Maybe you’re an entrepreneur looking to start selling your products or services online, or maybe you already have a brick and mortar store but are looking to expand your business online. Ecommerce offers many advantages, especially if you follow a few smart tips.
Ecommerce is more than just slapping some pictures of your products online. Smart and precise advertising is key, you need to know who to target and how to drive that traffic to your products. So is gaining your potential customer’s trust, prove to them that you’re the one they want to buy from. And what do you do if they take their shopping cart to the checkout but never follow through? There are ways to save that sale!
Steve Chou followed his dream of entrepreneurship and started his own successful ecommerce business. Through trial and error, as well as some pretty cool tricks, he has built a successful ecommerce business that has grown steadily since he started it in 2007.
Rich: Steve Chou carries both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in electrical engineering form Stanford University. Despite majoring in electrical engineering, he spent a good portion of his graduate education studying entrepreneurship and the mechanics of running small businesses.
He currently works for a startup company in the Silicon Valley.
But Steve, that’s not why we had you on the show today. First of all, welcome to The Agents Of Change podcast.
Steve: Glad to be here, Rich.
Rich: Secondly, tell us a little bit about mywifequitherjob.com and kind of your area of expertise in ecommerce.
Steve: So I started mywifequitherjob.com as a diary of my ecommerce chronicles. So the short story is my wife and I – when she became pregnant with her first child – she wanted to quit her job because where I live you kind of need two incomes in order to get a good house and a good school district and that sort of thing. So she was making 6 figures at the time, and when she told me that she was going to quit, we needed another way to replace the income.
And that’s how we kind of stumbled upon ecommerce and we started our online store bumblebeelinens.com selling linens into the wedding industry. And that kind of blew up and all of a sudden I had a whole bunch of friends asking how they could start their own store so they could quit their job. And that’s when I decided to start documenting it in mywifequitherjob.com.
Rich: Alright, and we’ll talk more about that website and some of the courses you’ve got towards the end. So let’s say that we’re running a small business and it’s been mostly retail store, we’ve been selling in our store or maybe we just have this idea like you did to start selling products online. Literally we have no idea, where do we start?
Steve: We’re talking a brick and mortar store here, right?
Rich: Yeah, exactly.
Steve: So the first place I would start – and you don’t have to be technical at all – is I would just start selling on some of the marketplaces like Amazon. Amazon takes a pretty large cut of everything, but it’s instant traffic. There’s a huge audience, everyone shops on Amazon, you can get some immediate sales without having to do very much work.
Rich: Now do you think that’s better for somebody who is making their own product or would this also work for somebody who might own a gift shop that just happens to have some product and they’re going to put it up on Amazon as well?
Steve: It’s generally better if you own your own product and brand. What’s going to happen is if you’re selling other people’s products, chances are those are already going to be listed on Amazon, and at that point it kind of becomes a race to the bottom in terms of price.
Rich: Ok, that makes a lot of sense. What do we need to get started selling a product on Amazon?
Steve: All you really need is a US bank account and you just need to sign up for a seller account on Amazon. That’s it.
Rich: Wow. Check and check. Ok. I think that’s a great idea and that might supplement some of our stuff, but what other marketplaces are there for those of us that might be technically challenged?
Steve: These days it’s a lot easier than when my wife and I started. There’s a couple scenarios. If you have your own branded product, then selling on Amazon is probably going to be the largest bang for your buck, or bang for your effort.
But let’s say you are selling other people’s products, it still makes sense to throw up your own website. Back in the day it was a lot harder to do this, but today there’s a whole bunch of different platforms that pretty much do all the work for you. Setting up the website, the look and feel, taking credit cards and payment and that sort of thing is all done for you. For example, Shopify and BigCommerce are two of the platforms that I like for that.
Rich: Now Shopify I’m familiar with, I’ve heard of BigCommerce. Is BigCommerce kind of a stand alone thing that’s outside of my website or is that a platform that I can build my website on?
Steve: Both of those platforms do everything. They essentially put up the website, host it for you, everything. You don’t have to worry about anything.
Rich: Alright, that makes a lot of sense. Now, what if I’ve already got a website? Here at flyte we’re a WordPress agency and very often clients do come to us and they want a store and they don’t have any idea, we put them on WooCommerce because that’s my developer’s favorite choice. Are there other options, and I’ll take your recommendations – are there other platforms that you like or that work more seamlessly with a website that I might already have?
Steve: If you already have a site – like if you’re going with a Shopify or a BigCommerce – that’s going to have to go on a subdomain, which generally isn’t that favorable for search. I’m actually not a huge fan of WooCommerce mainly because it doesn’t scale that well with the number of customers and products.
