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Agency CEO: Adopt an ‘Abundance Mentality’

Online selling is increasingly competitive, forcing merchants to selfish and shortsighted decisions. That’s according to Corey Blake, CEO of MWI, a digital marketing agency.

“When we have a scarcity outlook with shortsightedness,” he told me, “We’re scraping and clawing to keep it all because we’re worried about losing money. A better approach is an abundance mentality, saying, ‘I’m trying to provide value to the world, and as long as I’m doing that, I’m going to find customers.’”

Blake’s approach has worked for MWI. Founded in 1999, it now operates on three continents, serving diverse clients with search engine optimization, advertising, content marketing, and more.

He and I recently spoke about ecommerce marketing circa late 2020. What follows is our entire audio conversation and a transcript, edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Give us an overview of your company.

Corey Blake: MWI is a boutique digital marketing agency. We launched in 1999. We’ve got a presence in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. We do everything from SEO, advertising, website design and development, public relations, and content marketing.

We were exclusively an SEO firm until about 2014. Then we got into web development, advertising, PR, and content.

Bandholz: It seems like the ecommerce entrepreneurs I speak with no longer emphasize SEO. They focus on social media, paid search, influencers, or affiliate marketing. It is possible to get strong organic search rankings even now, in 2020?

Blake: There’s so much competition for organic search. I would never tell small operations, “Invest all of your marketing budget into SEO.” That’s because it’s going to take a lot of time. Meanwhile, your competitors are likely getting immediate traffic from paying influencers and running ads on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

However, I see value in implementing SEO strategies after that initial startup phase, when you’re generating revenue and your marketing budget is presumably bigger.

SEO is content marketing play. Beardbrand does an amazing job at creating consistent content. It’s SEO gold when you link it back to your website.

Bandholz: You’re the only company I know with a three-letter domain: MWI. That had to be expensive.

Blake: It was just timing. My business partner, Josh Steimle, started the company when I was 13, back in 1999. It was called Mind Wire Interactive. He reached out to the guy that owned Mwi.com, who said, more or less, “We don’t use it. You can have it.” That’s how it came to be.

Bandholz: Your agency encounters many businesses. How do ecommerce companies fail at marketing?

Blake: More ecommerce folks should read a book called “The Third Door.” It emphasizes alternative ways to reach a goal. If the first or second door is closed, try the third.

As it applies to ecommerce, there’s always a way to succeed that most people aren’t seeing. There’s a door to increase sales, to increase opportunity, to increase brand awareness.

For example, companies come to us and say, “We’ve made this one video, and we’ve shared it on Instagram and YouTube, but we’re just not seeing any traction.”

Our response is, “Have you repurposed that video? Rather than one 60-second video, why not 10 6-second videos? Then post on a bunch of different platforms. Generate some PR around it. Cast a much wider net.”

Ecommerce businesses need to find that third door.

Bandholz: My number one hack to branding and link building is to reach out to platforms we use and offer our company as a case study. Beardbrand has been a case study on Typeform, Storemapper, Gleam, and Yotpo, among others. Anyone who needs a case study, we’re quick to raise our hands. ShipStation, the shipping software, has featured us for years. They are now broadcasting it in a national TV commercial.

Blake: You’re playing the long game, which is smart. You need those critical short-term wins, too, of course. If you can balance your marketing strategies with short-term wins and a long-term digital footprint, like you’re doing, it’s invaluable. Those two things used together can make a brand unstoppable.

Bandholz: We reached out to Typeform and said, “Hey, we’re doing something really unique with your software.” And they said, “That’s cool. No one is doing that. Let’s do a case study on it.” You need that vision to be okay with the fact that not everything will have a measurable, immediate return.

A lot of companies in our space go to Klaviyo.com. They will see Beardbrand there because we did a case study with Klaviyo. Plus, for us, it’s good karma. If you help people out, good things seem to happen.

Blake: Cool. It’s about building win-win partnerships and doing it with an abundance mentality. I’m stealing both of those concepts from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” the book. The abundance mentality is the ability to look at a partnership and say, “There’s enough good business to go around as long as we’re trying our best.”

If we’re doing our best and it’s not working, then it’s a bad idea, or our process is wrong.

When we have a scarcity outlook with shortsightedness, we’re scraping and clawing to keep it all because we’re worried about losing money. A better approach is an abundance mentality, saying, “I’m trying to provide value to the world, and as long as I’m doing that, I’m going to find customers.”

We’ve taken that approach with MWI, our agency. We’re not forcing it. It’s who I am. It’s who Josh is. It’s what our brand is. It’s the people we hire.

When we do business that way, it tends to remove stress and worry. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Bandholz: How can folks learn more about you and MWI?

Blake: The agency, again, is a three-letter domain Mwi.com. You can also reach me on LinkedIn. Beyond marketing, we have The Hope Strategy Podcast, where we focus on optimism and an abundance mentality.

So, MWI is for the business stuff. But if you’re looking for some good conversations from smart people, try the podcast.

Sales Report: 2020 Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday

The challenges of this unique holiday shopping season have made omnichannel commerce a necessity. With several states closing non-essential brick-and-mortar stores and others severely limiting the number of shoppers allowed inside, consumers embraced online shopping with gusto during Cyber Week — Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday — with a big surge in mobile ordering.

This is my sixth annual “Sales Report” for Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, following installments from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.

Cyber Week Results

According to Salesforce, which collects data from over 1 billion global shoppers across more than 40 countries using its Commerce Cloud platform, digital sales grew substantially. Total digital sales for Cyber Week reached $270 billion globally and $60 billion in the U.S. Overall, ecommerce revenue in the U.S. was up 36 percent globally and 29 percent year-over-year. The number of online customers increased by 22 percent compared to 2019.

Globally, compared to last year, Thanksgiving Day experienced a 20-percent uptick in online sales, while Black Friday digital sales grew 23 percent. Cyber Monday digital sales in the United States shot up by 10 percent compared to 2019, according, again, to Salesforce.

