Back to basics with Tim Richardson – founder of Your Basket Is Empty

Tim Richardson runs the e-commerce and agency podcast Your Basket is Empty. Learn more about his favourite brands, his view of the platform race and why his best advice to 2024 is to "get back to basics".

Hi Tim! You have been working with e-commerce for a long time. Please give us your personal story on how you ended up working with e-commerce and your background in general.

Hey! My professional story is a rather eclectic one. I started my career in finance and spent time at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. But wearing a suit and calculating the daily value of mutual funds wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. So I decided to quit finance and start a record label. I think I had a quarter life creative crisis? Surprise surprise, the record label business is a terrible business. After three years of ‘creative output’, I decided I’d scratched that itch and it was time to get back into the real world.

I had always been fascinated by the agency world but didn’t quite understand what agency people did. My assumption was that it was a nice mix of creativity, business and technology. A creative director friend gave me some contacts and I got networking. Somebody suggested I check out a job board called Unicorn Hunt. There was a Shopify agency advertising a sales role. Instead of applying, I did some research and found that the agency was hosting an event that evening. I signed up to the event, approached the founders and told them I was their guy. The agency was We Make Websites and I had the job 5 days later.

I spent the next five and a half years growing the sales, marketing and account management functions at WMW. We scaled from less than £1m to £6.5m and were approached by The Born Group in 2020. We sold the business in 2021. I was a minority shareholder and decided to use the acquisition as an opportunity to start my own thing, Your Basket Is Empty.

Your Basket Is Empty is equal parts consulting and content. Our consulting aims to help design, development and product agencies think and act more strategically by offering fractional leadership services. Our clients include Nebulab, Superco, Midnight, Heur, Pixelcabin and Rotate°. Our content aims to inform, inspire and entertain the modern commerce community with a podcast, events and an industry newsletter.

You have a popular podcast called Your Basket is Empty, which we at Grebban are a big fan of. Why did you start it and what is the idea behind it?

The podcast kind of happened by accident. I used to host lots of panels at We Make Websites. Somebody asked me after an event if we recorded the discussion. We didn’t, but they said I should start a podcast. So I did and recorded my first episode in October 2019. Ha. It’s very amateurish. And I used to only record in person (pre-pandemic).

The original idea was simply to have interesting conversations with cool people in the eCommerce space. I also thought it would be a nice way to network. And, although this wasn’t fully strategic, it acted as a soft lead generation initiative for We Make Websites. Or at the very least, it was an interesting differentiator when I was pitching for business as people had sometimes heard of it.

Since leaving We Make Websites, I’ve taken the podcast - and content - more seriously. I realised that the podcast in isolation is good, but it’s enhanced by a newsletter and hosting events. I’ve also enlisted the help of two shit-hot audio and content people in Amber and Gareth. They’ve allowed me to get out of the weeds of production and focus on commercial partnerships and curating more thoughtful topics with excellent guests.

Our focus for 2024 is to continue informing, inspiring and entertaining the modern commerce community. We will do this with our current guest mix of brands, agencies and eComm/D2C influencers. We will also continue to break down the week’s most interesting eComm news on the last Wednesday of every month. We’re also trialling live podcasts and a YouTube channel.

Except for the podcast you also do consulting, content/events, a blog, a newsletter and more. Can you explain your long-term goal with this combination and why you believe in the combo rather than only one of the things?

I will preface this answer with the reality that I’ve never really had a ‘content strategy’. Of course, I subscribe to general B2B marketing best principles. As in, good B2B marketing has some sort of content built into it. But I don’t really focus on numbers or stats. I simply produce content that I’d like to consume and assume that others will feel the same. In many ways, I think this basic approach is useful. It allows me to focus on the content and not fall into the ubiquitous LinkedIn B2B content guru strategy trap of selfies and pointless dribble.

However, a content mix is good. For me, it has been an organic process. I started with a podcast and I wanted to add more value to my listeners and thought a newsletter would be a good way to do that. Events were a similar evolution. They’re something I enjoy doing, I’m bullish on in-person connection (something Ai can’t currently replicate) and they are a natural extension of a podcast and a newsletter.

And in terms of how all of this wraps up into my consulting - in some ways I’m approaching it from an unconventional perspective. Given my ICP is design and development agencies, one would assume all of my content would be directed at them. And I have considered doing that. But I’m happy that my content is strategically aimed at the broader commerce community, not just agencies. I think this gives me a unique perspective as a consultant. It’s also lots of fun as I love brands, D2C etc.

What do you find most interesting in the world of e-commerce in 2024? What trends, shifts or phenomena are you currently thinking about?

