Why Weebly’s CEO Is Saying No to the Hottest Trend in E-Commerce

There's a hot new trend in e-commerce. It's called dropshipping and Weebly founder and CEO David Rusenko wants no part of it. Even as the website-building platform is serving more and more e-commerce merchants, Rusenko is willing to cut off that set of users entirely. "What it comes down to is that we think there is enough mass-produced, cheap crap in the world," he told Inc.

Dropshippers are essentially ecommerce middleman. Their value-add, such as it is, comes from exposing customers to products that they would never have seen otherwise. For example, a dropshipper can set up a listing on eBay for a product sold on Amazon, charging $15 more than the Amazon price. Customers who are searching on eBay will encounter the dropshipper's listing. Whenever one of them makes a purchase, the dropshipper buys the product from Amazon and has it shipped directly to the eBay customer.

You know those brands you see on Instagram that have barely existed for two weeks? Those are often dropshippers. "We call them burner brands, kind of like a burner phone," said Rusenko.

The whole pattern can be a headache, especially when a customer wants to return a product. If it comes in Amazon packaging, then it's natural to want to return the product to Amazon. But in that case the original seller eats the cost of the return. And customers find the whole experience frustrating: No one likes to discover that they paid extra simply because a middleman set up an eBay listing.

A bad experience for customers is a blemish on the actual creator's brand, even when it wasn't their fault. Cat toy inventor Fred Ruckel found himself plagued by this problem in 2016, and was only able to stem the flow of dropshippers by refusing to sell on Amazon at all (although now his landmark product, the Ripple Rug, is back on the website again).

That's one iteration of dropshipping. But more and more frequently, dropshippers are sourcing the products they sell from low-cost Chinese marketplaces like Aliexpress. This form of dropshipping often takes place on a Shopify site, or some other platform for independent ecommerce sites. There's an entire ecosystem of software designed to automate the process, such as Oberlo for Shopify. The ads for dropshipped products are often found on Facebook and Instagram, and customers certainly aren't proactively informed of all the downsides of buying from a dropshipper.

"Stumble onto one -- or more likely -- find yourself targeted by such a brand's ads, and you open up one of many highly disposable faces of the globalized economy," Alexis Madrigal wrote in the Atlantic after falling victim to a scammy dropshipper himself.

The wholesale prices are extremely cheap, which is why the dropshippers choose to source from marketplaces like Aliexpress, but consequently the quality control is often nonexistent. Shipping times are astronomical, and the dropshipper's markup similarly inflated. All of those factors add up to a disappointing customer experience.

Rusenko finds the whole thing disgusting, and is willing to lose out on some business to take a stand against it. "It's the newest scam, right? It used to be the Nigerian prince that was emailing you, and now it's the burner brand on Instagram. It's working, unfortunately, but that's because it's very deceptive and people haven't gotten smart to it yet."

It's a mission thing. Weebly's, he said, is to serve creative entrepreneurs, and dropshippers are essentially the opposite of that. Rusenko is also worried that too many people will have bad experiences with dropshipped products, and come to regard all "Instagram brands" as subpar and not worth any attention. In that environment, how will legitimate young businesses gain a foothold?

"We think that's awful because it's hurting the real creative entrepreneurs," Rusenko said, "that are investing their blood, sweat, and tears into creating these unique and amazing products that the world's never seen before." At least until the copies pop up on Aliexpress.

Why Weebly’s CEO Is Saying No to the Hottest Trend in E-Commerce

There's a hot new trend in e-commerce. It's called dropshipping and Weebly founder and CEO David Rusenko wants no part of it. Even as the website-building platform is serving more and more e-commerce merchants, Rusenko is willing to cut off that set of users entirely. "What it comes down to is that we think there is enough mass-produced, cheap crap in the world," he told Inc.

Dropshippers are essentially ecommerce middleman. Their value-add, such as it is, comes from exposing customers to products that they would never have seen otherwise. For example, a dropshipper can set up a listing on eBay for a product sold on Amazon, charging $15 more than the Amazon price. Customers who are searching on eBay will encounter the dropshipper's listing. Whenever one of them makes a purchase, the dropshipper buys the product from Amazon and has it shipped directly to the eBay customer.

