How to Sell Online

The Shopify Ecommerce Blog has over many articles about selling products online. From learning how to sell online to advanced tips and tricks, we cover everything you need to know to run a successful online business. Here are some recent posts that talk about selling online:

5 Ways to Optimize Ecommerce Product Pages for Humans and Search Engines

The battle for a sale can be won or lost on a product page. Structuring and presenting your…

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The battle for a sale can be won or lost on a product page.

Structuring and presenting your products correctly for both search engines and humans is absolutely vital when it comes to ranking well and converting browsers into buyers.

Listed below are some simple, yet hugely effective ways to optimize product pages to increase sales, and rank higher in the search engines.

1. Upgrade Your Image

It's not rocket science - larger, better quality images help sell more products. In fact, a recent study showed that larger images can increase ecommerce sales by up to 9%.

Along with image size and quality, you should also consider quantity. Having multiple images for one product, showing different features and angles will only ever benefit your shoppers when it comes to making a decision on whether or not to buy.

Another nice touch you can add to your product images, is consistency throughout your store. Using similar backgrounds, angles and picture sizes will create a more harmonious browsing experience for shoppers.

FiftyThree does a good example of this high quality consistency. Check out their recurring gradient backgrounds and high quality photography found on their Pencil product page below that allow for a seamless carousel experience.

Of course, it's equally important to remember search engines when it comes to your images.

Relevant, keyword rich alt text needs to be added to each image, which tells the search engine robots exactly what the picture is all about. Using alt text correctly can result in a pleasant boost in traffic from image search engines.

2. Play the Word Game

Much like the rest of your website, the wording of your product pages is hugely important in terms of search engine optimization.

Keywords relevant to your product should be included in both the page's title tags and META description. It's also hugely beneficial to include these keywords in the URL string of your product.

A good example would be Evisu's online store. Their product titles are packed with shortened information, yet they are also backed up with extensive descriptions, as shown below.

On top of impressing the search engines, informative product titles and informative descriptions will do wonders for the humans who browse your online catalogue. Titles and descriptions which are frank yet informative create far less confusion, leading to customers feeling more assured about the product they're viewing.

But what do you do if you want to use creative and catchy product names that don't say anything about what the product actually is? You can still do this but you will want to make sure you include descriptive keywords in your product page title tags. 

As a rule of thumb, a good product title should make humans want to buy and give search engines the information they need to help people find your stuff. Whereas a good product description elaborates on the details, uses relevant keywords and engages the shopper, without babbling.

3. Keep it Real

Customers browsing through your online catalogue often take product descriptions with a pinch of salt. After all, they were written by you – the salesperson.

So, to get your shoppers to appreciate how good your products truly are, you should consider adding real reviews and testimonials from existing customers.

iPad case specialists, Cardinal Case, do a good job of this, as you can see below. Alongside their products, they have incorporated a short, neat list of positive customer reviews.

Putting these reviews on your product pages creates a level of social proof, heightening the potential buyer's sense of trust in both the product in question, as well as your store as whole. It's an incredibly simple way to make your product pages more persuasive while also supplying search engines with additional relevant content to consider when ranking you. 

4. Show Your Wares, But Keep It Uncluttered 

The core aim of a product page is to sell. However, many online stores actually end up losing customers via their product pages after cramping them with numerous additional offers and links to related products.

There is certainly nothing wrong with cross-selling, as it can boost sales and lower bounce rates, but moderation – and organization, is paramount. Going over board with related products and banners can scream “unprofessional”, create analysis paralysis and distract the user from checking out.

To keep buyers focused on the product they are already viewing whilst offering more options, display a healthy amount of additional products, without over-crowding the space that you have.

Tea specialists, Luhse Tea, can be looked at as a prime example. As shown in the image below, they display three related products at the bottom of each product page, in a non-intrusive, professional fashion.

The key is to remember that a product page should be built to sell the product it primarily hosts. Cross-selling should be an important aspect of the page, but never at the expense of the main product in question.

5. Go the Extra Mile

Getting the basics right when it comes to product page optimization can work wonders for your conversion rates. But there's always room for improvement.

By incorporating additional features like product videos, 360 degree interactive images and stock notification features, you'll be going that extra mile to convince shoppers that your product is up to scratch, and that your store is willing to make the extra effort to add a personal touch to their merchandise.

An excellent example of this can be found on the product pages of StudioNeat. Accompanying each product, they offer a video which can be viewed without leaving the page, as shown below.

Such additional features go beyond basic product descriptions and allow you to demonstrate how your products work, let you tell the story behind them and persuade your visitors to buy. The more unique and useful you can make these extras, the higher your conversion rate is likely to be.

Of course, videos look great in the eyes of search engines, and do exceptionally well on social media.

Summary

Your product pages are the lifeblood of your online store.

If they're poorly presented in terms of images and content, or unstructured in terms of search engine optimization, you could risk leaving traffic and sales on the table.

Going that extra mile in terms of additional content will also do wonders for your brand, separating you from much of your competition. The more effort you put into your product pages, the more interested shoppers will be in both your products, and your brand.

So, get to work on achieving a good blend of the above product page optimization steps, and you should begin see your product pages converting browsers into buyers better than ever before.

Are These 6 Ecommerce Copywriting Mistakes Costing You Sales?

You’re writing, and writing, and writing. You’re polishing your category pages. You’re slaving over endless product descriptions. You…

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This is a guest post by Henneke Duistermaat from Enchanting Marketing.

You’re writing, and writing, and writing.

You’re polishing your category pages. You’re slaving over endless product descriptions. You worry about keywords and Google.

But let’s admit it. Sometimes you wonder… is your copy working hard enough? Are you persuading web visitors to buy?

Let’s look at six ecommerce copywriting mistakes that might be costing you business (and how you can fix them).

Copywriting Blunder #1: Too Much Product Focus

This mistake is easily made.

Even experienced copywriters make it.

As a sales person and business owner you’re excited to share how special your products are (of course!). You want to talk about unique features and splendid specifications.

But you know what?

Your buyers aren’t interested in all these features and specs. Buyers want to know what’s in it for them. Each time you list a feature such as a thread count of 400, add a benefit such as for a luxurious feel that provides a better sleep.

A product feature is a fact about your product, while a benefit explains what’s in it for the buyer. A benefit explains how your product increases pleasure or takes away pain. And that’s exactly what your customers are most interested in.

Your oven, for instance, might have a fast pre-heat system (feature) which makes you more relaxed about getting dinner ready in time (this benefit is an increase in pleasure—feeling more relaxed) and it makes cooking less stressful (this benefit is taking away the pain of stress).

Before you start writing your product descriptions create a comprehensive list of features and benefits. Consider benefits that increase pleasure and benefits that take away problems, pain, and hassle. Planning what you need to write helps you write more persuasive copy, and it helps you to write faster.

Copywriting Blunder #2: Meaningless Drivel is Soiling Your Pages

Words like world-class, market-leading, and innovative are used so frequently that they have lost much of their impact. They’re just filler—taking up space without adding meaning.

Put on your devil’s advocate hat, and ask yourself for each sentence and each word: what does this mean? If you can’t come up with a specific answer immediately, then cut or rephrase until your text is concrete and meaningful.

Meaningless drivel:

Innovative office chairs from a world-leading manufacturer.

Try instead:

Office chairs with lumbar support used in over 150,000 offices in the US.

Meaningless drivel distracts and wears your reader down. In contrast, facts and figures increase your credibility. Where possible, include numbers and write them as digits (7) rather than words (seven) because numerals stop wandering eyes.

Copywriting Blunder #3: You’ve Taken an Adjective Overdose

Adjectives help us to explain what our products look like (appearance), what they do (features), and how they make our buyers feel (benefits).

