Selling in Marketplaces Versus Your Own Online Store

dotoly shopify masters

Cindy Chan is the founder of Dotoly, a store that sells animal-inspired jewelry, gifts and home decor at affordable prices. 

After selling her products through multiple online marketplaces, in her own physical store, and now an ecommerce store, she has a lot to share about the pros and cons of each, and what she's learned from her various experiences. 

On this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear her story and we'll explore the many experiments she ran—both small and big—that helped her grow her business.

You shouldn’t really do what you think the customer wants. You should do what the customer actually wants. You need to look at the data.

We'll discuss:

  • What it’s like to close down a physical store.
  • How to increase your chances of success when selling on a marketplace.
  • How to transition from selling on a marketplace to selling on your own store.

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    Show notes:


    Felix: Today I’m joined by Cindy Chan from Dotoly, which is at Dotoly sells affordable animal jewelry, gifts, and home décor. They were started 2010. They’re based out of Hong Kong. Welcome, Cindy.

    Cindy: Thank you for having me.

    Felix: Excited to have you on. Tell us a little bit more about the animal jewelry you sell. What are some of the more popular products in your store?

    Cindy: I would have to say our animal rings, are made in the shape of miniature animals. Also, earrings. They put together, so they make fake … They look like fake ear gauges. Both of these, which are quite popular in our store. We’re also expanding out to include other products as we find new designers and stuff like that.

    Felix: Very cool, I think … I’m a dog owner myself, so I follow so many dog Instagram profiles. Probably more than actual humans, so I feel like I’ve seen your product. Hopefully it was yours, all the time, so I definitely want to talk more about the strategy behind all of that working with different influencers in a space. Tell us about how you got started. What was your background? Did you have a background in creating jewelry?

    Cindy: No, actually, I’ve always been involved in small business, in a way or not. My family is actually, we have a small business selling children’s ware, so we product and manufacture our own children’s wear, and since I was very, very young, I’ve always been involved in helping out in the store. Then later, when I was older, producing, designing, and communicating with factories. I actually got into jewelry because of necessity. I actually went to school at Parsons in New York and I was looking for birthday presents for my friends. I couldn’t really find anything that was unique or affordable for a student living in New York City on a very small budget.

    I started actually making my own products for people and the response was really, really good. They were like, “Why don’t you sell these?” I started producing a little bit more, and it was really simple stuff. I just started selling on Etsy. Then eventually on eBay, and when I would visit Hong Kong quite often. Every time I came back I would also source some products. I had an eBay store at the time. I don’t really sell on there anymore. It just kind of took off from there. I was just doing it out of my tiny little shoebox apartment while also going to school and trying really hard to do my thesis. It definitely came because of a need to one, find affordable and interesting gifts for people, but also to make a bit more money because I was living in a very expensive city.

    Felix: For sure, so you went to college. You were in college, you had worked previously in the family business. Was anything else going on at the time, while you were starting this? Were you still involved in the family business or in the small business that you guys were running at the time while trying to launch your own brand?

    Cindy: I started this in my, I think, junior year in university. When I graduated, I actually came back to Hong Kong to help out in the family business and also to do my own. I actually started off by opening my own retail store where I sold jewelry. From there, it was a very interesting experience, because as you probably know, the rents in Hong Kong are known to be one of the most expensive in the world. Going from an online business where I didn’t really have any rent besides fees and stuff like that to having to pay for rent and all these extra costs and stuff, and trying to stay afloat, it was really quite a challenge.

    I was in business then for a year until I decided to move back to where I started, which is e-commerce. That year of experience was incredible. I just figured out, I got to talk to customers face-to-face. I got to really understand the process of buying and selling. I took a lot of the little things I learned and applied it to what limited experience I already had from trial and error of selling online. It just kind of took off from there, and I’m still learning every day. It’s a quite interesting experience I think.

    Felix: You seem to love living in cities that are very expensive to rent from, which I guess puts that kind of pressure on you to make sure that it all succeeds. Like you said, you moved to Hong Kong. You knew that it was going to be expensive to open a retail store anywhere, really, but especially in the major metropolitan, major metro cities like that. What was the decision behind that if you already had an online store, an online business that was already building, already coming along. What was the reason for wanting to open the retail store?