You know those brands you see on Instagram that have barely existed for two weeks? Those are often dropshippers. "We call them burner brands, kind of like a burner phone," said Rusenko.

The whole pattern can be a headache, especially when a customer wants to return a product. If it comes in Amazon packaging, then it's natural to want to return the product to Amazon. But in that case the original seller eats the cost of the return. And customers find the whole experience frustrating: No one likes to discover that they paid extra simply because a middleman set up an eBay listing.

A bad experience for customers is a blemish on the actual creator's brand, even when it wasn't their fault. Cat toy inventor Fred Ruckel found himself plagued by this problem in 2016, and was only able to stem the flow of dropshippers by refusing to sell on Amazon at all (although now his landmark product, the Ripple Rug, is back on the website again).

That's one iteration of dropshipping. But more and more frequently, dropshippers are sourcing the products they sell from low-cost Chinese marketplaces like Aliexpress. This form of dropshipping often takes place on a Shopify site, or some other platform for independent ecommerce sites. There's an entire ecosystem of software designed to automate the process, such as Oberlo for Shopify. The ads for dropshipped products are often found on Facebook and Instagram, and customers certainly aren't proactively informed of all the downsides of buying from a dropshipper.

"Stumble onto one -- or more likely -- find yourself targeted by such a brand's ads, and you open up one of many highly disposable faces of the globalized economy," Alexis Madrigal wrote in the Atlantic after falling victim to a scammy dropshipper himself.

The wholesale prices are extremely cheap, which is why the dropshippers choose to source from marketplaces like Aliexpress, but consequently the quality control is often nonexistent. Shipping times are astronomical, and the dropshipper's markup similarly inflated. All of those factors add up to a disappointing customer experience.

Rusenko finds the whole thing disgusting, and is willing to lose out on some business to take a stand against it. "It's the newest scam, right? It used to be the Nigerian prince that was emailing you, and now it's the burner brand on Instagram. It's working, unfortunately, but that's because it's very deceptive and people haven't gotten smart to it yet."

It's a mission thing. Weebly's, he said, is to serve creative entrepreneurs, and dropshippers are essentially the opposite of that. Rusenko is also worried that too many people will have bad experiences with dropshipped products, and come to regard all "Instagram brands" as subpar and not worth any attention. In that environment, how will legitimate young businesses gain a foothold?

"We think that's awful because it's hurting the real creative entrepreneurs," Rusenko said, "that are investing their blood, sweat, and tears into creating these unique and amazing products that the world's never seen before." At least until the copies pop up on Aliexpress.

5 Smart Tactics for Skyrocketing Online Sales

As an online shopper, I can tell you firsthand that not all experiences are created equally. Especially over the holiday shopping season, I often found myself frustrated with different aspects of checkouts, shopping from my smartphone, and product sorting. Other online shoppers feel the same way, too. That's why it's time to think about new and varied approaches within the online sales environment.

Many brands are already asking, "What can we do differently this year? How can we stay competitive and drive more online sales?"

The good news is: There are many different approaches you can take to tackle these questions, from personalization to influencer marketing. Let's look at a few tactics that can help you improve online sales in the year ahead.

1. Personalization

Today's customers expect more than a one-size-fits-all experience when shopping online--they crave personalization. So how can you offer that?

One way is to leverage the customer data you have. Think about how you can spotlight relevant product suggestions, pertinent content, and localized offers for each individual customer.

For example: You can use the visitor's IP address to see where they're visiting your site from, and then offer up localized content (like suggestions of sports gear from the visitor's local teams, for example) based on the visitor's location. This helps create a more tailor-made, relevant experience and puts pertinent products front and center for shoppers.

2. Automated Emails

Automation is not a new tactic in the online business environment, but its capabilities are ever-increasing. Today, thanks to built-in email automation tools on email platforms like Campaign Monitor and MailChimp, you can develop and launch complex customer journeys that send the right message to the right person at the right time. This is also another form of personalization.

For example: With the help of email automation (which automatically triggers email messages based on customer data like signup date, birthday, etc.), you can send customers timely messages like a birthday greeting and discount on their special day--which gives them one more reason to buy from you.

