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Robert: welcome to the e-commerce marketing podcast today’s guest is Ryan Grant from http://onlinesellingexperiment.com. Welcome to the podcast Ryan.
Ryan: Thanks for having me. Good to be here.
Robert: If you can just tell us about yourself what’s your background information as far as selling online and what do you do with your business and your company.
Ryan: Yeah definitely. So I started selling online back in about 2008. I was in college at a small school in southeast Minnesota and I, my first foray into selling online was with textbooks. I was noticing the gap in prices between what the college bookstore was willing to pay me for my books and what they were going for online and Amazon in particular and then that led me, let me down a path of starting my own, basically the e-commerce business. I started with textbooks on Amazon, selling my own, selling my friends and then we would set up at some other campuses near southeast Minnesota and buy books from students there as well. So that was kind of my first start into it. If we fast forward to today, I’ve been doing this full-time now for about four years and my business sells primarily on Amazon and then we also sell on eBay and http://Jet.com calm and we’re just getting started in putting some of our products live on a Shopify store as well. So my business is based in Minneapolis Minnesota. We sell all kinds of different products. Kind of depends on the time of the year and what’s the most in-demand product at the time. I’ve got a team of about eight people that help me with the business about everything from sourcing product fulfillment and getting everything out the door. So that’s a quick rundown of what I’m up to and kind of how I got here.
Robert: Okay so you first started was this like a side hustle when you were selling the textbooks.
Ryan: Yeah it was, that was more or less a side hustle. That was when I was in college so I was taking classes and then doing the textbook buyback type events in addition to that.
Robert: Okay and did you do that for five years and then starting in 2013 that’s when you started selling your own products and coming up with your own products.
Ryan: Yeah so about five years was how long the textbook thing lasted and when I graduated from college I did for, I became an accountant for about a year and nine months as an accounting firm in downtown Minneapolis. I was still doing the textbook thing on the side but I wanted to dedicate full-time hours to both the textbook thing and then seeing what I could do on other, basically see what I could do in terms of expanding the e-commerce business beyond just textbooks too. So I quit that in September of and that’s when the full-time portion of this began.
Robert: Okay and are you glad and happy about your decision just to go full-time and pursuer your entrepreneurial dreams?
Ryan: Absolutely yeah very happy that I made that decision. Because in that job I wasn’t unhappy but I wasn’t really happy with what I was doing. Either I was kind of just content or I always wanted to do my own business full-time. So I’m really happy that I stepped away to do this. I mean it’s played out really well for me. So I’m been one of the better decisions I’ve ever made.
Robert: Like give us an example, what’s one thing that you’re able to do right now as an entrepreneur that gives you I guess pleasure and fulfillment that you didn’t get when you were working as an accountant.
Ryan: Yeah one of the big biggest things is probably just being able to provide jobs for people and provide them a way to make an income and that’s not something that I really had any control of and I was an accountant. So’s been very fulfilling and then just the freedom of time and freedom of schedule has been another big thing for me. I mean there’s definitely times where I’m putting in more hours than I would have. But then there’s also times where I can kind of step away and take a week off here there and it’s not and then the business keeps running either way.
Robert: Okay so let’s switch back to the business and marketing. So before we delve into the marketing strategies. What are the different products that you’re selling right now in Amazon and jet?
Ryan: Yeah so the, we sell all kinds of different products. We work with everything from wholesale companies, distributors. So we sell made primarily other people’s products and then we buy them via wholesale relationships. so we sell everything from clothes, shoes, home goods, home improvement type products and then like we’ll do a lot of toys and gifts type items closer to Christmas as well. So that’s kind of a far ranging amount of products that we sell.
Robert: Okay and now we can get into the marketing. So what are some of the top market strategies that you’re using to get customers and get traffic?
Ryan: Yeah so we really try to harness the power of these existing marketplaces and make sure that we’re really taking advantage of the fees that we pay to them in return for them getting the customers that they already have and then just providing products that these customers are looking for. so we look a lot already at, like on Amazon for example we look a lot at the sales rank on these products and then that gives us an indication of how well it’s already selling. So we look for products like that and then we’ll go to go into these products and see what we can improve on the listings see if there’s keywords that we can add that are working for other products that we can add to products that we’re selling. I guess we can dive in specific as you want into the strategies. But we really are trying to harness the power of like Amazon for instance. Because they have millions of customers and then offering the products for sale to their customers and return for a fee is a pretty good deal. so we’re not driving tons of traffic to Amazon we’re making sure that the products that we sell in Amazon when a customer is looking at our listing we have the best chances of getting them to convert and actually turn into a sale on Amazon.