    Cindy: I think it was just something that I’ve always really wanted to do, to try. My family business does have a few retail stores. That’s the way that I grew up with small businesses. When I tried to do online sales and e-commerce, it was still really new to me. I didn’t really have all the necessary skills and stuff. I did understand what it was like to work in a brick and mortar retail business. At the time, I found this amazing location, the rents weren’t too, too high at the time. I had all this product that I designed and also working with local designers within Asia that I thought would do really well if I sold it. I wanted to try. I really missed the hands-on experience of interacting with customers. I just decided I would try and do both at the same time, but it took up so much of my time that I actually had to stop my e-commerce business for a while to run that.

    Felix: What was the turning point, then, that made you decide, “Let’s go back to what was already successful”? Go back to where you first started your own business which is online?

    Cindy: I actually got a lot of tourists, so I started noticing that a lot more tourists were buying from me than locals, which was kind of opposite of what I was expecting at the time. I thought the products would do quite well locally. A lot of the tourists that came by, who was visiting and looking for unique gifts, would buy a lot of things that they thought, “Oh, I’ve never seen this back where I’m from,” whether it’s Australia, or Canada or something. They would buy so many to bring back as gifts. They were like, “Do you sell online?” I got that question asked a lot. I was like, “I used to,” and they were like, “Why don’t you do that anymore? I know so many of my friends that would love to.”

    I gave them my emails and stuff. I was like, “Let’s get in touch.” Eventually, I was like, “Everybody’s asking me why I don’t sell online anymore.” Obviously I felt like e-commerce was something that more and more businesses are picking up. I just thought, maybe I should give that another go again, especially since the cost of running a retail store was actually really, really high. I started again and to my surprise, it really picked up. I started on ArtFire, actually., a marketplace, when I started again, and then later on Storenvy as well.

    I started selling on these marketplaces where they were doing a lot of promotion for you, and all you had to do was list products and ship them out. That’s how I started before I started with Shopify. Moved on to Shopify. I just kind of went from there. A lot of my process was trial and error, even now, today, I keep learning new things and trying it out and seeing what works and what doesn’t and then developing the experience from there.

    Felix: I think that that’s a great approach. There’s only so much you can learn and internalize just by reading or even listening to podcasts. I think a lot of it needs to be just getting out there and playing the game, and then learning not just what works but then what works for you specifically, because you aren’t always going to be able to find advice that works for your specific situation. Hopefully, people that are on the same path as you and thinking about following the same path can save some time and money by learning from what you’ve learned.

    Let’s talk about it. The store no longer exists, right? The physical store? I’m assuming that you can’t just say, “One day, I want to go back online. Let me just turn the lights off in the store and walk out.” There’s probably a lot of costs involved, not just monetarily but time-wise. What is it like to close down a physical store?

    Cindy: It was awful, because it felt a lot like a failure to give your all. I considered doing an actual job, like working for a company, but for me, just to do my own thing and the challenge of running a business and being involved in every aspect of it rather than just maybe one aspect of a part of a business or a company was just something that really attracted me. Not being able to succeed in anything is not easy, so to shut down a store, obviously it’s not something that would feel good. Of course I would to still have the store running and profitable, but at the end of the day, if it doesn’t make financial sense, then you just have to do what’s logical.

    Luckily, right before I decided that this wasn’t working anymore, that was when I started to venture back into e-commerce. It was, I think, about two months before I decided to close down my business, I was starting to sell online again. I got that up and running pretty quickly, and luckily the sales were coming in. I kind of did have a backup plan before I closed my business, and that really definitely helped a lot.

    Felix: Do you want to eventually go back to physical retail at some point?

    Cindy: It would be nice, but probably in a city like Hong Kong. Rent would definitely be one of the factors. Also, most of our customers are actually located in the US and Australia, and so if we could open there, that would be amazing, for sure.

    Felix: If you were to open another store again, or even to go back to the very beginning and open your first store, what do you think you would do differently or what could you have done to prepare differently that you think would make … Maybe some factors were out of your control, but what do you think you could have done differently to improve the potential of success?

