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Ecommerce Copywriter on Tactics, Tools, More

Christopher Silvestri is a former software engineer who launched Conversion Alchemy, an agency combining website copy with UX design, two years ago. He believes high-converting ecommerce copywriting requires an understanding of the target audience, which takes research.

He told me, “I once worked for a website that sold used golf balls. I knew nothing about used golf balls. But in reading a ton of reviews, interviewing customers, and running surveys, I started absorbing the language of prospects. That’s the voice I used on the website copy.”

Heat maps, polls, and usability tests are Silvestri’s go-to tools. He and I recently discussed those tactics and more. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about Conversion Alchemy.

Christopher Silvestri: Before 2015 I was a software engineer. I am also a drummer. I wanted to tour more with my band. So I started learning about internet marketing and various business models. That led me to copywriting in 2015, 2016.

I did it on the side for a couple of years. When I moved from Italy, where I’m from, to the U.K., I shifted to full-time. I worked with an agency for two years. I then transitioned into usability testing for start-up websites. That’s where I learned user experience skills as well.

I launched Conversion Alchemy a couple of years ago. It combines copywriting with UX design. I work with software companies and ecommerce businesses — usually six, seven-figure companies that are stagnant. The businesses are profitable, but they can’t get to the next level.

Bandholz: Copywriting is critical for Beardbrand. I’ve had Neville with Copywriting Course on the show. I’ve had Sam Parr with The Hustle newsletter. The public school systems do not prepare people to write in an engaging way. It’s by the books, dry, corporate speak. I don’t care if the grammar is good if the story sucks.

Silvestri: I started from the perspective of an Italian who learned English. Copy for marketing should be conversational  — effective and clear. It’s much easier than writing novels, for example, where you have to use big, fancy words.

Bandholz: What mistakes do ecommerce brands make with their copywriting?

Silvestri: Some frequent ones are writing from their own perspective. They use the word “we” a lot, especially on the “About” page. They speak about what “we” do, what “we” offer, “our” product. Instead, they should write from a customer’s view in a way that entices him to read more and buy the products.

Bandholz: One of the first pages I visit on a site is “About Us.”

Silvestri: That’s common. It’s typically the second most visited page.

Bandholz: Putting a face with the brand.

Silvestri: It’s part of my research, identifying the people and personas behind a business. When I think about personas, it’s more about the kind of decision-makers they are. Do they make decisions quickly? Do they decide on an emotional level or logical? How much do they know about their product? About the market? The industry? What’s their awareness level?

Using a lot of pictures on an About page and the website generally is essential. It emphasizes the human element, which is very powerful.

Bandholz: How can our content appeal to first-time visitors and repeat customers?

Silvestri: A strategy of primary, secondary, and tertiary personas focuses on the main sections of the website to appeal to your target customers. Navigation is a big component, too. Test the navigation and optimize the filters so new and repeat visitors can find what they need quickly without friction. And make sure the design and layout include fundamental elements useful for the types of visitors you want to attract.

It starts with understanding your customers. I do a lot of customer interviews and surveys. The right open-ended question can generate many insights. You start seeing the same terminology repeatedly. That’s when you realize you are on to something with your messaging.

For example, I once worked for a website that sold used golf balls. I knew nothing about used golf balls. But in reading a ton of reviews, interviewing customers, and running surveys, I started absorbing the language of prospects. That’s the voice I used on the website copy. It’s essential to interact with customers and then write how they speak.

Bandholz: How do you get those customers to open up and share candidly?

Silvestri: I start with the moment they considered buying my client’s products. What other products or brands did they think about? What drove them to choose my client’s items? If they switched from a competitor, I try to understand why. I also try to understand shoppers’ concerns about us or our products to overcome obstacles.

I always ask customers if they encountered hurdles or friction points during the buying process. That can be very revealing, pointing out major issues.

The most important tactic is inquiring about the whole buying journey, from the beginning to the end.

Bandholz: How many responses do you collect for accuracy?

Silvestri: It depends on the website traffic. I always try to run surveys for at least two weeks to cover all the days. The minimum number of responses is typically around 500. With website polls, I aim for a 70% completion rate.

Polls are helpful beyond the immediate project. For example, you could survey visitors about an important change to the website. You could place the poll on a specific location, such as a product page.

Be careful, however, about page speed. Some of the polling and heatmap tools can slow down a site.

One caveat with polling and heatmaps is ensuring you’re testing the right people. That can be difficult with niches.

A few tools I’ve worked with are UserTesting, Userfeel, and Hotjar. I started with UserTesting. It’s now enterprise-oriented. But with, say, five videos in a couple of hours, it can uncover probably 80% of the problems on a website.

Bandholz: A pet peeve of mine is font size. I encounter many sites with small fonts, which are harder to read.

Silvestri: Bigger fonts are always better. A lot of websites use a light gray font, which is also hard to read. It’s design 101 to check a font’s contrast with the background for readability.

Bandholz: There’s a lot of risk with a website launch. How can you test it before going live?

Silvestri: You can run user testing on the mockups. Most platforms allow it.

I sometimes use Figma, a free UI design app to create prototypes. I then send people links to the prototypes. They are navigating a fake website basically, but it provides many good insights that can uncover problems.

Bandholz: Where can people reach out to you and connect?

Silvestri: My website is Conversion Alchemy. On Twitter, I’m at @silvestrichris.

Charts: Grocery Spend by Individual, Generation, More

The accounting and consulting firm KPMG periodically surveys U.S. consumers about their overall purchasing patterns and sentiment. The firm then publishes the results in its “Consumer pulse survey” series.

KPMG’s latest pulse report is titled “Grocery 2022 forecast.” The company surveyed roughly 1,000 U.S. consumers from October 29, 2021, through November 7 on their expectations for 2022 grocery spend. The survey follows an uptick in pandemic-driven home cooking, which increased related purchases.

