My wife just closed the books for 2017 so today I’m going to breakdown the numbers this past year for my ecommerce store Bumblebee Linens.
It’s been quite a tumultuous year with all the traveling, the injuries and our kids activities but we still made it out with another double digit growth year.
Listen to the episode to learn how we grew our business in 2017!
What You’ll Learn
- The highlights and lowlights for the year
- How stalking customers can benefit your business
- How we replaced half an employee with software
- All of the usability changes we made to the site.
Other Resources And Books
Klaviyo.com – Klaviyo is the email marketing platform that I personally use for my ecommerce store. Created specifically for ecommerce, it is the best email marketing provider that I’ve used to date. Click here and try Klaviyo for FREE.
Privy.com – Privy is my tool of choice when it comes to gathering email subscribers for my ecommerce store. They offer easy to use email capture, exit intent, and website targeting tools that turn more visitors into email subscribers and buyers. With both free and paid versions, Privy fits into any budget. Click here and get 15% OFF towards your account.
SellersSummit.com – The ultimate ecommerce learning conference! Unlike other events that focus on inspirational stories and high level BS, the Sellers Summit is a curriculum based conference where you will leave with practical and actionable strategies specifically for an ecommerce business. Click here and get your ticket now before it sells out.
Before we begin, I want to give a quick shout out to Klaviyo who is a sponsor of the show. Always excited to talk about Klaviyo because they are the email marketing platform that I use for my ecommerce store, and I actually depend on them for over 20% of my revenues. Now, Klaviyo is the only email platform out there that is specifically built for ecommerce, and here is why it is so powerful.
Klaviyo can track every single customer who has shopped in your store and exactly what they bought. So let’s say I want to send out an email to everyone who purchased a red handkerchief in the last week, easy. Let’s say I want to set up a special auto-responder sequence to my customers depending on what they bought, that is a piece of cake, and there is full revenue tracking on every single email.
Now Klaviyo is the most powerful email platform that I’ve ever used and you can actually try them for free at mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O, once again that’s mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O.
I also want to give a shout out to Privy who is also a sponsor of the show. Privy is the tool that I use to build my email list for both my blog and my online store. Now Privy is an email list growth platform, and they actually manage all of my email capture forms. And in fact I use Privy hand in hand with my email marketing provider.
There is a bunch of companies out there that will manage your email capture forms, but I like Privy because once they specialize in e-commerce. Right now I’m using Privy to display a cool wheel of fortune pop up. Basically a user gives their email for a chance to win valuable prizes in our store. Customers love the gamification aspect of this. And actually when I implemented this form, email sign ups increased by 131%.
There is other cool things that you can do too. So for example let’s say you offer free shipping for orders over 100 bucks, you can tell Privy to flash a pop up when the customer has $90 in their shopping cart to get them to insert one more item in. Bottom line, Privy allows me to turn visitors into email subscribers, which I then feed to my email provider to close the sale. So head on over to Privy.com/Steve, and try it for free. And if you decide you need the more advanced features, use coupon code MWQHJ For 15% off. Once again that’s P-R-I-V-Y.com/Steve, now on to the show.
Intro: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host Steve Chu.
Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job podcast. My wife just closed the books for 2017. So today what I’m going to do is, I’m going to break down the numbers this past year for my e-commerce store Bumblebeelinens.com, and just kind of give you an overview of what changed in 2017, and how we achieved these numbers.
Now it’s actually been quite a tumultuous year with all the traveling, my injury and our kids’ activities, but we still made it out with another double digit growth year. Now if you listened to the last podcast episode, you are probably aware that I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness and managing stresses of late, mainly ways to kind of increase happiness and reduce stress. So the goal with my businesses has been lately to achieve steady manageable growth from year to year instead of putting the pedal to the metal and going all out and trying to grow, grow, grow.
Now if you think about it, there are actually many ways to grow a business. And the main way that most ecommerce businesses grow is by introducing new products. It makes sense, right? If you’re making a million bucks, the easiest way to double revenues is simply by doubling your skews. Now the other way to grow your business is by improving your marketing, reaching new eyeballs, or by selling more to your existing customers.
