Millions of people are selling products online... Some of them use Amazon to sell, some eBay, some Etsy, some Craigslist, and some, (like us), use our own website secretly powered by Shopify, (the e-commerce platform system that allows you to set up your own shop easily and affordably). You can see our Shopify powered site here.
Millions are being made by ordinary people... The massive allure of e-commerce selling is the potential for unlimited upside. We all imagine creating a runaway hit product that takes us from zero to hero. We dream of an income generating website that changes our life forever. As with any large commerce system, that's rare, but it does happen. And the frequency of it occurring is speeding up as more people sell online and the tools and tactics become more familiar.
For example... take my friend Mike Brown, owner of Death Wish Coffee. He sells on Shopify and on Sunday, February 7th, 2016 his site traffic went from 250 visitors to over 150,000 instantly. How did that happen? He won the Intuit Small Business Big Game commercial contest. His 30 second commercial aired during the Super Bowl and BAM - massive global exposure! Mike's no overnight success. He had worked hard on his brand, site, and customer acquisition efforts for years prior.
Our story isn't nearly as exciting as Mike's... We started our little brand at our kitchen table in late 2007 based on my wife's design talent. We opened up an eBay store in February 2008 and migrated our primary e-commerce efforts to Shopify in June 2013 (www.pixiefaire.com). We operate at the intersection of the sewing and doll/toy niche, a fairly small corner shelf of the Internet, but not without fantastic and loyal customers. We've been told by Shopify we are in the Top 1% of all Shopify websites for multiple aspects of our work. So, while our niche might be small, we've been able to make it work nicely.
If you're reading this article you're interested in joining the e-commerce revolution or scaling up your efforts. And after working with over 1,100 Shopify site owners (and teaching Online Marketing at the University level) I can tell you there are only three steps - granted - they are BIG steps. But millions of people are working in the new world of e-commerce selling to figure these steps out. What are they? Let's dig into each...
The first and most critical step is the product strategy step. You cannot have an effective e-commerce business without a high functioning product (and ideally many of them). What do I mean by high functioning?
The High Functioning Product... It needs to be well conceived, well branded, well-priced (which doesn't necessarily mean low priced) and most importantly, it needs to serve customers well. If the customer is impressed with the product - the product is high functioning. The good news is - after 20 years of e-commerce selling - online sellers have found tried and true principles that can guide this work.
What Types Of Products Work? ... In Winning On Shopify, our companion ebook to the 10-Factor Shopify Aptitude Test, I outline 9 types of products that can work. They can include,
This is just a short list of the common types. The options are almost endless. It's relatively easy to successful online sellers using each one of these product approaches. In my prior post, The E-Commerce Formula, I outlined the 7 products we used to scale up and ultimately sell millions online.
If you don't have a product yet, then let me recommend 3 resources...
The Blue Ocean Strategy... if you've never read the class book The Blue Ocean Strategy, by Chan Kim, then I highly recommend it. His advice is relatively simple, yet profound. Find uncontested space in your niche or industry (blue ocean space) instead of trying to compete head-to-head over highly contested space (red ocean space - because of all the blood in the water). If you can't find a unique and uncontested concept, keep thinking, keep researching, keep asking customers, keep looking.
In the case of Mike Brown and his Death Wish Coffee brand, his quest started with a simple question, which when answered unlocked his blue ocean. The question? What is the strongest coffee? Oddly enough, no coffee maker had claimed that INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS market position. That is so odd because customers buy coffee for the caffeine - so you'd think some smart coffee marketer would have already thought of claiming that market position. Yet no one had - so he did - and built a brand that supported that concept.
The Integrated Product Suite... Marketing trainer Brendon Burchard teaches the concept of the Integrated Product Suite. His insight is simple - the best brands create a set of products that work well together to serve the customer in effective ways. The classic example is the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Steve Jobs' insight was the height of simplicity and it worked well. Brendon recommends you follow Apple's example and create a collection of products that combine to serve your customer in a big way.
The $10,000 Sales Test ... I recommend you sell $10,000 worth of your product on an existing e-commerce marketplace (Amazon, eBay, Etsy, etc.) before launching a Shopify site. Why? In today's e-commerce environment, there is very little reason to take a big financial gamble. But launching a product IS a big gamble. It might not work. Many products fail. So, you're smart to test your way into it. To mitigate your risks, prove you can sell the product, and shorten the duration of your, "this-will-be-amazing" mental fantasy phase - get out there and sell. Sites like Kick-Starter let you pre-sell the product. So if the product concept doesn't click with customers (or you don't have the skill to market it) you'll know BEFORE you spend money on the product. Do that.
