I talked with Charles Fitzgerald about his Shopify store, The Kewl Shop, and came away with loads of actionable insight.
Started in late 2012, The Kewl Shop have quickly grown to become one of the top 150K web sites in the world. Founded by Charles, their focus has narrowed into the supply of top quality bandage dresses, shoes and leggings– areas of immense competition in the online world.
So how do they stay ahead of their competition in an a fiercely competitive niche? Listen and find out. :)
And, as always, if you'd like more free actionable advice, sign up for our Free 5-Day Crash Course on Conversion Rate Optimization.
PS: Be sure to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes and write a review. iTunes is all about reviews!
Kurt: Hey, welcome to the fourth episode of the unofficial Shopify podcast. I'm your host Kurt Elster and joining me today is Charles Fitz from the Kewl Shop. Charles, where are you at right now?
Charles: I'm in Bangkok, Kurt. It's late at night. It's about 9:35 pm. Asia exhaustively a beautiful place to be.
Kurt: How did you find yourself in Bangkok?
Charles: It's a bit of a long story. My background is finance. I spent of my work and life in London, some of it in New York as well and ended up working for a big investment bank in Singapore. I've been in Asia for about four or five years now. Touched on Shopify about two years ago, in fact, as a bit of a sideline and now it's developed into a bit more of a full-time role.
Kurt: That's interesting. I think a lot of people do that really. They have something that maybe it starts as a side gig or even a hobby and there's a point where they say, "Okay, I got to jump into this full-time," either for their sanity or for their income, one of the two.
Charles: Probably both.
Kurt: Yeah. For me it was that way anyway. You've got the Kewl Shop, and that's K-E-W-Lshop.com. Not kewlshop.com, we'll link to that in the show notes. What do you sell?
Charles: We sell women's clothing, 18 to 25, 35-year old women's clothing, mainly dresses and particularly a type of dress called the bandage dress which is a form hugging dress for girls and we sell matching shoes that goes with those and a few other ranges. We started out with a pretty broad range of items but over the year or so we've whittled that down to a lot fewer. We just find it more manageable to work with a fewer amounts of product and therefore we've ended up with these dresses and with the leggings and the shoes.
Kurt: That's interesting. You've backed into your niche. How did you get into that niche?
Charles: I think what happened was I did a lot of reading up on this before I started. Everything you read is all about niche, find the niche, find the right one. Sometimes that's very, very difficult to do. I played around a lot. I opened the Shopify store and I put in a very, very broad range of [inaudible 00:02:46] on the store really just to understand what might happen.
As I became better and better I realized how difficult it was to manage such a broad range of product and how complex it was to get the SEO working for those to get to the quality of the product on the website with such a broad range of products and simply went to the one that started selling the best. We ended up with what is three ranges of products and they all sell reasonably well now.
We did waste a lot of time at the beginning with such a broad range. I guess that's the advice about going for a niche is a strong advice. I think the difficulty is finding your niche and perhaps starting off broad and whittling yourself down to something more targeted as a way to do it.
Kurt: That's a great idea. It's great advice I tell to people all the time. I've got freelancers who come to me and Shopify store owners and I tell them, "Pigeonhole yourself. It's not a bad thing. It's not as though you can't revise and change and pivot." You've been around two years, you tried different niches. How did you promote the Kewl Shop?
Charles: We worked backwards on this. We started the shop, we put a whole other stuff on it, we observed and not much happened. Then we thought the right thing to do would be to go and get a couple of sales and how do we generate visitors to the website.
We do all the classic things like starting Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and that slowly started building up visitors to the website but we weren't really converting that much at all. Google AdWords was the next arrow in our arsenal and we started to get more and more visitors that way, albeit a little bit expensive.
When you get your first sale then suddenly you realize what's involved in getting more. That's when we started whittling down the products. Improving the product descriptions, making the sizes unique as we could possibly make it, started to identify our competitors, have a look at what they were doing, bench-marked ourselves against best practice and just moved forward on every facet that we could. It's a long tedious process but it's very, very rewarding when you start seeing the sales come through.
Kurt: If you were to start over, what would be the one promotional tactic you'll start it with to get those first sales?
Charles: I think what I would do is I wouldn’t want to waste my time populating a Shopify store with a broad range of products. I think I would do a lot more research on my actual product, make sure that I understood it very well and when I put it on to my store make sure that it was the best possible presentation that I could give it.
I think a trap that I fell into right in the beginning was sourcing product and copying the manufacturer's product description into the store. Really it doesn't get you anywhere because you're no different to many other people selling the same product. Investing in your product description and your products, making your content as unique as possible I think gives you the best outcome in whatever you do and whatever tack you want to follow from a visitor perspective.
I think I would do that. I think would be a little bit more careful about the product, make sure that I understood the product very well and that I could write about it, talk about it and then present it in detailed effect and unique way on my shop.
Kurt: Talk about unique and effective. I was clicking through your shop and immediately I saw it's definitely for younger women. It's nighttime stuff, it's club wear so I started shopping for my girlfriend naturally. I saw right away you had photos of Kim Kardashian and saying, "This dress was inspired by Kim Kardashian." I thought that was incredibly clever. You're borrowing someone else's brand and audience in a completely legitimate way.
