Episode 2: How to Add Value to Your eCommerce Customers

On this episode we review methods to help eCommerce retailers to add more value to their customers experience. This helps to differentiate you from your competition and standout in the crowded world of ecommerce.
On this episode you’ll learn:
  • How to better organize categories
  • Use specialized products that can not be found anywhere else
  • Use custom products/POD products
  • Add detailed reviews, descriptions and videos to help your eCommerce store to stand out

Episode Transcript

                        Welcome to episode two of The Business of eCommerce Podcast. I’m your host, Charles Palleschi. In today’s show we’d like to cover a topic that we get very often. Usually folks starting off want to know how to add value to their customers. We find this very common in things like drop shipping. Different sorts of sites where they’re usually just starting off. Where they’re using a lot of products that are very similar to other folks. Maybe you work with one of the big vendors out there, big manufacturers, and you get their products and you’re not really sure how to actually differentiate yourself in the market. You want to be special. You want to do something a little different.

But it’s really tough sometimes when everybody’s selling the same products in the same places. What you don’t want to do, to get started there is, you don’t want to basically just take the products from a vendor and dump them on your site. Dump them on Amazon. Have the same descriptions right from the vendor. The vendors usually give very basic descriptions. They also give very basic images. Really no details. Their categories are very either simplistic, or relevant to them, not really relevant to your site.

For example, they would be very general, the categories. The manufacturer might be selling different product lines to different industries. But you, your site might be much more targeted to a certain type of people. Let’s say the vendor just sells outdoors products in general. You might be selling products specifically to folks that hunt deer outdoors. Something like that. Deer hunting. The categories you’ll get from the vendors aren’t very tailored to your specific audience. They’re just general, broad. We want to jump in with some ways we can actually make your site much more individual and stand out from the crowd, so that it’s not just taking products from vendors. Taking their images. Taking their titles. Taking their descriptions. Dumping it into Shopify. Dumping it onto Amazon, and just try to compete on price. Because I think we all kind of know by now, that’s not really the way to go. You’re not going to beat the big players like an Amazon price, so you have to add something else of value.

Just some general housekeeping before I get into that. This is episode two. Kind of the goal here is to have some information that’s more for experienced eCommerce retailers. Some things for folks just starting off, and kind of go back and forth. I’d like to cover in different episodes some different topics. Maybe this one’s right for you. Maybe you’re beyond this. It really depends on where you’re at, but we’re hoping to kind of do both with this, and see what people like. It might be kind of choose your own adventure on some episodes are right for you. Others, honestly you might just skip over. Because maybe you’ve already seen this. It really is just up to you, but we’re hoping to add value to a lot of different people in different places in getting started.

I’ve outlined four different general categories here of how to add value to different eCommerce retailers. To get started, and I was kind of implying this, is the categories topic. Over here, let’s see. Kind of what I was implying is, when the vendor is setting categories, they might be relevant to them and their entire catalog of products. They might have 500,000 SKUs. They’re sending you all 500,000 SKUs. The categories might be outdoors. This. Sports. That. The other thing. But you’re just selling a very specific niche inside the outdoors category. Using their categories, they don’t really apply to you.

Where you can add value a lot is having a very very very specific for your type of user category breakdown. What are some examples of that? Actually a great example that’s a well known project. Another podcaster in the industry, Andrew Youderian from eCommerce Fuel, a lot of you probably know him. He did a post, you can look it up, I can link to it in the show notes, on building an eCommerce store from scratch. He built it very publicly. Built it up. Showed everyone what he did, and sold it. All this information’s out there. But that store was called trollingmotors.net. They sold trolling motors.

One thing Andrew did very well with this is, when they’re getting products from their different vendors, they made their category breakdown very specific to folks looking for trolling motors. One example of that is, when you go on there, they first ask what type of boat. They ask, what’s the boat’s weight? What’s the boat’s length? Based on those three factors they then know, what are the trolling motors that will fit on your boat?

Right there. It’s not just going to Amazon or a general marketplace and searching for trolling motors, and then you having to figure out, “Will this fit on my boat?”. This is, you put in your criteria and very quickly it says, “Here are the 10 trolling motors that fit on your boat”. They were able to take trolling motors from different manufactures, aggregate them, put them in this list, and make them fit for their user. This is a fantastic example of using categories and making the categories very specific to a certain type of buyer. A certain persona.

This also works very well in, let’s say the parts industry. Auto parts. Boat parts. Things of that nature, where you might be looking for a replacement headlight for an ’82 Ford Mustang. You’re able to go on there, pick your model, pick this, pick that. Go right down the line and say, “Here are the headlights that fit my specific car that I’m looking for”. It’s not just going on Amazon or searching Google for a specific part number. You’re able to use their site, use their description, to really hone down into what you’re looking for very quickly. Their categories drive that.

That’s something really important when you’re adding products, to understand the tree of categories of where things are fitting, and make that very particular to the persona of buyer that’s actually using your site.