In moderation adjectives are useful, but an overdose gives your reader a headache, because it makes your content hard to read. An example:

This relaxed, romantic collection of beautiful cookware has a unique look, right up to date yet completely classic with a result that’s perfect for your kitchen.

The problem with so many adjectives is that it slows your reader down and confuses them. What about simply saying:

This romantic cookware collection suits most kitchen styles.

When using adjectives, follow these 3 essential tips:

  • Use only one adjective before a noun. Rather than relaxed, romantic collection, go for romantic collection.
  • Don’t use adjectives to state the obvious. Don’t simply describe what a product looks like if you’re showing it on a picture.
  • Choose sensory or emotional words because they make your reader feel something. Words like nice, good, or effective are rather bland. Opt for delightful, dazzling, or tantalizing instead.

Adjectives are like alcohol. Too many adjectives make your copy slurred and incomprehensible, but in moderation adjectives make your copy yummy and seductive.

Copywriting Blunder #4: Over Reliance on Factual Information

Facts give stories substance. Stories give facts meaning. — Lee Lefever

When potential buyers read stories, they forget that they’re being sold something. Their barriers to your sales messages go down and your content becomes more engaging and persuasive.

People don’t think in abstract terms and facts. Our brains are wired to think in stories. Stories make your content meaningful as they help your readers visualize using your product.

A story can be ultra-short. Imagine you’re selling an office chair with lumbar support. You can tell a simple story about a customer who tries different chairs and continues to suffer from back pain. Meet Sarah. Sarah finds it hard to concentrate on her work. She paces around during meetings. She’s grumpy.

Then one day Sarah buys your chair and after just 1 month her back pain is finally gone. Her colleagues notice she’s more cheerful at work. Her boss remarks she’s more productive. And when she gets home she’s not as tired and cranky as she used to be. Even her dog notices it.

A simple story can help potential buyers visualize the benefits of your products—especially if they’re complicated; but stories also add personality. You can tell stories about the development, testing, or sourcing of your products to make your products more fascinating or to increase the perception of quality.

Follow these tips to apply the seductive power of mini-stories:

  • Learn from investigative journalists and dig deeper to uncover fascinating details. Talk to your designers, suppliers and customer service advisors. The more you learn the more stories you have to tell.
  • Keep your stories concise and concrete. Focus your story on just one simple idea.
  • Avoid the obvious. Tell unexpected stories to engage, entertain, and sell.

We’ve all been educated to focus on data, figures, and facts. Facts increase the credibility of your product description, but facts on their own don’t make your content persuasive. Facts are cold. Facts don’t have soul or personality.

The most persuasive product descriptions include both story and fact. Stories engage your reader, while facts help justify their purchase.

Copywriting Blunder #5: Lack of Personality

Many big ecommerce sites sound like what they are: big corporations without a soul. They don’t connect, they don’t engage, they hardly sell the value of the products they offer. They simply provide bread, butter, beer, and toothpaste.

But nobody likes chatting with a faceless corporation. Nobody likes ringing a soulless call center. So why create text that sounds like a dull corporation?

To connect with your readers, you need a dash of personality on your ecommerce site. Think about your tone of voice – if your website was a real salesperson talking to a customer, how would you like him to sound? What stories would he tell? What jokes would he crack? Which words would he choose?

Consider these two contrasting examples:

You lean against a boardwalk railing, being sultry and licking ice cream at the same time, holding your shoes.

“You shouldn't be dressed that way,” he says. Pretending sternness.

“What way? It's just a dress.” Pretending innocence.

You've been married for two decades but still know how to get each other's pulses pounding.

When you wear this dress, the rhinestone trim on the shoulders accentuated in the evening light, you're aware that your walk liquefies, your pace slows and nuanced gestures emerge.

Refuse the second rate. Refuse the untimeless.

He'd break windows to get to you.

— The J Peterman Company

Guitar picks are small, and we have to admit, sometimes we lose 'em. And sometimes, you just discover you need one at the strangest times (impromptu flashmob jam sessions, raucous children's parties, boring company meetings, etc.). Well, the good news is: if you have a DIY Guitar Pick Punch and some imagination, you'll never be without a guitar pick again.

Just insert the material you want a pick out of into the DIY Guitar Pick Punch, and... well... squeeze. Instant guitar pick! — Think Geek

Before you define your tone of voice, consider who you are writing for. Try to visualize one buyer and consider how you’d talk to her in real life.

Don’t sound like a big corporation. Be human. Because that’s how you engage potential buyers.

Copywriting Blunder #6: You Edit in Less Than 5 Minutes

Professional copywriters can’t write in one go. They plan. They write. They edit.

Unless you’re superhuman you need to carefully edit your content:

  • Imagine you’re talking with your favorite customer. Now, read your copy aloud. Is your favorite customer laughing at your bombastic phrases? Does she start to glance at her phone because you’re boring her? Re-write and polish your text until you’re able to persuade your favorite customer to buy your product.
  • What objections does your favorite customer have to buying your product? Have you addressed each objection?
  • Price can often be an issue, so be sure to justify your price by explaining how much value your customer will get.
  • Check your engagement level. Is your content focused on your customer? Count the number of times you’ve used I, me, we and us versus you.
  • Ensure you’ve included a benefit for each feature.
  • Cut unnecessary words. Reduce the number of adjectives. Kill adverbs like just, really, and actually because they don’t add meaning.
  • Read your text backwards as this makes it easier to spot spelling and grammar errors. Even better: ask a colleague or professional to proofread your text for you.

Whether or not you’re a good writer doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re a good editor and that you understand the differences between crappy, good, and great copy. Once you know what makes copy good, you can get to work to improve yours over time.

The Truth About Ecommerce Copywriting

Many big ecommerce sites sound like big corporations without a soul who treat their web visitors like numbers.

You have a huge opportunity to be different. To be human. To have personality. To engage and delight potential buyers.

Your starting point should always be your ideal customer. Sell the benefits he enjoys. Help him fulfil his desires.

Always remember who you’re writing for. And don’t speak at him. Instead, try having a conversation. Give advice. Be helpful.


About the author: Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent copywriter and marketer on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook. Sign up for your weekly dose of tantalizing writing tips and receive a free copy of the uber-useful 21 Tips to Turbocharge Your Web Copy and Win More Customers.

How to Get a Date With George Clooney (or Write the Perfect Ecommerce About Page)

Let’s imagine for a second that you’re trying to get a date with George Clooney, I know it…

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Let’s imagine for a second that you’re trying to get a date with George Clooney, I know it might be tough to do, but do it anyway and pretend you have a chance. The fact is, he's single and has plenty of options. Now, if you’re hoping to court Clooney and get him interested, what’s that “x-factor” that’s going to get him to bite? 

You’re probably wondering, how does this apply to crafting a compelling About page for your ecommerce store? Simple, online consumers are the George Clooneys and they have way more options when it comes to shopping than ever before. Now it’s your job to convince them to buy from you. 

A lot of store owners end up underestimating the conversion potential of their About page. Have a look at your own Google Analytics and you'll find your About page is either the second most visited page or in the top three.  

In fact, one study looking at an online store selling surf gear found that shoppers who visited their About page converted 30% higher than shoppers who didn’t. Another study found that visitors to an About page were five times more likely to purchase a product, while spending on average 22.5% more on their purchases. 

Now, there’s no one size fits all solution to creating the perfect About page. It should be as unique as your brand, your products, and your story. But, there are some key elements you can put in place to establish a connection with your customers, build trust and ultimately boost conversions.

What's Your Story?

Your marketing story is the most critical component of your About page and it's why some of the most successful small businesses online have an “Our Story” page not an "About Us" page. In fact researchers have found that when people consumer stories, they’re not just doing so passively, they’re instead vicariously living the experiences they’re reading about. Talk about engagement. 