Robert: Okay so yeah let’s get into the details of how you’re doing that. So what are you doing to optimize your listing? So as far as keywords how do you find the keywords etc. So we can just break it down and we can go into the details.
Ryan: Yeah so in terms of finding keywords for the products there’s a couple different tools that we use one’s called merchant words and then another is called ace inspector or Ayden inspector. with both of these tools you can evaluate competitors listings and figure out what types of keywords they are using that are converting for them in generating sales and then we’re able to use a combination of that and then also search for additional keywords from merchant words and then we’re able to put these keywords into the backend of our Amazon listings and then that allows us to effectively begin competing for specific search terms that customers are using on Amazon and then we’re able to hopefully increase the sales for the products that we’re selling. so that’s one of the big things that we do to make sure that our items are showing up when customers are searching for anything that relates to what we’re selling.
Robert: And how long does it take for this change to take place. Once you find good keywords you optimize your listing with these keywords. How long before you start seeing the results?
Ryan: It depends a little bit on how much competition is out there for similar products. It can be within a couple days. Sometimes it’s going to take a few weeks to begin really seeing the benefit. It’s going to depend a bit on the how saturated the market is. But if you’re in an unsaturated area of the market, you’re targeting some kind of untapped potential with keywords you’ll start seeing results within a few days.
Robert: Okay are there other things that you could for the optimization other than just getting keywords that you can run for.
Ryan: Making sure that you have really good high quality product images, making sure that everything on your listing you’re taking advantage of all the bullet points, your title. Making sure that all of that is full of keywords and just really putting in the effort on it. You can kind of tell one listings that have where the person has put a lot of time and effort into the listing and those are generally listings that convert better as opposed to listings that only have one or two pictures and one or two bullet points. And not a full product description. So just really putting in the time and effort into the listing making sure you have the pictures title bullet points then a solid product description, those are all things that go a long way. And then one other thing to make sure that you’re utilizing with Amazon is just using their sponsored Product Ads which is a platform that they have directly within their platform. And you can run, initially there is, they have two types of campaigns. They have automatic campaigns and they also have manual campaigns. The automatic campaigns just target keywords that Amazon believes will be best for your products to generate sales. So those are a really good way to start. you can start with some relatively low bids and a low budget per day and then after it’s been running for about a week you can download all of the data from that ad set and it’s going to tell you which keywords have been performing the best. It’s basically going to show you which keywords you’re getting the best cost per click on, which keywords you’re getting the best cost per sale on and then you can go from there and create a manual campaign targeting specifically those keywords. so that’s another thing that we do so I’d recommend initially doing like an automatic campaign on Amazon sponsored Product Ads and then from there you can pull out the best performing ads or best performing keywords and use those in a manual campaign. And then if you keep going with that process you can eventually have a lot of ads that perform at a very good cost per sale.
Robert: Okay so just to help me understand I’m not that familiar with Amazon. I’m not an Amazon seller. But you said something that stood out to me. So you said you can start with those sponsored listings and we did the setting, you can select automatic keywords or there’s a setting for automatic right.
Ryan: Yeah they call it automatic targeting.
Robert: Okay automatic targeting. So is it possible that you can just run the same process you just described using the automatic targeting and then when you download that spreadsheet and you see the best performing keywords. Can’t you just also grab those keywords and optimize those for your listing.
Ryan: Yep you can, you definitely do want to put those in the listing too and then that helps you a lot side of things too.
Robert: Okay and so you can optimize the listing to try and get more customers and to rank higher than your competitors. But is that the main thing that you have to do is Amazon to get sales or are there some like secrets and hacks that experts sometimes don’t want to share with everybody or like you know they’re not shared online. Because everybody can start using them and then they can no longer be competitive. So are you holding out on some things, like some secrets or do you want to like help out the audience and share something.