Rich: And how do you spell Ecwid?
Steve: E-C-W-I-D, and that actually stands for “Ecommerce Widget”.
Rich: Excellent, alright. And do I need a merchant account for all these different options?
Steve: If you’re on Shopify, for example, all that stuff is already included. I think BigCommerce, as well. So you don’t really, they’ll handle everything for you.
Rich: And I’m guessing that they would take a bigger percentage than if I’m trying to sell something through my own website.
Steve: That is true to a certain extent. So the way that Shopify works, for example, is they force you to use their platform which is really just Stripe, and you’re paying essentially Stripe’s rates. And if you look around, yes, of course you can get rates that are better than that.
Rich: Alright. So you’ve built out this store, you’ve worked with a lot of people who are building their ecommerce store. Are there certain features that you found to be very effective in terms of selling more product? I’m thinking of things like allowing people to zoom in on the photos or “people who like this product also like this product”, do you have some that you found to be very effective and maybe some that you find to be just filler and not effective at all?
Steve: I think these days – and this would have been a much more relevant questions many years ago – but these days all those features are already contained in all of the fully hosted shopping carts that are available out there. So it’s kind of a hard question for me to answer for you because it’s less feature based. A lot of the things that have to do with the sales of your store are kind of how you design your website for conversions. I know you do a lot of this stuff, Rich. How you kind of set up your site to funnel people towards check out is actually very important. So for example if you have your own stand alone site, three things are very important if you’re a relatively unknown person. The person has to trust your store. They like to see free shipping. They like to see that it’s very easy to return something in the event that something goes wrong. So you have to prove these three things to a brand new shopper when they land on your site.
Now in terms of features, some of the things that you mentioned, those are all standard features these days. Upsells, cross sells and those kinds of things, and those are all features of all the carts that are out there now.
Rich: Alright, so we don’t really need to worry about that, but it sounds like we do need to do some trust building and some of that might include free things like free shipping and 100% guarantee on product for a certain period of time or something like that.
Steve: And it’s more than just offering those things, it’s making them very prominent on your site. What’s also very important is telling the person what sets your store apart from all the other shops out there, like right front and center and on every single landing page possible on your site.
It’s much easier for me to show you good examples of this rather than verbalizing it, but these are things that a lot of stores actually get wrong.
Rich: Alright, that makes a lot of sense. Let’s talk a little bit about getting people to our store in the first place. You mentioned SEO, so that’s a passion of mine. It always seems like it’s a challenge to optimize some sort of product page for SEO. So how do you improve the search engine optimization of your own ecommerce site?
Steve: So just to give you a quick background, we sell wedding linens and one of our top products are handkerchiefs that are personalized. So the way we do it, and it’s very hard to rank an ecommerce page or a category page because there’s not that much content on there. So what we actually do is we actually put out content pages in the form of crafts that use our products, specifically for wedding.
So for example, we had this one craft called “wedding dress hankies” that shows you how to make a nice, cute, little wedding dress out of your handkerchief. It’s a very popular craft, it’s been shared a ton of times, it’s been pinned a ton of times. And then right below the craft we have “shop for the materials for this craft right now”, and then we have products listed right there for what you need to make this craft. And they can just instantly click on that and buy it right there.
Rich: Alright, so if I understand what you’re saying is, rather than drive them to the hankie page where they can buy the hankie, what you’re trying to do is you’re optimizing basically a blog post that’s the craft that people love doing. So you’re driving a lot of traffic to content, and from the content you’re like, “Hey, if this resonates with you and you want to build it, let me make it as easy as possible for you to buy all the products you’re going to need.”
Steve: That’s correct. And then also in putting out content that becomes popular, you’re building up your domain strength and there’s a lot of stuff also on that content page, we’re also collecting emails, we’re also pixeling people for Facebook retargeting and that sort of thing. So once we get someone on that content page, it opens up many different avenues to repeatedly market to them.
Rich: Oh, this is really good stuff. Ok, I’m loving this. Alright, so talk to me a little bit about what you’re doing to get people to opt into your email list. Is it just that you’ve got a box that says “join our email list”, or is there something extra going on there?
Steve: So we give away a crafts ebook to entice people to sign up for the list. People are there for the content and then we’re offering something that’s just very similar to what they just read, and hopefully they like what they just read and they want the rest.
Rich: And is that targeted page by page, or is that just the offer I’m going to get on every single page on your site?