What’s another example? One great example would be specialty products. Products that might not do very well in kind of the general, let’s say like an Amazon, an eBay. That sort of thing. Because they’re very special to a particular industry. Some examples of that are products for medical professionals. Products for, let’s see. A boat diesel mechanic. Products for horse racing. All sorts of different things where unless you’re in this niche, you’re not even looking for these products. A lot of those really aren’t doing very well on the general, an Amazon or eBay. They’re something that you really have to find a site that’s right for you.

Another example is fitness, Crossfit products. There are ones sold on Amazon, but a lot of … I happen to do it myself so I know a lot of the sites that sell very specific Crossfit products are attractive because you get to go on there, and you see these are products that are very specific, that only I’m looking for. Categories, everything is right for me. You don’t have to go on there and just search on eBay, search on Amazon for kind of general products and hope they fit your niche. They’re already very vetted, and you know if they’re added to the site, there’s some actual thought of, “Does this fit me?”, because the site’s built for me. You know if the products are there, someone’s put some work into this. That’s a second really great way of adding value to your users.

It’s something that, the whole goal here is that you’re not trying to just compete head to head with an Amazon, with an eBay. List it. Hope that out of the crowd, out of the 10 people selling the exact same product, someone comes to you. You’re hoping once users see you’re different and you’re for that very specific persona, so let’s say you’re selling Crossfit products. If that is your niche, users are coming to you first and that’s the goal, because they know you’re the guy or girl selling Crossfit products. It’s not just something they can get anywhere. They’re able to browse your catalog and see different products they might not have found. Having that kind of special niche is a really great way of doing that, and makes it really possible to hone down on your users. Really, once you know your buyer, it’s super powerful.

Another way, third way, we see users doing this all the time, is with custom products. A lot of folks are kind of designing their own products now, building their own. You could have them manufacture it, sent to a 3PL. Sent from your own site. Even some manufactures allow you to white label their products with your logo. They’re built particular to you. But then you’re essentially selling your own products alongside of theirs. This is a third and really powerful way of standing out from the crowd, because you now have a product they can’t get anywhere else.

These aren’t products they can just search on eBay for or on Amazon, or Buy.com. These are products they have to come to you directly, because nobody else is selling them, because they are something you created. This is a super powerful way of differentiating yourself from the competition.

Typically to build your own products, the investment has been quite high in the past. The new wave of vendors coming into this space are called print on demand or make on demand. What these are are, let’s say for example a shirt manufacturer. You can then create shirts on the fly. Instead of having to bulk order 10,000, 20,000 at a time and have them brought in, you can actually drop ship one or two of these at a time direct to your buyer. What you’re doing, the value you’re adding, is a graphic on the shirt. It’s print on demand. These are printed one at a time. You provide the graphic. The vendor does the printing for you. That’s sent directly to the end buyer. But the benefit of that is that graphic is yours. It can’t be found anywhere else.

These are totally different industries. They have, we’ve worked with vendors that do anywhere from home goods, pillows, that sort of thing, bean bags. We’ve seen hard good. They can print out coasters, beer mugs, things like that. It’s all print on demand. If you’re providing certain images that are unique to you, certain graphics, certain concepts that are very unique to your site and your buyer, your products can be custom made one at a time. Very ad hoc. That makes it super powerful, that then users, if they like these they can only come to you. They can’t find these anywhere else. That’s a huge way to differentiate yourself from the competition.

That’s another way we really recommend on differentiating yourself and standing out a bit, is building your own products. Either custom products that you actually have sent over. That sort of thing. We can get into that in a different episode. But the newest one is make on demand products where you don’t even have to have a huge investment. You just have that intellectual property. Those images. Those concepts. Have them printed. Send out. Drop shipped. It’s super powerful.

What we see happen often, some users are offering those alongside of standard manufacturer products. You can go on there and order some standard auto parts, but you could also have some custom designed stuff for your car that only you can get on that site. While you’re buying that custom designed product, you also pick up a couple extra parts. You’re able to attract users, upsell them. Super powerful.

Kind of the fourth and last way of differentiating yourself, it goes back to categories but a little different, is actually that custom data that is linked to each product. That’s detail descriptions. Titles. Videos. Reviews. Testimonials. Things like that, that you’re adding a layer on top of what the vendor sends you that people can’t get anywhere else. It’s unique to you because you’ve generated it.

We’ve worked with some retailers who take each product in. Every single product. Before they put it on the site they do a review. They post a video. They put that out on their own site, on the detail page. They do super high quality custom imaging, custom descriptions. Really review it and take their time on each product, so when you go to their site, it might be the same product that is being sold on other sites, but they have so much information that only they have. You know that way you’re getting a quality product. You’re seeing, you’re hearing it. You get to really see someone review it, look at it.

Then you have that intellectual property that only you own, and it belongs to you. You’re adding a layer on top of what the vendors already have. The vendors can sell this to other retailers, but because of your specific style of reviewing it, doing custom images, it’s super powerful. A lot of times when you get the images from a manufacturer, they take one, maybe two very simple images. Some of these are very old. Some of them don’t even reflect the product anymore. They’ve updated the product but they’ve never even updated their images. They might be super low res, and just not very good.