You might have a high functioning product that does NOT sell well on a stand-alone Shopify site but does do well on Etsy, Amazon, eBay or other marketplaces. That can be confusing, but there are reasons that can happen. Your job as an e-commerce seller is to test these sales channels to determine which ones will do well for you and your high functioning product.
Why Some Products Do Better On Marketplaces Than Stand-Alone Shopify Sites... There is a reason marketplaces get big - it's because they work well for customers. I created and run a marketplace for Doll Clothes Pattern makers. Why is my site a better choice for them than selling directly on their own site? It's fairly simple.
In markets where buyer consumption is HIGH, they'll look for websites that give them lots of choices, to match their shopping enthusiasm.
Because they are always looking for a new thing - and when they see it - they buy it. If they visit your site and you don't have anything new for them - they simply won't keep returning. Your customer traffic will never materialize. In these types of situations, being part of a marketplace with other similar sellers, which together can generate larger volumes of traffic, is better than being on a stand-alone website that never develops the buying traffic needed to move the financial needle. In these cases, you'll sell more via the marketplace than you will on your own site.
Setting Up Your Own Site... after we expanded off of eBay, we began using Wordpress to sell online. That worked okay until we got to about $300,000 in annual sales volume, then things began to fail. The shopping cart, the hosting, the themes, they all proved they weren't the right solution. But more important than those issues - we wanted to offer our customers a better set of functionality. What functionality? Things like,
We also wanted our own functionality to improve so we can understand more about what was happening on our e-commerce site. Things like,
For all those reasons, we saw Shopify as a solution - and it was! We've been incredibly happy with the decision. I am a Shopify fanboy.
Optimizing A Marketplace Decision... The beauty of simply selling on a marketplace is that they handle a wide range of business and marketing activities that you don't have to worry about. But you can add fuel to the fire - and if you're going to sell on a marketplace, you should! How? Things like,
Fuel on the fire... The important thing to realize about marketplaces is that they tend to favor popular items, sometimes in very subtle but important ways. For example, a marketplace might favor a popular product because,
So when you work to send buyers to your marketplace listing - you prime the pump and provoke these marketplace attributes.
This works for online training too... In case you wonder if I practice what I preach in this regard when I first began talking about Shopify at conferences I got good feedback, so I began thinking about writing more about the topic. I submitting a book proposal to my publisher on the topic and it was rejected (that hurt). Rather than give up on the idea of teaching people about Shopify, I decided to make a course on Udemy called Shopify Power to test out the idea. After 1,000 people took the course in the first six months, I realized there was a market for this topic, and I created this blog and site.
Most people who sell on Amazon or another marketplace have a top-of-mind question when they consider selling on their own Shopify site, "how do I get visitors to my new website?"
But that's not the right question. The right question is, "how do I systematically get buying customers to my site in a cost effective way?"
There is a big difference. Getting random traffic to your website is expensive and frequently unproductive. Figuring out how to set up a system that sends buying customers to your website is the key to long-term success.
A tried and true way of looking at customer acquisition is the paid-earned-owned media model. The team at Titan SEO represents it visually this way,
Paid Traffic is traffic you purchase through online advertising. You can spend money testing traffic from various sources including,
Earned traffic is traffic that comes from free sources. Some brands attract free press from bloggers and other online sites (like how Death Wish Coffee was mentioned earlier in this article). These brands benefit from the traffic without having to pay for it. Of course, smart marketers spend time cultivating media, putting together press resources, and making it easy for media professionals to include them in articles and stories.
Owned traffic is traffic that comes from assets you've developed over time. The most valuable asset you can possible develop is a large list of eager buyers. That might sound obvious, but it's the primary goal of every e-commerce seller. The most common owned assets include,
The central test of any e-commerce site is,
Can you systematically acquire new customers profitably?
The sad truth is lots of hopeful e-commerce sellers have a product in their hearts/minds and work to create it without actually knowing whether it will resonate with customers. Then they realize they need a website to try and sell it - then they begin working on the "how do we get traffic" question, and end up failing. They might stir up some activity and momentum for the short-term by their energy and momentum, but over time their efforts fail because they've failed the central test.
The right way to start is to see a clear need (or hole) in the market. Develop a product to meet that need and test it as quickly and inexpensively as possible before scaling it up (or spending a lot of money on inventory). Part of that testing is related to acquiring new customers. Can you do it profitably?
If you'd like additional training and coaching to achieve your Shopify goals, consider applying for our coaching program today!