    Cindy: I truly have to think about that, to be honest. I’ve spent so much time thinking about e-commerce that while it would be really nice to have an actual store where we could sell to customers and get immediate feedback on how your product is doing or what they think about what you’re doing, I think that’s really valuable. When you do online business, you ship … Someone buys something and you ship it to them and it takes however long it takes to arrive, depending on the location. Then you get the feedback, whether it’s from an app like [inaudible 00:13:54] or whatever, I forget what it’s called.

    The reviews come in, and there’s a delay between the time when you provide the customer with something and the response you get back, if you get a response. I’ve spent so long thinking about e-commerce that I don’t really know what. I haven’t really spent that much time thinking about what I would do differently for retail as of yet, because there’s so much to do in e-commerce and so much that changes every single day, that I really just don’t have the time to think too far ahead right now.

    Felix: That focus, I think, is important. You don’t want to be thinking about something that you’re not actually doing. That makes sense. It sounds like you do miss aspects of having a physical store, like that immediate feedback that you’re talking about. Are there ways to replicate the benefits of a physical retail store that you found online? Those reviews of course are important. What are some ways that you found to get valuable feedback on whether your product … Just get feedback in general on your products or on your brand?

    Cindy: We do try really hard to talk to our customers on social media. We get a lot of customer, not a lot, but we get customers who … We try to encourage our customers to provide us with photos of them wearing products. We provide store credit for those who do that we choose to feature on our social media platforms. That then in turn helps us convert better, it provides social proof for customers, potential customers.

    Felix: You mentioned that you incentivize people to share photos with you. One thing I really like about the way that your store’s set up is that immediately, there’s a whole shopper Instagram section which has all of these photos, I’m assuming, from your customers, which of course offers them social proof. I think one of the steps that a lot of stores miss is that they won’t incentivize or ask people to post photos with hashtags on Instagram. The things that people might be doing that, might be collecting somewhere on Instagram, but then it’s not kind of completing the entire loop and then coming back to your store as a form of social proof. Tell us a little bit more about this. How did you set this up to incentivize? What were you doing to incentivize people to share their customer photos and how were you actually using these customer photos to improve sales?

    Cindy: The Instagram integration that you were talking about, we actually included in our website quite recently. We’ve always been trying to encourage our customers to take photos of their products. Usually they’ll take a photo with their pets or something and it’s super cute, and their friends will share it. We actually, it was super simple. We just include a tiny little insert with the cute little photo that’s one of our first customers ever took, and we ask them to share a photo of their recent purchase to win a coupon code and to tag us. We just include it in every single package that we send out, and it really does work quite well.

    It’s a very affordable way to get people to come back and interact with you and help spread the word. I think one of the challenges of running a small business is that you have a limited budget. To print almost like a business card with a cute picture and a short message that customers can then have and hold, and possibly share, is really useful as well. Of course to provide an incentive for them, that’s extremely important of course.

    Felix: One thing I like about these kind of customer photos is that it’s actually seeing the product out in the wild, because a lot of times you’re looking at product photos and they are stand alone on a white background, which is great to get all the details, but you don’t really know what it can look like in the real world. When you have so many different angles, so many different backgrounds that people are using the product in, it really helps, I think, capture that missing piece that you probably got in the physical retail space, which is that people can feel and look and touch and look around and hold the product itself. When you have so many people posting all these photos with different angles and using them in different ways, I think that helps cover that missing piece that you often get from physical retail that you don’t get on online retail.

    I really like that approach. You mentioned earlier that you started off in marketplaces, right? You were on Etsy, you were on eBay. You then came back, you were selling on ArtFire and Storenvy. What was that experience like? Do you recommend that a lot of people take this approach where you first start off on marketplaces before you open up your own store?

    Cindy: I definitely really recommend it. Usually, a lot of these marketplaces like Storenvy, it’s free. Even ArtFire I think is free to set up. It teaches you step by step what to do, so for someone who has no e-commerce experience, I think that is very helpful. It teaches you, like your title should be however long, you should have how many images. They usually help promote these products on their own marketplace, so that if you don’t really understand how to promote your product and get it out there, there’s a huge team behind all these marketplaces that does it for you.

    I just wanted to add, from before, as you were talking about the Instagram photos. Something that we recently tried was that we reached out to local dog rescues and dog owners. We actually invited them out for photo shoots. We offered to take photos of them and their family and their pets in exchange for us to be able to take some photos of their pets, whether it was cats, guinea pigs, and dogs with some of our products. We’ve been using a lot of those images in our social media strategy. That has actually helped us a lot. I think our Facebook engagement has increased by 200 something percent. People share and comment and like our content a lot more.