3. Influencer Marketing

In the era of Instagram fame and YouTube phenomenons, influencer marketing is becoming increasingly effective. By partnering with experienced influencers who have a large following (think over 20,000) and a history of brand partnerships, you can reach new audiences who are looking for recommendations from these trusted sources.

For example: Fashion brands can get products featured in influencers' Instagram posts--and can re-package that contextual content on their own social media accounts, too.

4. Social media ads

As platforms like Facebook continue to shift toward a "pay to play" environment for businesses, ads will be needed to reach potential audiences. But you can't launch just any ads--they need to be effective at driving sales. Think about how you can leverage customer stories in ads to really grab the attention of online shoppers.

For example: Take a positive testimonial or a customer story and turn it into a video. From here, you can use this as the content for your ad on a social platform like Facebook.

5. Mobile optimization

More and more consumers are shopping from mobile devices, which means mobile optimization is now extremely important.

From mobile-friendly search tools to accommodation of digital wallets, taking steps to reduce friction in the mobile experience can have a major impact on your bottom line. This  means your company website needs to be reviewed for mobile experience from top to bottom.

For example: By adding Amazon Pay as a payment option on your website, you can help mobile shoppers check out with fewer clicks.

How Your E-commerce Business Can Build Trust With New Customers

Customer trust is probably the biggest factor that can set your business up for success. However, winning the trust of your customers is generally easier said than done. Especially if you're a new entrant in the market, building credibility can be quite challenging.

Fortunately, or unfortunately for ecommerce businesses, your website is the single biggest weapon you can use to gain customer trust. However, there are many tried and tested ways in which you can tweak your website that send out trust signals.

Here are a few ways in which you can build trust with new customers to your online store.

1. Connect on an emotional level.

Have you ever met someone whom you didn't find too agreeable? Would you trust such a person? Obviously not. Believe it or not, the same thing applies to all of our interactions. Even our online shopping experiences.

If I land on an ecommerce store that I don't like, it's quite natural that I won't buy from them. As an ecommerce business, your main focus should be to get your potential customers to like you. If they do so, they will start trusting you and eventually buy from you.

The first step towards this is to avoid using technical jargons on your copy. Instead, create copy and product descriptions that people can relate to. Your content should connect with them at an emotional level. Only then will they start trusting you.

2. Flaunt your reviews and testimonials.

Testimonials and reviews reinforce the fact that people have found your products valuable. In other words, your ecommerce store can be trusted. You are worth spending money on.

Studies have revealed that 55 percent of consumers look up product reviews online before buying. So make sure to display your customer testimonials and reviews prominently on your website.

3. Display your trust badges.

Like I said earlier, your first step towards establishing trust should be to get customers to like you. For an ecommerce store, it means liking your content.

Compelling product descriptions, high-quality images, reviews, and testimonials are great at getting people to like and trust you. However, getting them to actually trust you with their credit card information is another thing altogether.

19 percent of online shoppers ditch their carts because they don't trust a site with their payment information. So display your trust badges, payment provider logos, and SSL certificates. These are powerful indicators that your customers' payment information will be encrypted and processed safely.

4. Display shipping costs upfront.

I've come across numerous ecommerce websites that do not display the extra costs like shipping on their product pages. As a result, nothing prepares me for the surprise waiting for me on their checkout page.

Even if I've decided to buy something, when I see the additional costs at checkout, I get easily discouraged. Especially, knowing that Amazon most certainly might give me the same product at zero shipping costs.

It's not like people are not willing to pay for shipping. It's just that when you only see those costs on the checkout page, it puts you off. 23 percent of people abandon their shopping carts just because they didn't know the extra costs upfront.

In order to gain customer trust, make sure to display all additional costs on the product page. If there's a certain amount that qualifies them to avail free shipping, mention it clearly. You can even display the entire cart contents including all costs whenever someone adds a product to cart.

Can you think of any other simple but effective ways in which an ecommerce business can build trust? Let me know in the comments below.