According to the survey findings, U.S. consumers generally expect their monthly grocery expenditures to trend upward in 2022.

Online grocery purchases soared in 2020 owing to the pandemic. That trend continued in 2021 — especially for younger consumers — but not to the 2020 level.

According to KPMG’s survey, 35% of respondents stated that they switched brands when their favorite grocery items were out of stock, highlighting the impact of stockouts on brands and retailers.

GWI, formerly GlobalWebIndex, a U.K.-based consumer research company, routinely surveys shoppers in 46 countries as to their purchasing habits.

In Q3 2021, a GWI survey found the percentage of worldwide internet users who buy groceries online varies by country — for example, 23.1% in the U.S., 31.7% in China, and 20.9% in Australia.

Inflation Could Harm DTC and Premium Brands

As prices rise for goods and services, shoppers have less buying power and may change buying habits.

Not long ago, a supermarket sold a four-pack of egg substitute for $3.99. Then it was $4.79. And then it was $5.49.

Shoppers might opt to stock up as buying power wanes. A consumer of egg substitutes who believes the price will keep rising may decide to toss a few extra boxes in the freezer before the price jumps again.

Binge buying should be familiar to anyone who needed toilet paper in the summer of 2020.

This behavior can create a demand flywheel, increasing inflation. It also tends to disrupt the supply chain. It could even commoditize some products. If his usual egg substitute is out of stock, a consumer might try a substitute for his substitute.

A direct-to-consumer or consumer-packaged-good brand impacted by such behavior could garner more short-term sales but face longer-term challenges in inventory availability and shopper behavior.

If his usual egg substitute is out of stock, a consumer might try a substitute for his substitute.

Essential vs. Non-essential

For some buyers, inflation might result in prioritization.

Essential products typically experience a much lower price elasticity than non-essentials. Folks keep buying essential goods even as prices soar.

There are many product categories that shoppers unanimously consider essential, such as food, basic clothing, and basic toiletries. Some shoppers will add personal essentials or near-essentials. For example, someone struggling with hair loss might consider Rogaine scalp treatment essential.

DTC and CPG brands and retailers should treat essential and non-essential products differently, perhaps raising prices to match expenses in the former and finding alternative ways to combat inflation in the latter.

But some businesses may not know if their products are essential or not until after sales have jumped or slumped.

Quantity over Quality

Amid inflation, shoppers may seek the same sorts of products but at a relatively lower price. These folks are looking for quantity over quality.

When inflation is low and finances are good, many shoppers prefer premium goods.

A consumer who buys premium coffee beans when prices are low could become a fan of an inexpensive store brand if the cost rises.

Hence an inflationary market can be good for low-cost private label brands and not so good for premium items. Brands and stores alike should consider this as they contemplate prices increases, positioning, and promotion.

This might be especially true for DTC brands with premium-priced products. They may need to reposition to retain customers against low-cost competitors.

But retailers might want to up their house-brand game, adding new private label products at lower price points than the brand-named goods they already sell.

Buy Less Overall

Some shoppers, facing rising prices, may opt to reduce overall spending.

Let’s use Jeff, who lives in New Hampshire. He canceled most of his streaming services in February as part of his inflation-fighting plan. He reduced household expenditures, trusted the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank to keep interest rates in line, and doubled down on his investing.

Jeff views rising prices as an opportunity to remove financial clutter and buckle down on expenses

For this type of shopper, the cost-cutting may start with subscription services. You can’t watch Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max simultaneously. So why have all three? He may also cancel his monthly box of curated fashion clothing and the regular delivery of dog toys.

Jeff intends to stay on budget despite everything becoming more expensive.

His actions impact DTC and CPG brands alike.

Knowing the Market

In short, inflationary buying behaviors force retailers and brands to consider the positioning of their products and plan for changes in demand.

Ecommerce Product Releases: April 3, 2022

Here is a list of product releases and updates for late March from companies that offer services to online merchants. There are updates on live streaming, social commerce, product tagging, next-day delivery, payment gateways, multi-store management, and marketplace automation.

Got an ecommerce product release? Email releases@practicalecommerce.com.

Ecommerce Product Releases

Shopify launches Linkpop, a free link-in-bio tool for social media profiles. The feature allows merchants to link from those profiles, such as Instagram, to a Linkpop page containing links not otherwise permitted by the social site — including shoppable links to websites, articles, videos, playlists, and more. Shoppable links on Linkpop automatically sync with a merchant’s Shopify product catalog.

Screenshot of Linkpop home page.Screenshot of Linkpop home page.

Linkpop by Shopify

BigCommerce releases Multi-Storefront, a feature that helps merchants create and manage various storefronts within a single BigCommerce backend. Accessible from the BigCommerce control panel, Multi-Storefront enables merchants to deliver tailored shopping experiences by setting up unique storefronts with separate domains, customized design, transactional and promotional emails, and custom pricing with preferred payment methods. Merchants can simplify the management of customers, products, order fulfillment, storefront analytics, and data insights. BigCommerce powers all the storefronts using its native Stencil framework or a third-party headless front-end such as Next.js, Bloomreach, and WordPress. Brands can also mix headless and native Stencil storefronts in a single account.

Google launches Shopping Experience Scorecard. To reward merchants for good customer experiences and help them build their reputation with potential buyers, Google has introduced the Shopping Experience Scorecard program. Merchants who provide excellent shipping and returns services will receive a Trusted Store badge that appears alongside their free product listings on the Shopping tab. Merchants receive a Trusted Store badge based on their performance across metrics relative to other merchants, including shipping speeds, costs, and return windows.

Instagram expands product tagging to U.S. users. Instagram is now allowing all U.S. users to tag products from businesses on Instagram Shopping. The expansion will make it easier for Instagram users to share and discover products. Merchants receive notifications when someone tags a product and control who tags through preference settings.