I tend to find people are constantly searching for the next ‘big thing’. Remember the metaverse? Of course, it’s hard to ignore Ai in the context of this question. And yes, the utility of Ai is higher than crytpo and it will continue to unblock inefficient systems across the eCommerce landscape. But if I’m being honest, my big trend suggestion for 2024 is to ‘get back to basics’.

If we’re talking about brands, my advice is to double down on creating the absolutely best version of your product and continue to tell a great story. In other words, great product and marketing. You can’t over-index on one, you need to strike the balance between the two. And when I say product, I mean the full end-to-end product experience - including post purchase! I’m astonished at how many brands don’t consider after-sales customer service. What’s the point of a rad product, the world’s best ad creative and a website that has sub-one-second page load speeds when your customers need a printer to return the product? Or, they spend an hour with the most advanced Ai chatbot only to call your customer service helpline to get an answer - which is likely to be ‘what do I do if I want to return a product and I don’t have a printer’.

From the agency perspective, again I would encourage them to keep it simple. Spend time analysing your past 12 months of client data to define the key attributes of your ICP. Re-evaluate your positioning in line with this ICP and remove as much ‘agency copy fluff’ as possible. Build a marketing plan that is a mix of tactical and brand initiatives to meet this audience, but keep it simple. No more than three big initiatives per quarter. Create a partner strategy that focuses on a handful of strategic partners (ones where there is deal flow, not just referral). And match those partners to your appropriate tactical and brand initiatives. And finally, ask yourself where you want to be in three years and build a people, operations and commercial plan to get there.

"I tend to find people are constantly searching for the next ‘big thing’. Remember the metaverse? Of course, it’s hard to ignore Ai in the context of this question. And yes, the utility of Ai is higher than crytpo and it will continue to unblock inefficient systems across the eCommerce landscape. But if I’m being honest, my big trend suggestion for 2024 is to ‘get back to basics’."

You have been working with Shopify for a long time. What do you think about Shopify onwards? How do you think they will succeed in the enterprise market? Do you think they have cracked the code of the more fragmented European e-commerce market?

It’s a great question and one that explored in a blog post a while back.

Generally speaking, I think Shopify will dominate the startup to SMB eCommerce platform market over the next ten years. They have an amazing product, they are executing their roadmap to tackle historical blockers (one page checkout, multi markets, B2B etc) at speed and their producing marketing/brand marketing is the best of any eCommerce platform in the world.

However, the upper SMB into the enterprise space is where it gets interesting. CTOs at these brands tend to find Shopify too risky as it can’t handle their level of complexity. These folks might be affiliated with the MACH Alliance or feel that legacy systems are better. Thus, Commercetools, Hybris, SFCC etc will be their natural platforms of choice.

But I would argue that lots of those brands are attempting to reduce their complexity. And in doing so looking for a more economical tech stack. Which might be a Shopify Headless architecture or even a Shopify core product. So Shopify’s strategy to have a position at each stage in the market (start-up, SMB and enterprise) is smart. What’s more, their recent addition to Gartner’s magic quadrant, and their aggressive enterprise marketing play, might start to change this enterprise CTO risk perception.

In terms of the fragmented EU market. I still believe Shopify have the depth and breadth to at the very least be a major player on the continent. However, it is a difficult market to win due to the nuances across jurisdictions. Payments across the markets are still a difficult thing to master from a platform perspective. Thus, dominating it might be too difficult. And there are incumbents that have strong positions, e.g. Shopware in Germany. But I wouldn’t underestimate Shopify’s ability to innovate and take market share in order to satisfy analyst expectations.

What do you think about the e-commerce platform race in general, how does it look in the UK and which trends are you seeing? Winners and losers at the moment?

It’s a great question and one that I explored with Rick Watson on the pod not long ago.

My general take is the eCommerce platform market is fragmented and tribal. And the tribalism tends to be a function of the market segment. For example, founders of startup to SMB brands love Shopify and CTOs of massive companies are in the MACH Alliance. So they tend to choose platforms based on the tribe they belong to. Of course, this can and is changing. But our tribalism when it comes to platform selection should not be ignored.

The UK market is no different. It’s fragmented and tribal. And there are nuances based on margaret segment. But I see Shopify and Commercetools as winners, Big Commerce and Magento as losers, and a mix of challengers somewhere in the middle.

Shopify was on par with Big Commerce’s market share but has outpaced them since 2015. And sure, there is lots of talk around BC’s ability to service B2B brands. But I feel Shopify are catching up with their B2B capability and their brand and product marketing are just so much better than BC. In terms of Megento. I struggle to see a world in which they maintain any relevance in the next ten years.

Commercetools is the competitor to the incumbent enterprise platforms (Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Hybris etc). Although Shopify will be part of this conversation, they have a good product and are celeverly using the MACH Alliance as a GTM strategy.

