Shopify & Ecommerce Ramblings

A blog about building and extending awesome Shopify stores

Customer needs

Photo by Jesse Ramirez

The Covid-19 pandemic changed the ecommerce space dramatically – forcing more shoppers online and causing exponential growth in online retail. Forbes reported that by April, US retailers’ online year-over-year revenue was up by 68%. Conversion rates increased 8.8% in February – a figure more commonly associated with Cyber Mondays – as people stocked up on as much as they could in the panic surrounding the crisis.

This graph shows the online retail activity in revenue growth for the US and UK since January 2020. Graph by Covid-19 Commerce Insight.

As is now the trend with 2020, merchants can expect the fast-approaching BFCM gifting season to look different to previous years. With significant annual increases in sales since the term Cyber Monday was coined in 2005, the annual event saw a 19% increase in total sales in 2019 from the previous year. This trend is expected to continue in 2020, with even more customers than usual taking advantage of online sales due to Covid-19 concerns and social distancing needs. For many people, online shopping has become a part of their lives – a part that’s here to stay.

Then there’s the anxiety that many consumers will feel about being crushed in the middle of crowds of people in the midst of a pandemic. The results of a poll by Morning Consult published in April showed that for 24% of consumers it would take more than six months before they felt comfortable going to a shopping mall. Another 26% said they didn’t know when they’d feel safe enough to visit a shopping center again. This means that for numerous people, online shopping will permanently replace shopping trips of all kinds until a coronavirus vaccine is available. Online retailers can take advantage of these factors in order to attract and maintain customers during the BFCM frenzy.

Despite this, online retailers also need to be more sensitive than ever towards their customers’ situations. Many of them will be feeling the financial pinch caused by the pandemic. They may not be able to spend as much as they normally would on essentials, gifts and the other items that are made available at massively reduced prices during BFCM. Other buyers, however, may be spurred on by the Covid-19 crisis and other events to do good. They may be feeling particularly generous and not only want to buy for themselves, but make financial contributions to charities or other organizations in need.

Whichever category your customers fall in, it’s important to adapt your business to the changes in ecommerce and cater for your customers’ needs. This is the third installment of our three-part series on why you should start focusing on BFCM early and how to prepare your Shopify store for the season of giving.

Financing options for cash-strapped customers


Photo by Morning Brew

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are an opportunity for customers to buy Christmas gifts for bargain prices. But, for many people it is also an opportunity to stock up on necessary household essentials be it non-perishable food, appliances, toiletries, and detergents. Given the detrimental financial impact the coronavirus has had on many families, some people may not be able to make the most of the BFCM sales as much as they’d hoped to. This, of course, could have a knock-on effect on online retailers.

If you’re a merchant who wants to cater for these customers you can look at incorporating an app on your site which gives buyers, who don’t have a credit card, a financing option for their purchases. We previously explored how offering an alternative payment platform for buyers empowers them to manage their purchases in a way that suits their budget, helps them to budget, and gives them more purchasing power.  

55% of abandoned carts are due to a total cost of purchase that’s too high. Being able to offer customers a financing option at point of purchase and on your product pages boosts sales, increases conversions, and drives repeat business. It’s definitely worth considering this as your business starts preparing for what most ecommerce stores experience as their busiest and most profitable time of year.

Because in-house credit isn’t really an option for most ecommerce stores, and it comes with a lot of red tape, using a third-party solution is the best way to go. There are a few financing options available, but we’ve found Sezzle to be a reputable option that can be fully integrated with Shopify stores. Having Sezzle on your site encourages buyers to make larger purchases as it allows for them to ‘buy now, pay later’.

Sezzle pays the merchant in full immediately and assumes all the credit risk. It’s a good option for merchants, particularly smaller ones, who aren’t able to cover large amounts of credit themselves and can’t afford the risk of customers who don’t meet payment obligations.

Another reason why Sezzle is a good option is it lets customers sign-up instantly and securely while in checkout, without having to leave the page. Your customers will browse as usual on your Shopify store, add items to their cart, choose Sezzle as their payment option, create an account, complete their order and pay off their purchase over time in four interest-free payments.

A season of generosity


Photo by Lina Trochez

While some customers are counting their pennies, others may be feeling particularly generous and find themselves wanting to contribute to causes close to their heart. Making a donation as part of an online purchase saves a customer from going through the hassle of donating directly to a charity and doing research to ensure they’re a reputable organization.

On top of this, allowing buyers to make donations through your site is likely not only to gain you more customers, but also help you retain the ones you already have. The Cone Cause Evolution Study found that 80% of Americans are likely to switch to a different brand that’s equal in price and quality to one that supports a cause. When choosing between two companies that each benefit a cause and sell the same product, 53% of Americans would rather support a company that allows them to impact the donation by tying it to a purchase. This is one way that consumer consciousness is driving brands to be more socially responsible.