But maybe you’re sitting there and thinking “I’m not a writer, I don’t know what makes for a good story.” Lucky for you, there are tried and tested common "story elements" that humans have become accustomed to picking up on through the ages. Some of you in fact may be familiar with Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” those of you who aren’t can check out these neat video.

Stories that capture our attention will have the following elements:

  • A protagonist(s) - The founding team or person behind the company
  • An end goal - The mission/vision/values that drive your company
  • An obstacle(s) - Things you’ve overcome personally or as a company and how 
  • A moral - What’s the big takeaway of your story? 

The other thing you want to think about is what really makes you unique or sets you apart from everyone else.

This could include any or all of the following:

  • Your history
  • Your values/mission statement/manifesto
  • The way you source your products
  • The way you manufacture your products
  • Your founder or team
  • Your work culture

Hopefully, you get the point, however to better illustrate what I mean, here are some solid examples from companies that know firsthand the benefits of telling their unique story. Hiut Denim Co. does an incredible job outlining the history behind why they started making jeans, while Black Milk Clothing founder James Lillis describes his “aha” moment that led to him starting his company. Both stories tug the heart strings and help make the companies more personal. 

Hiut Denim Co. 

Cardigan is a small town of 4,000 good people. 400 of them used to make jeans. They made 35,000 pairs a week. For three decades.

Then one day the factory closed. It left town. But all that skill and knowhow remained. Without any way of showing the world

what they could do.

That’s why we have started The Hiut Denim Company. To bring manufacturing back home. To use all that skill on our doorstep. And to breathe new life into our town.

As one of the Grand Masters said to me when I was interviewing: “This is what I know how to do. This is what I do best.” I just sat there thinking I have to make this work.

So yes, our town is going to make jeans again.

Here goes.

Black Milk Clothing

It was around this time I made my very first pair of leggings. I bought a tribal African print that I thought it would look great on legs. I drew up a pattern, cut it out and made a pair of leggings. I talked to a friend who had a friend who agreed to be a model for me to see if they fit. She put them on, and they were terrible. So I cut them again, and sewed them again. Slightly less terrible. I must have recut those things ten times…and finally, they fit. 

It was at that point that something remarkable happened. Something…unexpected. 

She asked if she could buy them. 

Yeah, really.

She took out her wallet, gave me some money and walked off with my leggings. I couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the day. I was stunned - some girl was willing to actually pay money for clothes that I had made!

Complement Your Story with Images

Running or thinking about running an online store means you know the difference beautiful images can make in bringing a story come to life. You’ve heard it a million times but “a picture is worth a thousand words” is no where more relevant than helping visitors to your site connect with you and your online store. Based on the focal points of your story, you’ll want to select images that best reflect and in turn compliment what you’re trying to convey. Whether it’s a primary header or hero image or a gallery, this alone will go a long way in establishing an emotional connection. 

Two companies that do an effective job at this are Charlotte Lane and The Fudge House of Edinburgh. Charlotte Lane does this with fantastic photography of the founding couple, while the later provides mouth-watering images of how their fudge is made. 

Charlotte Lane

The Fudge House of Edinburgh

Complement Your Story with a Video

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video might as well be worth a million. The emotional power of a video to give visitors a window into your story or company is unparalleled. It’s as close as they can get to you other than sitting down with you for a cup of coffee and having you tell them the story yourself. This is one video you’ll want to spend a little money on to get the videography, music, and look on point with your brand. You also probably want to keep it to under two minutes, ideally somewhere between a minute to a minute and a half is your sweet point. 

Check out the following videos on the About pages of The Greats Brand and Langly

The Greats Brand

Langly

Put a Face(s) to Your Brand

This ties back into to your story, maybe it’s the people and how they came together to form your company that helps you stand apart. Even if it’s not the cornerstone, a lot of times, consumers want to know who’s behind a given brand, why did they decide to start this, or are they relatable. Which is why profiling your founder or your core team can be a great way to have your brand appear more approachable and personable. 

For example, BeardBrand does a great job of outlining how the initial team met over one startup weekend and provides great portraits of each founding member. Another is The Dry Bar, which lists and profiles every single person in their organization.

BeardBrand

The Dry Bar

 

Press Mentions and Testimonials

Another one of the most persuasive factors that can help drive purchasing decisions is the concept of “social proof”, which essentially states that if we know and see others like us are purchasing or using something, we’re more inclined to do the same.

So if you’ve got press mentions in publications that matter for your industry, make them apparent with the press logo, if you’ve got customer testimonials that will enhance your brand proposition, add them in as well. There’s nothing like following the herd that takes the risk away from consumers visiting your online store for the first time. Below is a great example from Camila Prada

The Almighty Footer

With your About page being one of the most effective weapons in your conversion arsenal, it’s important to put calls to action at the bottom so that when people are done connecting with who you are as a brand, they can jump on the bandwagon. This means an email subscription box for your newsletter and social buttons to all of the major networks you’re active on.  That’s how the love gets spread and news gets out. 

The folks at Langly have it bang on once again as you can tell here:

There you have it, all these different jigsaw pieces make up the anatomy of a highly effective About page that not only gets you more sales but helps you connect with your customers for better retention and increased brand loyalty. If you have any other useful tips, be sure to mention them by commenting below. 

5 Genius Content Marketing Ideas You Can Steal – Today

Sometimes the best content marketing ideas are the ones that come from using everyday websites and platforms. And…

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This is a guest post by Sherice Jacob from iElectrify

Sometimes the best content marketing ideas are the ones that come from using everyday websites and platforms. And the good news is that these methods can be duplicated across nearly any topic or niche.

All you have to ask are two important questions: “Who am I targeting with this marketing?” and “How can I get them interested and engaged with this content?” Even large corporations from American Express to Adobe, have gone back to basics.

Here’s what they’re doing, and what you can learn from them:

American Express Connects with Small and Medium Business Owners through OPEN Forum

OPEN Forum is American Express’ initiative to connect business owners with collaborative tools and advice. Topics include social media, branding, marketing tips, office productivity and much more. Well known marketers, including author Guy Kawasaki and Ann Handley from MarketingProfs make regular appearances and offer guidance.

Notice there’s no mention of credit cards in the mix.

The Genius Strategy

American Express can sit quietly in the background, reaping all the benefits of goodwill associated with bringing people together with mentors and business tools. The forum has also expanded to include a Tumblr page with quotes and news that matters to business owners. It has also launched its own initiatives including Connectodex, which helps entrepreneurs create more professional profiles for lead generation and networking. This article explains how OPEN Forum has grown from 425,000 page views to over 15 million in a year.

The Take-Away

If there’s a lot of discussion, unanswered questions or people coming together on your topic, why not create a forum to act as a central hub for it? Along the same lines, you could start a community newsletter that brings together the top posters, threads and comments, and actively look for guides, resources and other tools that will make things easier for your participants.

Adobe Leverages Content Curation through CMO.com

Adobe’s CMO.com curates content from all around the web – things that have been especially selected to help Chief Marketing Officers navigate the changing advertising world. Adobe selects content from over 150 top news sites and organizations, as well as creating their own.

It also doesn’t pitch its software programs or web-based solutions to the audience.

In fact, the only ads you’ll find are invitations to take important surveys, whose results can appear in joint Adobe white papers, articles, or the Adobe Digital Index.

The Genius Strategy

Adobe benefits from content marketing through CMO.com in several ways:

  • It reaches crucial decision-makers with the news they need in a way that’s easy to navigate and read.
  • It encourages content consumption without putting up roadblocks or forced registration.
  • It promotes personalized news via registration (which can be done by connecting a LinkedIn account).
  • It establishes itself as a media thought leader by providing tools and resources that make CMOs’ jobs easier. It’s a natural connection.