    We’re really trying to push that, trying to .. Back to the actual retail thing, we actually are reaching out to local business and local dog rescues and people who own dogs and love to support small business and asking for help. It was kind of our way to create a content marketing strategy pretty much free of charge. For free, with no money whatsoever. Of course we provided with them free products and stuff for their time, as well, and also a copy of all the photos, and everybody wanted some super cute photos of their puppies and their families and stuff. We took all this content we created and the stories behind them and we’ve been trying to send out newsletters to show people that we are a real business and we’re involved in our community. That’s been quite interesting as well.

    Felix: You inviting these customers, past customers or maybe potential customers out for these photo shoots. Why do you think that this is or has been more successful than let’s say, just hiring a model or hiring model pets to come out and just taking photos that way rather than focusing on getting customers out there, taking photos? What do you think makes a difference?

    Cindy: First of all, that’s quite expensive. I think for a lot of small businesses, or people just starting out, you don’t really have the big budget that large companies have. I feel like one of the ways that you can work around that is to be creative. We’ve literally went on Facebook and found local dog owners, and also contacted people who’ve purchased from us locally and asked them if they minded, and found the ones who actually, maybe they took a photo for us before. We got a huge group of people who just met with us over the course of a month and we photographed them.

    Then when we provide them with free products, which isn’t part of the deal when we contact them, of course, because we really were pushing for just asking for help for a small business, like a local business trying to reach out to people. Everybody was so helpful, but when we provide them with these products, they then take additional photos for us. They post it on their own Instagram. They show their friends, and it generates so much word of mouth. We actually got contacted by other dog rescues and I’m not sure if you saw, but we donate a percentage of our profits to local dog rescues and also ASPCA.

    We actually took, for each month we donate to a different organization, but recently we’ve been contacted by a lot of local ones. We were able to take this money and also to then buy dog beds and things that they needed really badly to keep the local dog rescues running. We were able to actually physically help them, whether it’s providing things that they need in addition to just providing a donation. That’s what we want to focus on later to show our customers that purchasing from us is … You obviously get cute products, but you also get to help us make a difference for these animals and these organizations. We really want to help promote that as well.

    Felix: That’s definitely beautiful, that you’re able to give back while running a business. I think one aspect that makes your approach a lot better than just hiring models, hiring professional photographers, is that people and the organization that you work with are much, much more invested in this, because they realize how much you are contributing to the community, contributing to promoting them. That they help out even much more than you probably expected by promoting your products above and beyond. If you hire a model, hire a photographer, they’re unlikely to, I think, push as hard as working with these kind of organizations that are much more, I guess, organic. These relationships are built much more organically.

    I think that’s a great approach. I would highly recommend doing something like that again. You want to be able to represent your product in the wild, with actual real customers using it. I think that’s a great approach and a low-budget approach, too. Also, jumping back to the marketplace question. Again, these four marketplaces that we talked about, you recommend going on them, especially if you’re a beginner, because they walk you step by step through the listings, and the promotion of the products. Are the keys to success on these platforms that you find, that they’re different than the keys to success if you own your own store, your own online store like you do today?

    Cindy: Yes, definitely. We still actually sell on some of these marketplace. I think it’s a completely different customer base. What we did before, when we started with ArtFire and Storenvy, and I think later there’s another one called [ 00:25:56], which we also use now, today. They actually help reach a different set of customers from the customers that we have for our website. When we do ship these products out, we also include those Instagram, the inserts that we have to request customer photos. We send them back to our social media accounts, and we also tell them, “We also have our own website where we have a lot more products for you to choose from.”

    Our website is where we really try and build our community. We provide free shipping, which we don’t provide on these platforms. We want to separate, it’s different. There are customers there who just buy on marketplaces. They don’t trust a stand alone website, whether it’s hosted on Shopify or not. They want to shop on, let’s say, eBay or something, or Etsy, or ArtFire. They want to be able to buy from a company that they’ve heard of and they trust. They do have that advantage over a business, a stand alone website, I think.