Screenshot of a Tweet by Alexandru Voica on Instagram tags.Screenshot of a Tweet by Alexandru Voica on Instagram tags.

All U.S. Instagram users can now tag products for purchase.

FedEx to test drone cargo delivery with Elroy Air. FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp., is teaming up with California-based Elroy Air, which produces autonomous vertical take-off and landing aerial cargo systems. FedEx Express will test Elroy Air’s Chaparral system within FedEx’s middle-mile logistics operations, moving shipments between sortation locations. The Chaparral aircraft can autonomously pick up 300-500 pounds of cargo and deliver it up to 300 miles.

Etsy launches Seller Events Hub. The new hub helps sellers find upcoming educational programs, seller-run markets, and other community events. The hub currently lists new Etsy U virtual workshops as well as courses on setting up an Etsy shop, growing a business, Etsy search optimization, product photography and video, live listing critiques, and the launch of new products.

PayPal broadens post-purchase services for merchants. PayPal has announced the availability of its Happy Returns portal software to merchants who offer PayPal Checkout. Happy Returns automates returns and exchanges and delivers a more user-friendly customer flow. With intelligent exchange suggestions based on return reasons and inventory, consumers can make an exchange within the same transaction or choose to receive a refund. Merchants with in-person returns can use Happy Returns to show customers nearby locations. Additionally, Happy Returns has partnered with Ulta Beauty, a retail chain, increasing the number of in-person locations to roughly 5,000.

Shippo opens an office in Dublin. Shippo, an ecommerce shipping platform, has created a European research and development center in Dublin, initially supporting engineering, product, and design teams. Shippo’s entry into Dublin aligns with its international expansion plans.

Screenshot of Shippo home page.Screenshot of Shippo home page.

Shippo

PayPal Ventures invests in Cymbio, an Israel-based marketplace automation platform. Cymbio enables merchants to automate selling on roughly 800 marketplaces worldwide. The investment, which follows a recent $20 million Series B round, allows Cymbio to invest in expansion capabilities.

Next-day delivery platform Veho acquires QuikReturn. Veho, a technology company that facilitates next-day delivery for ecommerce brands, has acquired QuikReturn, a reverse logistics startup firm in the New York City region. The acquisition accelerates Veho’s geographical expansion throughout the U.S.

ShopThing raises $10 million for live shopping in U.S., Canada. ShopThing, a live-shopping marketplace founded in 2018, has announced a USD $10 million Series A round led by Origin Ventures, with Pritzker Group and Interplay participation. ShopThing’s technology allows consumers to walk into stores and create shoppable product links to share live with thousands of marketplace viewers.

Recurly launches Partner Connect. Recurly, the subscription management platform, has launched Partner Connect, a payment gateway integration technology that allows payments partners to get certified and build connections within Recurly’s API. The new technology will simplify the expansion of new subscription programs on existing ecommerce stacks, streamlining billing and subscription management processes.

Recurly home pageRecurly home page

Recurly

Sutro Pivots from Drinking Water to Swimming Pools

Ravi Kurani is an engineer and former venture capitalist who launched Sutro, a water sensor manufacturer, in 2012 in India. The company produced devices that measured drinking water quality, a major concern there.

He told me, “We tried selling to the Indian government. It was the stupidest idea ever. Don’t try to sell anything to a government. It takes forever.”

Kurani’s solution was to return to California, his home, and pivot the company. Its sensor would target swimming pool owners, not drinking water providers.

The pivot worked. Sutro is now thriving as a direct-to-consumer seller and a technology firm to chemical companies and pool suppliers.

He recently described his journey to me. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Give us a rundown of Sutro.

Ravi Kurani: Sutro is a floating robot that ensures your swimming pool and spa water are safe. It’s a small laboratory that detects your pH level, chlorine, alkalinity — all in a simple app — so you know what chemicals to add and when. If you don’t have those chemicals, we connect you to a local pool store to purchase.

That, in a nutshell, is what we do.

Customers do not have to understand or program levels of pH, chlorine, and more. Our system is self-defined. It knows all the complex chemistry and mathematics to get you to that right level. We consider many variables, such as the local weather in Austin or your starting water chemistry.

Our system tells you exactly what chemicals to add. Our robot does not yet put the chemicals in the water, although that feature is coming.

Bandholz: Does your robot stay in the water 24/7?

Kurani: Yes, that’s what we recommend. The device’s algorithm learns over time how your water chemistry changes.

Bandholz: Your device wasn’t initially for swimming pools and spas.

Kurani: Yes, that’s correct. I used to be an associate at a venture capital fund in India. The fund’s primary purpose was to invest in companies focused on technologies and products for folks who make less than $2 a day. Poverty is a big concern in India. Lack of food and clean drinking water is a huge problem there.

Much of our deal flow was around drinking water filtration, but nobody was looking at water sensing. Those devices cost upwards of $10,000 back in 2011. There were very few companies that did water sensing. So we built our first water sensor in India around 2012. We tried selling it to the Indian government. It was the stupidest idea ever. Don’t try to sell anything to a government. It takes forever.

I came back to California. My dad and mom once owned a chain of pool and spa supply stores. We flipped the business model around. Rather than focusing on poverty, we decided to sell the sensor to wealthier communities, to folks that own swimming pools and spas.

We’re still interested in eventually solving drinking water problems. Anywhere water purity is an issue, we want to be there.

Bandholz: Are you still VC-backed?

Kurani: No. We were venture-capital-backed for the first five years. In 2017, Sani Marc, a large chemical company in Canada, acquired us. I now run that subsidiary.

Bandholz: Are you an engineer?

Kurani: Yes. My background is in mechanical engineering, with a minor in fluidics — the use of fluids to perform analog or digital functions. I worked at NASA for about a year after college. And then I got an MBA and worked in the venture capital industry. A lot of the technology in our initial sensor is from my mechanical engineering and fluidics days.

Bandholz: You’ve shifted Sutro to focus on pools and spas. How do you sell your devices?