And the latter route is the route that we’ve actually been choosing to take the past couple years. After all I really enjoy building my marketing skills by learning how to run ads on Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Pinterest. I really enjoy doing conversion optimization, writing copy for sales funnels, and learning about customer psychology. And bottom line, I feel that those are skills that I can actually take into any business that I run.
And while launching many new product lines is probably the fastest way to grow and scale, it’s also stressful and logistically taxing. And I’ve actually made it a choice to spend more time with my family. By the way I have to brag about this real quick. My daughter recently took part in the spelling bee for her school, and she actually got first place for her age group and second overall for her school. The kid that won was actually a grade higher than her. So I’m really proud of her especially because she studied so hard for this thing.
Anyways, it’s the little things in my life with my kids that make me happy. So I decided to focus my efforts on making the core business better and improving revenue without launching new products per se. Now of course this might change in 2018 a little bit, because we recently just got back from the Canton Fair where we found a bunch of new vendors for some new potential product lines.
So if we have time and the stress is manageable, we may launch a couple of new products this year, but certainly not anything drastic. In any case, let’s start with the numbers. For 2017, year over year revenue grew 20%. Year over year profit grew 14%. Overall traffic to our website increased 10.5%, and the overall margins were relatively flat.
Now if you look at our business for 2017, a lot of the conversion rate optimizations that I did towards the end of last year as in 2016 kind of kicked in for the first part of 2017. And as a result, we were off to a great start for the first half of the year. If you’re curious what I did for 2016 towards the end, I’ll link up all the 2016 optimizations in the show notes.
But in the latter half of the year, I actually injured myself in July. And as a result of that injury, I was out for a few months and my mood was actually terrible, and I actually didn’t end up working that much on the business for a couple of months. But I still managed to get it all together and make a bunch of improvements to the site, which actually kicked in towards the last quarter of the year.
Now usually I talk about the highlights and the lowlights of 2017 whenever I do one of these income reports. So let’s just start with the lowlights first and just kind of get that out of the way, and build our way gradually up to some of the kick ass optimizations that I made this past year that increased sales and cut costs at the same time.
So the first lowlight of the year was that our Pinterest traffic took a major nose dive. They changed a couple of things with their algorithm, and as a result the traffic and our conversions for Pinterest tanked. In addition, they also changed the Pinterest ad pixel. And so I discovered this later on when I was looking at the stats, and I noticed that a lot of the information was missing. So I actually found out that they changed the pixel and I had to spend time re-implementing the pixel for the ads.
Incidentally, Pinterest is following along with some of the other major ad vendors like Facebook and Google in that they’re starting to track every single item that a customer browses through as they traverse your store and the entire process, which products they looked at, whether they made to check out, whether they complete the transaction. So the Pinterest pixel is a lot more complicated now.
Now getting traffic from Pinterest still hasn’t quite recovered yet, but at least my ads for Pinterest are converting once again. The next lowlight I want to talk about was that early in the year; I converted our site over to SSL completely because Google was enforcing that. And as soon as I did that, our site immediately saw a 15% drop in traffic.
Now this is funny because when I went over to SSL with my blog, I didn’t see any sort of traffic changes at all. But for some reason when I switched my online store over to SSL, it actually really affected the site. And as a result, a couple of months in our year were pretty terrible; I think July was the worst one. Thankfully, everything recovered one month later. It took about a month for the traffic to recover, and we are back to normal but one month out of 2017 was a total dud.
And the final lowlight of the year was of course I tore my Achilles tendon in July, on July 22nd, which pretty much put me in a major funk. I didn’t want to think about handkerchiefs, I didn’t want to think about blogging, I didn’t want to think about podcasting, I didn’t want to think about anything. And it was like this for a couple of months. I think I might have used a couple of the handkerchief to dry my own tears.
But things were stagnant on the marketing front for quite a long period of time as I learned kind of how to walk again. It’s funny, when you can’t walk, and you’re not feeling that great, it’s actually really hard to get anything done. In any case, with all that sad stuff out of the way, those are pretty much the major lowlights of the year.
