Two months ago my younger sister Karla and I opened an online store. Karla researches products and handles fulfillment, while I handle product descriptions, marketing, and PR. Setting up our store and filling it with products that everyone would (virtually) line up to buy was challenging, but fun and exciting. The closer we came to our opening date, the more our excitement turned to fear and doubt. What if no one visited our store or wanted to buy what we were selling?
We needed help.
The next day I received a newsletter from Matt Kellso, owner of Sagebrush Coffee. Sagebrush Coffee is an online store that continually seeks the best coffee sources, producing each order in small roast-to-order batches. A few months before, I had ordered two bags of coffee for a friend’s birthday and couldn’t believe the level of customer service I had received. When I clicked on the newsletter link I noticed it was a Shopify store so I sent Matt an email and asked if he would answer a few questions. Not only did Matt answer my questions in detail, he offered a few words of advice.
How long have you been in business?
Matt: I started Sagebrush Coffee in November of 2012. At the time it was a wordpress site with an ecommerce module. That was a nightmare. In February of 2013, we moved and that consumed the next 3 months. May of 2013 I started building out a Shopify site and went live sometime in July.
Do customers say anything about your site not having an 800 number? We don’t want to use one either, but we weren’t sure whether or not that has been an issue for you.
Matt: I started with an 800 number, but got rid of it when I was cutting costs. We have not had a single comment. In fact, our site was featured on a blog about what to do right for customer service. I wouldn’t think twice about using a local number. (We use a Google Voice number)
Do customers expect you to respond 24/7?
Matt: I don’t think they expect 24/7, but I try to give it. My customers are ordering online, they have no emotional connection to me at all. As far as they’re concerned I’m a robot behind the site. I do everything in my power to be a person to the customer. I want them to be rooting for me and to want me to be successful. If they make any type of attempt to connect with me on a personal level, I jump on it. One 30- second email from my phone right away could be the difference between them buying from someone else or becoming a customer for life.
For the most part are people nice or have you had to deal with unreasonable clients?
Matt: I’ve had 2 unreasonable clients. That’s not bad at all. If you notice, I don’t accept returns, but say that I’ll help in any way possible. I am INCREDIBLY customer service oriented. Due to the nature of my products, I want my customer to be a customer for life. It is a consumable and my customer comes back regularly. A single problem with an order isn’t worth arguing about.
We are planning to use USPS priority mail for shipping. Has that worked well for you?
Matt: USPS is a two-edged sword. They are the worst shipping “company” on the planet. They never get it there as quickly as promised and they have damaged a couple of my shipments. However, for my products & volume, they are about 1/5th the cost of anyone else. So I eat it if they screw something up. I figure if they make a mistake that upsets my customer 1 out of 100 times, then eating the cost of fixing it is still a better deal than UPS or Fedex. Paying out of my pocket for USPS mistakes is part of the cost of shipping. Fragile products scare me, I will say, they have refunded me for the one that was damaged and the customer took good pictures. Most of my complaints for USPS are extremely delayed shipments.
Have you had success with Facebook marketing? One of your ads popped up on my screen today.
Matt: Nope…Facebook is worthless. In fact, I didn’t know I was running anything on there anymore. I did everything I could to grow my Facebook presence and people just like it because they like the pictures. I have never once correlated a sale to Facebook. I have 4,400 followers on Facebook. The last post that I posted without boosting it reached 137 people. It’s a scam. I don’t even pay attention to it. I just auto post my newsletter there. I’m focusing on Instagram right now for social marketing, but I think it’s probably worthless too. I just like have something that is updated that if customers want to see a regular human behind the site they can see one. For now that connection is my newsletter & Instagram.
Do you have any complaints/concerns/issues with Shopify that we should be aware of? Their customer support has been very helpful. I’m glad they don’t charge for it!
Matt: Shopify is awesome. I don’t see us leaving them for a long time unless they change something major.
Parting words of advice from Matt:
All of that said, patience is key in starting a web store. We have grown slow. I still remember where I was when the first order came through from someone I didn’t know…his name was Ignatius. I bribe the crap out of our current customers to tell their friends. I gather email addresses as much as I can (through site…potentially interested parties) and send our weekly newsletters that create a connection with the customer as much as they sell them. I use google remarketing to catch someone that showed interest and I fight hard to get a customer to come back over and over. I wholeheartedly believe that the biggest asset for a new company is a happy customer.
If you’re looking to market right away and grow the business, I would see what you can do to get yourself on blogs within your industry. Get experts in your field to like your products and write about them. Paying for customers doesn’t pay off early, like adwords. Expect about 1-3% of the people that come to your site to actually buy. What you need to do early is drive traffic. Get friends to talk about your company. Always talk about your products/company. Annoy your friends…it’ll be worth it in the end.
Matt’s advice definitely pointed us in the right direction and he continues to be a role model for us. In future blog posts I’ll share other resources I’ve found to help us grow our online store.