Physical, digital or service-based products? You've got a lot of options when it comes to what you sell online.
But what are the pros and cons of each?
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who started a service-based business then transitioned to selling digital products and now to launching physical products—all to the same market.
Eric Miller is the founder of UX Kits: a store that sells beautiful assets for creative professionals. Find out what he learned from selling tangible and intangible products, and what you need to consider beyond the high margins of digital downloads.
Tune in to learn
- Why you should launch a product if you have a service-based business
- The economics of running a digital product business
- The pros and cons of selling digital products versus physical products
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
Download this episode on Google Play, iTunes or here!
It is actually a great business because you’re making 97% per sale.
- Store: UX Kits
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Digital Downloads app, Survey Monkey, Wufoo, Order Printer, Olark Live Chat, Flow
Felix: Today I’m joined by Eric Miller from UX Kits. UX Kits sells beautiful assets for creative professionals and was started in Brooklyn, New York. Welcome, Eric.
Eric: Thanks so much for having me.
Felix: Yes, tell us a bit more about UX Kits, what exactly are these assets that you’re creating and selling?
Eric: Sure, UX Kits are digital downloads, mostly for designers and developers, whether that be web designers or interactive or app developers. And they are available in three different formats, for Adobe Illustrator, OmniGraffle, and Sketch. And we also sell one physical product for designers and developers as well. So, we’re shipping digital and physical products right now.
Felix: Got it. But mostly your business, on UX Kits at least, is pretty much like digital downloads.
Eric: Yeah, although the physical product is pretty popular and we’re working on more, because it’s a good way to really diversify and have some different products from some of the other shops that sell digital. So, we’re trying to do a lot of both, actually.
Felix: Hmm, makes sense. How did you get into this business? What was the … What were you doing prior to launching UX Kits?
Eric: So, we’ve had our own design studio since 2008 and freelancing for another 10 years before that. And we would often have to create documents for clients to help illustrate a website or an app or the flow of a product. And, when we decided it would be a good time to split off and have a products side of our business, it was just a natural approach to turn some of those documents into products that we could sell. So, a lot of it was things we were already using that needed some tweaks to make them kind of universal for sale. But that’s how we kind of naturally went from client work to our own products.
Felix: Yeah, I see this a lot where something that are experts, professionals in a particular space, to particular skill set, they’re selling a service, they’re selling essentially their expertise and their time for dollars, and then there’s this then transition to branching out into products. What was the reason why you guys decided to add this additional revenue stream into your business by creating a product?
Eric: It was actually an idea that a friend of mine suggested. He runs a site called Graffletopia, which also sells tons of stencils and templates for OmniGraffle, which is a very popular tool for web designers. And he wanted me to design a stencil to also sell on his site. We always wanted to do some type of product, just kind of for the logical reason of having two revenue streams, the client work and the product. Cause, as any freelancer will tell you that, your client work can go up and down, and we wanted something more consistent.
We did this product with him and didn’t know how big it would be. We thought it would be just a nice little additional income per month, and it kind of took off when we initially started selling it. So, it was a combination of always wanting to do some type of product ourselves, to have those two revenue streams, and someone that we know just giving us an idea of something that he wanted to also sell on his site. And when it took off, we really turned it into a separate brand and started creating other products. But I often thank him for kind of pushing me into that, cause we didn’t really previously have a specific idea of what to sell. And then it just became kind of obvious after the fact of oh yeah, we already create these types of document for clients, let’s turn that into a separate business.
Felix: Makes sense that you were just doing this and selling it on a different site. You saw it take off and what was the next step? Did you immediately decide to build essentially the storefront to sell other documents, other assets, or what was the very next step once you realized that there was something here?
Eric: Yeah, so, we pretty quickly turned it into our own storefront. I am always thankful to, and still sell a lot of products on some other storefronts, cause there’s some great platforms out there, Creative Market is another one, but something we always wanted to do, because we’re in design and branding ourselves, was make our own platform for selling them, and our own brand behind it. So, pretty soon after, maybe … I don’t remember if it was a few weeks or six weeks in, we started searching for domain names and found uxkits.com which, frankly, for a domain name, it was amazing to find that available. And then started branding it with its own logo and everything and building our own site out, so we could sell it on our own and have that control. But we do also have some good partners that we sell with still also.
