May 4, 2010

Increasing Page Views with Up-selling & Cross-selling

We've got a lot of great products on Sunnystuff, but are people taking the time to view them?  I know the site response time is not the quickest, but this is not something I'm ready to address just yet (it's on the roadmap, though).  Average page views per visit is currently in the low 3s (and this includes the monster long sessions that I'm on the site doing things, which skews this higher).  I wanted to a way to expose more of the catalog to users when then come from a PPC campaign or wherever, so I started to add Up-sells and Cross-sells to each product.  Obviously, when we sell a Smashball set, we want to up-sell the Smashball Replacement Balls.  When we sell our Sand Toys, don't you need a Beach Bag to carry them in?

So far, the early results are encouraging.  Average page views per visit are into the upper 3s.  If we can get more people to browse around, I think that makes the $6.95 flat-rate shipping more palatable as well.  With the flat-rate shipping strategy, I'm surprised that the average order size hasn't been bigger than it is.  Again, hopefully more exposure to our variety of products will help.  And then quicker load times, I will work on later this summer.

April 29, 2010

Save your Time & Money. Everything you need is out there.

Content creation takes time.  Part of the tedious work to start an e-commerce business is creating pages/content for things like: Privacy Policy, Shipping Policy, Return Policy, About Us, etc.  Well guess what?  Since every e-commerce business has to have these, every e-commerce has them.  So I visited 4-5 of my favorite sites and picked and chose the pieces that I thought applied to Sunnystuff.  Cut, paste, and tweak...rinse and repeat.  Just make sure you find ALL the references to the other company and change it to your company name.

The same concept applies to site development.  Especially if you are learning HTML/CSS/Javascript or other language.  Everything you want has probably been done.  Use one of the hundreds of thousands of FREE web template out there and just tweak it to work for your site.  I think it is a great way to advance your skills.  Once you know the basics, learn by example.  Grab one of the free templates or view source on an existing website and try to change something in order to understand what is going on.  That is one thing that is amazing (in a good and bad way) with front-end web development.  If I see a site that has a really cool feature, it is so easy to grab all the source and re-use it.  It's essentially open source.

How do E-Commerce sites get their images so perfect?

A reader asked this question and when I read it, I chuckled because this plagued me for the longest time. I asked a graphic designer friend and he showed me the way.  The secret to perfect images is Adobe Photoshop's Clipping tool.  Obviously, you need a good photo to work with.  Any of today's digital cameras will get you that.  Just make sure you have the proper lighting...that is the key to a good photo.  If you have a Digital SLR, even better.  I have basic knowledge of Photoshop to create/manipulate images.  When I learned how to use the clipping tool, it was a magic.  The tool makes it really easy to outline the product so that you can cut out everything else.  Simply add a clean background layer and voila!...a perfect image for your store.

Professional photographers will charge ~$30 per image for this service.  If you don't have Photoshop (or don't want to learn), I bet you could take the photos and hand them off to an off-shore contractor and have them do all the clipping for you for much, much less.

Here are 2 great resources that I found to guide you through the process in Photoshop:

If you don't have Photoshop, a free alternative is GIMP. And here is a source for how to do clipping with GIMP.  Apparently, it's not as easy, but it can be done.

How to start an E-Commerce business on a Shoestring budget

I mentioned in a small business forum that I started Sunnystuff for practically nothing.  A reader asked me to explain this, so I will oblige.  Sunnystuff is actually my second e-commerce experiment/venture.  My first is FirePouch.  I live in California and there is an issue with wild fires every summer.  I was looking for something to protect my stuff, but I didn't want a big, heavy safe.  I stumbled across a manufacturer who made exactly what I was looking for.  I noticed that they had only a few distributors and I thought their sites were weak.  I figured: A) If I wanted it, others would too (i.e., there is a market).  B) The competition was small and I felt that, if I was at least equal on price, people would buy from me over them because of confidence derived from a more professional looking site.  C) Again, because competition was small, I figured I could get to Google Page One rankings pretty quickly.  Once I decided I wanted to do it (i.e., it was worth doing), I simply contacted the manufacturer and we worked out a deal. They allowed me to purchase small amounts to start, so the risk was very small.  I put the site together over a weekend and it's been a nice little cash flowing business for me ever since.  It's pretty much on auto-pilot now.  It's not going to get me to retirement, but it's nice pocket change for the minimal effort needed to maintain it.