Kurani: We launched our first device for that market during the pandemic. Everything we planned for distribution and retail sales changed. We quickly adjusted to more of an online presence.

The pandemic was great for us because more people were at home. Many built pools and spent time in their backyards. So our direct-to-consumer sales have been solid over the last two years. To find prospects, we use datasets from Multiple Listing Services of Realtors. We know where people with pools live because we can see a house with a swimming pool that’s been sold.

We aggregate that data and then plug it into Facebook and Google for ad campaigns. We also have retargeting campaigns similar to typical ecommerce businesses.

We’re now building a platform for pool stores to interface and communicate with their customers. Eighty-five percent of pool owners monitor water quality themselves.

The 85% shop online or go to a pool store to get their water tested. We want Sutro to be the Fitbit for your pool — an alarm that tells you if anything is wrong. The Sutro platform allows pool stores to see their customers’ data. Customers can then go to the stores and buy the chemicals. We hope to launch the platform this year.

Bandholz: How do you develop relationships with the pool stores?

Kurani: Sutro is the middleman. We recommend chemicals. We work with chemical companies to ensure that we’re right-sizing their product for pool owners. That’s how we get into pool stores.

We’re not knocking on every pool store’s door. We’re working with chemical companies to help them use the Sutro technology to better instruct the pool stores and their customers on what to put in a pool. That’s our model.

Bandholz: I see so many opportunities for your business. Folks in Flint, Michigan, could have used it, for example, to detect lead levels in their water. Even here in Austin, residents have had water boil notices.

Kurani: Yes. We could distribute to that segment in a couple of ways. We could sell directly to individuals. They could attach our product to their tap and measure the water in real-time.

But the better way is to sell to municipalities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires city governments to test their water. But that would involve selling to a governmental entity, which was our first problem in India.

Bandholz: Tell us about your staff.

Kurani: We’re up to about 50 team members. The core group is just seven people. The others are mostly contractors in China that do our manufacturing. We have a small group in Quebec at Sani Marc, our acquirer, doing the chemistry and lab work. Our web and app development team is primarily in Kosovo, north of Greece, with a few in Mexico City.

Those contracted agencies do everything from manufacturing to chemical work to web and app development.

Bandholz: How do you manage such an extended team?

Kurani: Having a project manager is critical. That’s someone who knows everything across the organization, more or less a chief operating officer.

We split the organization in terms of products, such as manufacturing, app development, and web development.

Lastly, we make sure that Slack is a safe space. Engineers, especially, are often shy about communicating on Slack. We want a culture where people can talk about anything on that app. We have face-to-face communication on Google Meet. But Slack is our place for daily dialog and conversations.

Bandholz: What’s keeping you awake at night?

Kurani: Supply chain issues. We can get products made in China, but getting them to the U.S. is a problem. There’s a shortage of shipping containers. Many ports are clogged or blocked.

Ramping up sales keeps me awake, too. We’ve done a lot of advertising for brand building. Our ratio of customer acquisition cost to lifetime value is higher than usual. I want to bring that down for profitability. The Facebook algorithm change last year hit us hard.

Bandholz: Where can folks reach out to you and buy your products?

Kurani: Our website is MySutro.com. We’re selling our devices right now. Hit the buy button, and you’ll have a Sutro in your house in three to five days. I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter.

How to Use SUMIF, SUMIFS in Google Sheets

Google Sheets SUMIF and SUMIFS functions help analyze, organize, and sum data based on specific criteria.

These formulas total cell values when they meet the requirements you set.

I recently did this for an online business that wanted to dig deep into its traffic reports.

I exported the company’s daily site traffic by channel from its analytics software and imported that data into a Google Sheet, which I saved as “Daily Traffic.”

I then aggregated the data: one row per channel per day. The company receives traffic from roughly nine sources. Thus from January 1 to March 28 (87 days), the spreadsheet had 748 rows of channel-traffic totals. This was too much information to sort through manually.

Screenshot of Google Sheet showing SUMIF example Screenshot of Google Sheet showing SUMIF example

The data import resulted in 748 rows of channel-traffic totals.

Using sample data, let’s look at how the SUMIF and SUMIFS formulas can help analyze site traffic, specifically:

  • How much traffic did each channel generate for the entire 87-day period?
  • How much did each channel generate monthly?

SUMIF

The imported traffic info has three columns: date, channel, and the number of unique visits for each channel on that day.

Screenshot of Google Sheet with SUMIFs examplesScreenshot of Google Sheet with SUMIFs examples

The source data has three columns in a sheet: Date, Channel, and Site Traffic.

My first task is to figure out how much traffic each channel generated for the entire 87 days.

To begin, I created a sheet called “Total Traffic by Channel,” with two columns: “Channel” and “Total Traffic.”

Screenshot of Google Sheets SUMIFs example with two columnsScreenshot of Google Sheets SUMIFs example with two columns

A new sheet, Total Traffic by Channel, contains the traffic totals for each channel for the entire period.

I used the SUMIF formula to obtain the total traffic from each channel for the entire date range. The formula accepts two or three parameters.

The two-parameter version includes “range” and “criterion.”

=SUMIF(range, criterion)

In this case, the range is where the formula will look for the criterion and the cells to sum.

For this example, we need the three-parameter version, which adds a “sum range.” That range is where Google Sheets will look when it matches the criterion. The sum range represents the cells to be totaled.

=SUMIF(range, criterion, sum range)

I’ll now use the formula to get the traffic from the affiliate channel.

As I start to type “=SUMIF” into the formula bar, Google Sheets provides the option to select the SUMIF formula.

Screenshot of Google Sheets showing SUMIF being typedScreenshot of Google Sheets showing SUMIF being typed

Google Sheets suggests SUMIF even before the typing is complete.

Because I selected the suggested SUMIF formula, Google Sheets showed me a guide. I can navigate around the workbook and select columns from the Daily Traffic sheet as needed.