Felix: Yeah, this is common, very common, in the physical product space too, Amazon being the giant platform that a lot of people sell on, and you mention Creative Market is, I’m not saying the equivalent, but it’s a platform that you sell on that people go to search, and you’re one of the vendors on there. And one of the reasons that I hear a lot of people are making this transition from selling on these marketplaces to opening up their own site, is that control that you’re talking about. Now, when you are selling … Did you start off selling on the marketplaces first before starting your own site, or was it the same time, or did the marketplaces come after?
Eric: It was about the same time, but my sales were pretty low on my own site, because I didn’t have really an audience yet, except for people in my design community. So, initially, the larger sales were on those two platforms. It was actually the same year that Creative Market launched I believe. And we were the number two product for their first year, which is when we really thought this could be something bigger. So, one of our goals was to kind of bring some of those sales on our own site higher up, in line with some of the other shops. Like you said, people often have an Etsy shop, then they want to build out their own platform or things like that. And they might still continue to sell on Etsy, so it is kind of the digital equivalent to that.
Felix: Right, now when you are on a marketplace, a digital marketplace, what are some ways that you are able to become that number two in your case. How do you actively promote and market yourself when it’s not your own platform?
Eric: Sure. Well, at the time when we launched our first product, which was a website flowchart kit for designers, there was really nothing else like it on Creative Market. Creative Market has a lot of font and icon sets and templates for finished products, and at the time, and I think they told me this themselves, it was the only flowchart product on the whole marketplace, so it was included in one of their newsletters. They had a new product newsletter. And whenever we launch a new product, we frankly go ask them if it can be included in the newsletter, which is a good advice to any entrepreneur. You’re not going to get something unless you ask for it. So, an extra email, hey will you feature this, not always gonna get a yes, but you often will. And just being in that newsletter got a big push initially and newsletters are a great way to reach people, especially cause they had, again, a larger audience than we did.
That was a big push. And when you’re selling well in some of those marketplaces, you become featured, or you’re in the top selling products, or again, ask to be featured. I’m going to repeat it only once, ask for something. That’s one of the simplest ways to get something, and some people aren’t that aggressive in just going out and spending that extra email, will you feature my product or check us out or something like that. That’s one of the biggest ways we’ve marketed UX Kits, is just emailing people and saying we have a good product, we think it fits well with your audience, will you feature it? And that often turns into free marketing. So we would, frankly, ask them to feature it.
Felix: Yeah, and it sounds like it kicked off almost a snowball effect where you got this push and all of a sudden you became higher ranked because of the sales and the popularity. And then I think it comes much easier than to ask for more, because you have a kind of track record of success already. So, definitely don’t discount that those initial asks early on.
Now, are there ways that you found to … I think you know, one of the other keys, the other reasons why entrepreneurs want to move on to owning their own site, owning their own platform, is just be able to have access to those customer, whether that be through email lists, being able to collect data for marketing later, just having customers come to your site is definitely super valuable. Have you found ways to encourage that, the traffic and the customers that you’ve gotten … you’ve got from the platforms, to then drive them to your own site?
Eric: So, I would say, almost ethically, I choose not to chart, in a way, take the customers from, or at least intentionally, take them from another platform over time. It’s just been the natural way of building up a brand. And putting a lot of time into the design of our own site and driving customers through social and through our own newsletter and through promotions. Anything we do is going to drive people to our site. And it’s also great that some of these other platforms have their own customer base and we’re very kind of cautious about not trying to take a customer from one, at least intentionally or aggressively, cause they helped us build in the beginning.
It’s more been about naturally, organically growing our own customer base, because if we do a podcast, we’re going to uxkits.com, if we do a partnership for a … we partner up with a lot of meetups, it obviously points them to UX Kits. It’s just kind of natural, rather than necessarily pointing customers from other platforms.
Felix: Yeah, a thing you touched on early on about how you … if you have a brand that you built out, you have a recognizable name, just naturally people are going to seek you out, rather than just discover you haphazardly on a platform. Now, this transition, though, from having a service, into a product, I think even if someone isn’t working for themselves, they don’t have a design studio in your case, let’s say they’re just working a day job, and they’re transitioning into creating a product on the side, to have this kind of secondary income, it’s time consuming, right? It takes up time from what you were doing before. Now you have to work on building something from scratch. What was that transition like for you, from having a service as already running a business that was already running, to now having to essentially build another business?