Salesforce also reported that retailers with curbside, drive-through, and in-store pickup saw 32 percent higher online sales growth than retailers without those options during Cyber Week.

Thanksgiving Day

On Thanksgiving Day, when many physical retailers, including Walmart and Target, were closed, in-store U.S. traffic fell 94.9 percent year-over-year according to Sensormatic Solutions, a software and consulting firm that serves the retail industry.

Online U.S. sales on Thanksgiving Day rose 21.5 percent year-over-year to $5.1 billion, hitting a new record, according to Adobe Analytics data. The firm had originally projected $6 billion in sales. Adobe data is based on an analysis of 1 trillion annual visits to American retail sites, 100 million SKUs, and 80 of the country’s 100 largest retailers. Forty-six percent of the online purchases were made on a smartphone, according to Adobe.

Shopify, the ecommerce platform, reported that Thanksgiving Day’s peak sales-per-minute from global shoppers were about $919,000, an increase of roughly 34 percent compared with last year.

According to Salesforce data, global sales on Thanksgiving Day reached $62.2 billion, a growth of 30 percent over last year.

Black Friday

This year U.S. consumers skipped the pre-dawn line-up outside brick-and-mortar stores. Foot traffic was generally light owing to store closures, but it increased modestly in the afternoon and evening. Reduced inventories resulted in smaller in-store discounts, and many popular items such as game consoles either sold out early or were not available, most notably at Best Buy and Target, according to Coresight Research. Sensormatic Solutions estimated in-store store traffic to have declined by 52 percent from 2019.

American consumers spent $9 billion online on Black Friday, up 21.6 percent year over year, according to data from Adobe Analytics, which had originally predicted sales of $10.3 billion. Salesforce estimated global sales of $62.2 billion, 30 percent more than last year.

The peak sale hour on Shopify for the entire Cyber Week holiday occurred from 12:00 p.m. to 1 p.m. on Black Friday, with revenue of over $102 million.

On Black Friday, Adobe found spending on smartphones in the U.S. jumped 25.3 percent year-over-year to reach $3.6 billion, representing 40 percent of total online spending.

Hot items on Black Friday included Hot Wheels, Lego sets, Apple Air Pods, Apple Watches, Amazon Echo devices, and Samsung TVs, according to Adobe.

Retailers that offered curbside pickup had a 31 percent higher conversion rate of traffic to their sites — a reflection of how popular it’s become for people to buy online and retrieve purchases without stepping into stores. Adobe Analytics reports the number of orders fulfilled using curbside pickup has already grown more than 100 percent growth year-over-year for 2020 through the holiday week.

Cyber Monday

Based on Adobe Analytics data, American consumers spent a record $10.8 billion online on Cyber Monday, an increase of 15 percent over 2019. This made it the biggest online shopping day ever in the United States. However, revenue fell short of Adobe’s original forecast of $12.7 billion. In-store retail foot traffic declined by 23 percent from 2019.

Consumers wanting to take advantage of online deals drove nighttime shopping. Between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Eastern Time, U.S. consumers spent $2.7 billion. These last four hours accounted for 25 percent of the day’s revenue, with the peak hour from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m., according to Adobe. Consumers scooped up discounted computers, sporting goods, toys, electronics, and appliances.

Mobile accounted for 37 percent of Cyber Monday sales, according to Adobe.

Amazon Marketplace

While it does not provide sales by day, Amazon reported that its third-party sellers exceeded $4.8 billion in worldwide sales from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, an increase of more than 60 percent compared to last year.

Ecommerce Product Releases: December 1, 2020

Here is a list of product releases and updates for late-November from companies that offer services to online merchants. There are updates on artificial intelligence, membership monetization, brand protection, international payments, and online returns.

Got an ecommerce product release? Email releases@practicalecommerce.com.

Ecommerce Product Releases

eBay launches “Up & Running Grants” for small business sellers. eBay has announced a new grant program to help small businesses. The “Up & Running Grants” program is committing more than $500,000 in funding and education resources for existing business sellers to secure viability beyond 2020. Through the program, 50 eBay small business sellers will each receive a grant package composed of $8,000 cash and $2,000 worth of eBay credits. Recipients will also enjoy premium access to Seller School and direct training and coaching from expert sellers and eBay Growth Advisors.

Home page of eBay "Up & Running Grants"

eBay – Up & Running Grants

Adobe adds new visual recognition capabilities for Magento merchants. Adobe is introducing a visual product recommendation, allowing Magento Commerce merchants to offer its shoppers recommendations of similar looking products to what they’re considering purchasing, taking into account attributes such as color, shape, size, material, and style. The feature is powered by Adobe Sensei, which uses visual AI to recognize and process product images and patterns.

Microsoft debuts shopping features for Edge and Bing. Microsoft has announced shopping-related updates to Edge and Bing. Edge, the cross-platform browser, has a new feature to make finding coupons faster and easier. When visiting a site, a shopper is alerted if there are any coupons available for that site, and coupon codes are surfaced upon checkout. Edge also has a new proactive price comparison tool that will check competing retailers to let the user know if a lower price is available. Bing now offers “Deals Hub” to browse the latest online offerings across retailers as well as a shopping hub, which offers curated categories such as home décor, gift ideas, clothing, and jewelry. Bing is also launching a Shop the Look feature, building off Bing’s visual search technologies, as well as a Shopping tab.

Amazon announces Sponsored Display audience in the U.S. Amazon has launched Sponsored Display audiences for vendors and sellers registered in Amazon Brand Registry in the U.S. Sponsored Display is a self-service display targeting strategy powered by first-party shopping signals that help grow your business on Amazon by reaching relevant shoppers throughout their purchase journey. Flexible controls enable you to define the audiences you want to reach, helping you introduce new products, engage new customers, or remarket with scale. With this launch, Amazon has introduced views remarketing, a subset of Sponsored Display audiences that enables sellers to reengage audiences that have viewed specific product detail pages but haven’t purchased your advertised product in the past 30 days. Sponsored Display is available in both the advertising console as well as the Amazon Advertising API.