Back to Sunnystuff, it is a similar situation, maybe even better. Through other means, I met a manufacturer of Beach Chairs, Beach Umbrellas, Sun Hats, etc. (i.e., the products on Sunnystuff).  Since their office and warehouse are close to where I live, we worked out an agreement such that when I get a sale on Sunnystuff, I can pick it up, pack it, and ship it. It's practically a drop-ship, but I get better margins because I do the packing and shipping.  So, my only costs for starting are my web hosting fees (~$100/year after hosting fees, domain fees, and SSL certificate fees), advertising (Google Adwords), and my time.  Each sale is profit that I put right back into the business to increase advertising.  The cycle continues and it grows organically (at least, that's the plan).  At a certain point, I hope to cap that advertising spend and start to pocket some of the profit.

So there you have it.  I've found 2 manufacturers (so far).  They already sell their stuff to others through traditional sales channels, so they have assets (images and copy) to share.  Think about how many there are out there.  The guys who run these manufacturing companies are so busy running their everyday businesses that they don't have time (or don't want to devote the time/effort/resources) to learn a whole new world.  That presents great opportunities for an entrepreneur with web skills/knowledge.  I come in and create a whole new channel of sales for them at ZERO risk to them.

April 28, 2010

Articles for SEO

Yet another technique to SEO optimization is publishing articles to sites like This is what Google has created with their PageRank strategy. Back links are so imperative to PageRank that to "win" traffic to, I need as many as possible. Of course, over time Google has improved their algorithms such that quality links mean much more, but still, I have to believe that quantity cannot hurt so long as it is NOT from a link farm or black-listed source.

But articles take a long time to write. Luckily, there are plenty of people around the world that are will to do it for a low cost. I have a proposal out on now for 10 articles. I will provide the idea and they will write the article. I imagine I will proof it and provide my own edits, but at least the gist will be done...I will just polish and publish. I'm interested to see what kind of bids I get. I saw one person charging $0.006/word. That equates to ~$6/article. I figure it would take me at least 30 mins to write just one myself, so it's worth the expense.

At least I will do my best not to pollute the web with junk. I will try to come up with topics that may actually be helpful to people. Of course, though, the articles will be full of keyword anchor text links that lead to "Your source for Beach Accessories". :)

April 24, 2010

Banners and Product Placement lead to Increased Sales...maybe...

Maybe my expectations were too high to begin with, but I was hoping for an instant 2% conversion rate.  We're tracking well below that so far.  The traffic numbers are still small, but they are growing steadily.  With each connection (virtual and real world), this trend should continue.

Late last night I worked on product placement, arranging some of the categories so that choice items showed first (and above the fold) and logical items are near each other and site appearance is cleaner.  I also added some banners and blurbs of content to the header of these categories.  Here is why the Sand Toys category looks like now: 

Overall, it makes sense to do this and it makes the site look more professional.  I'm sure it is pure co-incidence, but overnight we received a couple orders.  Instant gratification is amazing!!  It's dead easy (though tedious) to ordering in  Magento.  And adding the content block is pretty easy too, though you do need to know HTML.  One thing I wish I could do though, is add multiple content blocks and define where they go on the page.  That would take significant customization of Magento, I believe.

April 23, 2010

Don't forget about Real World "links"

I've been working so hard at trying to build links and connections online that I put myself in a cocoon.  Well, today I took one of those virtual connections and physically met with a local swim instructor.  It was a fantastic meeting and well, well worth the time.  Not only will I get a web link, but her clients are my ideal consumers.  So, we've formed a relationship that I hope will benefit the both of us.  As great as web links are, you're really banking on a numbers game.  The average conversion rate of a shopping site is ~3%, so 3 out of 100 casual visitors will buy.  But from a Real World referral, the conversion rate will be much, much higher.  The lesson learned is that I definitely need to better balance out my Virtual world and Real world efforts.

Oh yeah, I need to squeeze in my shameless SEO plugs.  The Wearever Beach Chairs will be back in stock next week (we desperately hope)!.  Same with our Water guns & Super soakers.  I think our Water guns are going to be huge sellers and I can't wait to build an ad campaign around them.

April 21, 2010

The Link Building Campaign Begins

The good news is traffic is growing steadily.  The bad news is that it is costing money (i.e., Google Adwords and Microsoft AdCenter).  Ultimately, if we're going to succeed, we need to succeed at Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  And the key to SEO is links...quality links.  It starts with this blog, clearly.  But link building is a slow and steady wins the race type of thing.  You can't rush it, you have to build and build over time by connecting with others (much more on this to come over the coming months).  I've started to post on forums as well.  The key to that is not to appear like spam.  I've tried to provide insightful answers and then slip in my link as my signature.  That's fair, right?