Ryan: I mean optimizing the listing is really the main thing. I’m not really holding back specific secrets. I mean we’re focusing on, I mean the best way to get sales on Amazon if you are selling products other than your own is to find products that are already selling well and then figure out a way to be able to sell that exact same product. And so that I mean we’re really tapping into the existing demand for product. That’s kind of our number one strategy across the different sourcing methods that we use.
Robert: Okay and earlier you mentioned that eventually you’re going to pivot and start selling on Shopify. So with the products that you’re looking to start as much Shopify, will this be your own products that you come up with or what’s going to be the whole goal with that pivot.
Ryan: Yes the goal with that pivot is to have more or less our own sales channel in addition to Amazon jet and eBay and be able to kind of be independent of those to some degree and begin creating our own brand. So our initial pivot will most likely be just to the existing products that we’re already selling on these marketplaces. We’ll just get those transferred over to our own Shopify store and then we are in the process of testing some of our own products as well. So there’ll be our own branded products and then we’ll see how that goes as well.
Robert: Okay and have you started looking at marketing as far as promoting that online store?
Ryan: We are just getting started with that process. We don’t believe that we’ve fully tapped out the potential of these existing marketplaces. We know how to do that and we can do it pretty well. So we’re continuing to dedicate time and effort there as opposed to a bunch of time to the new websites. So we’re just getting started with that. But we’ll definitely be putting more of a plan in place before we really get that up and running.
Robert: Okay and at your website, the online selling experiment do you like go over different case studies that you’ve tried with your own lessons. The reason I am asking is because of the name of the online selling experiment. So I’m expecting that you’re sharing different case studies that you’ve done as far as selling in Amazon.
Ryan: Yep there’s different case studies on that site and then part of the reason for the name too is I started the blog when I quit my job as the accountant and then I documented my initial financial results for about the first two years. so those posts are on there too so you can kind of see how the business progressed from basically just getting started full-time to beginning to grow a team and then I don’t publish financial results today for a few different reasons. But you can see how the business grew initially. So that was another reason for calling it the online selling experiment.
Robert: Okay and over this past few years what have been some of the mistakes that you have done that you think people should be avoiding.
Ryan: Yeah in terms of mistakes. One of the biggest ones is probably trying to do too many things at once. There’s a lot of different ways you can source products for Amazon. a lot of different strategies to make your product sell on Amazon and at different times try to do more or less all of them at the same time and then that leads to not really getting result in any of them. So that’s been a big one. It’s kind of like a shiny object syndrome or a lot of entrepreneurs probably experience it. But they always want to take advantage of whatever opportunities they see and then that sometimes that comes at the expense of things that are working well. so whenever my business and my team is focused on the things that we are good at and are seeing a result set we tend to see better results and then if we ever spread ourselves too thin that tends to diminish the level of results that we’re seeing. So that’s probably the biggest one over the past couple years. I mean there’s lots of other mistakes I’m sure that we’ve made. But that’s one that sticks out at the top of my mind.
Robert: Okay you have any of the thoughts any final totals far as selling on Amazon, selling online and marketing online products.
Ryan: I think the big thing is just really taking advantage of the power of these platforms. I mean their whole goal is to get people on them to have these customers buy products and they’re looking for products. So I would highly recommend getting on Amazon if you’re any type of brand owner and like if you have your own Shopify site. I think getting your products listed on Amazon, eBay, jet just makes sense. Because you can sync it all up to your current process and get additional distribution for your products. And then on the flip side if you’re selling on only Amazon I think expanding into like jet, eBay, there’s ways to sync it all up so that it’s all automated and then you’re getting additional distribution. so I think my big takeaway or my big thought would just be make sure you’re really harnessing the power of these existing platforms.
Robert: Okay Ryan thanks for being on the podcast. If people wanted to reach you, how can they reach you?
Ryan: My website http://onlinesellingexperiment.com is probably the best way and then you can find the contact form there as well.
Robert: Okay and last question, what is the one thing an e-commerce business can do right now to get more traffic, get more customers, get more sales, get more [17:47 inaudible].
Ryan: I would say expand the platforms that you’re on. so if you’re not on all of the big ones Amazon, eBay, Jett, Walmart, I would get on those and make sure that you’re taking really harnessing the power of these platforms and making sure that your brand is getting distribution everywhere that you possibly can.
Robert: Okay Ryan thanks for being on the podcast.
Ryan: Yeah thanks for having me.
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