Home page: Sponsored Display

Amazon Advertising – Sponsored Display

Returnly launches in-store returns for online purchases. Returnly, a player in digital return experiences and post-purchase payments, has announced the release of In-Store Returns, enabling retailers and brands to offer safe, convenient online return drop-offs at brick-and-mortar locations. Shoppers can quickly return online purchases, without boxes or labels, for an immediate refund. As a result, merchants can significantly shorten return-to-stock times.

Amazon launches intellectual property accelerator in Europe. Amazon has launched an intellectual property accelerator in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, making it easier and more cost-effective for small and medium-sized businesses to obtain trademarks, protect their brands, and tackle counterfeit goods. IP Accelerator, which is available to any brand selling in Amazon’s stores, connects entrepreneurs directly with a curated network of European law firms with expertise in IP rights. Participating law firms will charge fees to SMBs at competitive, pre-negotiated rates, giving sellers confidence and clarity about how much obtaining a trademark will cost. Also, SMBs can seek general IP advice from these law firms as their brands and businesses grow.

Squarespace releases Member Areas add-on. Squarespace has launched a new product, Members Areas, allowing creators to monetize their content by gating it behind members-only areas. Merchants will now be able to create fully customizable groups, offer membership levels, create multiple members-only areas on a website, manage members in one location, and set membership costs that are either a one-time fee, recurring membership payment, or free of charge. Member Areas is available as an add-on to any Squarespace website subscription. Plans start at $9 a month.

Home page: Squarespace Members Area

Squarespace Member Areas

Dynamic Yield launches ecommerce benchmarks. Dynamic Yield, an experience optimization platform, has announced the release of eCommerce Benchmarks, a free tool enabling marketers to compare their conversion key performance indicators with aggregated industry data. The tool helps brands set targets, gain insights into industry trends, and determine how their metrics perform in comparison. The benchmarking data is available for seven key conversion metrics, including shopping cart abandonment, conversion rate, and add-to-cart rate — across location, device, and industry.

Payoneer launches global payment strategies for ecommerce merchants in North America. Payoneer, a digital payment platform, has announced that its new payment orchestration platform is available for ecommerce merchants in North America who are looking to accept international payments. Following its acquisition by Payoneer, Optile is now integrated into Payoneer’s core platform and is tackling the challenges of global payment acceptance. Payoneer’s payment orchestration platform provides merchants with access to its network of over 100 partners, consisting of global, regional, and local payment providers and methods, as well as risk providers.

Shopify launches partnership with Alipay. Shopify has announced a partnership with Alipay, Asia’s leading digital wallet platform. The new payment gateway will allow Shopify merchants to seamlessly accept payments through Alipay from more than 1 billion annual active users in China alone. Now, through the Alipay payment gateway, Shopify merchants will reduce friction for those consumers looking to make purchases with their preferred payment method.

Screenshot of Shopify's "Product News" page

Shopify + Alipay Partnership

November 2020 Top 10: Our Most Popular Posts

Our mission since 2005 is to publish independent content to help ecommerce merchants. What follows are the 10 most popular articles that we published in November 2020. Articles from early in the month are more likely to make the list than later ones.

5 Content Marketing Ideas for December 2020

In December 2020, online retailers and B2B sellers can focus their content marketing on getting things done during Covid, launching a YouTube channel, profiling the Nobel Prizes, teaching skills, and raising AIDS awareness. Read more…

Alibaba’s 2020 Singles Day Breaks Record, Attracts Luxury Brands

Alibaba’s Singles Day is typically a 24-hour event on Nov. 11. This year, however, Singles Day ran for nearly two weeks, from Nov. 1 through Nov. 11. Gross merchandise volume during that period, according to Alibaba, was $74.1 billion. This compares with $38 billion in a 24-hour period on 11.11 in 2019. Read more…

The 5 C’s of Ecommerce Marketing

The 5C marketing framework provides a structured way to evaluate and describe a business’s position in a market. The framework, applied consistently, could guide decisions as the business promotes its brand and products. Read more…

10 Inspiring Holiday Marketing Campaigns

The 2020 holiday season is upon us. Here is a list of successful marketing campaigns from previous holiday seasons. The campaigns celebrate Yule logs, Santa, holiday music, and heading outdoors. Several of the campaigns use contests to generate content from followers. Read more…

5 B2B Ecommerce Trends for 2021

B2B ecommerce was already growing rapidly when the global pandemic struck in early 2020, accelerating the wholesale industry’s digital transformation. And while it would be possible to list many industry shifts for the coming year, five trends could be especially disruptive. Read more…

SEO: What Google’s New Passage Indexing Means for Ecommerce

In its never-ending quest to improve search results, Google is extending natural language processing to “passage indexing,” ranking individual sentences or phrases within a page. Google addressed this latest update in an October 15 blog post. The update will impact an estimated 7 percent of its search queries worldwide. Read more…

Understanding Google’s Smart Shopping Campaigns

I’ve written many articles in the last year that address Google Ads’ automation. Used carefully, automation — bidding, dynamic copy, scripts — can free up time for strategy. In this post, I’ll focus on Smart Shopping campaigns for Google Shopping. Read more…

Beardbrand’s Technology Stack: Platforms, Apps, Services

An ecommerce company is a collection of platforms, apps, and service providers. That’s certainly the case with Beardbrand, the company I launched in 2012. James Wilson is Beardbrand’s growth marketing manager. I asked James to describe our technology stack, hoping that the decisions we’ve made (good and bad) can help other merchants. Read more…

Cookieless Browsers Will Upend Ad Tracking

Trends toward greater consumer privacy may force ecommerce marketers to change methods of measuring performance, including turning to “marketing mix modeling,” a 70-year-old technique. Most digital marketers depend on some form of multi-touch attribution modeling to measure the effectiveness of their various promotions. Read more…

Ecommerce Product Releases: November 2, 2020

Here is a list of product releases and updates for late October from companies that offer services to online merchants. There are updates on social commerce, discounted shipping, holiday deals, live chat, analytics, and content creation. Read more…

Kuru, a DTC Shoe Brand, Solves a Pain

Selling shoes online is notoriously competitive. Zappos, Amazon, big-box retailers, shoe brands — all are vying for a share of the consumer footwear market. Nonetheless, Sean McGinnis’s employer, Kuru, an independent shoe company, is thriving.