Screenshot of Google Sheet with the suggested SUMIF function.Screenshot of Google Sheet with the suggested SUMIF function.

Selecting the suggested SUMIF function simplifies the formula-creation process.

I navigate to the “Daily Traffic” sheet and select column B.

Next, I need to define my criterion, which is the word “Affiliate.” Because I already have this word in my new sheet, Total Traffic by Channel, I can use the cell reference, A3.

Screenshot showing the sum range as the criterion.Screenshot showing the sum range as the criterion.

Clicking on the A3 cell adds its value, “Affiliate,” to the SUMIF formula as the criterion.

Finally, I navigate back to the Daily Traffic sheet and select column C, the sum range. If Column B matches my criterion “Affiliate,” the value in Column C of the same row will be added to the total.

Screenshot showing Column C as the sum range.Screenshot showing Column C as the sum range.

If Column B matches my criterion, “Affiliate,” the value in Column C of the same row will be added to the total.

Here is the completed formula.

=SUMIF('Daily Traffic'!B:B,A3,'Daily Traffic'!C:C)

Just like that, we know that the affiliate channel drove 53,875 site visits from January 1 through March 28.

Google Sheets screenshot showing the total visits from affiliates.Google Sheets screenshot showing the total visits from affiliates.

The SUMIF formula worked. The affiliate channel drove 53,875 visits from January 1 through March 28.

I can grab the bottom corner of this cell and drag the formula down to get the totals for each of the remaining channels.

Screenshot showing the effect of dragging a cellScreenshot showing the effect of dragging a cell

Dragging the cell’s formula down the column fills in the traffic totals for all other channels.

The “Paid” (i.e., advertising) channel generated the lion’s share of traffic (3,038,521 visits), which is common for ecommerce sites.

SUMIFS

The SUMIFS function is similar to SUMIF, except it allows multiple criteria. This feature helps answer the second question, “How much traffic did each channel generate monthly?”

The parameters for SUMIFS are in a slightly different order.

=SUMIFS(sum range, criterion range, criterion)

It’s possible to have nearly unlimited criteria by adding pairs of criterion range and criterion.

=SUMIFS(sum range, criterion range 1, criterion 1, criterion range 2, criterion 2)

I’ve created another sheet, “Monthly Traffic by Channel,” with rows of channels and with columns of months.

Screenshot of Monthly Traffic by ChannelScreenshot of Monthly Traffic by Channel

The Monthly Traffic by Channel sheet is where the SUMIFS function gets monthly traffic totals.

I’ve worked through the SUMIFS function in the same manner as the SUMIF function. Because it can include many criteria, the SUMIFs formula can get long. Eventually, I have the completed formula for the affiliate channel in January 2022.

=SUMIFS('Daily Traffic'!C:C,'Daily Traffic'!B:B,A2,'Daily Traffic'!A:A,">=2022-01-01",'Daily Traffic'!A:A,"<=2022-01-31")
Screenshot of a SUMIFs formula.Screenshot of a SUMIFs formula.

The SUMIFs formula can get long owing to many criteria.

Let’s break down this formula.

The first parameter is the sum range, column C in the Daily Traffic sheet. It contains the actual traffic volume.

=SUMIFS('Daily Traffic'!C:C,

The next two comma-separated parameters are the first criterion range and the first criterion.

'Daily Traffic'!B:B,A2

Column B in the Daily Traffic sheet (‘Daily Traffic’!B:B in the formula) is the list of channels. Cell A2 holds the channel name “Affiliate.” I could have typed “affiliate,” but using the cell reference makes it possible to drag the formula down and fill the other channels.

The next two pairs of criterion range and criterion create a date range. Daily Traffic column A holds the dates. The criterion “>=2022-01-01” specifies that the date is greater than or equal to January 1, 2022.

'Daily Traffic'!A:A,">=2022-01-01"

I included the date as text  “>=2022-01-01” because I knew Google Sheets would recognize that format. Another way of writing dates is: “>=”&date(2022,1,1).

Both will work.

I can copy and paste the formula across the date range for each, but otherwise the task is complete. The SUMIFs function made the process relatively straightforward. I now know the total monthly traffic generated by each channel.

Screenshot of the final Daily Traffic sheet showing the SUMIFs formulaScreenshot of the final Daily Traffic sheet showing the SUMIFs formula

The SUMIFs function was straightforward to get monthly totals by channel.

13 New Ecommerce Books for Spring 2022

Here’s a batch of new ecommerce books for spring. There are titles on analytics, business disruption, international commerce, breakthrough design, startup success, podcasting, direct-to-consumer brands, and the metaverse.

I compiled this list using Amazon. From Amazon’s “Books” category, I selected “Business & Money.” From there, I chose the “Processes & Infrastructure” sub-category and selected “E-commerce.” Then I handpicked titles from that group based on customer ratings and relation to ecommerce. I also picked a few titles from the “Business Development & Entrepreneurship” sub-category.

New Ecommerce Books

Emotion By Design: Creative Leadership Lessons from a Life at Nike by Greg Hoffman

Screenshot of Emotion By Design book.Screenshot of Emotion By Design book.

Emotion By Design

“Emotion By Design,” by former Nike Chief Marketing Officer Greg Hoffman, shares lessons and stories on the power of creativity, taken from nearly three decades with the company. Learn to unlock the creativity within a brand to develop stronger emotional bonds with consumers using three simple principles: creativity is a team sport, dare to be remembered, and leave a legacy, not just a memory. Hardcover $30.00; Kindle $16.99.

Analytics for Retail: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Statistics Behind a Successful Retail Business by Rhoda Okunev

Screenshot of Analytics for Retail book.Screenshot of Analytics for Retail book.