In terms of the challengers…

Platforms like, Pack, Swell etc got a lot of buzz pre 2023. I really like their products and teams, but I don’t think we’ll see major moves from them in the UK just yet. Fabric was another challenger that got lots of VC funding and went hard on marketing but I’ve not heard anything from them in months.

Shopline is a platform I don’t know much about. However, I was intrigued by the size and position of their stand opposite Shopify at the eCommerce Expo. Potentially one to watch. I’m also bullish on Commerce Layer. They have a great team, their founder, Filippo, is ex-Gucci and they’re building a strong portfolio including Rapha.

For me, the dark horse in the UK market is Centra. Of all the platform challengers, I feel they have the best GTM strategy. They own fashion in The Nordics, thus, they can roll into a new market with a pre-built portfolio of well-known brands. They recently won a serious UK heritage retailer in Paul Smith. And, they are targeting Magento agencies as part of their partner strategy. I feel they have the best chance to make a dent in Shopify.

What other 3rd party services for e-commerce companies inspire you now? Who are the innovators you think more e-commerce companies should know about?

I recently met with the Depict team and was impressed by their product and the way they think about GTM. I like that they are thinking ‘partner first’ as opposed to purely product-led when it comes to growth. For me, it’s a sensible approach for companies entering the space that need a technical partner to implement their solution. Of course, they still need product-led thinking, but tapping into the already existing agency network and getting them to become champions of your brand and amplify your marketing is an excellent model.

I also really rate Submarine. For full transparency, they have been a client of mine and I’ve known Gav and Vic for many years. Similar to Depict, they are partner-led when it comes to growth and I’ve been really impressed with their GTM. They are also the classic agency story. Become a service provider, identify problems in the market, and then spin out a product. I’m excited to see them grow in 2024.

Some other notable mentions are Klaviyo (I know a lot of the team there and It’s been wonderful to see them grow and IPO), Gorgias (I bang on a lot about post purchase CX and these guys get how important it is) and Swap (similar to Gorgias, they get post purchase CX).

Which brands do you think have done something spectacular or exciting this year? Why? What are your favourite brands from an e-commerce perspective?

Liquid Death stands out to me in terms of brands doing something different. I’ve seen brash and in-your-face marketing before. But these guys seem to do it in an authentic way. Which allows them the room to push the boundaries whilst also maintaining the integrity of the brand. I’ve also been impressed with the way in which they’ve been able to take a ubiquitous product like water and turn it into a $700m business. Of course, many challenge that valuation. But if it was that easy, why can’t more brands do it?

MSCHF are another that I think is both pushing the boundaries and remaining true to themselves. Of course, much of what they do is absurd. And it’s easy to poke holes at things like a tiny bag or big red boots. But it’s nice to see a brand not taking themselves too seriously.

In terms of brands I like. I think On and Pas Normal Studios are two of my favourites. Not least because I’m a runner and cyclist, but because I think they both nail brand and product. They’re also underrated. I rarely see them being talked about in the same circles as brands like Gymshark, Rapha, Allbirds etc.

Pas Normal Studios, in particular, have done an excellent job of making cycling uber cool whilst also focussing on the fundamentals of acquisition and retention. Cycling is a seasonal sport. To ensure they maintain relevance throughout the year they’ve expanded into different forms of cycling like cyclecross but also added preriferary products like gym, casual and running gear. A great way to keep people like me buying but also smart entry points for non-cyclists.

What (non-fiction) book or article do you recommend Grebban's followers to read?

Weirdly, a lot of the stuff I consume is non-eComm or D2C related. I really rate Tom Goodwin for all things marketing and innovation. His perspective is both intelligent and acerbic. He has most definitely NOT drunk the tech cool aide. Which I like.

I subscribe to The Morning Brew newsletter. It’s a funny and useful 5-minute daily read to keep me up to date with everything going on in business, primarily in the US. It’s also a big influence on my own newsletter. I’m also an avid follower of the Prof G podcast, Today In Focus (by The Guardian), The Rest Is Politics and Freakonomics podcasts. I find all of the above give me a wider perspective when it comes to my consulting work and commentary on eCommerce.

Books wise. It’s kind of boring and I’m sure loads have people have read it, but Traction is great. I use a version of Traction in my consulting work to help agencies plan and implement their 3-year business strategy. For something a little left of field, I recommend Sapiens and Stephen Hawkiing’s A Brief History Of Time.

If it’s eComm specific, of course, I’d highly recommend Grebban followers check out my newsletter and podcast here. Ha. But other people to follow are Ollie, Luke, James, Chloe, and Rick.


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