“Kuru footwear focuses on foot pain,” he told me. “We’re a direct-to-consumer shoe manufacturer. We engineer materials that cradle the heel and protect it from repetitive strikes. Our technology is patented. So folks with plantar fasciitis and other types of foot pain buy our shoes.”

I recently spoke with McGinnis, who is Kuru’s senior vice president, about the complexities of online shoe selling, maintaining product focus, and utilizing Magento, among other topics.

What follows is our entire audio conversation and a transcript, edited for length and clarity.

Eric Bandholz: Where did the name Kuru come from?

Sean McGinnis: It’s from our founder. He started the company back in 2008. He wanted a short name that began with a hard consonant. Sort of sing-songy and a bit rhythmic. Plus kuru in Japanese culture means “cool” — as in “That’s really cool.” Like, “Kuru.”

Bandholz: Give us a short overview of the brand.

McGinnis: Kuru footwear focuses on foot pain. We’re a direct-to-consumer shoe manufacturer in Salt Lake City. Our company evolved from a business plan contest at the Entrepreneurial Institute at the University of Utah. We engineer materials that cradle the heel and protect it from repetitive strikes. Our technology is patented. So folks with plantar fasciitis and other types of foot pain buy our shoes.

We have about 50 men’s and women’s styles. And each of those has multiple colors, sizes, and widths. It adds up to about 3,000 SKUs.

Bandholz: I imagine there are many operational complexities with selling footwear online — sizing, shipping, returns.

McGinnis: Yes, it’s complicated. Communicating fit, comfort, and appearance is very challenging.

Our in-house team consists of an ecommerce manager, developer, and quality-assurance person. We also have an external development agency. We’re on Magento. For marketing, we’ve got an internal, eight-person team handling everything from email, paid search, paid social media. We use an external agency for the shopping engine side. It’s a really interesting business.

Bandholz: Your shoes are attractive. How do you communicate that they relieve pain?

McGinnis: We’re still working that out. When I joined the business last year, we had migrated platforms and removed a lot of the foot-pain content. The thought was that we’ve tapped out in the foot pain market, and we needed to pivot to more of a lifestyle brand.

But we’ve moved back to that foot pain customer. People were saying on product reviews, “I’ve tried everything to help with my foot pain. Finally, I found something that works.” And once they find us, they tend to keep buying. So we work on developing attractive shoes that can accommodate our technology.

Our customers are all over the board. The only thing they have in common is two feet, and one or both of them hurt. We’re able to find those folks via the keywords they search for on Google and Bing.

Paid search in Google is by far our biggest driver of customer acquisition. We’re focusing on the bottom of the funnel, catching people who are saying, “I have a problem over here.”

And we’ve got thousands of five-star reviews.

Bandholz: I love that strategy. Do what you do best. Get really good at it. And then capture all the business that you can. So most of your marketing budget on customer acquisition is paid search on Google?

McGinnis: Yes. We spend about twice on Google what we spend on Facebook. We spend about half of the Facebook amount Bing. We’ve actually turned Facebook off completely for a couple of weeks because it’s our lowest-performing channel.

We manage return on ad spend for each channel to a blended rate for the whole business. It’s 4-times or better, typically.

But email marketing is huge for us. We’ve doubled revenue in the email channel this year. And organic search traffic is important, too. In February, we had the best search-engine-optimization month ever in the history of the company.

We have two real competitors in our space. One is great at SEO and paid search, like us. The other is taking a different approach with shopping networks and similar.

We prefer to control all aspects of distribution. We don’t sell on marketplaces and in physical retail stores. One-hundred percent of our revenue comes from our ecommerce site, KuruFootwear.com.

Bandholz: You might be my first guest that uses Magento.

McGinnis: Yes, I inherited it. Would we choose Magento if we were building from scratch today? I don’t know. My two previous ecommerce experiences were a customized Magento 1 shop and, when I was with Sears, a custom build.

We have a great development hybrid system of internal experts and an outsourced agency. We’re getting a ton of stuff done. I don’t see any limitation with Magento. And my ecommerce manager has multiple years of Magento 2 experience. He’s able to execute on his own without involving a developer.

And we’re self-hosted; we’re not using Magento Commerce.

Bandholz: You’ve doubled revenue from email marketing this year. How?

McGinnis: We were on Listrak when I arrived last year. We’re very happy with Listrak. We’ve changed almost everything in our tech stack in the past year except Magento and Listrak. Although the email wins that we’ve had this year were not all related to what Listrak brought to the table.

We just started pushing emails more frequently. Our new products certainly help. We used to hit the list Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Now we do it every weekday. Interestingly, we have not seen a massive increase in unsubscribes, But, again, revenue literally doubled from Q1 to Q2 2020.

We also send triggered emails, such as post-purchase and abandoned carts and browses.

Bandholz: Where can people learn more about you and Kuru?

McGinnis: Our website, again, is KuruFootwear.com. We’re also on Twitter, although we’re not super engaged. You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Covid and the Long Tail

An interesting development is happening on the way to retail recovery during the Covid pandemic: Brands and retailers are cutting back on the breadth of products they make and sell.

In August 2020, for example, Todd Kahn, president and interim CEO of Coach, announced during an earnings conference call that the brand would slash the number of products it offered this holiday season.

“Over the last five months, we have taken a dramatically more critical lens to the SKU proliferation and inventory churn. For this upcoming holiday season, we’ve shrunk our SKU count by approximately 50 percent. We believe that this reduction is key to greater productivity and clearer brand messaging to the consumer,” Kahn said.