Eric: Sure. Yeah, it’s incredibly time consuming. And while we are … in the beginning we were only selling digital products, so we didn’t have to deal with fulfillment and things like that right off the bat. All of a sudden we had customer service and I need an invoice, and it grows pretty quickly. And once you’re talking thousands of customers, you’re talking dozens of emails in a week, even just asking for things, and then that grows. So, even selling digital products, while there’s a little less overhead in time and cost, you are running a business. So it’s not … it’s a little bit more than a hobby.
So, it was an interesting transition realizing the time it would take to put into UX Kits on the side. And actually, my wife works with me. And she used to do various work for clients and now almost all of her job is running UX Kits. So, we could not do it without her or another employee. In this case I’m glad it’s her. But, we basically have an employee who handles mail fulfillment, customer service, accounting, everything related to the shop. So, it has required an additional employee basically, which in this case, happened to be my wife. Which that’s her primary responsibility now, so that’s … You say was it a transition, and basically, I had to hire someone to run the shop. Again, in this case it’s my wife. But, it does bring on a whole new set of responsibilities.
Felix: Yeah, I think one thing that you do, that you’ve done, that’s very wise, that entrepreneurs sometimes miss out on, is that they’re building a product that is very related to the service that they’re already offering. Talk to us about how much that helped, having a design studio already. I assume already having customers from the design studio, that knew you about you, how did the two businesses kind of work together to build each other up?
Eric: Sure. So, aside from some of the products coming literally directly from it, our first customers, meaning uxkits.com, not some of the marketplaces, were directly from our community. So we, I’ve been in this business for almost 20 years now, so I know design firms, I know freelancers, I know developers. That was my following on Twitter and on Instagram and that was the first people I was able to reach out to and add to email lists and things like that. So that, in effect, became my initial customers, and fortunately, some of those people would obviously retweet and help spread the word.
So, I didn’t go from running a web design studio to designing kid’s t-shirts with absolutely no following. There fortunately was that same community and even now, when I meet people, I can mention UX Kits along the way, cause they really do go hand in hand. And even now, I might think of a product as a result of working with a client. And that’ll become a product of UX Kits eventually.
Felix: Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about product development. How do you, other than these opportunities where a client’s work necessitates you to create a product for it, how else do you come up with what product to create, what documents to create next for UX Kits?
Eric: Sure. We have a long list of 20 or 30 products right now in the hopper. although we are generally releasing them fairly slowly. We don’t have a huge product line. And it basically comes from thinking what would I want in my field. So, I know that’s often from the client work as well. It’s what would I want and what don’t I see out there in the marketplace. So, initially I said I don’t believe there were many flowchart kits like the one we created. It’s now a pretty big product category. I know of probably at least 50 similar products in the category. We want to be unique, so it’s, again, it’s two parts. It’s what would I want and then what don’t I really see something like that, that’s out there already.
And that was one of the big things in going to our one physical product, and we have two more in the works, is … A lot of people can create digital products. It takes a good designer, but it doesn’t take as much overhead as developing a physical product. There’s just a little more that goes into that in terms of obviously printing and fulfillment and all that. So, one of the reasons we wanted to go into physical a bit more, was just to do something that wouldn’t be done by that many other shops that were doing digital. It’s just such a different space.
And we found that people, the physical product, has really spoken to designers who want to hold something in their hand. It’s also been the best product in terms of social media, on platforms like Instagram, cause people are more likely to take a picture of a physical product on their desk than take a picture of their screen, and post it. Which people do do, but the physical product, while might not be a leader in our sales or profits, it’s been great just for social media and for events. It’s something we can actually give away at an event.
We were actually at one of the Shopify events. We had a booth in New York a couple of years ago and we did … We bought a couple of hundred decks as a giveaway. So, something physical that you can give away, that has your website address on it and your Twitter handle … So even if you are selling digital products, even if you don’t want to sell a physical product, maybe just make something like a sticker, that you can give away at an event. Or even if you are selling physical, something like a sticker or a little notebook or a pen, people love that swag. But it also gives them something to take away that has your info on it. And that’s kind of been the UX Kits, it’s called the website deck, it’s a deck of cards. That’s kind of been what it does, it’s almost like swag, even though we sell it.