Charles: That's correct. I think of the things many people get scared of is linking out. One thing we've learned to do, and that's helped us a lot, is to link out to other websites. When we do the Kim Kardashian thing we're linked to Kim's official website or we'll link to other articles on Kim and often we get responses as a result of that. Clearly we haven't got one from Kim Kardashian herself.
If you look at our products you'll find almost every single product has a history and a little inspiration piece against it and in that we've linked out to relevant support. For instance, if we put our own design on the website we've got a little blurb about how the dress was designed. We've got some images of the model wearing the dress. Anything to give the product complete uniqueness and to prove that you own it and it's yours and you have some authority on it.
Kurt: You tell a story when you tell the inspiration about the product and I felt that was hugely powerful. It went beyond the traditional Amazon description of things where it's like here's what it's made of and here's how it fits and that's it.
Charles: The issue we have in e-commerce is it can be very boring. This is the size, this is the color, this is the [inaudible 00:08:32] and this is the price. We've got to go beyond that. I think we all can go beyond that if we understand our product well and we thing a little bit more [likefully 00:08:42] how to present it.
If you look at your competitors and you look at what other people are doing, if you do this from the beginning, you'll be streets and streets ahead of everyone else. Very few e-commerce sites have the sale product descriptions.
Kurt: Tell me about how important is it to consider your competitors. I know a lot of my clients sometimes will get obsessed. They pick a competitor that they see as the most successful in that niche and they don't necessarily know if they are or not, but then they get really obsessed with just copying them. I tell them, "Success is more than copying and pasting what your competitors are doing."
Charles: I think it's important to understand your competitors, what are they doing, perhaps what competitive advantages they've gone, but you also need to realize that they're probably just as lost as you are. They always are trying things out. No one really understands how to rank in Google. We all have broad guidelines and brief understandings.
I think what you don't want to do is you don't want to end up looking like your competitor. You want to end up being unique. You want people to come to you not because you are like someone else but because you are yourself and you're unique and you're an authority in what you're selling. That's what I would concentrate on.
Kurt: That's excellent advice. I'm looking at that carousel go by in your page in the background and you've got these absolutely wonderful photos. Where did they come from?
Charles: They were all model images. This is a very big hurdle for many of us to cross. When we started we were using dresses that were factually copies of dresses worn by Kim Kardashian for instance. We had images of Kim on the website and we had images of our own celebrities. They weren't unique. At some point, we made the decision to have our own images.
I think that was really the turning point in the shop. Being able to use our own images. When you have your own images it's very powerful and you can use them in social media. You get a whole lot of background and a whole lot beyond the scenes and that comes with those images as well because clearly you've been attending model shoots, you've been observing. You get a massive amount of information just by having your own images and of course you got something very powerful to use.
Kurt: A picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of e-commerce it's also worth a huge boost in your conversion rate.
Charles: It absolutely is. I remember feeling quite worried about the fact that we were going to take an image of Kim off the website and replace with an image of our own model. In fact, what it's done is it's done completely the opposite. It's been a major boost to our conversion rates and to our sales mainly because people see the shop as ours now and not someone else's.
Kurt: The model and the pictures are beautiful and perfect. The model looks great in the clothes. The photo's clearly professional. What's the first step? I think this is a problem for a lot of people is they say, "No, I need pro photos." How do you go about finding a photographer and a model? How does that process work?
Charles: We made a couple of mistakes. Initially, we went to an agent and we got royally ripped off. We got charged for studios, we got charged for models, we got charged for Photoshopping the images afterwards and then we just took it in to our own ends.
We contacted our model ourselves. We went through her agency. We contacted the studio ourselves and we booked it all up, hired the photographer and we did it. Now we got very proficient. We're on our sixth or seventh shoot and we pump out 50, 60, 70 dresses in a day. Half the cost of the first set. I guess we all make mistakes and we will have to learn from those.
Kurt: That's great advise right there. Earlier you had mentioned best practices, finding those out on your own and following those best practices, especially in regards to advertising and getting traffic to convert. What are a few of those that you found?
Charles: I think you need to read a lot. In this industry you do need to be a jack of all trades. In order to understand the best practices you have to have an opinion of what there might be. When you talk SEO there's so many versions of what is good and what is bad. In the end you need to be able to decide what is right for you and what is right for the website and not necessarily believe what an SEO is going to tell you. Many of them, in fact, can get you into a lot of trouble.
On these best practices I think you need to read. You need to read what makes a good conversion rate, what are some of the things that will improve your conversion rate, how to gain social followers that are unique and useful on Facebook, et cetera, and then put those things into practice.
Kurt: How important do you think social media has been for your business?
Charles: I think it's been mixed. We have about 30,000 followers on Facebook. When we do a post we don't get a massive amount of ... I can't think of the term right now. We don't get ...
Charles: We don't get many views on that post. This is Facebook and their algorithm.