Merchants who want to explore this route ahead of BFCM can look into the ShoppingGives’ Change Commerce retail program. This shopping cart technology designed for Shopify allows customers to choose a cause or charity to donate to, at no extra cost to them, during the checkout process. It keeps the checkout process simple, while offering customers millions of causes to choose from.

All your customers have to do is shop as they normally would by adding items to their cart, then choose their favorite cause when they get to the checkout, and the retailer donates the money (at no extra cost to the customer). It enables merchants to engage customers in their CSR strategy with every purchase, adding great value to the customers’ experience and allowing retailers to create a greater impact.

And while this app personalizes your customers’ shopping experience, it also gives merchants the flexibility to decide how much they’d like to donate to the causes. The options are endless – from donating a certain dollar value or percentage per sale, to making donations for certain products or product ranges only. During BFCM, when product prices are discounted, merchants may even choose to, for example, give 20% off and 20% donation per purchase. The percentage or dollar amounts that a merchant decides to donate can be increased for events such as BFCM and then reduced again afterwards.

If you decide to incorporate functions like Sezzle and ChangeCommerce into your Shopify site, do it well before BFCM so that you have time to test the apps and make sure everything is running smoothly before you get busy. It also gives you enough time beforehand to market the new services that your platform offers. Even more than that, it gives you an opportunity to make your site more competitive in the long-term as you face increased competition in a rapidly growing and changing ecommerce landscape.

Handle with care

The Covid-19 pandemic changed the ecommerce space dramatically – forcing more shoppers online and causing exponential growth in online retail. It’s important to adapt your business to the changes in ecommerce and cater for your customers’ needs with financing options for cash-strapped customers and charitable retail programs like ShoppingGives.

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BJ Minson, founder of Grip6 inspecting his product made in USA

Grip6’s BJ Minson talks belt flaps, Chinese manufacturing, and marketing mess-ups

Grip6 Work Belt

Taking risks, accepting failure and doing things himself are all part of Grip6 founder BJ Minson’s recipe for success. The American belt manufacturer, and ShopCreatify client, sold 350,000 belts in 2019.

Grip6 has humble beginnings. For 10 years after school, Minson did odd jobs from construction to painting houses. He also tried to start a business making and selling specialized hospital beds, but was frustrated when he was faced with structural problems he couldn’t solve.  

“I was sawing and welding and doing what an engineer without a degree would do. I realized projects weren’t working out as well as I’d hoped,” says Minson. During this time, he started a family and soon realized he couldn’t afford a house or reach his other financial goals on odd jobs alone. So Minson went back to school. It was a long process and he had to take six semesters of math before he was at the level of the other mechanical engineering students.

While Minson wrapped up his studies, he worked as a junior engineer for a medical company. He continued with his own side-projects in the hope it would give him the experience he needed to apply for a product design job.

The beginnings of a belt

One of Minson’s side-projects was a wallet: small, flat and rectangular. It fitted six cards which popped up when the sides were squeezed. “The wallets were fairly complicated inside, mechanically, and I couldn’t just make them myself because I knew nothing about manufacturing.” After failing to find an affordable, local manufacturer, he gave up on the wallet.

BJ Minson demonstrating the strength of the Grip6 beltDemonstrating the strength of the G6 belt in a video on the Kickstarter campaign back in 2014

Soon after that he designed a belt – Grip6’s signature product – after being irritated by his own belts. He’d thought cutting his leather belt shorter to stop it from flapping around was a good solution, but his wife disagreed. “She said it was the ugliest belt she’d ever seen and that it looked ridiculous!” He then used a nylon army belt, but didn’t like how the thick buckle stuck out under his shirt.

“I then thought if I design a belt that’s really simple, it should be easy enough to manufacture myself.” The belt he designed uses a single piece of webbing, a single piece of metal for the buckle, doesn’t require any sewing and has no buckle holes. Unlike traditional belts, the material properties of the Grip6 belt creates friction that holds it in place without slipping.

Marketing and manufacturing mishaps

In 2014 Minson launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. He was stunned when he received 10,000 belt orders. He reached out to local manufacturers to make the belts but was met with slow responses, long timelines and quotes that were much higher than he’d priced the belts. Even worse, Minson was repeatedly encouraged to manufacture his belts in China. “Everybody told us that if you don’t make your belts in China, you’re dumb and probably not going to succeed.”

Minson was dead set against this. He’d been astounded by the bad quality of his children’s toys, most of which were made in China. “They’d use the toys once before they’d break. It made no sense from a moral perspective that people were producing garbage and shipping it around the world just to be thrown away almost immediately.