The Take-Away

Curating content can be time consuming, but for already-busy people, remember that you’re doing them a huge service by separating the wheat from the chaff and giving them exactly what they need to know to do their jobs better. Use resources including AllTop and Topsy to help you get a handle on trending content in your industry, and then use a curation tool like Paper.li or Trap.it to store your ideas.

In other words, become the go-to news and content source for your industry and niche. This will position you as an authority and help people discover your products.

Nightmares Fear Factory Uses Flickr to Terrify Its Viewers

Nightmares Fear Factory is a haunted house walkthrough in Niagara Falls, Canada. What separates it from the ordinary scare-fests is its mystery. Its Flickr page shows photos of guests being scared out of their wits – but by what?

Nobody knows unless they go in.

That, of course, is part of the fun. Even the FAQ on the official website is quiet about whether or not guests are grabbed, separated from their group or otherwise caused to jump out of their skin.

The Genius Strategy

Social Proof. Nightmares Fear Factory is showing pictures of people using their "product" and demonstrating that it works, and works well. 

The Take-Away

Not every business can do a suspenseful Flickr account, but you can find innovative ways to use both it and Pinterest to inspire and share ideas -- show customers using your product, finding unique “hacks” to make life easier with your product, or spotlight the people behind the offer and why they’re so passionate about it.

The Traveler IQ Challenge Game from TravelPod

So how smart is your travel IQ? Think you could pinpoint a capitol city on a map with just your mouse cursor? That’s the premise behind the Traveler IQ challenge, where you can choose a region to test your knowledge or do an Amazing-Race style speed test. With each answer, you earn points – with a specific number being needed to advance.

The Genius Strategy

This simple flash game can be addictive – and it reinforces TravelPod (which lets travellers create blogs) very well. The rules are simple enough for anyone to follow. You can also choose a badge to show off your Travel IQ or even embed the game in your own website.

In other words, TravelPod has created a piece of free 'attraction strategy' content that get people to their site and makes them want to share with their friends. 

The Take-Away

Flash games are relatively inexpensive to make -- and quiz-based games are always fun. Depending on your topic, you could test your readers with trivia, personality quizzes, or other fun content. The important thing is that their results can be shared via social networks and that they can also embed the game in their own sites - further enhancing and distributing your brand.

CoreStreet’s PIVMAN Comic Saves the Day

The PIVMAN is a handheld government ID verification system that works without the need for a network connection. That makes it incredibly valuable for first responders on the scene of disasters or other catastrophes who need to get people to safely – quickly.

Realizing this, the company created PIVMAN, a Spider-man-style super hero who uses his PIVMAN handheld to help save the day.

The Genius Strategy

According to its creator, the PIVMAN generated twice as many high-quality leads as other marketing methods. The first 500 copies of the comic were distributed within days, with 10,000 more printed to keep up with demand. Considering that the PIVMAN device retails for $24,500, it’s not an impulse buy. However, the comic explained how the device worked better than a stale, old sales presentation. As a result of this ingenuity, CoreStreet, the company that makes the product, was awarded part of a security contract with the city of Los Angeles.

Who knew a simple comic could do so much?

The Take-Away

Turn that boring, stale sales pitch into something more interesting! Everything from medicine to cereal has been sold in comic form - why not your product? Or, you could create an infographic or short video. The key is to shake up your content format and find interesting ways to show how your product works and how people can benefit from it.

What are some of the more innovative content marketing ideas you’ve seen on the web? Share them below in the comments!


About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps website owners improve conversion rates through user-friendly design, copywriting and website optimization. To learn more, visit iElectrify.com and download your free website conversion checklist and web copy tune-up.

How To Grow Your Ecommerce Business Without New Customers

Have you spent weeks or months (or years) racking your brain trying to figure out how to get…

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This is a guest post by Alex Turnbull from Groove

Have you spent weeks or months (or years) racking your brain trying to figure out how to get more customers?

Before you spend another minute thinking about marketing, consider a simple question: why?

Why do you want more customers? If, like most small business owners, your answer is “mo’ money,” then let’s take a step back and look at some facts that might surprise you:

For most small businesses, acquiring new customers is the least efficient way to make more money.

What’s the most efficient way?


It’s your customers. The ones you already have. The ones who’ve already raised their hand and shown you that they’re willing to spend their hard-earned money for the value that you deliver.

The potential return on spending for new users pales in comparison to the opportunity for growing your business with your existing customer base.

The research proves it: a Bain & Company report found that acquiring a new customer costs six to seven times more than retaining an existing customer. And that businesses which boosted customer retention rates by as little as 5% saw increases in their profits ranging from 5% to 95%!

Turning your existing customers into long-term repeat customers can be the most efficient way to grow your business.

Return customers tend to buy more from a company over time. As they do, your operating costs to serve them decline. 
- Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company

Want to help your existing customers want to buy more?


Try these three proven strategies, backed by research and case studies, to make your customers love doing business with you.

Know What Your Customers Need

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves. - Steve Jobs

Every single time you visit Amazon.com, you see something that looks like this:

You’ve shown Amazon what you’re interested in, and Amazon does you the favor of suggesting other products that might be of value to you. Much of the time, they’re right.

It’s an effective strategy, but just how effective? Really. Damn. Effective.

Amazon says 35 percent of product sales result from recommendations. - Matt Marshall, VentureBeat

And it’s definitely not just Amazon. Netflix users will recognize this screenshot:

That recommendation engine is responsible for 75% of the movie-watching choices Netflix’s users make. Imagine what it would mean for your business if you could influence 75% of your existing customers to buy more by anticipating their needs!

But you don’t have to be Amazon or Netflix - with millions upon millions of data points being mined around the clock - to know what your customers want and be able to deliver it to them.

If they've already purchased a product, send them an email highlighting more products from the same category. Or, even small copy tweaks can help. For example you could test changing your copy from "Related Products" to "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" on your product pages.

If you’re talking with your customers, you should understand the challenges they’re facing. Offer solutions to their problems, beyond what you’re already offering.

Reward Loyal Customers

Look down at your keychain. Do you have any barcoded tags with logos of the businesses you frequent?

If not, you probably have a card with the same info on it sitting in your wallet, or stuffed in a drawer somewhere. Or, if you’re like me, you manage most of these relationships online.

If any of those apply to you, then congratulations. You hold one or more of the 2.1 billion customer loyalty memberships in the U.S. today.

Why are loyalty programs so ubiquitous? Because they work.

A 2012 survey by ClickFox suggests that 54% of consumers would consider increasing the amount of business they do with a company for a loyalty reward, and 46 % said they already have.

The most popular forms of loyalty programs - frequent flyer programs, grocery store memberships and credit card rewards - are well known, but many small businesses generate revenue by offering their customers loyalty rewards.

In 2011, GrubHub, an online food delivery site, started offering a fun and unique loyalty program for its return customers. The program, called Yummy Rummy and first tested on GrubHub’s team internally, lets customers play a game for every three orders they place. They’re given a 25% chance to win free prizes like dessert, drinks or a discount off of their tab.

Is it working? We asked GrubHub:

Customers keep coming back to GrubHub for a lot of reasons (customer support being the most important!), but Yummy Rummy has been a big part of that. Customers call it addictive. 
- Abby Hunt, GrubHub

How do you create your own loyalty program?

Two of the many insights in Dowling and Uncles’ 1997 piece on customer loyalty programs in the MIT Sloan Business Review might be particularly useful to you as you think about your own opportunity. Build your loyalty program to:

1) Add to the value proposition of your existing offering.
 Think about how you can reward customers with more value from your business, not just free stuff.

