10 things we learned about eCommerce in 2018

We launched Upsell in Spring 2018 because we felt there was a gap in the type of eCommerce coverage out there. There are a lot of sites writing about how to run an eCommerce shop (including our own Jilt blog) and there are a few sites covering industry news, but there aren’t many places to get inspired.

Upsell isn’t just about tactics; it’s about stories. It’s a place where you can learn about what it’s really like to run an eCommerce business and gain insight into the ways other entrepreneurs are succeeding. We designed Upsell to be a place for learning and motivation.

Since launch, we’ve published over 36 stories. Below are some of the best lessons we came away with.

1. Know your audience before you launch

When Guerric de Ternay launched his eCommerce brand GoudronBlanc, he was sure had a great product that people would want. Just one problem: he hadn’t given much thought to who his customer actually was. So when it came time to launch a second brand, he made sure to figure out who his audience was first.

“I couldn’t believe it. Even with a background in marketing, I made an obvious mistake. Eager to start something, I fell in love with a product idea and decided to sell it without figuring out who would actually buy it.”

What I learned from launching a business without an audience

2. Most of your customers aren’t ready to buy

Here’s an eye popping stat: 96 percent of people who visit your website aren’t ready to buy from you. That’s why Joe Howard, founder of WP Buffs, has doubled down on content marketing as a way to nurture those visits into viable leads later on.

“There’s more to creating good content than just keywords, says Howard. It’s all about authenticity. While WP Buffs includes content targeted to customers in its content plan, the company also provides content to help the wider WordPress community. In addition, they’re not afraid to get personal, and that works well for their audience.”

Why pushing for the sale may cost you business

3. It’s all about community: find your tribe

Steeped Coffee launched through a successful Kickstarter campaign during which they raised $36,000—more than $14,000 above what they were seeking. But it wasn’t about the money. It was all about connecting with their community.

“Kickstarter exposed Steeped Coffee to a larger initial audience than they may have been able to reach on their own, and the process of running the campaign forced them to get their business business house in order. ‘I just wanted us to at least break even and go through the process, which produces all kind of other benefits like starting community, connecting with brand advocates, establishing brand presence, creating marketing assets, defining and telling our story, and of course, letting our friends and family know that this thing we’ve been working on is actually real,’ says [founder Josh Wilbur].”

Kickstarting a community with crowdfunding

Contrary to their name, Brandless has built one of the most impressive and valuable eCommerce brands in the consumer packaged good space. How? By understanding that branding is about more than just a fancy logo and a uniform color palette.

“For a company like Brandless, their story is more important than their packaging , and that’s by design. Eliminating the ‘branding’ part of their brand means the focus has to be on the products and how they make their customers feel. In other words, the brand is the customer experience, and the customer experience is the brand.”

How Brandless built one of the most powerful brands in CPG

5. Make a great first impression with packaging

Product packaging is one of the first things your eCommerce customers will experience in the “real world” in relation to your brand. It’s often overlooked, but it’s super important to get right. As they say: you only get one chance to make a good first impression. We talked to the packaging experts at Packlane to get their advice about what makes great product packaging.

“Companies can use their product packaging to reinforce the personality of their brand. A strong personality can turn an ordinary experience into a delightful one. This increases the potential for social sharing and can turn regular customers into brand ambassadors and evangelists.”

Why great product packaging is vital in eCommerce

6. Don’t lose sight of your vision

Expanding your product line is both exciting and terrifying. Exciting because growth is often the payoff for months or years of hard work, but terrifying because you want to avoid alienating your early customers who believed in your vision. When Steven Sashen of Xero Shoes grew their product line beyond the running sandals his company was known for, he made sure to do it in a way that honored the company’s core community.

“What does Xero do when some of their customers think the company is X but perceive a new product as Y? Sashen likes to take these opportunities to clarify that the company is a lifestyle shoe company and that their main goal is natural movement. He also says the company wants to expand their offerings in a way that expands their market.”