Coach, the maker of this bag, is reducing the number of styles it produces.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, reporter Suzanne Kapner described the company’s move succinctly. “Coach went from making 1,000 handbag styles last year to 500 this year.”

Coach is not alone. Kapner notes that retailer Bed Bath & Beyond reduced the number of can openers it carried from 15 to five, and big-box chain Kohl’s reduced the varieties of towels it carried from 320 to 265.

Inventory

Reducing the variety of handbags, can openers, and towels simplifies supply chains and focuses on items with mass appeal.

Imagine an omnichannel retailer selling everything from dog food and hay to clothing and footwear. The company has a good, better, best approach toward most product categories. In the footwear department, this can be seen in the number of work boots available. Here is an example.

 Retail PriceCostGross Profit
Good Work Boot$99.99$45.00$54.99
Better Work Boot$129.99$58.50$71.49
Best Work Boot$189.99$85.50$104.49

This retailer keeps a “size run” of each work boot at all 15 stores and at its two ecommerce fulfillment centers. Thus it needs at least one pair of work boots from size five to 14 in each style at each location.

It also doubles up on popular sizes from nine to 11. So it must carry a total of 13 pairs per run, times three styles multiplied by 17 (15 stores and two fulfillment locations). Bottom line, each initial stocking order consists of at least 221 pairs of work boots per style.

 CostInitial Stocking
Order Units
Initial Stocking
Order Dollars
Good Work Boot$45.00221$9,945.00
Better Work Boot$58.50221$12,928.50
Best Work Boot$85.50221$18,895.50
TOTALS663$41,769.00

As such, the example retailer is investing $41,769. Fill in orders would follow, replenishing each location’s size run as needed. If every boot in the initial order sold, the business would earn $51,044 in gross profit.

The coronavirus, however, exposed at least one potential problem with this approach: What if the supply chain is disrupted?

Two pairs of size 10 at each store might not be enough. The retailer could sell out of these popular sizes and miss sales opportunities while holding 51 pairs of size 14 work boots chain-wide, which is likely too many.

If this hypothetical retail chain focused on just the “better” option, it could purchase something like 714 pairs for the same $41,769 investment. It would have less product breadth but a lot more depth. There could be something like 10 pairs of the relatively more popular size 10 work boots at each store. If every boot in the initial order sold, the chain would generate the same $51,044 in gross profit while avoiding the purchase of additional sizes and the associated shipping, logistics, and warehousing costs.

This retailer could sell more of less and make more money.

The Long Tail

But selling more of less is the opposite of what some retail businesses might expect.

In October 2004, author and entrepreneur Chris Anderson introduced us to “The Long Tail.” Two years later, he produced his now-notable book, “Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More,” which is the opposite of selling more of less.

“An average record store needs to sell at least two copies of a CD per year to make it worth carrying; that’s the rent for a half-inch of shelf space. And so on for DVD rental shops, videogame stores, booksellers, and newsstands,” wrote Anderson in his famous Wired magazine article 16 years ago.

“Meet Robbie Vann-Adibé, the CEO of Ecast, a digital jukebox company whose barroom players offer more than 150,000 tracks — and some surprising usage statistics,” Anderson continued.

“Vann-Adibé hints at them with a question that visitors invariably get wrong: ‘What percentage of the top 10,000 titles in any online media store (Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, or any other) will rent or sell at least once a month?’”

Most folks guess 20 percent, but the answer is 99 percent. Songs have a long tail, meaning that many, many songs will sell.

Anderson and many others in the industry have argued that Amazon’s success, in part, is due to the long tail — you can find several thousand different handbags, more than 1,000 different can openers, more than 10,000 different styles and colors of bath towels, and something like 30,000 styles of work boots.

Nonetheless, not every business is Amazon. Moreover, Amazon doesn’t fund the items in its marketplace — the participating sellers do. If it were forced to purchase all of the inventory offered on its site or if it experienced circa 2020 supply disruptions, Amazon might reduce SKUs, too.

Managing Projects with Gantt Charts

Gantt charts have been around for more than 100 years, but these visual project management tools are still among the best ways to manage deadlines, keeping them on time and on budget.

Project managers have options. There are plenty of tools and project management philosophies to choose from.

Gantt charts are among the best for timebound projects. The development team at an ecommerce company might use a Gantt chart in conjunction with other tools to manage a platform migration. Or the operations team at an omnichannel retail enterprise might use a Gantt chart to open a new warehouse or update an existing one.

Gantt charts tend to work best when a project has a clear end, rather than ongoing.

Critical Path

Gantt charts prioritize what tasks must be completed when. The charts show when tasks must be completed and the sequence of lesser tasks that are critical because of their dependencies, complexities, and timing.

This critical path is not a list or series of the most important tasks, but the longest sequence of tasks, the things that will take the most time to complete. A critical path may include some rather mundane items, but they are critical because of when they must be completed, how long they will take, and the order in which they must be done.

Network Diagram

Some managers will use something like a network diagram to define the critical path for a project before building a Gantt chart.

This diagram can even be made with notecards by writing each major task on a card along with an estimate of how long that task will take to complete in hours.

Then arrange the cards based on the dependencies and relationships of tasks, noting when they must be done in some order. The aim is to identify the sequence of tasks that will take the longest time to complete.

Photo of notecard arranged on a desk.

The author has begun to arrange note cards into something resembling a network diagram as part of a web development project.

This same process can be done with project management software.

Adding the Critical Path

Once it has been identified, a critical path can be added to the Gantt chart. This might be done with project management software or in a spreadsheet.

In the spreadsheet format, one would expect to find a list of tasks in the far left column. Dates, which can be captured in days, weeks, or months depending on the project, are often in the first or second row. Each cell should include the number of hours required for a project for a given week.

Screenshot of an Excel spreadsheet

The critical path on the Gantt chart is the sequence of tasks that will take the longest to complete. Each of the tasks in the critical path is dependent on the task that comes before it.