Let’s talk about the good stuff. Now on the email front, my one big win for the year was going with a wheel of fortune pop up, which increased our e-mail sign up rate by 131%. Now if you guys aren’t familiar with the wheel of fortune pop up, it’s basically a pop up where you give an email address for a chance to spin a wheel. And as you spin the wheel, you get a chance to win prizes such as discounts from our store.
And customers love the gamification aspect of this, and as a result of implementing this, our pre-purchase sequence generated over 2x what it did previously the year before. And incidentally, back when I did this in 2017, there was no real easy way to do this for a non Shopify store. And so I actually ended up coding up my own wheel of fortune pop up. But now you can actually implement one for free if you use privy who is actually a sponsor of the show. So go to Privy.com/Steve and go check it out if you want to implement your own wheel of fortune.
Now what is cool about this wheel of fortune tab is that you can actually bias the results so the biggest prizes are not won as often. So basically you can set different probabilities for each one of the prizes in your store, which makes it pretty cool. And in terms of press mentions, we were featured in Country Woman Magazine and Pop Sugar. And what’s also cool is that now whenever I do a podcast interview on someone else’s podcast, I usually ask for a link back to my blog as well as my online store, and this has really reinforced the SEO efforts for both my blog and my online store as well.
In addition to the press mentions, we also did two influencer campaigns towards the end of the year. One was with a straight up YouTuber in the cooking space to advertise our napkins. And another influencer campaign was with a Finance and family blogger with a huge Facebook fan following. Now both campaigns did okay. Neither one was a home run, but we did not have to actually pay any money for either campaign.
For the YouTube campaign for the napkins, we actually ended up selling our napkins at wholesale cost because this particular YouTuber was running a subscription box. And once she purchased our product at cost, so we didn’t end up losing any money, we didn’t really make any money either, she then advertised her box with a link underneath her video pointing directly at those cocktail napkins in case people wanted to buy more.
Now I think in the box you only get six, and traditionally when you get cocktail napkins you usually buy a dozen or more. And so we ended up generating some business that way. Now in terms of the other influencer, the blogger, she was actually a friend of a friend who posted one of our promo videos on her Facebook page for one of our aprons. And she actually wore a personalized apron during a Facebook Live session, where she showed the audience how to do an arts and crafts project.
Now this ended up doing quite well, because she wore our apron, and then she posted on her fan page which has hundreds of thousands of followers. Now I don’t want to go too much in-depth about this, because I will end up writing a blog post about this. But overall, I think in terms of influencer marketing, we’ve done several campaigns at this point. It tends to be hit or miss, and you just have to keep trying different ones until you hit a home run.
Now I actually consider both of these campaigns successful, because they did make a pretty decent profit. But they did not move the needle in the grand scheme of things with the sales, with the overall sales for our online store. But what’s cool about doing these campaigns is that it got me in this mindset where I had to start stalking our customers again. And whenever I stalk our customers, and I’ll describe what I mean by stalk our customers in a little bit good things happen, I always get excellent feedback.
So first off, I have to say that my wife really hates it when I stalk our customers. She is highly against it, but I do it anyways to take one for the team. And so just to give you an example what I mean by stalking. On two separate occasions this year, I actually went and called every single customer who abandoned their cart in our store.
And why is this tied to our influencer campaigns and our Facebook campaigns? It’s because when I ran Facebook campaigns for our aprons early in the year, I noticed that our abandon rate was exceptionally high. And likewise when that blogger, she posted one of our promo videos on her Facebook fan page, I also noticed that the abandon rate was especially high like much higher than normal.
And so what I did is I went through and called every single person that abandoned their cart. And here was my script. I went in and said something like, hey we just introduced our line of aprons, and we’d like to get some feedback from you in return for a significant discount. And usually I got hung up on a couple of times, and some people got really mad for me calling. But I did get a decent percentage of people to actually have a very candid chat with me on why they abandoned their carts.
And here is actually what I found out, and this information was actually very valuable. So as part of running this influencer campaign, we actually ended up giving coupons out. I designed like a custom landing page where we give out coupons to these people. But here’s what happened, people will land on this page, they would get a coupon code, they would configure their apron. We were doing this for personalized aprons, they would personalize their apron, they would go to check out, and they would forget what the coupon code was.