“I wanted to make the belts locally in the United States, so that the quality would be high and to reinvest in ourselves as a country and in manufacturing.”

Without a manufacturer, Minson and a friend set about making the 10,000 belts themselves, by hand. “I bought a couple of small hand tools and started production in my garage. For six months we worked our butts off. We’d finish at our full-time jobs and then work another eight to 10 hours at night. I had got myself stuck in a situation that I hadn’t thought through very well, but at least I had a product people wanted.”

Minson spent the following year figuring out how to market his belts. “We didn’t know anything about marketing and that scared me.” He hired the best marketing company he could find, paying them with money left over from his Kickstarter campaign and by selling belts at county fairs and trade shows.

But the marketing company let Minson down with a website that despite being attractive, was built on the wrong platform and marketing campaigns that lead nowhere. He then hired someone a friend recommended to do Facebook marketing for his company. It worked and Grip6 sold 70,000 belts in its third year.

Now in its sixth year, Grip6 employs 43 people and its sales are up 80% from 2019.

Grip6’s belt sales have increased significantly since it launched in 2014

We do it ourselves

After his negative experiences with manufacturers and marketers, Minson decided to do as much as he could inhouse.

“If we can do something ourselves, we should so that when a problem comes along, we’re not relying on somebody else to fix it. We like to be in control. This concept of relying on somebody else just means you’re running away from gaining the knowledge yourself.”

This philosophy has seen Grip6 invest significant amounts in machinery, people and learning processes. “Ultimately that’s meant we’ve been able to do things cheaper, more efficiently and at a better quality.”  

Grip6 Product PageGrip6's conversion optimized product page showcasing their unique products.

Despite this, Minson says it wouldn’t have made financial sense to hire a full-time web developer. After using numerous Shopify developers, they found ShopCreatify two years ago and have been a client ever since. “Ross [Allchorn] fills that gap and his team does well as an extension of Grip6. If you have to use outside people, use those who are as close philosophically and capability-wise as you are.”

Take risks, learn from failures

Minson’s philosophy doesn’t stop at doing things in-house. He isn’t afraid of taking risks or failing, so much so that the Grip6 website says: “Follow us as we struggle, misstep and learn.”

He’s trying to add two new products to the Grip6 range: the wallet he designed eight years ago, and socks. Both have already seen Grip6 make significant investments into failed manufacturing, new machinery and time spent learning how to use the machines. Six months after starting on the wallet and a year after starting on the socks, Grip6 is at last producing test products before being manufactured for sale. The socks endeavor alone cost the company around $250,000.

“If we’re not risking something, we get into a mental state where we’re too afraid to grow, because growth involves risks. We’re willing to take many risks as long as it’s not so big it puts the company out of business. It might cost us a lot of money but if we’re successful it really pays off. I’m perfectly fine with failure as long as it comes with a lesson to be learnt.”

Minson says that despite taking so many risks he’s actually financially conservative. Grip6 has only ever taken out a loan to buy a particularly expensive laser cutting machine. “Every other machine in our shop, millions of dollars’ worth, has been paid for in cash. We’ve been cash positive from the garage onwards. We don’t believe in getting into debt.”

Covid-19 and the future

Minson believes that these philosophies have helped Grip6 weather the Covid-19 crisis. When the virus hit the USA, sales dropped by 25%. But Minson’s best friend, who is now in charge of Grip6’s marketing, noticed that online advertising had become significantly cheaper after many people stopped advertising when the pandemic started. Grip6 decided to increase their ad spend and “all of a sudden we’re hitting months that are far above what we’re used to and very similar to our busiest time of year”.

And because Grip6 manufactures everything itself, it wasn’t affected when international trade came to a grinding halt. It’s business as usual at the Salt Lake City, Utah plant, with staff wearing masks and adhering to other safety and social distancing protocol.

Despite this, Minson is nervous about the future. He knows that Covid-19 is likely to slow the world economy down for the next 12 to 18 months and is aware that his good business run is unlikely to continue indefinitely.

“We’re being extra cautious financially and building up the bank account in the expectation that the sales will probably drop off in the near future. We’re saving our money, launching new products and looking for other growth opportunities.”

He has encouraging words for other online businesses:

“There’s this once in a lifetime thing happening, and it’s pretty bad. But if you’re smart and you look around, there are opportunities to grow and to find silver linings.”

BJ Minson, founder of Grip6 inspecting his product made in USA

Taking risks, accepting failure and doing things himself are all part of Grip6 founder BJ Minson’s recipe for success. The American belt manufacturer, and ShopCreatify client, sold 350,000 belts in 2019. BJ Minson talks belt flaps, Chinese manufacturing, and marketing mess-ups.

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