Finally, some project managers will keep all critical-path tasks at the top of the spreadsheet and color the cells in red. Completed paths are shaded gray.

Remember, the critical path represents the longest sequence of tasks. Once you have built a critical path, you can estimate how long the total project will take.

Also, remember your resource constraints. Consider whether the folks working on your project can focus 100 percent of their time on the task for the week, or not.

Floating Tasks

In the Gantt chart context, non-critical-path tasks are said to be “floating,” meaning that while vital for the project, they can be fitted into a “floating” window of time.

If a project manager used a network diagram to define a critical path, she probably also identified several tasks that must be done in sequence but which did not add up to as many hours of work as the critical path.

Taking the longest of these secondary sequences first, add them to the Gantt chart.

There are a couple of ways floating tasks are displayed. First, a black vertical line shows the time frame in which a floating task must be completed.

Diagram of a Gantt chart

Floating tasks are shown lower than the critical path and between sets of black vertical lines. These lines represent time constraints for the floating tasks.

When developing an ecommerce site, for example, a headless content management system must be completed at a specific point in the process, but the associated work could begin much earlier.

Often, project managers color floating tasks, like critical-path tasks, blue or green, and shade them in gray when completed.

Notice that in a spreadsheet, the project manager can sum a column to determine how many total resource hours the project is consuming in a given week. Floating tasks can be shifted to make better use of available hours.

Beardbrand’s Technology Stack: Platforms, Apps, Services

An ecommerce company is a collection of platforms, apps, and service providers. That’s certainly the case with Beardbrand, the company I launched in 2012.

We started as a content-only community of beardsmen. We’ve morphed into a thriving, multichannel ecommerce company focusing on male grooming. Along the way, we’ve added platforms, apps, tools, and other services.

James Wilson is Beardbrand’s growth marketing manager. I asked James to describe our technology stack, hoping that the decisions we’ve made (good and bad) can help other merchants.

What follows is our entire audio conversation as well as a transcript, which is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your professional background.

James Wilson: I’ve been working at Beardbrand for a little over two years. Before that, I worked at Amazon for about seven years, where I did data work, basically. At Beardbrand, I started as a data analyst, but I moved into heading up growth. I do pretty much anything that can help grow the company.

Bandholz: Let’s start with Shopify. You weren’t involved in our decision years ago to use that platform when we launched Beardbrand. Having worked with Shopify now for a couple of years, have you considered switching?

Wilson: No, I haven’t.

Bandholz: When we start digging into the platform, there are many hacks and runarounds and finagling to make certain things work. But it seems the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Wilson: Yes. I agree. I think if you’re willing to get your hands dirty, you can make a lot out of it, for sure.

Bandholz: We’re now on Shopify Plus. Shopify’s robust ecosystem includes many applications and partners. For example, we’ve worked with Fuel Made, the ecommerce agency, which helped us build a custom website. There are many other partners to do most any task. An app we use for our subscriptions is ReCharge.

Wilson: Right. I hadn’t looked into other subscription options until recently when ReCharge announced it would integrate with the Shopify checkout. This has prompted us to consider other alternatives. But until then, ReCharge has worked well.

Bandholz: For people who aren’t familiar, James is not describing a native integration with Shopify. He’s describing a system that would create two different checkouts and two different payment processors — Stripe for subscriptions versus Shopify Pay for our store. And every reorder frequency is its own product in the reports. So if I just wanted to see how our beard oil was doing, I would have around 200 different beard oil options because I’ve got six different fragrances and three different reorder frequencies.

Let’s talk about the basics that every ecommerce store should have, such as Google Analytics.

Wilson: Yes. Google Analytics is essential. In terms of remarketing pixels, we have one for Facebook advertising and a few for Google advertising (search, display, Shopping, and video). Also, we have Klayvio, the email marketing platform. We have scripts on Klaviyo for abandon checkout and abandon cart — basically full integration with Klaviyo for remarketing, which is very powerful. I definitely recommend it.

Our philosophy at Beardbrand is to keep things minimal on the website. We don’t just put every pixel or every script onto our website that we can. We’re worried about site speed.

We use Google Tag Manager for our Google pixels, but not our Facebook pixels. There’s a native integration with Shopify for Facebook.

Bandholz: We’ve been on Klaviyo since late 2014. I’m a big fan of Klayvio. I’ve spoken at their conferences. It’s pretty much indispensable for us.

Changing the subject, we use Audiohook. What’s that?

Wilson: Audiohook is an audio podcast retargeting company. We’ve seen good results. We send Audiohook an audio commercial. Then they will put it out to iHeartRadio, Spotify, Pandora, and similar channels.

Bandholz: Moving on, we were with Yotpo for several years. Yotpo is a great company with good technology. But we were paying for features that we weren’t using. It was costing us $300 per month or so. Judge.me, a competing service, is a lot less money.

Wilson: Yotpo has a lot more integration options than Judge.com. I’ve had to custom code Judge.me integrations twice now.

Bandholz: Let’s talk about Shogun.

Wilson: Shogun is a drag-and-drop landing page builder. It allows you to quickly create pages that include some really great features, like products, photos, titles, and shop buttons.

The most powerful part about Shogun, for me, is the design aspect. I’m not a designer. I’m more technical. So I end up writing add-ons and scripts to our Shogun pages, which makes them a lot better.

One more thing about Shogun, sort of an advertising pro tip. Linking Facebook ads to custom landing pages in Shogun has been a great win for us. It takes a little bit of time because we make a unique landing page for each ad. But we’ve seen good results.

Bandholz: We no longer use LiveChat. It was one of the biggest resource hogs in terms of page speed.

Wilson: Yes. It definitely slowed our site pretty significantly. It can be helpful for shoppers, for sure. But it will slow down a website, at least in our experience.

We now use an SMS program, which is powered by Emotive, for one-on-one conversations with customers. It replaces LiveChat.

Bandholz: Speaking of chat, for customer support we use Gorgias.