    Felix: I think one of the key benefits of having your own website over selling in a marketplace is that you can kind of build these assets of returning customers, but like you’re saying, the customer base on these marketplaces are different and sometimes they are very reluctant to leave these marketplaces and to buy from you directly. I think it’s the same case with Amazon, for example. Some people just strictly want to buy on Amazon and rather buy through there than the actual brand store.

    When you’re on these marketplaces, is it just for the sales alone? What else can you, I guess, get from selling on these marketplaces, other than just for the sales? Like you were saying, some people are reluctant to leave these platforms.

    Cindy: Obviously, it generates sales and that is the bottom line, but then you can also drive traffic from these websites to your website. I think for a small business that’s just starting, you really benefit from having the trust of your customer because you’re backed by this big, large company. I think one of the … We’ve noticed, because we have Google Analytics set up on our Shopify, obviously, so we do notice a lot of traffic coming from our marketplaces stores as well, so people who look on there and want to buy more products or want to look at our full collection then come from these websites and end up buying from our website. It does generate not just sales, but also traffics for us.

    Felix: I guess a couple key factors of being on these marketplaces. One is that you get that kind of built-in trust on these marketplaces. I think it also probably goes the other way, too, where if someone is on your site and then they see that you are represented on these marketplaces, you do kind of inherit some of the authority and the trust from these much more established companies. Then, at the same time, it sounds like, you do have some folks that are willing to migrate over from these platforms to buy from you directly. Maybe not the first time, but maybe subsequent times once they realize the quality of the product and they like it and they want to return and buy again. It’s not just a one-time sales thing, there seems to be some other benefits as well.

    You mentioned that they help allow the promotion. They probably do all the promotion, especially if you don’t know how to do it yourself. Are there ways for you to improve the success of promotions on these marketplaces? Are you able to contribute in any way that’s been meaningful?

    Cindy: For a marketplace like Storenvy, they always have sales. Whether it’s Black Friday or whether it’s Mother’s Day, they’ll always usually, if you subscribe to their newsletter, they’ll contact you. You can sign up for it. It’ll tell you all the requirements you’ll need. The discount codes you might need to provide them, and you can then join in the sales. Not all of the marketplaces’ marketplace stores will participate. If you do, then you get that increased exposure as well.

    Felix: You have to kind of opt in to a lot of the promotions that are coming through from these platforms?

    Cindy: Also if you’ve been on there for a while, like say on ArtFire, and if you can sell a specific amount or if you have a product that they think is quite unique, then you will … I think some of our products are actually featured on their homepage, as well. That really drives traffic to your web store on there.

    Felix: These kind of premium or prime placements of your product, like on the homepage, which probably gets the most traffic out of any other part of their site, how did that happen? Was it just based on your success on there? What do they look for to place, to promote a certain brand or a certain web store more predominantly than others?

    Cindy: I think it’s different for each platform what their requirements are, but I know Storenvy has often reserved a space on their homepage for the different businesses, the different stores that they represent. I think it comes down to having a unique product and also a product that sells. Ultimately, they do want to gain commission on their marketplace sales, or they want to build the traffic and they need something from it too. If you have a unique product that sells, then it obviously increases your chance of then being contacted by their support team and they might ask you for a short interview and they’ll feature you on the homepage.

    I think right now they don’t actually have an option for paid ads, yet. I’ve heard that that’s going to be something that they might look into. I know ArtFire as well, you can actually, I think you can pay to have it listed on the top of search, kind of like Etsy.

    Felix: Got you, so I guess for the more organic or free publicity, it’s probably not the ticket to success, but definitely what helped you gain a lot more success once you do have something rolling already, whether that be really products or ideally a unique product that also sells. Once you do have success on these platforms, or once you did have success on these platforms and continued to sell on them, what was the transition like to your own store? What steps did you start taking to essentially make your own store the focus of your brand?

    Cindy: I wanted more control over the look and the feel and the functionality of the online store, because there are limitations to what you can do on these marketplaces. We already generate enough revenue from these things that we decided to venture out and create our own website, and after some research, decided on Shopify. It’s great, because there’s so many different apps that you can use, and it’s completely customizable, and it really gives you, like the Instagram, my Instagram carousel that you were talking about on our homepage. You wouldn’t be able to have that on a marketplace store, because that’s something, the kind of feature that they just don’t provide.