Analytics for Retail

“Analytics for Retail” is a primer on the basic mathematics, probability, and statistics required to analyze big data. Follow this guide to manage the mechanics of markups, markdowns, basic statistics, math, and computers. Use applied mathematics to build a retail business and master decision-making and communication in a retail business environment. Paperback $37.99.

Burn Rate: Launching a Startup and Losing My Mind by Andy Dunn

Screenshot of Burn Rate book. Screenshot of Burn Rate book.

Burn Rate

“Burn Rate” is a memoir by Andy Dunn, the co-founder of the successful direct-to-consumer menswear brand Bonobos, which details his struggle with bipolar disorder through his entrepreneurial journey. Dunn opens up about the dark side of his success and creativity and disorder in the startup community. Hardcover $28.00; Kindle $13.99.

How to Start & Grow a Successful Podcast: Tips, Techniques and True Stories from Podcasting Pioneers by Gilly Smith

Screenshot of How to Start & Grow a Successful Podcast book.Screenshot of How to Start & Grow a Successful Podcast book.

How to Start & Grow a Successful Podcast

“How to Start & Grow a Successful Podcast” is a practical step-by-step guide to building a podcast from scratch with tips, techniques, and stories from podcasting pioneers, by expert and early adopter Gilly Smith. Learn to recognize your audience, decide on the format and structures of your show, master production techniques, and decide on a release and distribution plan. Paperback $21.99; Kindle $8.99.

See, Solve, Scale: How Anyone Can Turn an Unsolved Problem into a Breakthrough Success by Danny Warshay

Screenshot of See, Solve, Scale book.Screenshot of See, Solve, Scale book.

See, Solve, Scale

“See, Solve, Scale,” by the creator of Brown University’s renowned Entrepreneurial Process course, shares the same tools with aspiring entrepreneurs. Follow the forming of a successful startup team through three steps: find and validate a problem, develop an initial small-scale solution, and scale a long-term solution. Review the 11 common errors of judgment that entrepreneurs make when they rely on their intuition and find out how to avoid them. Hardcover $26.09; Kindle $14.99.

Event Success: Maximizing the Business Impact of In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Experiences by Alon Alroy, Eran Ben-Shushan, and Boaz Katz

Event Success book.Event Success book.

Event Success

“Event Success” will help readers unlock the full potential of their organization’s events, whether the events are physical, virtual, or hybrid. Learn to create elevated experiences and drive strategic goals, measure event success, integrate an end-to-end marketing plan, create buzz, and more. Hardcover $22.49; Kindle $18.00.

The Direct to Consumer Playbook: The Stories and Strategies of the Brands that Wrote the DTC Rules by Mike Stevens

Screenshot of The Direct To Consumer Playbook book.Screenshot of The Direct To Consumer Playbook book.

The Direct to Consumer Playbook

“The Direct to Consumer Playbook” explores how brands can find success by selling directly to consumers through ecommerce. From the stories of pioneering DTC brands that got it right, learn how to navigate funding and growth, use data, and build a community for a bulletproof brand. Paperback $27.99; Kindle $22.39.

Make Money While You Sleep by Lucy Griffiths

Screenshot of Make Money While You Sleep book.Screenshot of Make Money While You Sleep book.

Make Money While You Sleep

“Make Money While You Sleep” teaches readers how to create a passive income business that works 24 hours a day. Learn the process of course creation from start to finish. Find out how to position yourself as an expert and turn your ideas into a bestselling brand. Paperback $19.99; Kindle $8.99.

The Metaverse Handbook: Innovating for the Internet’s Next Tectonic Shift by QuHarrison Terry, and Scott “DJ Skee” Keeney

Screenshot of The Metaverse Handbook book.Screenshot of The Metaverse Handbook book.

The Metaverse Handbook

“The Metaverse Handbook” is for creative professionals seeking to understand and utilize the emerging changes of the web in their business ventures. Highlighting more than 120 creators who have built digital tools, this guide explores innovations in digital commerce, digital communities, and digital consumer experiences. Hardcover $28.00.

Ecommerce Reimagined: Retail and Ecommerce in China by Sharon Gai

Screenshot of Ecommerce Reimagined book.Screenshot of Ecommerce Reimagined book.

Ecommerce Reimagined

“Ecommerce Reimagined” is a practical guide to Chinese ecommerce markets, written by a director of Alibaba. Entrepreneurs and businesses hoping to tap into China’s $5.6 trillion retail market can learn how ecommerce has transformed the Chinese retail space. Hardcover $49.99.

The Automatic Marketing Machine by RJon Robins and Danny Decker

Screenshot of The Automatic Marketing Machine book.Screenshot of The Automatic Marketing Machine book.

The Automatic Marketing Machine

“The Automatic Marketing Machine” provides step-by-step instructions, case studies, tools, and resources to help you build an automated system for generating clients and customers. Learn to filter out the “wrong” prospects and make your automated system for a steady stream of highly-qualified candidates coming to your door. Hardcover $24.99.

The Future of Shopping by Jorg Snoeck and Pauline Neerman

Screenshot of The Future of Shopping book.Screenshot of The Future of Shopping book.

The Future of Shopping

“The Future of Shopping” offers a look into the trends and evolutions of online retail, provides insights into catalysts, and lays out a framework for adapting your brand to the consumer of today and tomorrow. This updated edition explores a new perspective on globalization and the pressing questions of what brands and merchants must do to survive in this new retail landscape. Hardcover $40.00.

Breakthrough Startups: Crush The Competition With Your Innovative Startup by Jonathan S. Walker

Screenshot of Breakthrough Startups book. Screenshot of Breakthrough Startups book.

Breakthrough Startups

“Breakthrough Startups” is a guide for creating traction for a business to attract investors and gain an edge over the competition. Learn why traction is crucial for business survival, and get proven marketing strategies to get a business off the ground. Review the strengths of digital marketing strategies and the common mistakes to avoid when running a startup. Paperback $13.99.