Probably the least useful rewards for customer loyalty are free gifts such as lottery tickets; these are nice to receive but tend to be only short-term tactical froth that can devalue the brand. - Dowling and Uncles

Instead of gift cards, can you thank your loyal customers with value-add rewards like useful, exclusive content that helps them in the context of what they’re already buying from you? Notice how in the GrubHub example above, the rewards - free food - are valuable within the relationship between the company and the customer.

2) Maximize the buyer’s motivation to make the next purchase.

You want your loyal customers to keep coming back. Otherwise, they’re not loyal customers, right?

3) Leverage your loyalty program to incentivize repeat business. There are many ways to do that (again, GrubHub is a great example), but you can employ some neat psychological strategies to optimize your offering.

In one study, researchers handed out loyalty cards at a car wash. The cards offered a stamp for every car wash the customer bought.

Half of the cards had spots for eight stamps, with a free car wash offered for collecting all eight. The other half had spots for ten stamps, but two of the spots came pre-stamped.

The result?

The pre-stamped cards resulted in 178% more repeat business than the unstamped ones.

The customers with the pre-stamped cards already started with progress made toward their goal, and their incentive to buy was maximized.

This strategy is known as 'artificial advancement'. Pretty cool, huh?

"Above and Beyond" Customer Support, Every Time

Think about the last time you were truly WOW’ed in a customer support interaction. Did it feel like the agent went above and beyond to help you? That company probably won you as a repeat customer, right?

Chances are, if the company has a support-focused culture, “above and beyond” is the norm.

A couple of years ago, Peter Shankman was exhausted and hungry, flying home from a business trip. He sent a joking Tweet to Morton’s Steakhouse:

The Ask

Can you guess what happened when he landed in Newark?

Yep.

Shankman wrote about the experience in a blog post titled The Greatest Customer Service Story Ever Told, Starring Morton’s Steakhouse.

Customer service is no longer about telling people how great you are. It’s about producing amazing moments in time, and letting those moments become the focal point of how amazing you are, told not by you, but by the customer who you thrilled. They tell their friends, and the trust level goes up at a factor of a thousand. Think about it: Who do you trust more? An advertisement, or a friend telling you how awesome something is? 
- Peter Shankman

The post was shared more than 16,000 times on Facebook and Twitter - not a bad return on the cost of a steak.

Another example from our own archives: Allan Branch, founder of LessAccounting, is a Groove customer. After he emailed us for support, we resolved his ticket, but the interaction didn’t end there. We sent him a small token of our appreciation, and he let the world know:

With his 10,000 followers, our little surprise to Allan got us one very happy customer, and a whole lot of website traffic and trial signups.

Empower your support team to create those ‘amazing moments in time’!

Not every customer has Shankman’s audience. But the research shows that customers do talk, and according to data from American Express, happy customers who have a positive experience with customer support share their story, on average, with nine people.

How many support tickets are you handling each day, and what would happen if each one of those resulted in nine new prospects?

Awesome support does more than create chatter; it makes great business sense.

That same American Express report showed that 70% of Americans would spend more money with companies that they believe provide excellent customer service. And on the other (scarier) end, another study concluded that 91% of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with your business again.

Keeping your customers happy through “above and beyond” support can be the difference between growing your business through keeping your existing customers happy and losing them to your competitors. The choice seems like an easy one to us.

According to Marketing Metrics, The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5- 20%, while the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%.

The odds are in your favor, and the numbers add up: delivering more value to your existing customers is the best, most efficient way to grow your small business.

Don’t Get User Acquisition “Tunnel Vision”

Now, I’m not telling anyone to abandon their user acquisition efforts. Acquisition is still a super important part of your marketing strategy.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s your only option for growing your business. There are others, like those I shared above, that can be just as - or more - effective.


About the Author: Alex Turnbull is the Founder and CEO of Groove, a customer support app for startups and small businesses. You can follow him on Twitter or read more at the Groove Blog.

5 Lessons From a 70 Year-Old Company That Got Its Start With Dropshipping

The shopping experience at IKEA is like no other. Most of us have at one point gone to…

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This is a guest post by Dan Wang.

The shopping experience at IKEA is like no other.

Most of us have at one point gone to one of its giant stores, unmistakable in blue and yellow; wandered through its carefully-designed paths; tasted its Swedish meatballs and lingonberry preserve; and most importantly, assembled its beautiful, Modernist furniture.

Now did you know that IKEA is a company that practiced early methods of dropshipping?

IKEA was founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad at the age of 17. Working out of his family farm near a small village in Sweden, Kamprad made his start by selling matches he bought from Stockholm.

He soon expanded as a mail-order business to fountain pens, udder balms, wallets, and other small items. Kamprad didn’t always stock the items he sold, and he arranged for customers to receive their wares by bicycle, train, and often with the help of a friendly milkman.

After initial success, Kamprad scaled up, displaying his goods in a showroom. A few decades later, IKEA was growing so quickly that executives opened a store in Konstanz when they had meant to open it in Koblenz. Nowadays, IKEA has over 300 stores in 30 countries, and its catalogues are only slightly less popular than the Harry Potter books.

So what can you learn from a company with such humble beginnings? We share five lessons.

Think you can be as cool as Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA?

1. Get Your Lista On

IKEA is obsessed with lista, which translates roughly to “making do”. Here are a few examples.

First, IKEA uses employees as models for its catalogues. The happy people sitting by the dining table are available employees, not specially-trained models.

To see how much IKEA values practicality, look no further than its very name, which was the mailing address of Kamprad’s farm. The “I” and “K” stand for “Ingvar Kamprad”; “E” for “Elmtaryd,” the name of his farm; and “A” for “Agunnaryd,” the name of the local village. Talk about simplicity.

One more story: In early days, someone once tried to sell Kamprad an intercom system for a store. Kamprad turned to a worker to bellow: “We already have one!” This is the billionaire famous for always flying in the economy class and who often recycles his teabags.

Here’s the lesson:

Try to make do. You don’t need special shots of your team in a studio setting for company bios: grab an iPhone and go outside on a sunny day for perfectly good pictures. Unless you’re a Fortune 500 company, you probably don’t need a subscription to an expensive media monitoring service; make do with Google Alerts. And are you sure that you need that (SEO consultant)? Really sure?

2. Leverage Local Colors

It’s absolutely no accident that the IKEA colors of blue and yellow match exactly those of Sweden’s flag.

Far from hiding its Scandinavian roots, IKEA embraces its Swedish heritage. Just take a look at these zany names: FYRKANTIG, DAGSTORP, and ÖDMJUK. (They’re candles, a couch, and a cup, respectively.) Unmistakably Scandinavian, with those unfamiliar scrambles of consonants and umlauts.

And the Swedish meatballs and lingonberry sauce that’s served in every store: Isn’t it much easier to serve hot dogs and pizzas?

Here, take a look at this short IKEA ad directed by Spike Jonze, with an announcer whose accent to our ears might best be described as “Swedish Chef.”

Finally, those of us who know just a little bit of Swedish probably picked it up in the IKEA stores. Hej – that means “Hello.” And hejdå – that’s “goodbye.”

Here’s the lesson:

Don’t homogenize. Emphasize your differences.

You’re not Walmart, you’re special. You should be bold about what makes you different, so long as you do it tastefully. When you’re authentic about your distinctiveness, your passion will attract those who love your products as much as you do. It’s going to be a lot easier to build up your community, whether that’s men who love their beards, who ladies who appreciate well-designed tights. Heck, the latter community was built without a cent in the marketing budget. That was pure love.

Having said that, you should probably make sure that you have a good grasp of Lesson 3…

3. Really Understand Your Customers

IKEA designers are among the foremost anthropologists of home life.