The problem I'm finding is that we have so many categories, what keywords we focus on?  Since I'm just starting out, I'm simply been putting links to (like that).  But I'm using my Google Adwords results to help focus the strategy.  Essentially, I'm running a campaign on a different category for a couple days each (I have to iterate through the categories for budgetary reasons).  Which ever has the most success, I will focus my link building on those.

Link building is hard.  You have to be persistent and trust that it will pay off in the end.  It is a tedious and time-consuming effort, but one that is absolutely necessary.

April 19, 2010

My First Adwords Campaign Results

After only 2.5 days, I've decided to pull my first campaign in lieu of another. According to Accuracast, the average Click-Through-Rate (CTR) is 3.16%, with the weighting heavily skewed to positions 1 & 2. Other blogs suggest a CTR of 2% is good.  My Beach Hat ad (see last post) faired decently with a CTR of 2.05%. Not bad considering the average position was 5.3. I attribute that to the ad copy title "Web's Best Beach Hats. Kind of like how every hamburger joint has "World's Best Hamburger", I guess consumers are intrigued and have to at least check it out to see for themselves. I also had campaigns around "Sun Hats", "Men's Hats", "Cowboy Hats", and "Fedora Hats". "Sun Hats" did okay, but the others I would say flopped. At the end of the day, though, the true metric of success is conversion and on that front I have to say it was a failure. Is it site?...the product selection?...the prices?

To help further diagnose, I've changed the campaign to another category. The new campaigns will focus on I also had campaigns around "Sand Toys" and "Beach Games".

I'll let you know how it goes.

April 18, 2010

First Google Adwords Campaign

For the most part, we're done working on the catalog in Magento.  It's always going to be a work in progress, but at least we've got most of the products up and they are ready to sell.

"If you build it, they will come"

I sure wish it was that easy.  To start to generate traffic, I decided to pick a category and create an Adwords campaign around it.  I chose Beach hats, Sun hats (headwear).  I chose this based on some keyword research using Google's keyword research tool.  The hat terms seemed like they were pretty popular and the cost-per-click was reasonable and the competition looked beatable (in terms of price and product offering). Here is one of the ads. After 1 day, it's getting a click-through rate of just under 2% (is that good?).

I can't wait to see the analytics on this. My hope is that they come and see the hats (and buy, of course), but then stay and browse around a bit to see what else we have. After a couple days, I'll let you know.

April 5, 2010

Learning Magento

Every E-Commerce site needs a shopping cart.  E-Commerce platforms evolved from this basic need to provide catalog (product) management and much more.  Magento is appealing because it is open source (i.e., free) and it has a strong and (seemingly) growing base.  This equates to lots of free and available help via the web.  What is also nice is that it is LAMP-based, meaning that it can install and reside on basic hosting packages (i.e., cheap).  This is a great combination to keep overhead low to start.  I'm using TMDhosting which costs less than $5/mth.  It was recommended by a friend and so far I've been happy; I mean, support is only by email (which I was very skeptical of), but the response time has been fantastic so far, so kudos to them for now.

My wife and I spent the weekend in the Admin Console building the catalog.  I've actually been quite impressed with the breadth of functionality that Magento offers out-of-the-box.  Creating and editing categories and products has been a breeze so far, though tedious, but that's expected.  Check out our Beach Towels or our Die-cast Car Collectibles. I hope as I try to learn the front end over the coming days (to customize the look'n'feel of the site) it is as straight forward.

From what I can see, though, Magento is very database intensive.  That's a performance concern, but one I don't need to worry about now since I have no traffic.  This will be a good problem to have down the road, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Hello World!

My name is Kerry and I am about to open an e-commerce store named  Sunnystuff is a bit of a research project, a bit of a hobby, and a bit of a side-business, all-in-one.  Who knows where it will go, but I'm excited to do it.  At the very least, I will learn a lot.  Hopefully, readers will learn a lot.  And even better, customers will benefit a lot as I plan to offer the best prices on some great products.  Since making money is not the top priority here, I just want to build a great company that provides true value along with good old-fashioned customer service...a rare combination these days, it seems.

A bit of background before I start.  I do have some programming skills, though am far from a Guru.  But I know enough to where I can do things myself (for the most part) and that will help keep start-up costs (my risk) to a minimum. I also work for Endeca, so I have a lot of exposure to the e-commerce world and some of the biggest players. For those of you who don't know Endeca, they power the search/browse on sites like, and (i.e., they/we dominate the e-commerce space for search/navigation).

The point is, I have a dash of technical knowledge and a sprinkle of industry knowledge. We'll see over the course of time what we can cook up. Wish me luck!

P.S. I would love to engage with readers, so please feel free to reach out anytime with questions and/or feedback (good or bad).  Thanks.