Just something simple like taking the products, physically taking possession of them, each one. Just one sample before you list them on the site, and taking super high quality photos. If you get yourself a nice camera setup. It’s actually not that hard to do anymore and you can take a couple review shots. Build your own description at that point, because the same deal. When you get the descriptions from the manufacturers, some are okay, but honestly some just aren’t good. They’re maybe one sentence. Don’t really tell what’s going on. Don’t really describe the product. Just super simplistic, and it’s just not what people are looking for.

You want to see a detailed detailed description and know exactly what this product is, “Will it work for me?”, when you come on there as a buyer. You have to realize, you’re competing against the marketplaces, like an Amazon, like an eBay. Over there there’s detailed reviews. There’s folks there sending in their images. When you go there you get to see all of that. If you’re competing on the detailed product pages, you need to be able to build a better product page essentially and add more value in images, description, and especially video nowadays. Super powerful way of doing that, because users get to actually hear you, see you talk about the products, look at the product, and really get a sense of, “Will this work for me?”, before they buy it.

Those are the four ways. I hope that helped. Kind of going over them one more time is, number one, detailed category breakdowns of every product. Number two, special products that you just can’t find anywhere else. You can’t find on a marketplace. They’re very honed down for a very particular niche. Number three are custom products, bespoke products that only you have access to because you’ve created. You’ve created custom images, custom graphics, and they’re very particular to you. Users come to you to get them. Number four are very detailed descriptions, images, videos. Anything telling about the product.

Those are kind of four ways that I’ve come up with, and I see users who do very well differentiating themselves in the marketplace and make themselves stand out way beyond their competition. It’s not just, “Should I just go to eBay? Type this in and hit buy from who knows? Or should I actually see this brand that I know and start to get a real sense for?”. I hope that helps. I hope this episode helps, episode two. We’ll be coming out with more like this.

The show length, if this is good I would love to hear it. If you’re looking for a little longer, a little shorter. Any sort of feedback, I’m definitely very interested to hear. You can reach me on businessofecommerce.fm. Also Twitter at @charlespal, you can reach me. We’ll be trying to come out with a new episode every, once a week just like this. We’ll also be available in both audio in iTunes, and video we’re going to be publishing over to YouTube, to see what folks like better. Let me know what works for you. What’s the best way of subscribing? Hope to see you soon. Great. Thanks a lot. Have a good one.

Episode 1: Welcome to The Business of eCommerce

Episode Transcript

Hello. My name is Charles Palleschi and welcome to The Business of eCommerce podcast. I’d like to kick off this first episode by talking about a little bit about myself, what I’d like to do with this podcast, a couple of show ideas, and give an idea of where we kind of see things going here.

So to get started, my name is Charles. I’m the founder of Spark Shipping. What Spark Shipping is software for eCommerce retailers to help them automate the connections with their vendors. A vendor is a manufacturer, a wholesaler, a drop shipper or a warehouse.

How I got started in this business is in 2010, I went off on my own. I used to work a corporate job and said, “I want to do freelance consulting.” I started doing some app development and some software development for various businesses.

Somewhere along that road, I ended up purchasing a small eCommerce site. I ran that for some time. I built that up, worked with maybe about five different vendors. Orders went out each day to the different vendors and I said, “There has to be some sort of way to automate this.” So, I ended up building what’s now called Spark Shipping.

Fast forward to 2014, and the actual name and the product Spark Shipping was launched. Uh, later on that year, I ended up focusing solely on Spark Shipping, make that- making that my core business. Uh, and now, ever since, me and my team have run Spark Shipping.

So why I decided to start this podcast is because, on a daily basis, I am able to talk to many eCommerce retailers, different vendors. Uh, I do a lot of the sales here at Spark Shipping. So, I talk to a lot of different folks everyday. I hear a lot of what’s working, what’s not working, uh, different questions, different issues people run into, different ways people have solved those issues. A lot of different things.

The benefit of Spark Shipping i- Spark Shipping is we work with lots of different clients, lots of different types of businesses, so it gives me a pretty good idea of a different, uh … a view of the landscape and what works and what’s not working. And I’m hoping to be able to share that with everyone out there, and hopefully some of you find that useful.

The next coming weeks, I’m thinking we’ll try to do an episode each week, maybe 10 to 15 minutes. Uh, we’ll have different topics each week, hopefully one topic per episode. Some episodes will be me just talking to the camera like this, talking directly to you, answering, talking about that one particular topic.

Other ones, maybe we’ll do some sort of interviews. I have a few guests that I want to bring on, uh, with some different subject matter. So, we could do that as well. Let me know what you like, what you don’t like, what works, what doesn’t. If you have some topics in particular you’d like to hear, I’d love to, talk about that.

You can reach, reach me directly on Twitter @charlespal, that’s Charles P-A-L, on Twitter, or always by email. It’s just charles@businessofecommerce.com. I’ll be on the lookout for like topics, similar things that’ll interest folks, and I’d love to get your feedback. So, hopefully talk to you soon. See you, see you very soon in the following episodes and we’ll chat more. Thanks. Have a good one.