‘People Development’ Drives AppSumo to $80 Million in Revenue

I last interviewed Ayman Al-Abdullah for this podcast in 2018. He was the CEO of AppSumo, the daily deals site for digital goods, having joined in 2015 after launching and selling two businesses himself. In late 2021 he resigned as CEO.

During his tenure, AppSumo’s annual revenue grew from $3 million to a whopping $80 million. Al-Abdulla attributes the growth to “people development” — hiring the right team and delegating the work.

My entire audio conversation with him is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: It’s been four years since you’ve been on the show.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Right. We discussed the rise of AppSumo. Last year I stepped down as the CEO.

Bandholz: AppSumo blew up during that period.

Al-Abdullah: We were doing about $3 million in revenue when I took over. When I stepped down, we were doing $80 million and growing 80% per year. We’re knocking on nine-figure-revenue territory now.

It was an amazing ride. It was fun working with Noah Kagan, who founded the company, and the entire team. However, a business with dramatic growth requires a different type of CEO. That’s why I stepped down. We needed someone to take us to the next level.

Bandholz: You have great insights about hiring.

Al-Abdullah: Let’s walk through the levels of growth in a business. Getting to $3 million is an incredible, arduous journey. It’s three pillars to get to that point. First, who is your ideal client, the person you’re solving the problem for?

Second, what is the product? What will you deliver to those clients?

Third, how will you communicate the product to the target audience? It’s critical to know who you’re reaching. Otherwise, you release a product without knowing who it helps. It’s the equivalent of addressing a love letter to “Whom it may concern.”

So those three things — person, product, promotion — can get you to mid-seven figures, depending on the type of business.

So once you get to about $5 million in annual revenue, everything changes, and many businesses reach a bottleneck. They’re stalling due to a people problem. Before about $5 million, you’re in product development mode. Afterward, you’re in people development. The goal for that type of CEO is to rise above the day-to-day crises.

Heres’ an example. Shortly after starting at AppSumo in 2015, I went on a vacation to Columbia. I was looking forward to having two weeks away. But I spent the entire vacation in the hotel lobby putting out fires and answering customer support tickets.

There had to be a better way. I asked myself, “What is taking up my time?” It was a combination of customer service, admin work, and launching new deals.

So I started building a team that would address each of those elements. We hired Chris Schelzi to handle the backend of AppSumo. We hired Olman Quesada to close deals. Slowly, over time, I extracted myself from the day-to-day details.

Sure enough, I was in Europe a few years later and entirely offline. The business was thriving. There were no fire drills.

The personnel change enabled me to work on projects two to three quarters, if not years, in advance.

Bandholz: Smaller brands cannot afford expensive employees. It’s a cash-flow problem. An entrepreneur can’t hire a person in the U.S. for less than $50,000. If a company is doing $1 million in revenue, that’s a big chunk of profit.

Al-Abdullah: Almost all of it, perhaps.

Bandholz: How does the entrepreneur know when to make that hire?

Al-Abdullah: That’s a great call out. Here’s what I did at AppSumo.

When I joined the company, the entire team was focused on SumoMe, an email capture tool. I would close a deal on Monday, write the copy on Tuesday, send an email on Wednesday, support customers on Thursday, and reach out to prospects on Friday. I did that every week. I didn’t enjoy it, and it wasn’t my strength. Plus it didn’t produce much money for the business.

So I looked at my contacts. I hired an intern from the honors business group at the University of Texas here in Austin. He ended up working for AppSumo for six months. I paid him $15 an hour out of pocket through Venmo for about 10 hours a week.

That’s $150 weekly. Any business can afford that. The intern freed an entire day for me each week. I then was able to close more deals. Suddenly the business started growing by 20% to 30%. That extra revenue allowed me to make my first full-time hire.

It all started with the part-time intern. There are a ton of places to find that type of employee. Look overseas. Hire a mom seeking to get back into the workforce. Hire a student. Consider a virtual assistant. They’ll all do incredible work.

Bandholz: One lesson from that is knowing how to use the extra time productively.

Al-Abdullah: Exactly. It’s an essential skill to learn, especially if you’re a bootstrap business. AppSumo is 100% bootstrapped. It’s critical to use the time wisely.

We recognized, for example, that if we doubled our effort towards sales and closed better deals, we would grow the business. And that’s what happened. It’s like understanding your strategic flywheel. If you know your business’s flywheel, you can’t help but bring in more customers.

Bandholz: You were a great salesperson. How did you know when to hand it off?

Al-Abdullah: An entrepreneur or CEO should slowly back away from the business, where you are no longer involved in the operations and production. Otherwise, you’re not going to have the time to focus on growth.

For me, that was a multi-year process. We hired Olman for sales and eventually built an incredible sales team. In the interim, I closed around three deals a week, then two deals, and then one.

Bandholz: Let’s discuss compensation. You and I are here in Austin. We compete for local employees with Facebook, Google, the big players. How do you make AppSumo competitive with those companies?

Al-Abdullah: We never will if it’s salary alone. But we can compete on the intangibles.

For example, we believe in helping the underdogs and the next generation of entrepreneurs. Almost all employees at the company run a side hustle. They believe in entrepreneurship.

We support our team’s side efforts. We’ll do side hustle Saturdays and help them work and build their businesses.

Bandholz: You’re no longer AppSumo’s CEO. What now?

Al-Abdullah: I planned to step back and enjoy myself. But I had many people reach out to me about joining their company as CEO. I wasn’t ready for that, but I am interested in coaching and helping others. I could have benefited from it when I was starting in the trenches.

So I’m now doing advisory work for a handful of companies. I’ve found the work very rewarding. It’s an opportunity to stay close to business while not being in the driver’s seat, which is more than a full-time job, as you well know.

Bandholz: Speaking of a full-time job, what are your thoughts on a CEO’s working hours? Society is changing, it seems, and no longer expects that person to work nonstop.