Felix: Yeah, I’ve heard, time and time again, from store owners, that will tell me that one of their most … one of the products that drives the most traffic to the site, ends up not converting that much … might not bring a lot of sales, but just bring so much attention to the site, and then they convert on other things. I think it’s a great example of that scenario where you have something that’s intriguing, that’s shareable, that’s viral, that basically people just take picture of it, and that would dive the traffic to the store. And even if they don’t end up buying it, they’re now going to be exposed to all your other products, and they might eventually buy one of those other products as well. So, I think what you’re saying is definitely key. Now, do you need to, because it sounds like a lot of your ideas come from things you need, things that you want, do you then need to test, or do you try to test or get feedback on the products before launching them?
Eric: Yes, a little bit. So, I have my own little community of designers, a couple of slack channels. So, I will run concepts by some other UX designers, or web designers while I’m creating them, just to get their feedback. In some cases I’ve added a few elements that … I’m more of a designer than a coder, so I have a developer that I like to run things by and he’ll say add this element, because a real hardcore developer would to be able to show a database connection, that I might not have thought of. So I’ll create an element to do that. So it’s just good. I don’t know everything, obviously, so just to run it by some other people who are in the field, that may be not exactly what I do personally, just to get some ideas for kind of fleshing out the product.
Felix: Yeah, so I think you’ve spoken a couple of times about the benefits of having digital business and it sounds like the ability to iterate on the product is another key thing where you’re getting this feedback and you can make a change immediately. With the physical product there’s a much longer process and a much more expensive process to go through to accomplish the same iteration. What are som cons though, that you’ve found, now that you have a physical product, what are some cons that you’ve found with a digital product, versus a physical product?
Eric: Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I will say, a digital product shop is a very great business if you can think of something digital to sell, before I try to think of a con while I talk. I know people sell patterns for sewing things. People sell child’s doll clothing, but only just the pattern to make it. There’s tons of digital download products, and it’s actually a great business. You have no overhead except a minor processing fee on a sale. You can’t really … it’s pretty much an all profit business, putting aside running the Shopify store, and if you have employees.
So, it is actually a great business, cause you’re making 97 point something percent per sale, in terms of profits. There’s a different con, which would be your … When you sell a physical product, the person gets it and you’re pretty much done with it, unless they’re not happy with it and want to return it, there’s no changing it. If they like the sneakers, they like the sneakers. They’re going to wear them. With a digital product, there’s a lot more opening for a different type of customer service suggestion, like can you add this element for me. This isn’t working. I can’t open this file.
So, you get file issues, and that type of thing, download issues, versus you ship it out, and again, as long as they like it, it’s over. So, the little more ongoing support with a customer, where they might upgrade their software, and then the product won’t open anymore, something like that. So that would be a con on digital.
Felix: Yeah, I could see that, because it is easier, “easier”, for you to make a change in the digital world. The customer also recognizes that they can make more customizations when it comes to a digital product. What I was going to ask next, what about things like piracy, or any kind of legal protection, is it harder or do you face these kind of issues with your digital products?
Eric: I do. I’ve spoken to other software developers about it, who don’t necessarily sell templates, but they sell software. It’s something that’s very hard to stop, especially if done overseas, and is almost a cost of doing business. So, there are cases of it, and again, it’s almost like a cost of doing business, because to get into suing someone, or a legal battle, or even trying to, the time and energy and cost of that would be beyond what you’re actually losing. So, there may be a case where it’s pretty blatant and you do need to stop it. But, for the most part, for almost any type of digital file, whether it’s music or software or templates. There’s probably some site somewhere that has a free download of it. But, to even calculate if that’s actually impacting your sales or not, would be very difficult. And, for the most part, we’ve just taken an approach of cost of doing business. Cause it’s a hard thing to track also.
Felix: Right, that makes a lot of sense. Now that you have this experience launching a physical product, what did you feel like you had to learn? What kind of skills did you feel like you had to learn to now sell and market a physical product that you didn’t necessarily have to have when you were selling a digital product?
Eric: Sure. I guess one thing first would be, the product photography is different. You can use screenshots for digital products, but for physical, you really need that photography. And that’s something I say to my own clients, Shopify clients as well, no matter how great your design is, or your Shopify theme, the number two things I would focus on is your content and your photography. A giant photo of your product that does not look professional, will be the customer’s focus over maybe a beautiful website design.