    There is an advantage of having your own website. You can control everything that you … You get a lot more analytics. You know what’s happening more then. I think it’s something that people that have been selling a little bit or something, if they want to expand it’s probably something that you would definitely need, to have your own stand alone website.

    Felix: It’s definitely an evolution that a lot of stores have, where they have success on these platforms, they’ve proofed out that it’s a product that people want, and now they want a lot more control and obviously also probably better margins by selling it themselves. When you did make that transition, I’m assuming that there were some things that you maybe relied on these marketplaces and now you had to do yourself. What were some things that you had to learn or prepare for or focus more on when you did start to sell through your own store rather than through a marketplace?

    Cindy: Probably everything. It’s a completely different process. Finding someone, choosing a good theme, because the look of your website is really important. Finding a developer to add extra functions or finding apps that work for you. It was, again, a lot of trial and error. It was reading a lot of reviews on the app stores and figuring out what worked for people and what didn’t. Visiting their stores. That’s why I think leaving reviews on these apps are so important, because people actually click on them to see what it looks like. It drives traffic that way. I’ve done so much shopping that way.

    From the beginning, it was a lot, again, so much of this is trial and error for us, just figuring out which apps we wanted to install, what kind of functions we wanted. Of course, the more apps you add, the longer your page will take to load. Too much functionality might also be a bad thing. Just trying to figure out what kind of functions we wanted to add and what we wanted to take away. We’re still in that kind of stage right now. Trying to figure out what kind of elements to add, to have on your website, to increase your conversion rate as well. It’s all … On the marketplace, they decide where everything is. They decide what the buttons look like, they decide everything. I’m sure that’s the result of a lot of research.

    When you create your own website (using a website builder), you can basically do everything from scratch. You have to figure out, obviously, there’s colors and fonts that your brand will probably have. Just to figure out where on the page to put your buttons, what to include and what not to include. There’s a lot of decisions there. We’ve made a lot of mistakes, as well, that then has a huge effect on our conversion rates. We’re constantly learning, and I think we use Optimizely to figure out how to actually try and add a little bit more analytics and numbers and figure out what to do, not based on what we think looks great but what actually works for our customers. I think that’s really quite …

    Felix: Definitely want to dig into this a little bit more. One thing that I noticed right from the homepage is that there are three kind of phrases that jump out to me, which is, it says, “Free shipping on orders over $25,” “30 days easy returns,” and “Shop by animals.” I’m assuming that these were the three things that maybe people have asked about the most, or maybe you can tell us. Why did you make those three features of your business, features of buying from your store, so predominant?

    Cindy: The first one for free shipping. Before, we actually charged a flat rate for shipping. We got so many customer emails, like “Why don’t you offer free shipping?” Nowadays people expect this, and we were reading on the Shopify blog, we were like, “Maybe we should really consider.” I think it was a podcast where, I forget, but we were like, “Maybe we should consider how to provide free shipping on over a certain amount.” Also because we wanted to increase our average order value, which we saw was pretty low to begin with. We wanted to make the most amount of money per visitor, per customer. We decided to implement that.

    We noticed that a lot of people didn’t … We also use Hotjar. I think it’s called Hotjar, right? Hotjar? We watch a lot of the videos and we review a lot of the data that we get. We noticed that people would go to our FAQ page, or our shipping information page quite often. We figured that it wasn’t obvious enough, because there’s so much stuff to look at. Your attention even when you’re online shopping isn’t … Maybe you have five tabs open, or 12 tabs open. We just wanted to really highlight that so people know there is a free shipping option. “If we spend a little bit more, we will get this offer.”

    For returns, the same reason. We kept seeing people searching for information on returns and shipping, and also for the “shop by animanls,” we actually have that on the dropdown menu as well. We noticed that, from looking at Hotjar, we noticed so many people were actually clicking on that. That page got so many hits. We just wanted to highlight that for those who didn’t see it on the dropdown menu as well, because there’s just something that a lot of people seem to like to do. I think a lot of animal lovers, especially, that you have a favorite animal, or you have a favorite kind of dog. You’re looking for something very specific. We want to provide a way for customers to really filter through that.

