When you’re launching a brand new e-commerce site, how do you get noticed when giant online retailers like Amazon, Zappos, and Overstock – not to mention the online stores from well-established bricks-and-mortar mega-chains – are casting such long shadows?

We all know e-commerce is big business – according the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly $965M was spent online in January – a 9.4% increase from January 2011.  Boston-based Karmaloop, an online retailer that specializes in edgy, underground brands, launched a new site last week called Brick Harbor.  I spoke with Chase Whitaker, Brick Harbor’s Director of Operations, about how to stand out from the crowd and build a community around your e-commerce site.  Here are 5 takeaways from our conversation:

1. Go niche: Brick Harbor is a site created and run by skateboarders for skateboarders.  (Whitaker has been skateboarding for more than 20 years.)  They specialize in hard-to-find, international, and emerging brands.  You can’t get more niche than that!

2. Give ‘em what they want: “Brick Harbor was launched because there was so much success with skate-specific brands on Karmaloop,” Whitaker said.  “The response from the skateboard community has been exceptional, especially considering that there is lots of encouragement to shop locally.  People have posted on message boards the suggestion that if you can’t shop locally, shop at Brick Harbor.”

3. Get personal: Brick Harbor delves into the stories behind the products they care, including the history of the company and why the brand or product is a good fit for Brick Harbor.  Making those connections are important to establishing trust.

4. Make shopping easy: There is a big emphasis on integrating editorials with e-commerce.  So on Brick Harbor, you’ll read about an event and there will be links from the brands or products mentioned to where you can buy it on the site.  This reduces clicks and keeps consumers from shopping elsewhere.

5. Involve the your customers: Brick Harbor is a community-driven site.  Feedback and reviews are highly encouraged everywhere – on the site, on social media, etc. – so they can constantly improve the site, the experience, and their product mix.

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