Steve: That is the page that you can get on most of the pages on the site. Occasionally we’ll also do pop-ups for coupons – we actually call it a gift card – so that psychologically it’s different when it’s a discount versus a gift card. A gift card just feels like cash that you need to burn.
Rich: Right. And also it doesn’t downgrade the quality of your product by just lowering the price.
Steve: That’s correct.
Rich: And then you also mentioned about dropping a pixel on them and then retargeting on Facebook. Can you kind of walk me through that a little bit?
Steve: Yeah, sure. So if someone is landing on that content page or anyone one of our product pages for that matter, that means they’re interested in what we have. So by pixeling them, is your audience familiar with that?
Rich: You know what, some might not me, why don’t you just give us that breakdown on that.
Steve: Ok, so basically we’re putting a cookie on their computer, basically a tracer on their computer, that allows me to tell that they’ve been to my site. Once they’ve been pixeled I can then drive ads to Facebook to get them back onto our site.
So for example, if someone has landed on a product page on our ecommerce store, we’ll actually show them a Facebook ad of exactly that product they were looking at in our store.
Rich: Alright, I think that’s called dynamic targeting?
Steve: That’s correct.
Rich: So basically we’re showing them the exact same product they just looked at. So often we go to a site of a product we like and we don’t make that sales decision right then, and then all of a sudden that product is now following us around the web and that’s exactly what you’re doing. And you found that to be successful, I assume?
Steve: That actually converts at between 10 and 12 x.
Steve: Yeah, it’s very effective.
Rich: And what other type of Facebook advertising are you doing? Are you uploading your email list once you’ve got those people on your email list, are you doing lookalike audiences?
Steve: Yeah, so there’s different Facebook campaigns that we run. So one is that retargeting one that we just talked about. The other one is to actually get people pixeled in the first place. We’ll put out ads that drive people to good content just to get them pixeled so that we can retarget them later on.
Rich: That is awesome. I need to be doing more of that on my own website. Ecommerce or not, that’s just smart stuff that I am not doing. Cobbler’s children go barefoot and all that good stuff.
Steve: There’s the thing about Facebook, people aren’t ready to buy right away in a lot of cases. You’re there to kind of catch up with your friends and that sort of thing, so if you just put ads out to products straight off they’re just not going to convert well.
Rich: And you obviously have a product that really works well with that core audience of moms and moms to be on Facebook, so that’s just a great fit for you anyway. So that’s one of the other campaigns. And then the other ones are one where we drive the content also where we just try to get their email address.
Rich: And what are you doing for email marketing? I know you can take that list and upload it to Facebook again, but are you sending out emails, and are they content driven emails or are they really ecommerce emails?
Steve: They’re a mixture of both, actually. The first email is usually an introduction to our company, how we’re a mom and pop show, how we’ve been doing this for a while. And then we’ll put out content like different craft projects that our customers have made. Periodically we’ll talk about some products that we’re offering that you might be interested in, and we’ll have coupons occasionally as part of this sequence as well. And as soon as someone buys something with one of those coupons,they get put on a different sequence.
Rich: Alright, so you are doing some sort of email segmentation. So you mind me asking what platform you’re using for email?
Steve: We’re using Klaviyo.
Rich: Klaviyo, not one I’m familiar with. How do you spell that, if you don’t mind?
Steve: It’s K-L-A-V-I-Y-O.
Rich: Alright, see, that’s not what I would have guessed. I’m glad I asked.
Steve: They specialize in ecommerce, and I’ll tell you why they’re powerful. So you’re basically giving them information about every single person, every single product that they’ve looked at, and every single product that they’ve purchased. So let’s say I want to send out an email to everyone who’s purchased a red handkerchief. I can go to Klaviyo and say put together a segment of just people who purchased red handkerchiefs. And I can send a very targeted email to those people.
Rich: And they tie directly into your ecommerce shop? I mean, how else would they know that information.
Steve: Yes, it’s all tied directly to the ecommerce shop. You’re sending them a lot of information about your transactions.
Rich: Interesting. Very, very cool. So you mentioned Facebook, are you using any other social channels? When we talk about wedding stuff my mind immediately goes to Pinterest, and to a lesser degree, Instagram.
Steve: Yeah, so Pinterest is pretty big for us. We’re still in the process of experimenting with Pinterest ads. I think out of 10 campaigns only one of them is barely profitable right now. So we’re still in the throes of that. But I do have a dedicated Pinterest person who pins our stuff, gets us on group boards to get us traffic through Pinterest.