We didn’t really choose a complicated coupon code, but as you’re shopping, sometimes it can take a while to decide what you want to personalize your apron on. And by the time they got to check out, they forgot the coupon code, they kept hitting the back button, but they couldn’t find the landing page with the coupon code and that sort of thing. And they got frustrated and they just decided not to go through with the transaction.
Now I called a bunch of people that day, and several of the people who I chatted with complained that they either, one forgot the coupon code during checkout and didn’t feel like looking it up again, or two they cannot locate where to enter the coupon code on the site. Now incidentally I purposely don’t make the coupon code field in your face on our site, because I actually don’t want people to go off goggling for random coupon codes especially on fake sites like Retail Me Not.
Anyway, so what I did was the next day I went ahead and I implemented auto applied coupon codes. So as soon as someone lands on that landing page, the coupon code is automatically applied. And on every single page there’s like this little piece of text that says, don’t worry, this coupon code blah, blah, blah will be applied automatically during checkout. I had that on the shopping cart page; I had that during checkout to reassure the customer that they were in fact getting a coupon applied. And so that solved that problem.
I just want to let you know that tickets for the 2018 Sellers Summit are on sale at sellerssummit.com. Now what is the Sellers Summit? It is the conference that I hold every year that specifically targets ecommerce entrepreneurs selling physical products online. And unlike other events that focus on inspirational stories and high level BS, mine is a curriculum based conference where you will leave with practical and actionable strategies specifically for an ecommerce business.
And in fact every speaker that I invite is deep in the trenches of their ecommerce business, entrepreneurs who are importing large quantities of physical goods, and not some high level guys who are overseeing their companies at 50,000 feet. The other thing I can assure you is that the Sellers Summit will be small and intimate. Last year we cut off ticket sales at around 100 people, so tickets will sell out quickly.
If you are an ecommerce entrepreneur making more than $250,000 or one million dollars per year, we are also offering an exclusive mastermind experience with other top sellers. Now the Sellers Summit is going to be held in Fort Lauderdale Florida from May 3rd to May 5th.
And as I mentioned earlier we’re almost sold out already, and I actually will be raising the ticket price from here on out every two weeks. That’s right; the ticket cost is going to go up every two weeks until the event. For more information go to sellersummit.com, once again that’s sellersummit.com or just Google it. Now back to the show.
Another complaint I got was that people were complaining about the shipping being too high. Now keep in mind that this blogger, she runs a blog that really caters to deals. She does a whole bunch of deals; she talks about coupons and that sort of thing. So I don’t know if this applied to our broader audience, but for her particular audience, free shipping was a big deal. And if you read a lot of industry articles out there, thanks to Amazon free shipping is now par for the course so to speak.
And at the time, our free shipping threshold was at $800, which actually works well for our customers. And it had worked well for several years prior to that because our customers tend to be wedding customers and they don’t really care about any of that stuff. They just want to get it done, they’re very price insensitive. But for our aprons, it caters to a completely different audience, and they tend to be more sensitive about free shipping.
So what we did was we ended up lowering the free shipping threshold to just over an amount where they had to buy more than one apron. And in this case we were marketing mother daughter aprons, and so if they purchased a mother’s apron and a daughter’s apron, they got free shipping. And so that addressed that issue, and whenever I got someone on the phone for the lady that complained about free shipping, I gave her free shipping, and then I just finished the transaction over the phone right off the bat and it went through.
A couple of the other ladies that I called, they didn’t have PayPal, which is what we do usually if they’re on their phone and they want to import all their address information, that sort of thing. They didn’t have PayPal and as a result they didn’t want to type in their address and all this stuff on their phone. And so what ended up happening is they were planning on waiting till they got back home to complete the purchase on their desktop.
And what’s funny about this is I asked these ladies, how come you didn’t just finish this transaction on your phone; do you ever shop on your phone? And almost everyone said yes they do shop on their phone. But the fact that they didn’t have PayPal, and they’re just not used to typing in all their information, they’re used to shopping on Amazon where everything is stored there.