    Felix: I love how you guys have taken this approach, where you look at what is confusing, or what kind of questions people are asking, because a lot of times, when we are shopping, it’s an emotional decision at first, but then we started backing into it logically and almost look for excuses not to buy things, a lot of times, and not to spend the money. Right? I think the more questions you can answer right off the bat, the less chances the customer has to make objections on buying. Things like, “Can we get free shipping?” “Is it going to be easy to return something? I’m worried that I might not like it, or it might not fit.” I think those are very common questions that if you can answer right off the bat, it highly reduces the likelihood that they, I guess, find a reason not to buy.

    We’re all customers, we’re all consumers, we all go through this process of trying to find reasons not to buy things, not to spend the money. I think as long as you answer quickly, it improves your conversions. Obviously, those three things, those three key statements that you put out there, answers a lot of questions. Are there any other changes that you’ve made to the store, to the site recently that has had a big impact on your conversion rate or sales?

    Cindy: Let me think about that. To add to that, since we implemented these changes and made these huge buttons that you can see on top of the fold or whatever it’s called, we actually saw that we get customers staying on our website or a lot longer than they used to. I think it’s on average for about two, two and a half minutes on our website, which isn’t very good, but it’s not too bad, either. They go through quite a lot of pages as well. We recently added a collection filter, or is it called a product filter? On our website, which is something that you might think is very obvious, as is a lot of things to do with a small business.

    It’s like, “You have so many products, why didn’t you have a filter to begin with?” was something that I thought after I implemented it. It made a huge difference, just to be able to provide our customers with a way to filter through products some people wanted, just to look at jewelry, or some people wanted to look at specific price range. That kind of functionality that we didn’t have before. We noticed people searching on our search bar for a lot of very specific things that we should be able to provide them with a way to filter through. We wanted to provide that service and that’s something that we did recently. That has improved our conversion rates as well.

    Felix: I like this physical retail analogy, where you’re walking into a store. You don’t want to just walk into a store where it has a bunch of products just scattered throughout, you want to shop by aisle. You kind of have an idea of what you want already, maybe not exactly what you want, but you want to be able to get to that aisle as quickly as possible. I think your decision to include collections makes a huge difference for that reason, because people can have a much easier process of looking for what they, kind of, know what they want and get to it a lot faster.

    You mentioned A/B testing, it sounds like? You use Hotjar, which is like a heat mapping tool where you can see what people are clicking on, where their cursor is going. Tell us a little bit more about this. I think this is an approach that maybe I don’t hear a lot of store owners taking by implementing a heat map. How long do you run these things for, what are you looking for when you have a heat map set up?

    Cindy: One of the things I really do think provides a lot of value is to watch these videos. You can watch the things about people who spend only a couple seconds on your website and see what they were doing. People who spend a long time on the website, I think it’s quite interesting as well, when you see someone who spends like 10 minutes on your website, why haven’t they converted yet? You can kind of follow the journey and see. You can see, maybe they’re not finding what they want to find.

    You can learn a lot from things like these heat maps, because you see where people click more often, what people are not clicking at at all. We used to have a collection page on our homepage for featured products. We noticed that loads of these things weren’t even clicked on, and people would just scroll right by it. That’s why changed it to this Instagram feed where you can also shop these products. It provides an additional function on top of just the product. You can the product on someone or someone else who took a customer photo. We made a lot of changes to our website based on what we’ve seen.

    Then we also A/B test the button colors, the text. There’s a little button on our website that says, “get free stuff” right now, which is part of I think a loyalty program that we had. I forget the name of it. Sweet Tooth, yes. We actually tried to change the text on that from “rewards program” to “get free stuff” and clearly, “get free stuff” was the winner there. You can then filter it. We were trying to say “get free stuff” and “receive free stuff.” Just a tiny little change can make a huge difference. It’s extremely, extremely helpful.

    Felix: I think a lot of people know they need to do A/B testing, because you hear about it so often, but a lot of stores don’t get started. I think a big reason for that is because it seems kind of daunting, right? There’s so many things that you can change on a store. So many things you can tweak and see what works, what doesn’t work. How do you decide … Maybe when you guys first started, how did you decide what you should be trying to test first?