Al-Abdullah: It depends on where you are as a CEO. Do you have an established leadership team to handle every fire drill?

Until you have the team and processes in place, you should expect the job to be hard. It is not easy.

Bandholz: How can people reach out?

Al-Abdullah: Twitter is the easiest — @aymanalabdul. My website is AymanAlAbdullah.com. I have a link on my home page to a free Notion template to help manage and organize a team. Anyone can use it.

Charts: Average Order, Cart Abandons, More

Influencer Marketing Hub is a Denmark-based publishing company producing articles and other content for the social media and influencer industries.

Its “eCommerce Benchmark Report 2022 – State of the eCommerce Industry,” issued in December 2021, repurposes research from 16 ecommerce vendors to form an overview of online selling worldwide. The report focuses on roughly 20 metrics from those vendors.

For this week’s charts, I’ve excerpted research in that report from KIBO Commerce and Kantar Group. KIBO is a Dallas, Texas-based personalization platform for omnichannel sellers. U.K.-based Kantar is a global consultancy, perhaps best known for its annual rundown of the most valuable global brands.

Average Order Values

KIBO’s “Q2 2021 Ecommerce Quarterly Benchmarks Report” — based on its own customer data — addresses changes in average ecommerce order values from Q2 2020 and Q2 2021 across four global regions: U.S., U.K., EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa,) and Other.

Cart Abandonment Rates

KIBO also studied its customers’ cart abandonment rates in Q2 2021 for smartphone, desktop, and tablet users in the U.S. and U.K.

Opportunities

Influencer Marketing Hub cited Kantar’s report, “The state of ecommerce 2021,” which addressed opportunities for agencies to sell services to ecommerce retailers. Kantar surveyed in early 2020 “500 online [worldwide] purchasers and 200 industry professionals across brand, shopper marketing, ecommerce, and advertising specialties.”

Kantar’s survey also addressed the top employment opportunities for individuals — ecommerce professionals.

Are Apparel Brands Achieving Sustainability?

Over the last five years most sizeable apparel companies have issued sustainability goals and how they intend to attain them. Some publish annual reports on their progress. But it isn’t easy to know whether a company is sustainable as there’s no clear definition or standardized data.

Apparel companies typically define sustainability narrowly, focusing on environmental impacts — i.e., avoiding the depletion of natural resources. By this measure, large brands are making progress. However, nonprofit organizations that monitor compliance often adopt a broader perspective, looking at economic, social, and environmental factors.

Good On You is a sustainability grading platform for fashion companies. It rates brands on the following scale: “Great,” “Good,” “It’s a Start,” “Not Good Enough,” and “We Avoid.”

Screenshot of Good On You web page reading "Thousands of rated brands."Screenshot of Good On You web page reading "Thousands of rated brands."

Good On You is a sustainability grading platform for fashion brands.

Founded in Australia, Good On You defines itself as “…the world’s leading source for fashion brand ratings…and uses expert analysis to give each brand an easy-to-understand score.”

It conforms to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12 to “ensure sustainable production and consumption patterns.” Along with environmental effects, Good On You considers how companies treat employees, contractors, and animals.

I share below what brands say about their sustainability efforts and their ratings from Good On You.

Evaluating Brands’ Sustainability

Kering, a Paris-based luxury fashion conglomerate, has made strides in sustainability. Its brands include Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Alexander McQueen.

Kering’s Environmental Profit & Loss account guides its sustainable business model. It assigns a monetary value to its environmental footprint across its supply chain. The company aims to reduce negative environmental impacts in sourcing raw materials, manufacturing, and transportation by 40% between 2015 and 2025.

In 2013, Kering established a Materials Innovation Lab, a library of sustainable fabric and textile samples that its creative teams could access to choose materials. In 2021, Kering announced that none of its brands would use animal fur, starting with the fall 2022 collections.

The company also plans a 50% reduction in its carbon emissions by 2025. It maintains a carbon offset program through REDD+, an effort to fight deforestation. In 2019, Kering committed to carbon neutrality across its brands by offsetting annual greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2017, audits show a yearly reduction of several thousand tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Good On You rates Alexander McQueen, Gucci, and Saint Laurent as “It’s a Start” and Balenciaga as “Good.”

LVMH, also based in Paris, is a luxury goods company with brands in six sectors: wines and spirits, fashion and leather, watches and jewelry, and perfume and cosmetics — including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Bulgari, Tiffany, Moet Hennessy, and Tag Heuer.

The LIFE program — “LVMH Initiatives For the Environment” — is the conglomerate’s program for initiatives to improve environmental performance. Its jewelry brands have committed to responsible sourcing of raw materials.

Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Givenchy have stated they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated by their supply chain by a certain percentage but have not provided evidence that they are meeting their target.

Good On You rates Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Givenchy as “Not Good Enough” as they use few eco-friendly materials.

Stella McCartney. This clothing, shoe, and accessory brand based in London has been a pioneer in ethical and sustainable design and manufacturing. It promotes cruelty-free processes and manufacturing and aims to achieve full circularity with renewable or recyclable raw materials.

It is committed to preventing deforestation in its supply chain and continuously monitors its suppliers for adherence to its policies. It measures and reports both direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.

Good On You rates Stella McCartney as “Good.”

Levi’s. Headquartered in San Francisco, Levi’s has committed to recycling and reselling its jeans. It is on target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its operations and supply chain and appears to be on track to meet its goals. Making denim jeans is highly water-intensive. Levi’s has attempted to reduce water usage throughout its supply chain. It has also implemented an animal welfare policy.

Good on You rates Levi’s an “It’s a Start.”

Nike. Each year, Nike publishes an impact report detailing its sustainability efforts. Objectives are to eliminate waste in the manufacturing process, reduce water usage in the supply chain, and improve labor conditions for workers. It has a deadline to eliminate hazardous chemicals by 2025 and is on track to meet it.

Good On You rates Nike as “It’s a Start.”