And so because of that, I am now exploring integrating Amazon payments. I’m a little bit squeamish about sending Amazon my order information and that sort of thing, but the fact that so many people shop on Amazon today leads me to of fact that I may want to implement Amazon payments on my site. I haven’t done this yet, and this is going to be a project for 2018.
But one thing that I did do to improve the checkout process was that I implemented Google Maps API. And if you guys have ever used Google Maps, as you’re typing your address it actually automatically auto completes the address for you, so that the customer doesn’t in fact have to type everything in. For example, when I type in my home address, all I have to do is type in the first couple of characters and it instantly knows where my addresses, I just click a button and it just populates everything for you.
Okay, and so one thing I did, that was a really easy change, I implemented that in a single day. And I don’t have enough data to report on the results of that yet, but I know for a fact that it will improve mobile conversions. Next complaint I got from calling an abandoned cart person was that the cost of monogramming was too high compared to the cost of the product. So just to give you an idea, some of our aprons are only $15 a piece, and at the time we were charging $8 to monogram the apron.
So if you think about it this way, if an apron is let’s say $15, and you’re paying $8 to monogram, which is more than half the cost of the apron. Even though the total dollar amount isn’t that much, psychologically you’re thinking to yourself, wow, this monogramming is really expensive. And so thanks to the feedback of this lady, we ended up upping the apron cost a little bit, and dialing down the cost of monogramming to only $5.
And I asked the lady, a couple ladies who complained about this, I asked her if the apron was slightly more expensive; will that make any difference if the monogram was cheaper? And she said yeah, you know what, I think psychologically that would have made a difference. And so I ended up giving this lady a discount, and I put the order through.
And finally, one more thing about the shipping charges, because we lowered the free shipping threshold, my wife and I we were a little bit worried about losing money on shipping because shipping is really expensive. And so here’s what I did. I actually ended up talking with my buddy Mike Jackness about this, and he gave me a very clever solution. So we lowered our free shipping threshold, but we actually changed things around so that we didn’t lose money on shipping as a result of this change.
And here’s what we did which is pretty ingenious. The free shipping that people get now besides that we say it’s going to take anywhere between four to ten days to arrive. So we actually extended the fulfillment time. And then we offered two other tiers of shipping, first class a priority shipping, and we actually ended up upping our express shipping charges as well. And what’s cool is that even though some people were eligible for free shipping, they actually ended up opting for the other faster shipping options.
So I know this for a fact is we’ve got a lot of waiting customers and they want their stuff fast. So even though they qualified for free shipping, they still ended up paying a higher shipping cost to get their goods to them. Okay and so it still remains to be seen how this is playing out. But over the holiday certainly, I saw that most people or a lot of people I should say were still paying for shipping even though they qualified for the free shipping threshold.
Incidentally, if you guys run your own store and you’re not calling your abandoned cart peeps back, I just want to say that my conversion rate was super high on the call backs for abandoned carts. What I mean by that is every time I got someone on the phone who was willing to talk to me, I almost always ended up closing the sale. And what this actually made me think about was actually hiring someone full time to go ahead and call everyone back who abandoned their shopping cart.
I know my wife would probably kill me on this, and it’ll probably annoy customers, but just in the back of my mind I was thinking to myself, man we’re probably leaving a lot of money on the table by not addressing these abandoned carts, because sometimes email — we have an abandoned cart sequence via email, but there’s just something about getting someone on the phone that makes a huge difference.
Okay, the next major thing that happened this year was I was actually able to replace half an employee with just a piece of software. So back in 2016, we actually had four employees. But in 2017, we actually got by with just three because of this little optimization. Now to give you an idea of how this worked and what this piece of software is, I remember one day early in the year, I kind of walked in the office to just kind of help out, and I noticed that our employees were spending an enormous amount of time typing in someone’s personalization into these old PC apps that we use to run our sewing machines.
So basically an employee was spending anywhere from two to four hours a day simply transferring information from our website over to this old antiquated piece of software on the PC that basically is in charge of personalization that we then send to the machine. And the problem with using these old PC apps is that they can’t be automated. And it turns out they can. So I deliberately researched, I found this piece of software called WinTask.