How to Expand Through Brick-and-Mortar Retail in 2018

E-commerce has been such a major part of the global retail economy for so many years that you can be forgiven for hastening the demise of brick-and-mortar shopping. It's possible you know someone who hasn't gone to a physical store to buy something in the past year. But that's all anecdotal evidence--the reality of the situation surrounding brick-and-mortar retail is quite different.

Despite the fact that online sales in the U.S. grossed approximately $394 billion in 2016, that was still only 12 percent of the total retail market in the country.

Dozens of powerful e-commerce players who began with an online-only business model are beginning to see the potential for expanding into physical retail. Even Amazon, the company that most symbolizes the transition to online shopping, has opened a physical store in Seattle and plans to expand further.

Physical retail remains a thriving industry, and e-commerce brands have an opportunity to deliver something new to customers and drive additional sales by venturing into brick-and-mortar.

Why should you want to move into retail?

It seems reasonable to start with this question, right? Once it became clear that Amazon was not just an internet fad, and especially once smartphones made it possible for anyone to order anything anywhere, we all wondered whether these were the dying days of retail.

Who would want to pay for expensive real estate, furnishings and labor costs when numerous brands had proven you could be successful with some decent web design? As the novelty of e-commerce has worn off, however, it appears the pendulum may be swinging back in the other direction.

Innovative companies that began as digital enterprises are discovering the brick-and-mortar shopping experience isn't the drag many people profess it to be. For leaders who are smart and view their channels as ways to provide customers with exceptional experiences, there are numerous opportunities in the world of physical retail that simply aren't possible through e-commerce alone.

Connecting with customers in a physical space.

Customer engagement is the one thing every company hopes to improve on, whether they operate solely through e-commerce, brick-and-mortar, or engage in omni-channel selling. For instance, online clothing retailer Bonobos has proven how they can better connect with their customers through maintaining a physical presence.

Bonobos realized no matter how good their logistics management, supply chain management and customer service were, people still wanted to try on clothes before buying them. Even with a generous return policy and company-subsidized shipping costs, it's still a hassle for people to return items that don't fit.

The company decided to turn this into a positive by opening Guideshops in across the country. There, customers can make appointments to receive personalized service for fittings and orders, and have their purchases shipped for free.

Driving additional value for all parties.

Opening a brick-and-mortar retail location offers benefits to customers that are impossible in an online-only setting. This is important for any company that seeks a deeper connection with their customers, but moving to an omni-channel retail strategy can have quantitative financial benefits as well.

In the case of Bonobos, the company reports that orders placed through Guideshops are, on average, twice as large as those placed directly through the website. With these kinds of results, the increases in sales can more than offset the additional operational costs required to run a physical store.

Innovating the in-store experience.

Many e-commerce companies are using retail locations as opportunities to explore the fact that there is ample room for innovation when it comes to the in-store experience. There's a chance for them to move beyond the traditional department store drudgery so many people were happy to escape when e-commerce became possible, and to present shoppers with unique experiences that will make them want to travel to a physical store rather than pick up their smartphone.

In 2017, my team and I at Amerisleep opened our redefined mattress stores in luxury shopping malls around Arizona. Why? A 2011 study from nonprofit RTI International revealed that, in a typical showroom experience, most people were unable to identify the right mattress to improve their sleep quality. A survey we conducted found that nearly 20 percent of respondents didn't know how to choose a mattress with the appropriate firmness level for their body type and sleep style.

In our stores, we try to make sure shoppers find the bed that's perfect for them, and it's helped us maintain low return rates.

Despite the explosive growth of e-commerce, brick-and-mortar retail is here to stay. In fact, this is just the beginning of a new era of retail. Brands are now challenging themselves to innovate in creative and exciting ways, using physical spaces not just as a transaction point but as an opportunity to enhance each shopper's experience.

4 Ways to Find Profitable Ideas for an Online Business

Online shopping is becoming the norm rather than the exception: The 2017 holiday shopping season proved that with a record number of sales just over the Black Friday shopping weekend. As a result, more and more entrepreneurs are looking for ways to gain a foothold in the online marketplace. The question is: How do you carve out a place for your business in that increasingly competitive environment?

With a few tips for spotting opportunities and profitable ideas, you too can build and launch an online business that drives impressive sales.

