meetings rather than have a resource-draining number of meetings.


What kind of collaboration challenges do you face within the team as well as when working with clients?

Darren: “When I look back to how things started back in 1999 I don’t see any significant challenges other than time zone differences and language barriers — and these are both we can overcome.

We use tools to support us through the whole lifecycle of a project — from our own quoting system through to HelloSign (contract sign off); Basecamp and TeamWeek (Project Management); Slack (communications); InVision (design sign-off), zipBoard (client reviews) and Freshdesk (customer support).

Each of these tools is used effectively for us to offer a smoother service to our clients, and that is why in part we have only ever had five-star reviews on Google.”

Where has zipBoard helped in tackling these collaboration challenges?

Darren: “As a digital agency the biggest problem we face is digital collaboration, especially with the website-review process. We do have a Google Sheet template that we used for customer feedback — but that was difficult at times to follow. I wanted to find a way for customers to give us feedback in the same way with their new website as they did with their designs in InVision.”


zipBoard is great, as it allows us to offer a structured way to get client feedback without making them feel limited — and it is really easy for clients to follow too.

This means that we can move more quickly through to the end of a project and as a small business, this has a positive effect on our cashflow.

Digitl and you, especially, are also actively involved in organizing conferences, training sessions, and meetups. Can you tell us about those initiatives?

Darren: “Our meetups run once a quarter in collaboration with Online Seller UK and we hold them in Manchester, London, Cardiff, and other cities throughout the year. They are a great way for sellers to come together and network and hear some really cool industry talks that will help their business grow. I love going to them as I learn a lot and can better advise our clients. You can watch one of my recent presentations on E-Commerce Predictions for 2012 on our website.


We hold an annual conference every year in partnership with UKFast at their campus in Manchester. It is the only event of its kind in Manchester and in a nutshell, is a day-long version of our meetups. In past years, we’ve had speakers from companies such as eBay, The Royal Mint, KPMG, to name a few, and successful sellers also. People fly from all over the world to attend and the next one is on May 5th.”

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