And basically what WinTask does, it’s a tool that allows you to script certain things on your PC, on a Windows PC that is. And so based on the website when the orders come in, now I implemented this new feature on our site where you click a button. It outputs this file that you automatically run on a PC, and it automatically types up all the personalization data for every single personalized order in our system.
Now I don’t want to get into many details about this because I’m probably going to write a blog post about this. But essentially this saved anywhere from two to four hours of an employee’s time every single day, pretty awesome. As a result, we didn’t have to hire that fourth employee, and we were able to get by with just three.
Another thing that was new for this year were push notifications. Now I use a company called Visaly [ph]. But these aren’t your normal push notifications that you see online. Visaly actually knows your sales and the products that people are actually looking at. And basically you upload your entire product catalog, and then they send dynamic push notifications.
So for example, let’s say I was browsing a Christmas handkerchief, but I didn’t buy one. Well four hours later, I will get a push notification to remind me to complete the purchase. This is really powerful, very hands off. I don’t have to do any work, the software does its own thing and sends out these push notifications automatically.
So let me just give you some numbers here, and they’re pretty cool for the abandoned cart notification. Once again this is someone who starts to check out but does not complete. If they get a push notification, I was getting an 8% click through rate and a 22% conversion rate. Now if someone just viewed a product but did not check out, I was getting a 12.24% click through rate with a 6.21% conversion rate.
And then periodically I was sending out regular promotions just kind of enticing people to just come to the site and shop, and I was getting a 3.4% click through rate with a 1.88% conversion rate. Now keep in mind this is in addition to e-mail and all the other marketing efforts that I have going on. And push notifications actually work pretty well.
All right, and so that’s pretty much it for 2017. I wish I hadn’t gotten injured because a lot more things on my plate that I actually didn’t end up getting to. But going forward for 2018, we are working on cutting costs. Now what I didn’t mention earlier was during Black Friday, I actually ran the customer support line for Bumblebee Linens. And every time I walked into the office, I noticed a bunch of inefficiencies.
Now these are things that you probably wouldn’t notice if you weren’t there every day. But when you come in with this fresh mind, you immediately notice things that are inefficient. So in fact the reason I came up with the WinTask automation and kind of having a computer to do all the monogramming work was because I walked in the office and noticed that our employee was just spending a ton of time typing the monograms, and I knew that a machine could do this much better and much faster and much more accurately in fact.
Okay and so for 2018, I’m going to spend a little bit more time in the office, and we are going to tighten up the reins and try to cut costs, and basically cut the waste. In addition I plan on exploring more along the lines of using Facebook Messenger marketing and influencer marketing in the coming year. All right and so here is to a profitable 2018 for you guys, hope you found this episode useful.
Hope you enjoyed that episode. What’s cool is that our online store has achieved double and triple digit growth for the past ten years now. And what’s important to us at least is that it has allowed us to live the lifestyle that we want to live and spend more time with family. For more information about this episode, go to mywifequitherjob.com/episode191.
And once again I want to thank Privy.com for sponsoring this episode. Privy is the email capture provider that I personally use to turn visitors into email subscribers. They offer email capture, exit intent, and site targeting tools to make it super simple as well. And I like Privy because it’s so powerful and you can basically trigger custom pop ups for any primer that is closely tied to your e-commerce store. If you want to give it a try, it is free. So head on over to Privy.com/Steve, once again that’s P-R-I-V-Y.com/Steve.
I also want to thank Klaviyo which is my email marketing platform of choice for ecommerce merchants. You can easily put together automated flows like an abandoned cart sequence, a post purchase flow, a win back campaign, basically all these sequences that will make you money on auto pilot. So head on over to mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O, once again that’s mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O.
Now, I talk about how I use all these tools on my blog, and if you’re interested in starting your own ecommerce store, head on over to mywifequitherjob.com and sign up for my free six-day mini course. Just type in your email, and I’ll send you the course right away, thanks for listening.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast, where we are giving the courage people need to start their own online business. For more information, visit Steve’s blog at www.mywifequitherjob.com.