So, I always tell clients, and same thing goes for us is, great product photography is number one, as well as the content that you write. So, we had to … and we do it in house. So, just playing around with different lighting, natural light, and different settings for the product, and we’re still working on that. So that was a big thing. And then just learning to navigate shipping and especially overseas shipping costs is very tricky. And something that comes up a lot, that’s an issue for us, is customs fees, and people choosing not to pay the customs fee, and the product coming back, and how to handle that, or damaged products, or lost products.
So, we’re still learning that every day is, you don’t lose a product or get a damaged product if it’s digital. In the physical there’s a … We just got our product back the other day that looked like it was almost cut in half, or had been run over by a truck. So, there’s just a whole new world to deal with. It’s almost the reason we want to come out with more physical products, because if we’re gonna learn all this and figure all this out, we should be selling more than one physical product, almost so it’s worth it, all this knowledge and shipping and all that. We should be selling more than one physical product to make that worthwhile.
But that’s something that is interesting to navigate, is international shipping, and again with customs fees. Cause we often have to tell customers we don’t know how long our product will be in customs, and we don’t know what the tariff fee will be. And that’s a difficult thing to relay to a customer, so it’s something we do very politely and with apologies and with exclamations. So, communicating to your customers about that is very important to do it well. So, that’s a piece of advice for other people running a business where they’re shipping internationally. Don’t just write back, “Sorry, there’s customs fees.” Usually explain why. Explain that you don’t always have control over those fees and you don’t know how long a product might sit in customs. They could sit in customs for a couple of months sometimes. And do what you can just to keep a customer updated and explain that to them.
Felix: Yeah, I think one of the benefits of being a small business owner, being the actual founder that’s talking to the customers, is that you have that doorway, that channel of communication where you can be frank and explain to them why things are a certain way. I wouldn’t expect that if I bought from a much larger company essentially. So, I think what you’re getting at is that, you should be very clear with the communication with your customers, and they are very open to hearing that, again, especially if you’re speaking to them as the founder, as the person in charge over there. Now, you mentioned product photography. What other changes have you found … What changes to your marketing have you added when you are marketing a physical versus a digital product?
Eric: Sure. Something we added around the same time we added the physical product was coupons for sharing on social. So, while that does apply to digital products also, once we saw how the physical product, it was really being shared, particularly on Instagram, we added a share option, actually to our main navigation. We actually changed our main navigation around the same time, which, since I’m a designer, consider that a big deal to change something in the main navigation.
So, we have a share option, which the share page just tells the three steps to posting on social media, and mentioning us, and then you get a 20% off code, good for any digital product. So, people have been taking advantage of that. And it’s another way to encourage people sharing on social. And we have that in our Instagram bio too, the short bio at the top of our profile, that if people share on Instagram, they get a 20% off coupon.
Felix: And you saw like a bump in traffic just from doing that?
Eric: Yeah, we got a little bump, and it hasn’t been, the usage of it hasn’t been enormous enough yet, that we’ve had to automate the process of generating those coupons. So, it’s still been kind of grassroots, us seeing the post, or a customer emailing us, and then we send them a coupon. But we might automate it eventually. And that’s something I would recommend to other Shopify store owners. When you first try something out, and you’re not sure how big it’s going to be, you don’t need to necessarily go have your developer build out a whole system for doing it, or find some complicated way to automate it. Just test it out. Post that there’s a coupon for sharing on social media and have people email you when they do it.
And then if you see it’s becoming too much overhead, you can automate it. And that almost goes for anything. That goes for fulfillment too. If you can handle fulfillment in your garage, in the beginning, do that. And when it becomes too much for you, look into a fulfillment shop. And that goes for almost anything. And I say that to, again, my design clients on any type of website or app. Do something almost a low cost, low-fi way, until you prove a concept. And then, when it’s too much work, figure out the next step.
Felix: Yeah, there’s almost an aversion to doing things that don’t scale. There’s always this race to find a system right away and, like you were saying, get your developer to create something to automate a process. But, not only is it a much cheaper and safer route, the way that you suggest, by just doing it in a low-fi, manual way at first, it also really gets you to learn the process enough that you can be much more knowledgeable when you do get a developer to create the automation. Because you know where the pitfalls are. You know what might be missing, what needs to be added, because you’ve gone through that process once, or many many times, that is. So, definitely you see the value in doing something manually at first, because sometimes it takes even longer for you to get it all done in an automated way, than it is in a manual way, especially in the early days.