Wilson: Yes. It’s been good for us. The interface is great. I like how it integrates with Facebook and other social media. We get comments from our social posts routed into Gorgias. It’s pretty cool.

Bandholz: Let’s address smaller apps, such as Grapevine.

Wilson: Grapevine is a no-brainer. It’s a survey tool, which we put on our thank you screen. We ask people how they found us. Twenty-seven percent of people answer. It’s been instrumental in driving our marketing efforts.

Plus, it’s inexpensive, a few dollars per month. The free version is pretty robust.

Bandholz: Another small app that we use is Store Locator by Storemapper.

Wilson: Yes. That one allows us to map all retail locations that sell Beardbrand products. We have a page on our website that loads Store Locator. It’s cool — very interactive.

Bandholz: We’ve got a few Shopify-specific apps — Metafields Guru, Metafields Editor, Custom Fields. Tell me about those.

Wilson: I use Metafields Guru. It allows you to edit the metafields for any Shopify page. A metafield is info that you need to save about a page but don’t want to be displayed on the frontend. Metafields use Shopify Liquid, the company’s coding language. So the data for Judge.me, for example, is in the metafield for a product page. Judge.me writes a script that puts it onto the page from that metafield.

Bandholz: Do we use Zapier?

Wilson: We used it temporarily for a test with Bonjoro, which is software to send short videos. We used Zapier for a test to link our first-time customers to Bonjoro. Then we sent a bunch of video messages to those customers.

Bandholz: We use Ahrefs, the search engine optimization platform.

Wilson: Yes. Ahrefs is a great site for managing our site’s SEO. It’s basically a massive repository of SEO information. I check it every morning to see which keywords are doing better or worse or if we gained a featured snippet. Ahrefs also has a great blog.

Bandholz: Typeform is huge for us.

Wilson: Typeform is great software. It allows you to build forms, quizzes, and similar in a question-and-answer format. It’s very customizable. For simple quiz building, which is our main use, it’s pretty awesome. I think we pay like a hundred bucks a month for Typeform.

In addition to quizzes, we can do post-purchase surveys and questionnaires, as examples. Typeform has a nice user interface, too. I highly recommend the company.

Bandholz: Anything else?

Wilson: There’s Fraud Filter, which is a default Shopify app. We don’t pay extra for it. But it’s important to ensure we filter fraudulent customers.

We use Google Lighthouse to check our page speed. It’s a critical tool for us.

Bandholz: We’ve left off our productivity tools, such as Google Apps and Slack. They’re important to us. Anything else?

Wilson: Just be careful with the apps you install. Make sure they don’t mess up page speed. That’s the lesson.

During Covid, Ecommerce Founders Can Invigorate Their Companies

Entrepreneur-lead businesses can become unwieldy as they grow. To survive, founders often must embrace a management system and delegate responsibilities.

“An entrepreneur slips and falls off the edge of a cliff. On his way down, he manages to grab onto the end of a vine. He’s hanging there, a thousand feet from the top and a thousand feet from the bottom,” wrote Gino Wickman in his book, “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business.”

“His situation seems hopeless, so he looks up to the clouds and decides, for the first time, to pray. ‘Is anybody up there?’ he asks. After a long silence, a deep voice bellows down from the clouds, ‘Do you believe?’ ‘Yes,’ replies the entrepreneur. ‘Then let go of the vine,’ says the voice. The entrepreneur pauses for a second, looks up again, and finally responds, ‘Is anybody else up there?’”

Letting Go

Wickman’s point is that many businesses fail to grow because their entrepreneurial leaders are unwilling to let go. These over-involved leaders may have a hand in everything from developing products to responding to customers or even packing orders during peak selling periods.

Passionate and engaged, these individuals might work long hours, and their work might be paying off. The company could be growing. But with each new growth milestone, the burden becomes heavier, and the entrepreneur must work even more. It’s an unsustainable model.

In this way, letting go of the vine might represent building a leadership team to take on some or even most of the entrepreneur’s responsibilities. This delegation elevates both the entrepreneur and the business.

But having a good or even great leadership team may not be enough. The entrepreneur will also need a management system she can believe in. This founder needs to have faith, if you will, before letting go.

Management Systems

The good news is that established management systems can help entrepreneurial ecommerce businesses run extremely well.

Wickman’s system, for example, is called EOS — entrepreneurial operating system. The idea is that, like a computer, every business has an operating system. So, why not have an organized, named approach to setting a business’s goals and developing the various areas of the company? EOS has six areas of focus: people, vision, data, issues, process, and traction.

Pie chart of the EOS model showing vision, data, process, traction, issues, people.

The EOS model focuses on six aspects to help companies become organized and growth-oriented: people, vision, data, issues, process, and traction.

Similarly, Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up business management system has helped many entrepreneurial companies achieve exceptional results. One of the best-known examples is Atlassian, an Australian software company that owns Jira and Trello (respectively, software-development and collaboration tools). The business started in 2002 and adopted Harnish’s system. In 2015, Atlassian went public with an initial market capitalization of around $4 billion.

Now, some five years later, Atlassian’s market cap is around $48.7 billion.

The point is that EOS, Scaling Up, and similar approaches provide a structure that a founder can trust. They provide a level of insight and control that makes letting go feel safe and appropriate.

The Pandemic

Sometimes it is easiest to accept change in the midst of turmoil, such as the global pandemic.

The status quo has been tossed out the window for most businesses. Some ecommerce companies have enjoyed an explosion of sales, forcing them to invest rapidly in inventory, systems, and even warehouse space.

Others have experienced unprecedented supply chain challenges and changing shopper behavior. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have suddenly invested millions in ecommerce.

Some companies that had on-premises staff — purchasing, finance, marketing — had to pivot toward a remote workforce. And now, several months on, many of those remote workers have no intention of returning to an office, ever.

The pandemic, in this sense, is an obstacle and a change agent. It’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs to invigorate their companies with new frameworks, such as EOS or Scaling Up, and to develop a broader objective for the enterprise — the Hedgehog Concept that Jim Collins describes in his book, “Good to Great,” or Wickman’s vision component in EOS.