1. Target a niche community.

Rather than trying to market to any and every customer, try to find a niche in which you can market to a small, focused group of customers. This approach means you can specifically offer products that address the wants and needs of that one audience.

One example of this can be seen via The Sneaky Chef. This brand created a line of healthy food products for children and specifically targets the demographic of parents who want high quality food options for their children.

2. Look for gaps in the marketplace.

Another way to make headway in the online sales environment is to spot current gaps in product offerings--and then fill them. Sites like Gaps.com specifically highlight different opportunities like these. However, with a little outreach and research, you can easily find areas in which you can fulfill an unmet need.

WholeMe, a gluten-free snack company, found their foothold within the competitive grocery vertical by creating an entirely new product that a specific group of customers (those with a gluten allergy) was looking for.

3. Appeal to an audience's values.

You should also consider how you can target your messaging and products to audiences with specific values and ideologies.

When you can differentiate yourself as an online brand that supports different causes (think military, environmental issues, under-served populations, etc.), you give potential customers another way to connect with you. Nine Line Apparel does this well: Their entire online product catalog is focused on supporting US veterans.

4. Be the anti-Amazon.

We all know that Amazon does a lot of things well--but what can your online business do that they can't? Think about how customer experience, customer service, and highly personalized products can give you a leg up over big brands like Amazon (and other big box stores.)

Dazadi is an online company that has capitalized on this approach and made more than $100 million in sales as a result. Their focus is on stellar customer experiences even after the purchase is complete: When they sell large items like pool tables and ping pong tables, they coordinate home construction and installation so it's hassle-free for the buyer.

3 Ways to Build a More Relatable Online Presence for Your Business in 2018

In 2018 consumers are looking for brands that ooze personality, they want companies to be more relatable and less frigid giant corporations of the past. Social media is king and live video is currently queen, and with this change comes an air of authenticity. 

It's no secret that content creation can be time consuming, expensive, and nearly impossible to perfect. What a lot of businesses are doing now, is allowing a small team of their employees to create relatable content that viewers will feel comfortable with.

Gone are the days where models had to be perfectly primped and primed for a photo shoot, with all imperfections erased away before being published. Many online retailers are actually gearing toward a more natural look, with wispy hairs and even a stretchmark or two still visible. Times are changing, so don't get left in the dust. 

Here are three ways to build a relatable online presence:

1. Engage with your audience in a way that's natural.

If you click around a bit and see what the posts of your customers look like, you may notice that they look completely different than what you typically publish. Now, I am not saying that you need to downgrade to an Iphone4 and turn on the gritty filter to achieve cohesion with your fan base.

Perhaps posting in a manner which is less salesy and instead looks more like what their friends would post online might garner more loyal fans. I tried this with my online store, posting more lifestyle imagery where girls weren't overly photoshopped and saw both an increase in engagement and sales. 

2. Stand for something, and allow your followers to join in

There are plenty of fish in the sea, how do you stand out? One great way is to align your brand with a cause that is important to you and relevant to your brand. I know of a jewelry brand that teaches homeless women and those who've faced abuse the trade of jewelry making, and provides these women with living wages to get back onto their feet and support their families.

This is great because they are giving back, and also aligning with a cause that is near and dear to many hearts. Every purchase allows the buyer to support these women, and accomplish their goal of jewelry shopping at the same time. 

3. Speak to your customer base as if you were friends.

Are you struggling to get users to reply via comments to your posts? Perhaps if your captions spoke to people in a way that made them engage, and not so much at them, you'd see better results. Asking open ended questions will allow your followers to feel like a part of something, versus just as a bystander.

Some ideas may be telling them to share their favorite emoji with you, say which state they are from, or even by asking them a question about your brand like what color you should produce a new product in. Most social media users want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, let them in! Also, don't be afraid to reply to them. We all know how bad it feels to be left hanging, shoot back a thank you or reply to their comments (this will also increase your comment count). 

When you begin to make these changes, and also apply them to your live video strategy you will see a more engaged and loyal user base. I'm sure you were comfortable turning your friends into customers, but can you manage to turn your customers into friends? 2018 is the perfect time to test this theory out.