Designers create rooms for eight types of people: “baby,” “toddler,” “starting school,” “tweens and teens,” “living single/starting out,” “living single/established,” “living together/starting out,” and “living together/established.”

IKEA does endless research on each of these categories. It starts targeting its customers since birth. Per an internal memo: “Cots are our ticket to building a life-long relationship with our core customers.”

Every year, IKEA conducts thousands of “home-visits,” in which its researchers ask consenting customers to look around their homes and figure out their domestic habits.

That’s in addition to the studies it runs to carefully create a path that curves at the right points so that every item in the store gets noticed. IKEA practices a technique called “bulla bulla”, in which a bunch of products are jumbled together to create the impression of volume, and therefore inexpensiveness.

Here’s the lesson:

You won’t often understand your customers by giving them surveys. People aren’t always conscious of their own habits, or care more about appearing normal. So go out there and make sure that your product has its community. It’s much easier to do this if you have a loyal fanbase already and can easily leverage their insights. See Lesson 2 on using your authenticity and passion to build a loyal fanbase.

4. Let Your Customers Have Fun

Visiting an IKEA store is an experience in itself, almost like visiting an interactive art gallery.

The company likes it that way, and often looks the other way when customers treat the store as their home. Consider IKEA in China. Customers there are especially delighted with the company’s patience.

For a family in Beijing, going to IKEA on the weekend is like going to the park: you have to dress properly, it’s going to be a good time, and you don’t need to buy anything. People go there to take a nap under the display beds, to enjoy the air conditioning, and to drink free refills.

The experience is even more extravagant in Shanghai. A tradition has somehow emerged that every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, 45 to 65 year old locals bring their lunch and take advantage of free coffee to seek new love. No, really.

The company’s response? Instead of prickly signs telling people to lie on beds and asking people not to abuse free refills, the company welcomes them, and has set up designated corners for matchmaking.

Here’s the lesson:

It’s great (perhaps even necessary) to have a clear vision for the optimal use of your products, but if people are finding little ways to be creative with them outside of that vision, you should encourage it. Don’t go crazy telling people something should be used. Make it clear, but you should be very happy if people are finding new and novel ways to play with your product. It’s a great sign of engagement.

For a little more info, take a look at our post on growth hacking: How to Growth Hack Your Ecommerce Business for More Traffic and Sales

5. Supply Chain Matters

IKEA should be recognized to be just as innovative in supply chain management as it is in design. Not only is its furniture beautiful, it’s also amazingly cheap. Price is as much a draw to IKEA as the shopping experience and the great products.

One of its major innovations came from the lista efforts (see above) of an early employee. In 1951, he tried to fit a table into his Volvo. When it wasn’t going in, he removed its legs.

And so flat-pack furniture was born.

One of the goals of designers is to create products that can be as tightly-packed as possible to minimize damage and shipping costs. Its motto is: “We hate air!”

IKEA has been innovative in other areas as well: it was an early adopter of particleboards, and uses a construction technique called “board-on-frame,” in which products with solid-wood exteriors are stuffed with paper innards.

Here’s the lesson:

Shopify stores sell things. Not software, real things. That involves a minimum of obtaining supplies and assembling them in some way. Even when you think that you have the perfect product, you need to be thinking of ways to reduce costs, improve the ways it can be used, and think whether it can be relevant to a broader community. Shopify is taking care of building the store and processing your payments so that you can focus on making a better product.

Hey, we hope you enjoyed this article. IKEA is fascinating, isn’t it? If you’re wondering if you too might build an empire from humble dropshipping beginnings, check out The Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping.


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Divide and Profit: How to Segment Your Mailing List for Better Engagement

One of the biggest mistakes many businesses make with their mailing list is sending the same email to…

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One of the biggest mistakes many businesses make with their mailing list is sending the same email to everyone, all of the time.

If you think about it, not every subscriber on your mailing list is equal. You’ve probably got a mix of potential customers (those that haven’t made a purchase yet), new customers (those who have just made their first purchase), loyal customers (those who have made many purchase), and former customers (those who haven’t made any purchase in a while).

On top of that, if you sell items in different categories (for example, women’s clothing, men’s clothing, and kids clothing), do you think every subscriber is interested in all of those products? Do you want to send the same message to all of these people? Of course not.

While you can’t customize an email specific to every subscriber on your list, you can create emails based on specific criteria using segmentation. In this post, we’ll look at different ways to segment your mailing list in order to increase engagement and conversions.

Segmenting Your List Based on Customer Type

Wouldn’t it be nice if, when people walked into a store, they had a label on them that indicated whether they were new to the store, had visited but never purchased, have purchased once but not again, or have purchased many things on a regular basis? If people had labels like that, the salesperson that greets them would probably say something different each time.

Many customer databases have these labels. If yours does, then you should consider segmenting your list based on these differentiations. This way, you can target your emails in a way that will convert potential customers into customers, first time customers into loyal customers, and loyal customers into brand advocates. It can be as simple as offering new customers discounts or your most loyal customers a free gift with purchase.

Segmenting Your List Based on Interests

Let’s say your online store sells pet supplies. You probably have dog owners, cat owners, hamster owners, new pet owners, elderly pet owners, and so on. Sending them all the same email campaign isn’t going to always make a sale. However, sending them a targeted ad based on their specific pet owner needs will.

This is when an interest-based segmented list comes in handy, and there are several ways you can get subscribers into the appropriate segments. You can do it based on:

  • Products they click on in your email. If the subscriber clicks on a dog leash, then you can segment them as a dog owner and send mailings about new dog products.
  • Lead magnets they subscribe through. If your online store offers free guides for different breeds of dog, and your subscriber choose the guide to Chihuahuas, then you can segment them as a small dog owner and send mailings about new products for small dogs.
  • Items they purchase. If your customer tends to buy ferret toys and hamster wheels, then you can segment them as a small animal lover and send mailings about new products pertaining to little critters.

Find out which option works best with your customer database and mailing list platform and start sending targeted mailings based on specific interests. For example, here's an email Nordstrom's sends to subscribers it knows is interested in menswear. 

By segmenting your emails based on interests you’ll increase your open and click through rates and lower your unsubscribe rates as you will not be blasting products to people who are not interested in them.

Segmenting Your List Based on Location

Location can be an important segmentation for several reasons. For starters, if you have both an online store and a physical location, you may want to send emails about sales that are happening in-store, but only to people in your region. If you have customers from various countries, you may want to send country-specific promotions on shipping like Deals Direct in the example below.

Most mailing list service providers will have an option to segment based on location. The location is usually determined when a subscriber signed up for your mailing list. You can also use your customer database to find the current location of your customers based on billing and shipping addresses.

Segmenting Your List Based on Engagement

Last, but not least, you will need to tailor messages differently based on the subscriber’s activity. You’ve likely seen emails that say, “We’ve missed you.” These were probably from businesses whose emails you have not opened in a while. 

Most email marketing providers will allow you to create segments based on subscriber activity like Mailchimp does here:

One reason that businesses create a separate segment for inactive subscribers (those who have not opened emails in a long time) is each subscriber typically costs you money. So why pay for subscribers who are not engaging with you?

The strategy usually goes like this. You will create a segment of subscribers that have not opened their emails in a certain timeframe, say three months, six months, etc. You send just that segment of people an email that asks them to reconfirm their subscription, either to confirm they want to continue receiving your emails or to get a special discount code or a free resource (like a new style guide for example). If the subscriber does not confirm within the next week or two, they are removed from your list.

This is a great way to make sure your mailing list consists of people who want to get your emails, i.e. the people most likely to make purchases. This will always boost the ROI of your email marketing, as you’ll be paying less for your mailing list service and only sending emails to the people who want them.