Ecommerce Product Releases: November 16, 2020

Here is a list of product releases and updates for mid-November from companies that offer services to online merchants. There are updates on product videos, social commerce, holiday promotions, live-streaming, logistics, shipping, and wearable payments.

Got an ecommerce product release? Email releases@practicalecommerce.com.

Ecommerce Product Releases

Instagram introduces Reels and Shop tabs. Facebook has announced changes to Instagram: a Reels tab and a Shop tab. The Reels tab makes it easier for users to discover short, fun videos from creators. The Shop tab gives users a better way to connect with brands and creators and discover products. With the Shop tab, users can find personalized recommendations, editors’ picks curated by a @shop channel, shoppable videos, new product collections, and more.

Screenshot of Reels and Shop tabs on Instagram

Instagram Reels and Shop tabs.

I2c partners with Purewrist to provide wearable solutions for contactless payments. I2c Inc., a provider of digital banking and payment processing technology and infrastructure, has announced its partnership with Purewrist, which provides contactless payment services and wearables. I2c’s platform will be leveraged for transaction processing of tap-and-go payments made with the Purewrist GO wearable at near-field communication contactless readers. Purewrist GO works with any terminal that accepts Mastercard debit, providing a complement to a cardholder’s standard plastic card and digital payment accounts.

Amazon In-Garage delivery expands to over 4,000 cities. Amazon has announced that Prime members will now have access to Key by Amazon’s In-Garage Delivery service in more than 4,000 cities across the United States. In-Garage Delivery lets eligible Prime members receive contactless package delivery securely inside their garage and offers delivery confirmation for customers using the Key by Amazon app. Key In-Garage Delivery lets eligible Prime members with a myQ smart garage door opener receive packages securely inside their garage. Once they link their myQ app with Key, customers select “Free In-Garage Delivery” at checkout on Amazon.com. To view videos of their delivery, customers can also use a compatible Ring smart home camera with their Ring Protect Plan or LiftMaster Smart Garage Camera powered by myQ with a myQ Video Storage Subscription.

Vimeo launches Shopify app to create product videos at scale. Vimeo has launched Vimeo for Shopify, a new integration that enables Shopify merchants to create dynamic, professional-quality product videos at scale automatically. The enhanced integration also connects merchants’ Shopify and Vimeo accounts, unlocking access to Vimeo’s full suite of workflow tools, to seamlessly distribute videos to Shopify and other social channels directly from Vimeo.

Screenshot of Vimeo blog page.

Vimeo blog.

GS1 US expands offering to help small businesses capitalize on ecommerce opportunities. GS1 US has expanded its product identification offering for small and micro businesses with the introduction of a single GS1 US Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). The new single identifier will provide a low-cost option to uniquely identify products and streamline the process for getting items ready for sale across retail and ecommerce channels. With a one-time cost of $30, a business can create a single GTIN, manage related product data, and share the information with trading partners. Additionally, a business that licenses an individual GTIN will automatically be included in the GS1 Global Registry, a database to verify product identification and confirm product authenticity.

xTuple launches ERP integrations with Shopify, WooCommerce, ShipStation. xTuple, a player in enterprise resource planning manufacturing software for small-to-midsize businesses, announces integrations with Shopify, WooCommerce, and ShipStation. The integration between xTuple’s ERP system for small businesses (including manufacturing and inventory management, accounting, and planning) and WooCommerce, ShipStation, and Shopify will deliver a competitive edge to manufacturers and distributors that seek to compete with larger producers in the ecommerce space. The integrations are add-ons to the xTuple ERP platform, allowing SMBs to list real-time inventory on the ecommerce website and manage every stage of the sale from the shopping cart to delivery.

Clicktivated launches clickable live-streaming video tech. Clicktivated, a player in interactive video, has announced the launch of live-streaming shoppable video technology. Brands will now be able to use Clicktivated as they live stream videos and enable viewers to click on products to shop directly within the live-stream. Using Clicktivated’s live-streaming shoppable video technology, viewers will now have the ability to click and shop individual products on screen as they watch. The Clicktivated experience only shows the viewer information on the products they are interested in. Clicktivated works with brands and retailers to create a new way to shop directly through video for both pre-recorded and now live-streaming formats.

Screenshot of Clicktivated

Clicktivated

Delivery app Glovo launches B2B logistics unit for urban delivery. Glovo, a Spain-based on-demand delivery app, is launching a service to deliver B2B products within a 30-minute timeframe. The new unit, called Q-Commerce, will offer a B2B service that will stock third parties’ products in its warehouses and have couriers that operate on its on-demand platform make deliveries for other businesses too, offering a turn-key logistics solution for businesses to underpin their own online stores. Glovo’s customers include Walmart — to stock and sell products and offer speedy delivery under its Glovo Market brand.

Seko Logistics partners with Bringg to offer digital consumers control of delivery. Bringg, a delivery and fulfillment platform, and Seko Logistics are partnering to improve the delivery experience for digital consumers. Utilizing the Bringg platform, Seko clients receive an SMS link to a self-service web app (no download required), enabling clients to track deliveries in real-time, communicate directly with the driver or support center, and receive personalized alerts, provide payment options, and rate the delivery experience. Bringg will also enable Seko to track, manage, and optimize internal and contracted delivery fleets in real-time, while the platform’s driver app enables dynamic delivery flows and mobile inventory management.

Sendle delivers streamlined shipping for WooCommerce merchants. Sendle, the 100-percent carbon-neutral shipping carrier designed for small businesses, has launched a new integration with WooCommerce. Merchants will benefit from flat-rate shipping that’s simple, affordable, and carbon neutral. Merchants wishing to use the new integration can connect their WooCommerce account to Sendle at Sendle.com. Sendle also has shipping integrations with Shopify, Etsy, and eBay.

Screenshot of Sendle home page.

Sendle