Rich: And really, even if you’re not doing the ad campaigns, just to be able to drive them to your site and drop a pixel on them for Facebook, that could be a worthwhile endeavor.
Steve: Exactly, totally.
Rich: So let’s shift gears a little bit. We talked about how you’re using social ads, I’m kind of curious what you’re doing with Google ads, because it seems like there’s a lot of people out there who would be searching for similar products or craft ideas and not going to Pinterest necessarily.
Steve: I’m a huge fan of Google ads because they’re a lot less maintenance than a Facebook ad, for example. With Facebook your creatives can often get fatigued.
Rich: Oh yes.
Steve: And you have to switch them out. With Google search, once you find those search terms that convert and you’ve populated your negative keywords list, you can pretty much just let them run and monitor them very infrequently and they’ll always generate sales for you.
Rich: That is interesting. One of the things that I’ve noticed, we have some clients that are doing golf and stay packages and we’re running ads for them on both Facebook and on Google ads. What we discovered is the Facebook ads are a lot less expensive to run in terms of generating inquiries. But when it comes to actually closing the deal and you look at the numbers, it’s kind of a wash. So even though we’re paying more for those Google ads, those people end up booking more often and I wonder if it’s just because when you’re on Google you’re actively searching for a solution.
Steve: That’s correct. It’s just a totally different mindset than Facebook. Google people are actively searching for something, especially if you’re using Google shopping ads, there’s definitely a shopping intent and the picture and the price are right there. Chances are if someone is clicking on a picture with prices on it, chances are that’s going to lead to a sale if your landing page is good.
Rich: Alright, so talk to me a little bit about these Google shopping ads, because I’ve seen them, but it’s not an area that I’m really familiar with. How do we get our product into those , like when they do the boxes of bluetooth headsets or whatever it might be that we’re selling?
Steve: Forst you need a Merchant Center account. And then you need to basically upload all of your products to Google.
Rich: How often does that happen, is there a tool so if I’m switching out inventory very often that it automatically happens, or do I need to manually upload them every single time?
Steve: Yeah, so if you’re on a fully hosted cart like Shopify it just happens, they have a tool that generates the feed for you automatically. It’s always up to date.
Steve: For our site – since we’re not on any of those platforms, I wrote a little script that just does it once a day. So you’re sending Google an updated product list, and then once they have that – keep in mind you’re uploading the title of your product, the full description, the photo and a whole bunch of other information related to your product – and once that’s all given to Google, they will automatically display your products with what it thinks are a good fit for whoever is doing a search.
Rich: Alright, now is this related to the Google Adwords program, or is this something completely different? Am I paying Google if somebody clicks on my image?
Steve: Yeah, so it is part of AdWords. You create Google shopping ads straight through the AdWords interface. And yes, you pay by the click.
Rich: Ok, and have you seen that this is a very cost effective way or very good ROI for your own products?
Steve: So Google Shopping, of all the Google ads, has the best ROI.
Steve: And the reason for that is there’s a picture and there’s a price and sometimes a small description. So if someone is clicking on it, there’s strong intent. Whereas if you’re just doing a regular Google search AdWords ads – let’s say someone is searching for handkerchiefs – they in theory could be searching for information. So if they’re clicking on one of those regular links, there’s a chance that they’re not looking to buy something. Whereas with the Google Shopping ad, when there is a picture and a price, if they’re clicking on it, chances are they’re looking to shop for something.
Rich: Alright. So just to kind of summarize this section of the conversation, it sounds like you’re doing some good content marketing and then using different Facebook ads in other places and SEO to drive traffic to these content places. And then once your visitor is there, you’re dropping a pixel on them so you can retarget them on Facebook. You’re also trying to get them on your email list, and also – after you’ve educated them and got them excited about this craft – then you’re also giving them the opportunity to buy right there when you’re at the website. Correct?
Steve: That’s correct, yes.
Rich: And you’re also doing things like pinning and maybe some Instagram to drive people to the website again so you can drop that pixel on them. And finally you’re using Google – because you’re doing search engine optimization – but you’re also doing pay per click or AdWords and you’re doing Google Shopping ads. What is that Google Shopping product called?
Steve: It’s called Google Shopping.
Rich: Oh, well then I was right on. Alright, and then you’re doing all these things. Now once you’ve got them set up, how much time each week are you putting towards running these ad campaigns, how much work is that?
Steve: So what’s nice about a lot of these campaigns, so Google I told you is pretty much hands free, Facebook dynamic retargeting is pretty much hands free, you’re just sending ads to people who have already been on your site. So they’re all very low maintenance.