Eric: If no one uses it, you’ve just spent a few thousand dollars on something and you realize it wasn’t the right idea to-
Felix: Right. Definitely it costs-
Eric: A lot less risky.
Felix: Got it. Yeah, so, and now I think most listeners are going to be entrepreneurs and store owners that are selling physical products. What kind of advice would give for these kind of store owners, that are selling physical products, that are now intrigued by the 97% profitability of selling digital products. How would they even begin to think okay, I have this physical product. What steps would you recommend they take in terms of researching or thinking … brainstorming a digital product to sell on top of their physical inventory?
Eric: Yeah, that’s interesting, cause it would be in the reverse order we went in. I would say you would want to be very clear. If you were selling something that wasn’t really in my space, like web design, if you were selling clothing or books or something, you’d want a very clear distinction between those areas on your website, that are very clear in checkout, so it’s obvious that you’re buying something physical versus digital. If your store is doing well, or you’re just starting out, you don’t want to all of a sudden complicate it.
But, if you did want to look into digital products, I think it’s just thinking about what is a logical step from what you sell now. Are you selling books? And you could sell a digital version of that book, and in what formats. Are you selling t-shirt designs, and there’s a way to sell a digital download of the design for a much lower price, that people can use as a smart phone background. I don’t know, I’m literally off the cuff.
But, what are you doing already that can be turned into a digital product? Maybe your t-shirt designs can be posters that can be printed digitally and sold, or something like that. From a technical standpoint, we actually started with, and have always used, Shopify’s digital downloads app. There are other apps out there, but we use the one Shopify makes. And we found that to be a great app for doing it. We’ve stuck with it now for four years. So, it’s not an incredibly complex thing to add to the site. I think it’s more the idea that matters, and again, not complicating something that’s working, would be another piece of advice.
Felix: Yeah, I think the key that you mentioned is that, don’t think of a brand new product … offer something completely different than what you’re already offering, look at what’s already selling, or look at what’s already successful, that you’re selling physically, and then try to come up with a digital version of it. So rather, if you’re selling t-shirts, don’t go off and sell something … UX Kits digital products, think of what you can turn that’s in your design of your t-shirts into something digital, like you were saying, like a wallpaper or something.
Eric: Some just probably don’t have a digital equivalent. But maybe even like a coffeemaker can sell a digital download guide to brewing. Who knows. There’s probably always some little idea there, where you can sell something often for less money, but still, there might be interesting ideas on selling one or two side digital products.
Felix: Do you find, I’m not sure if you have these numbers, but do you find that digital customers are more likely to buy a physical product, or a customer more likely to buy a digital product, which one make that transition more likely?
Eric: I don’t really have those numbers. There’s not a report on that.
Felix: What’s your feel on it?
Eric: Yeah, my gut would be that we have a lot of customers who already owned, or would buy, our digital product, and then see the value in the physical. Cause the physical product is actually kind of a mirror version of one of our digital products, and it can almost be the first step. I think people in the space are more likely to buy something as a digital download, and then maybe see what else we have, and think that’s an interesting addition. We do have people who buy them together as kind of as a set. There’s also been a product that people buy as gifts. We have a huge bump around the holiday season. It’s been on a lot of lists, “best gifts for designers”, and stuff like that. So that’s another side of it.
And that’s something I would, again, a lot of those lists just picked us up, but a lot of them we went and asked them. So, let’s say you sell coffee again, and around the holidays you want to promote the coffee. This is fairly straightforward advice, but Google “best coffee gifts for stocking stuffers”, see what blogs have done those types of articles past years, email them in November and say, “Are you doing your best coffee gifts this year?” I don’t know if coffee is the best example, but you know what I mean. “If so, please check out my product.”
Around November every year, we Google what other sites are doing, their yearly blog post about holiday gifts for designers, and we show them our product. So, that’s another good idea, is just see what other people are writing on a regular basis, and share their product with them, and that can turn into … it’s not really free marketing, cause it’s your time, but often you’re not paying a fee to be in that post. So, it’s essentially free marketing.