Designing products with your customers is powerful—if you do it right

7. Sales channels are about more than just revenue potential

Everything was going swimmingly for alternative pain cream brand The Feel Good Lab, and then disaster struck: Amazon pulled down the entire pain cream category. Months of hard work building their Amazon sales rank was suddenly in jeopardy, and worse, their sales trickled to almost nothing. The big lesson? They’d become over-reliant on a single sales channel, and they had to change that.

“While [cofounder Ryan Gresh] spent his days fighting Amazon, [cofounder Kyle Fitzpatrick] was wrestling with the question of how they could ensure the success of their business if Amazon ever pulled anything like this again: ‘My biggest takeaway was, Amazon can be a great business for us but it can’t be our only business.’”

The dangers of relying on a single sales channel

8. Video requires an emotional connection

Video is one of the most powerful tools marketers have at their disposal, but it can be daunting. Still, it doesn’t take a ton of cash and fancy cameras to have big results. Case in point, Dollar Shave Club, which used relatively low-budget, simple videos to grow to a $1 billion exit. It wasn’t amazing special effects or 4K resolution that made DSC’s videos so good. It was the emotional connection founder Michael Dubin was able to forge with viewers.

“Once Dubin had built a relationship with his audience through humor, he had earned the right to slip in information about the razor’s features. He’d made his audience laugh and in return, he could take a few seconds of their time to talk about what he found important—his product—thus turning them from appreciative audience members to customers.”

How Dollar Shave Club used video to grow to a $1 billion exit

9. Influencers are so much more than just spokespeople

Many companies seek out influencers to hawk their products—think of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird slinging McDonald’s burgers or Natalie Portman shilling for Dior—but influencers can do so much more. As performance apparel company Roka has found, when your celebrity endorsers are also your best customers, their input can inform everything from product development to market expansion.

“For Roka, the influential athletes they work with provide, above all else, research and development. ‘We aren’t trying to push technology on people, but rather build new technology about what people may need to improve their performance,’ said [VP of Product Development Mark Stephens], who thinks it’s essential for the company to consistently ask the question, ‘If we were to start from scratch how would we build it.’”

Why influencers are more than just spokespeople

10. Don’t ignore B2B

Entering into a totally new market is daunting, but it’s worth every B2C company to seriously weigh whether B2B—things like wholesaling, white labeling, or custom fabrication—are right. For many businesses, there are potential synergies that can help you grow your business faster and get in front of more customers on the consumer side, too. That’s what temporary tattoo company TribeTats found.

“Just because people want it doesn’t mean it’s the right move for your business. Customers want a lot of things and going after all of them could prevent you from succeeding at any of them. But [CEO Degelis Tufts] was getting enough cold, inbound interest in this type of service that it seemed like something she could try without spreading herself too thin. It wasn’t too far from her core product, she had customers knocking on her door, and she felt it could really help her business scale.”

Why B2C eCommerce companies shouldn’t brush off B2B

That’s a wrap

Since we launched in March, Upsell has published over three dozen articles, spanning more than 68,000 words (that’s like a 150 page book!). We’ve profiled dozens of businesses and written about everything from funding and logistics to marketing and growth. Seven different authors contributed to Upsell this year, and helped us grow from zero readers to a community of thousands who come to read our content each month.

We’re really proud of the content we put out in 2018, and we’re excited about what 2019 has in store for us. We have a lot more stories to tell and a growing roster of writers to help us tell them. We hope Upsell has already become a go-to resource for you, and we pledge that in 2019 we’ll continue to put out great content that inspires you, teaches you, and motivates you to grow your eCommerce business.


  1. Hey, Josh!

    Caylin here at WP Buffs – thanks so much for featuring us! Love the article!

    I connected with your team at WCUS this year!!! Great to meet you all.

    I would love to collaborate on some WordPress fun in the future. 🙂

    Caylin White
    Head Marketing Buff

    1. Hey Caylin! It was great to meet you in Nashville! I\’d love to chat more about how we can work together in 2019. Shoot me an email when you chance: josh [at] jilt [dot] com

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