Your Mailing List Service Provider’s Segmentation Options

Note that some of these segmenting options may or may not be available to you based on the mailing list service provider you have chosen. To find out what segmentation options you have available to you, you will need to refer to the features your provider offers. You can do a Google search for your mailing list provider’s name plus segmentation, segment your list, and similar keywords. If you use the following mailing list service providers - Aweber, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor or Constant Contact - you can refer to their features listings and documentation guides for more information.

How do you segment your mailing list? Share your tips in the comments!


Further reading:

How to Start An Ecommerce Business Without Spending Any Money

This is a guest post by Noah Kagan. Noah is the founder of AppSumo and built two multi-million…

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This is a guest post by Noah Kagan. Noah is the founder of AppSumo and built two multi-million dollar online businesses before turning 28.

When most people think about starting an ecommerce business, they have a vision of selling some amazing product that will enable them the freedom to work on something they truly enjoy. But despite early enthusiasm, sometimes they end up not taking action.

So what happens to these people?

    • They don’t have any idea of what to sell
    • Worrying about failing prevents them from starting
    • They have an idea but are not sure what to do next

Does that sound like you? Don’t worry. We’re going to show you some meaty and actionable stories of how two people were able to start their own ecommerce businesses without spending any money.

These two people are members of my How to Make a $1,000 a Month Business Course. We’ve helped over 3,000+ entrepreneurs and it’s been fascinating to see how these people started their businesses.

Let’s get to it, enter Brian Pulliam of Backplane:

What problem were you facing?

I injured my back and realized the importance of having good posture during rehab. Since I sat in an office chair all day for engineering work, I decided to make a product for myself. When I realized it was helping me, I wanted to help others too.

Brian’s product helps you have better posture and ultimately a happier back while you’re sitting at your desk all day.

How did you determine people wanted to buy your product?

Simple. I validated the idea by asking people to buy before I started making them. Pre-sales is a powerful strategy that helps you ensure there's real demand for your product and minimizes financial risk. Also, I had faith in my product's ability to help people with their posture because I was the first client (which sounds very Hair Club for Men, but it's true).

Too many people spend too many hours scouring Alibaba, doing market research and wondering if people will buy the product they want to sell. Pre-sales helps reduce those assumptions and gets you moving forward faster with your business.

How did you create the first version of your product?

My product is about posture, and my PT and chiropractor suggested a foam roll laid along my spine. I did some measurements on how much my shoulders relaxed when using a foam roll, picked up a hacksaw, and started experimenting. In short, I failed a bunch with the first prototype. In fact, it gave one of my early customers a migraine (not the intended effect, oops!) It would have been easy to give up right there, but I knew that success was through a forest of failures, and got to iterating.

The early versions of the Backplane

What were the core takeaways you had from this process?

  1. Pre-sales (see above).
  2. Get over your fear of failure (yes, it is stopping you from success).
  3. Focus on fundamentals: Ask people what their problems are, identify a solution, pre-sell it, over-deliver with execution, go where the customers are, and show them how it solves their problem.

Most people focus on the solutions instead of identifying the problems people want solved. Make sure to work backwards from the needs of your potential customers (including yourself).

What were the biggest roadblocks you faced starting your business?

Convincing people it will work before they buy was solved with video and testimonials. Some folks also have an issue with my product not being made of fancy materials. I'm more of a guy that cares if something works. To keep my costs down, I keep things simple.

Your product will NEVER be perfect. Focus on finding people who want it and then you can evolve your product to be better over time. Think about the first generation iPod vs the current iPhone 5s!

What were the most memorable moments from selling this product?

Practicing failure was key to persevering with this product. It's a turning point. I remember the first time watching Shark Tank after successfully pre-selling my product. I was yelling at the contestants "What do you mean, you are PRE-REVENUE? You have HOW MUCH inventory? 2800 SKUs … ARE YOU CRAZY!? HOW WILL YOU SELL THAT?"

Fear of failure is one of the most non-talked about issues people face when starting a business. Practicing failing in your business and personal life will help you overcome the fear of failure. Check out FailureGames.com or Strangerchallenge.com.

What have you learned since selling physical products?

I had to get over my need for things to be perfect. I have iterated with customers, especially when it comes to something as variable as posture for individual humans. My current design is the result of 27 prototype iterations. I've also learned to politely ignore people who immediately start giving me advice on how to SCALE, when 99% of those people haven't ever made a single dollar on a product themselves.

What do you recommend to other people who want to setup an ecommerce store?

First, get a customer base. Early interaction with customers is key to ensuring you have a great product and you address the most common concerns. An ecommerce store should be a solution to the problem of having too many customers to fulfill manually. Once you have that problem, make it as easy as possible for people to buy.

How much have you made from selling your product?

I'm up to about $1000 in revenue, with zero investment of my own money. Read that last sentence again, ZERO.

EasyWhey

Enter Dan Maisano of EasyWhey, who started his own protein drink to-go product.

Why did you decide to sell your product?

I read Tim Ferriss' book Four Hour Workweek and the idea of a "Muse" type business appealed to me. I decided to create "Dan's Super Convenient and Awesome Protein" shake because I drink whey protein on a regular basis but it has never been the most convenient thing to do.

As one of the healthier snacks/meals out there it would be great to be able to drink it anytime. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks, traveling, car trips, movies etc. I know many people who use the shakers that lets them scoop in their own whey, add water or milk and drink. To me this was never convenient.

A person had to then carry the shaker around with them, make sure they clean it ASAP (if you ever have smelled an old protein shaker you know why) and just plan to have it with them until they are able to get home. I personally wanted something that I could drink when I wanted and then forget about it.

As we’ve seen in both examples, creating problems to your own solutions is a great place to start with business ideas.

How did you determine your products were a good product to sell?

Once I had the idea in my head I used the advice from the How to Make a $1,000 a Month Business course and validated it by seeing if anyone would be willing to buy my product before I invested any time or money into it. I had 7 people actually Paypal me $30 for a guarantee that I would send them my first shipments OR their money back if I never actually got to production. Up to this point I spent $0.

Pre-sales remove a lot of assumptions and doubt whether people will buy what you are making.

How did you create your first prototype once you validated it?

The hardest thing for me was actually creating the product. I had my idea in my head but had an "OK, now what?" moment. I shopped around on Google trying to find bottles and lids that I thought would work well. I got a few free samples to test different sizes and I used the whey protein that I normally use and put it in the bottles to try it out. I really liked how it worked so I placed a bigger order for bottles and lids and this was actually the first money I invested into this. However as I already had money from the people I pre-sold to I was able to use that to purchase the supplies I needed.

The fulfillment of the product can be challenging but focus on making a basic budget (to ensure at least break-even) before you pre-sell and focus on keeping your solution to that problem as ghetto as possible at first.

What did you learn about yourself from starting this business?

Two things really stand out. As a naturally shy person pushing past my comfort zone and getting myself out there was a new experience. By doing so I learned that it really wasn't that hard or uncomfortable as I imagined.

A great way to practice overcoming fear is taking our “Coffee Challenge.” Go to Starbucks or any cafe and ask for a 10% discount. It’ll help you be less afraid asking for things in your own business.

The other thing I was able to implement was the validation of my product. I had 7 products sold before I had anything more than the idea in my head. No website, no business cards, not even the product yet! I had 7 people actually paying me for what was simply an idea, and because I was able to do that I knew I was on to something that would actually work. That was a much better solution than spending a bunch of money and time and energy building a product, website site, etc. before I knew if there was anyone else out there that would buy it and use it.

You can use Paypal, Shopify, Gumroad or eventbrite to pre-sell your idea at no cost to you.

What was the hardest part about setting up your store?