    Cindy: We actually only recently did this. Me and my partner, we took a course at General Assembly on digital marketing, and that’s where we got introduced to it. Before that, we did so much of it just on trial and error. We thought that we wanted some products on the homepage for people who didn’t want to look through everything, and so we did that. Then we tried changing it, but then looking at Google Analytics and seeing, just trying to guess at what was going on. We made this huge mistake of revamping the whole website without looking at the data first. That caused a huge problem for us, which we had to rollback to the old theme that we had. Luckily we made a duplicate of the theme, which is something that everybody should do. Then we rolled back, but then we had these features that we thought were super cool or made our website look very … It looked very nice, but then we learnt that you shouldn’t really … Of course there’s exceptions, but you shouldn’t really do what you think the customer wants. You should do what the customer actually wants.

    You need to look at the data, you need to look at the numbers, and you need to test things. You need to do, rather than revamp the entire website, you might want to do it in sections, and test every little thing. What looks good to you individually as a person might not look good or function the same way for a customer. To be able to go on Hotjar and see how people are reacting, and to be able to look at Google Analytics and see how your page is converting. We also make annotations on everyday, the things that we need to change and things like that. We know exactly what is going on, or what might have changed or caused these changes that we see, in terms of not just only sales but also visitors and how they stay and our bounce rate and things like that.

    Felix: I think your thoughts about not making these assumptions blindly is so important, because there’s this balance and give and take, between your intuition, your experience in the marketplace in general, your experience with your customers and kind of having this gut feeling, but then at the same time, you have to take this with I think what’s called the beginner’s mind approach, where you don’t assume everything and assume you know everything. Maybe just use those assumptions as a starting point. It still needs to be backed by data. I feel like this might have something to do with, I don’t want to actually bias your answer, but your brand name is called Dotoly, but the domain name is What made you, I guess, make that decision of not having your brand name in the domain itself?

    Cindy: We actually, just to backtrack a little, when you first start and you don’t have this budget to maybe get an Optimizely account or stuff like that, I think one of the most important things is to listen to your customer. Those people who actually take the time to send you an email or fill out the contact form and to provide you with insight, even if it’s a complaint, it’s very, very important. We actually had customers who called us and were like, they would always pronounce our store name wrong, or it would confuse them a little bit. We were just like, “Maybe we should, rather than just because we like our store name, doesn’t mean that other people … It might not be as easily memorable for other people.”

    We decided to actually use a different domain for our store. Listening to our customers, it was really important. While it would be nice to have our store name and I think we might … Just to have, also, it’s also good for SEO I think. People who search for animal jewelry then, our store actually comes up on one of the first top three results, as well. I think that also helps some.

    Felix: I think that that’s a very wise approach. It does require a lot of control over the ego a bit, too, right, not to force people to know your brand name. You do something much better, which I think is speaking your customers’ language, meeting them where they already are, rather than trying to force them to think like you or to be what you want them to be. I think that that’s so important. I think a lot of times, when you’re marketing, when you’re starting a brand, there’s so much forcing involved. I think a lot of it should be more about meeting them where they already are, and that I think not only makes your job easier, but then it actually will have an impact on the bottom line, which I think you guys are seeing because you recognized that people aren’t necessarily looking for your brand name, but they’re looking for animal jewelry. That definitely will help with SEO when you have such a domain like that.

    Thanks so much for your time, Cindy. Where do you want to see the brand in the next year, over the next 12 months or so? Where do you want to be this time next year?

    Cindy: We represent a lot of local designers in Asia, so we’ve actually lined up a lot of very interesting collections. What is it called? Exclusive collections with these people. Handmade items, or items made by children in villages and places that people don’t usually go to. Representing them, these businesses that don’t have an online presence and we’re really excited to introduce that soon, so we can provide our customers with more interesting products and things that they haven’t seen before.

    Felix: Awesome. Looks like an exciting year coming for you guys. Again, Dotoly is the name of the brand, is the website. Very cool products, definitely recommend you would check it out. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners check out to follow along with what you guys are up to? These new things coming 2017, or just to see how you’re running the business?

    Cindy: Definitely check out our Instagram page. We work really, really hard, and we try to feature a lot of the customer photos that we receive, and you can actually see how we’ve changed over the past couple months from featuring mostly product-heavy photos to more interesting content that are being shared more often than they used to be. You can see the process.

    Felix: For sure, I think lots to learn by just following along. Thanks again so much for your time, Cindy.

    Cindy: Thank you.

    Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit to claim your extended 30-day free trial.

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