What’s a little bit more high maintenance is when you have to put together a Facebook campaign for one of your content pages, for example. It requires a little bit more maintenance because you’ve got to test different creatives, different headlines and that sort of thing. But once you find something that works and if you’ve found an audience that works – or if you want to use a lookalike audience – if the audience is sufficiently large and it’s converting reasonably well, you can often let that ad run for a decent amount of time, like 3-4 weeks I would say at most.
Rich: Alright that makes a lot of sense. So hopefully everybody who’s been listening has a really good sense of how to drive traffic to the website. One question that I’m wondering about is cart abandonment. I know that that’s something that a lot of ecommerce stores struggle with, I’m just wondering how you manage cart abandonment, if you have a series of auto drip emails that follow people around if they do leave their cart unattended or what exactly you’re doing to kind of minimize that loss?
Steve: So we use Klaviyo for this. Like I said, Klaviyo tracks everything. So if someone starts checkout, the first thing I always get at checkout is the person’s email address. So if they start checkout and they leave and they don’t finish their checkout, we send an email. The first one goes out 4 hours later and just kind of reminds them. Oftentimes – especially if they have kids – you could be doing something and the kid vomits all over the floor and you’ve got to go clean it up and then you forget what you were shopping for.
Rich: By the way, that is the number one reason for cart abandonment. I don’t know if you knew that.
Steve: So the first one goes out 4 hours later, and it’s just a very simple email, it lists every single product they had in their shopping cart and a big button that says, “click here to complete your order”. They click on that button and it immediately goes to their checkout and the whole shopping cart is already populated with everything that they were shopping for and then they check out. So that one actually converts really well.
Now we also send out another one if they still haven’t checked out that goes out 36 or 48 hours later. It’s kind of like a final reminder that this stuff is still in your shopping cart and it’s going to expire pretty soon. If you plan to buy this stuff, then go ahead and check out.
Rich: Your eggs and milk are about to go bad, please finish your purchase now.
Steve: Yeah. And a lot of stores actually give out a coupon at this point.
Rich: Right. I’ve heard that before.
Steve: We’re a little anti-coupon, actually. So we just give a final reminder.
Rich: I also wonder, it’s like if you do that once, then there’s the expectation. So I know that I’m never going to check out at your store on time again, I’m going to wait for that last message that gives me 10-15% off. Maybe if you set it up so the first time, but then never again.
Steve: So with Klaviyo you can do this so that you only show coupons to first time buyers, if you want. So once they have a record that someone’s made a purchase, you can send then a different sequence, essentially.
Rich: Awesome. Now I know you teach a lot of this stuff in depth through your course, can you just tell me a little bit about your course, how I can sign up and what kind of things I might learn?
Steve: The course is called, ProfitableOnlineStore.com. Basically it is a course where I pretty much dump all of my ecommerce knowledge, and there’s a live component to it, because I am a big believer that just pointing someone to a bunch of videos is not good enough to teach someone something. So every single week I’ll hop on a webinar, I’ll usually have a lecture and then I’ll just answer questions live.
We also have a forum where different ecommerce entrepreneurs can also get in there and compare notes. One of the things that my wife and I found was that it was a very lonely process. None of our friends run businesses and it’s just really good to be able to bounce ideas off of people.
Rich: Yeah, and I’m guessing a lot of the students will also be working from home as well, so that does kind of build that community.
Steve: Yeah, that’s correct. And there’s also a Facebook group that I run as well just specifically targeting ecommerce.
Rich: Nice. This has been great, Steve, I know I learned a lot and there’s some things I definitely want to check out for sure. If we want to learn more about you, where can we go?
Steve: Just head over to mywifequitherjob.com. And if you’re kind if interested in ecommerce, I do offer a free 6-day mini course. As soon as you go on the website the signup form is right there in front of your face. If you’re interested, sign up, and then I’ll send you a series of videos that describe all the basics of ecommerce. And if you’re interested, let me know.
Rich: That sounds awesome. We’ll have links to that and everything else that Steve shared with us in the show notes as always. Steve, thanks for swinging by today.
Steve: Yeah, good to be here, Rich.
- Check out Steve’s website to learn more about his ecommerce journey, and check out his free course so he can share his knowledge with you.
- If you liked what you heard today, you may want to take advantage of Steve’s signature course.
- A few resources Steve mentioned in this episode:
- Don’t forget to get your early bird tickets for the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference. Not only do you get to spend a day in beautiful Portland, ME, you’ll also get to hear top speakers on the topics of search, social and mobile marketing. Get inspired, order your tickets today!