I have messed around with Shopify in the past using just a mock idea a friend of mine had. I never took it to production and just let the site die after I was done playing around with it. It’s easy to setup the store but the hard part is getting customers. Doing things in reverse and then setting up the store makes life much easier.

Once you get customers through a manual process a store like Shopify will save you significant time.

What were the most memorable moments from selling this product?

Definitely when I got my first customer to say that they liked my idea enough to invest $30 into it. Second time was when I placed my order for my bottle samples. It was a "Wow, I am really doing this" moment for me. Third was sending out my first shipments. It felt like a really big accomplishment (and I suppose it was!). And lastly when Noah himself told me he liked my product after trying it!!

It’s important to know who your ideal customers are so it makes your life easier to find out WHERE they are online / offline.

What did you learn about selling physical products?

I never really thought it was possible to sell a product without already having it. The idea that I could sell my idea first and then turn it into a product after I knew it would work was a major step turning from "wantrepreneur” to entrepreneur.

What do you recommend to other people who want to setup an ecommerce store?

Definitely validate your idea first before setting up a store. And you should be doing everything and anything manually until you have such a demand that you can't do it all yourself anymore. Keep it ghetto for as long as possible!

How much have you made from selling your product?

Not much yet. I am trying to reinvest any profits back into the product to make it better (labels for the bottles are on the top of my to do list!) Right now I am more focused on getting the word out there that I do have a great product, and I figure if I have enough people that know about my product and they are all satisfied with it, the money will naturally follow.

Anything else meaty you want to share?

In the time it took me to write up these answers I created a store for you to check out my product on Shopify, EasyWhey.


About the Author: Noah Kagan is an internet entreprenuer and the founder of AppSumo. His course, How to Make a $1,000 a Month Business, provides a blueprint and a 3000+ entrepreneur support community for starting an online business.

A Beginner's Guide to Content Marketing

Today we're happy to unveil a free in-depth 15 part video series that will show you exactly how…

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Today we're happy to give you a free in-depth 15 part video series that will show you exactly how to develop a content strategy for your ecommerce store.

Content marketing is a very powerful way to build your brand, while increasing traffic, sales, and repeat business. It's also particularly important for those of you selling products that have no active search volume (nobody searches for your product on Google), which is often the case when entrepreneurs create a new product. 


In these videos we teach you easy to adopt techniques to help you grow your business and make more money. 

It's important to note that although we call this series a beginners guide, we go over some very advanced techniques that everyone can learn from. 

The host of this video series is Ezra Firestone, a veteran online store owner, the man behind SmartMarketer.com, and the host of multiple popular marketing podcasts.  

Feel free to watch the first video here on the blog, or hop over to Ecommerce University to watch the whole series.

Video 1:

10 Ways Ecommerce Brands Can Increase Traffic And Sales With Facebook

For most ecommerce brands, Facebook is still the number one social platform when it comes to driving traffic…

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For most ecommerce brands, Facebook is still the number one social platform when it comes to driving traffic and building an audience of customers and fans.

This is particularly true for lifestyle brands and businesses that know how to create compelling and shareable content.

By now, chances are you’ve got your Facebook page up and running and you’re regularly sharing content with your followers.

But how do you actually generate sales with Facebook and not come across as too self promotional and burnout your audience?

Let’s take a look at some effective ways to sell with Facebook and create an audience of raving fans.

1. Use Images

In order to generate traffic and sales from Facebook, you first need to create engagement and build an audience. By now you’ve probably heard that images perform better on Facebook than other types of posts.

However, not all images are created equal. The folks at Buffer found that images that are self explanatory get higher engagement than images that require further explanation. In the example below, the image on the left is for the most part self-explanatory while the one on the right requires a description to explain what it’s all about.


If you're posting product images, consider overlaying some text on your image that gives more context such as "New", "Back in Stock" or "Winter 2013 Collection" they way Warby Parker does below. 

2. Sell the Lifestyle Around Your Product

Another important strategy for online retailers when it comes to creating compelling images is to understand that you’re not just selling your products, you’re also selling the lifestyle around your products.

In other words, post images that show examples of your ideal customer using your products in a setting that makes sense for your brand and target demographic. Or, surround your product with other products that are non-competitive but are still “on brand”.

Poler Stuff, an outdoor gear and sporting goods retailer, does a good job of this in this example where they show a solo, cross-country cyclist striking out on his own for the weekend. This image inspires their fans while promoting the outdoor lifestyle and their products (in an under the radar way).

3. Create Themed Product Collages

Let’s face it, posting product shots over and over can get boring for your fans pretty fast. To make your product images more interesting, try creating visually appealing product collages that place similar themed items together.


You can even use this strategy to offer snack sized style guides or quick tips on what other products work well with yours.

4. Run Giveaways and Contests

Research has shown that 42% of people ‘like’ a brand on Facebook in order to get coupons or discounts. Put another way, you should be offering deals to your Facebook fans.

Contests are a great way to offer a deal and package it in a way that engages your audience and brings new customers to your page.

In the example below, Diamond Candles asks their fans to Like, Share, Pin and register for a chance to win one of their products.

With 3,269 Likes and 3,627 Shares you can see how effective this can be.

5. Offer Time Sensitive Discounts

Offering time based discounts can be an extremely effective way to get people to take action and move the needle when you need to. Putting an expiration on your discount leverages scarcity which is a powerful psychological sales trigger.

In the example below, ecommerce menswear brand Bonobos offers a discount that expires and has a minimum purchase limit. Minimum purchase limits can be a smart way to still offer your fans a nice incentive but also make sure you don't give away the farm.

6. Offer Gift Cards

People love buying gift cards.

In fact, according to a National Retail Federation survey, 81% of Americans will buy at least one gift card during the holidays. The same survey also found that 70% of customers who use gift cards will spend more than the value on the card.

Offering gift cards on Facebook (especially near the holidays) gives people a way to share your brand and products with their family and friends.



7. Run A Caption Contest

Caption contests are a great way to ramp up engagement and get people interacting with your content.

Check out how Petflow asks their fans to come up with a caption and also slips in a link to their “Secret Toy Sale”. Naturally they have a bit of an unfair advantage as they’re able to use kittens but 4,574 Likes, 423 Comments and 899 Shares is pretty impressive.

8. Showcase Polarizing Topics, Images or Products

Featuring a polarizing topic or product can be one of the best ways to boost engagement. In the example below, Frank & Oak pits it’s iPhone app users against it’s Android app users and asks them to either like or share based on their device.


If you’re a fashion brand you could pick one of your products that people either love or hate and ask “Would you wear this? ‘Like’ if you would and comment if you wouldn’t”.

9. Offer Free Shipping

If you don’t normally offer free shipping, then occasionally doing so can be a very compelling incentive to get people off Facebook and over to your store.

Here, Holstee offers a time sensitive free shipping deal that coincides nicely with the holidays.

10. Use A Custom Facebook Store App

Facebook Store is an official Shopify App which allows you to publish your products and collections to your Facebook page. This is great for generating traffic and sales from Facebook, as well as increasing engagement with your Facebook fan-base.


The Facebook Store app will place a custom tab on your Facebook page that’s highly visible and that you can customize. 

Here’s some great examples of ecommerce brands already using the Facebook Store App:

Summary

When it comes to selling on Facebook, it’s important to try and strike a balance between creating engaging content that builds an audience while also gently nudging people towards your products.

Creating special offers like deals, discounts and giveaways will help you bridge that gap by allowing you to highlight your products while still creating interesting content for your followers.

In addition, custom apps like Facebook Store can help you bring your shopping experience and products right inside Facebook itself. 

How do you promote your business on Facebook? What's working for you right now? Let us know in the comments.

 

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