Felix: Yeah, I think that’s a great idea. Though the conversion on getting on those gift lists, gift ideas, is so incredibly high based on what I’ve seen from other entrepreneurs. Now when you sit down and approach these bloggers that are putting together these gift lists, are there a kind of criteria that you look at when you look at your catalog, in terms of what you recommend, is there a price point that you usually try to find, that do well on these gift lists? Are there types of products that do well on these gift lists?
Eric: Yeah, for the most part, it’s our physical product for this. But, we’re looking for, not necessarily the price point, but just what else is on the list, and what of ours fits into that. Is it a logical addition that they would show that? There’s some bloggers we don’t email, cause the things that are in their posts are completely unrelated. And it is your time to email all these posts, and you can’t always email 5,000 bloggers. So, both for your time and theirs, it’s just making sure it’s a logical fit. You might also find they’re really doing a low cost one, so what are your lower cost products. For me, it’s more about a logical fit.
Felix: Right, that makes sense. Now, you mentioned, I can think in the pre-interview notes, about how Pinterest was helpful early on for you. Now, a lot of times people think about Pinterest, they think about fashion. Fashion’s so big on Pinterest, but you’ve had success on Pinterest as well, and obviously you’re not in the fashion space at all. What’s your experience been like on Pinterest? What are you doing? What are you doing on Pinterest that’s been so successful?
Eric: So, I’ll admit that I kind of fell into that. We expected, like you’re saying, Pinterest is more on the fashion, and then home design and stuff like that, and that we would be bigger on Twitter. That’s typically more in the tech space. We do share everywhere, so that’s, if I’m not giving specific Pinterest advice, my advice would be don’t assume anything. Share your product everywhere. We put it on some design networks. We put it on Twitter, on Instagram, on Pinterest, everywhere we could think of. Put your product everywhere you are allowed to put it.
Pinterest just kind of took off, because unlike other sites, just has that quick re-pin option. To put something on Instagram, and repost it, it’s getting a little easier these days, but it’s still a bit of a process. You can retweet something very easily, but it’s not often with an image, and the image on Twitter is not always the focus of what people are doing, they’re often reading the tweet. So, we found that Pinterest was an interesting match, because it’s all image based, and we’re designing products for designers. And there’s that quick way to re-pin it.
And we looked on Pinterest, we hadn’t looked in a while, and one of our earlier products now had over 100,000 re-pins, which, I’ll admit was a shock to me. Normally we have things in the hundreds, or sometimes thousands, but it had reached 100,000 re-pins on the boards it was on, just because, I think, it’s a combination for Pinterest of that visual, and the quick ability to re-pin.
So, again, my advice is don’t assume a particular network is your right network, cause I assumed incorrectly. And just put it everywhere. We did some Pinterest advertising. So we tried paid ads to a degree on most networks. And we also found we got the most traffic from Pinterest. So, that was a way to test it out. But, in terms of what we do on a daily basis, isn’t much different on Pinterest or other sites. If we post something in one place, we try to post it everywhere. So, it’s just throw a broad net and see what works, and then maybe put a little more focus there.
Felix: Hmm, makes sense. Now, because you are a designer, your store’s on Shopify, you mentioned you have Shopify clients, would love to hear a little bit more on design tips for Shopify store owners. What are some common mistakes that you see in other, doesn’t have to be Shopify stores specifically, but on e-commerce sites, design-wise, that you think would be something that store owners should be fixing?
Eric: Sure. So, with Shopify, you pretty much only use Shopify for e-commerce, and we’ve been using it forever. So, the themes are great. So, it’s not often as much of a design focus as it is, what I would call, a user experience focus. If you download a beautiful theme and use it correctly, what I would say is, don’t underestimate the importance of everything else. A mistake I see often is confusing or poorly selected items in the main navigation of the theme, which is up to the store owner.
So, is it clear how to get to the shop? Are you using the right words, such as “shop”? Are you putting the shop first and foremost in the navigation, and not burying it later after “about us” and things like that? When it comes to things like that, it has to be very straight forward in terms of the labels you use for your navigation and how you structure it. So, a lot of thought should go into that.
The other thing I mentioned already, was product photography. So, you can certainly download a theme, and build a store pretty quickly with Shopify, but make sure your photography is great. If you were going to invest in something outside of building out the theme, I would invest in product photography with a professional, cause that will make all the difference.
And then next, I mentioned before, was content. So if, as a entrepreneur, writing isn’t one of your strong points, identify that and get help with the writing. And, unlike photography, that’s often something you can get from a family member or a friend. Not everyone knows a professional product photographer, but usually you know somebody who can help you edit your writing. And make sure that marketing copy on your home page and your product descriptions are very clear, and not too long.
So, often when we work with a Shopify client, if it’s a lower budget, we won’t do a custom theme for them, and our focus is just on all of these things, how to organize the site, so it’s easy for people to shop, editing their content for them, making sure their products look good, social media advice, and things like that. So it’s almost, even though you asked me about design, it’s almost everything else. Feel free to ask me specific design questions, but that’s what comes to mind first.
Felix: Yeah, that’s definitely helpful. Now, if for someone that just isn’t aware of what’s broken or isn’t working on their site, any tips or any tools that they can use to test their UX, test their user experience?
Eric: My biggest advice for testing user experience would be to do user testing, which would either be, again, with family and friends or, if you’re comfortable, some of your early customers. So, sometimes, and that’s a common thing in my field, is user testing. And it doesn’t need to sound like a big, scary term. It just means watch some people use your website. So, bring your t-shirt business website, open it up, at your mom’s house, and watch your mom click through your site, and see if she can figure out how to add something to your cart. Bring it to some friends’ houses, try to do a diverse group of people who might be more tech savvy, and some not. Try to get a nice cross section of people.
Again, if you’re willing to have your customers do that for you, you could create a little user testing group. Maybe give them a coupon code or a free product for doing it for you. And have them click through your site and fill out a survey. And you could use something like Survey Monkey or Wufoo to have them fill out a survey with questions like, “Was it easy to find the product?” “Were you confused by anything?” “Was it easy to add to the cart?” “Were you able to find the collection you wanted?” “What was your vision of our business?” “What do you think our mission is based on going to the site? Is that clear?” Things like that.
So, it’s not really a tool that you’d run the site through and get an answer, it’s like a human experience where you would ask people to look at your site. One of the greatest things to do, and you can’t do this with customers always, is look over someone’s shoulder and watch them use your website. And when they start staring at the page, and they don’t know what to click on, you’ve found somewhere that might need improvements.
Felix: Got it. Now you mentioned digital downloads as an app that you use. Any other apps or tools that you rely on to help you run your store or your businesses?
Eric: Yeah, we don’t have a ton of apps installed, but we do use digital downloads, it kind of powers the whole site. We use Order Printer, just a nice, other simple app, when people ask for an invoice. And we do use the Olark live chat app, and we’re not often on the live chat, but we found we get a lot of inquiries from customers on a particular page when they have a question about one of our products. So, they’ll open the live chat, and send us a message, and that way we know what page they were on. It’s often directly related to that product. So, we found that to be almost a great email tool, versus a live chat tool, cause we don’t really have the manpower yet to always be on live chat. But, it’s been a great tool for people to quickly contact us, versus our contact us page. So, that’s been a great tool.
Aside from Shopify apps, I do recommend any entrepreneur uses some type of project management software to manage their business. We use Flow, it’s getflow.com is the website, just to keep track of to-do’s and things like that. Even as simple, if you come up with a new product idea, and you want to write it down somewhere, for me, I’ll forget it in 24 hours, so I just have an ideas list where I write down ideas. Or when customers want to improve on a product, I have a to-do list for that. If I want to set a deadline for releasing a product, I’ll do that. If I found a bug, I have a bug list. So, use some type of project management system, not just writing things down on post-it’s, to help you manage your entire business, is very helpful.
Felix: Awesome. Thank you so much, Eric. So, uxkits.com is the store. Ericmillerdesign.com is the design studio. Where do you want to see your businesses go this time next year?
Eric: So, I would say I want to grow UX Kits with a larger product line. That’s, again, probably a few more digital and a few more physical, and that allows me to be more selective sometimes in my client work, finding projects that really are the perfect fit, again, because you have that additional source of income from UX Kits. So, it’s really not one taking over the other, it’s them working well together, kind of enabling each other to thrive.
Felix: Awesome. Thank you again, so much for your time, Eric.
Eric: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 3: When you’re going into pitch to someone, you’re not going to beg for money. It’s a fair exchange.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial. Also, for this episode’s show notes, head over to shopify.com/blog.