Kurt: Right. EdgeRank, that awful thing they did to us.
Charles: Absolutely. We have 30,000 followers. We do a post. If we don't boost this maybe about 1,500 people see it.
Kurt: They drew everybody in with what felt like a free advertising system and they said, "Oh sorry guys. It's going to get worse overtime unless you pay for it." On our consultancy page we have 2,000 followers and we post using this wonderful tool called Edgar multiple times a day. Any one post will get 20 views out of 2,000. It's awful.
Charles: It's quite hard to understand exactly what's happening on Facebook because when I look at visitors from Facebook they are actually substantial. We are getting a number of visitors to the website from Facebook, but when you look at our Facebook page it's hard to understand why that might happen, but we do.
The conversion rate on Facebook visitors is not tremendously good though. I think that is an industry issue. When people come to a website from Facebook, they probably going there out of interest and they're not looking to necessarily purchase unlike Google AdWords where an individual on Google is actively looking to purchase. On Facebook I don't think they are.
Kurt: I've noticed that too. The AdWords customers those are wallet-out, ready-to-buy-people. They know what they're getting when they click a product on Google versus Facebook as if you got people who are bored at work.
Charles: Absolutely. I think you're right, Kurt. For AdWords our conversion rate is almost three or four times what it is on Facebook. That’s the assessment is exactly what you were saying.
Kurt: AdWords is expensive but it is a great way especially if you really focus it down to drive traffic that converts well. Shopify gives everybody 100 bucks to try it. I tell everyone with a new store trying AdWords. Where do you source your product from? Do you have it manufactured?
Charles: Yeah. We have it manufactured. We have a few factories in China that make the product for us then we will hold it there. We have a warehouse in Texas as well and we will ship some of it over to Texas. We carry a huge amount of stuff just because it's a lot easier.
One of the things we haven't touched on is customer service. What we do try and do is ship an order within three to four days of getting it. Therefore, we do carry a little bit of stump to ensure that we can do that. We find that has a massive impact on customer retention and then coming back just being able to get them their product very, very quickly and in the best possible quality that we can get them.
That's why we carry some stock. We have it all manufactured in China and we ship it over to our warehouse in Texas and then to our customers in the US.
Kurt: Do you use a drop shipping service to handle that?w
Charles: We did at the beginning but we now have a DHL agent and we have an office in China as well. We've got people on the floor over that who access all the factory, pull out the stock that we're looking for, check it for quality, put our labels in it for instance and then we send it off. Everything that goes to the customer is packaged up and checked before it goes.
Drop ship is useful. We started off drop shipping but very difficult to control quality and the customer service aspect of things. I do like drop shipping and I think it definitely does have a place, but it's very hard to scale up offer a drop shipping base. Ultimately, you have to invest in your own product. Have them in your warehouse, check them and send them off yourself like having your own images, I guess.
Kurt: That’s true. The more control you have over it obviously that's always going to boost your own confidence in the process and you have so much control over that process you can really fine tune it. That's interesting. Most people they're shipping the stuff out of their basement themselves and then they go to drop shipping. It sounds like you went the other way around. You went from drop shipping to running your own warehouse.
Charles: I think it depends what your definition of drop shipping is. If you're using someone else's product and you're drop shipping that then that is a very difficult business to scale up. Ultimately, if you're manufacturing your own you can give to a shipper or you can give to a fulfillment facilitator and ask them to ship it for you. I'm not really sure, Kurt.
Kurt: That's okay.
Charles: I think being able to hold and fill your stock is important and sent that out to customers here.
Kurt: You ship internationally, worldwide shipping. Does that add any complexity or create any problems for you?
Charles: What you can do is you can make it look good on your website. We've got free shipping worldwide all over our website and we do ship internationally. The reality is that we only market into the US and Canada so 95% of what we do is into the US therefore we can price and anticipate most of our packaging going off there.
We do get the odd orders to the UK or Australia or even into Africa and that's fine. We can cater for those and we can manage that, but we do know that 95% of our stuff is going to go into the US.
Kurt: Essentially, you give people the option to ship it worldwide but you intentionally market to really North America to control that shipping cost. You've been playing around that.
Charles: Yes. Everything is priced into the US. If you're a customer sitting in the US and you buy dress of us, you're getting a properly priced dress. In you're in Australia or if in you're Singapore and you're buying a dress of us, you might be getting a slightly more expensive dress because it's cheaper for us to ship to Singapore out of our China offices than it might be to the US.
You need to make a decision. If you're going to offer it worldwide free shipping you need to understand how the mass is going to work there and where you're going to focus those cost because you can't offer it and price for your worst possible delivery because then you're going to out-price the consumers you want to go after. It's just a strategic decision really what you offer on your website and I think free shipping is very powerful.
Kurt: Yeah for sure. I've seen just offering free shipping, ideally if you can offer free shipping in everything that really eliminates a barrier to entry that people have. If you say free shipping on orders over X amount I think is the bare minimum. Everybody has to have that now.
Charles: I agree with that.
Kurt: I noticed you've got this live chat tool, this customer's bar tool on the website. I've had a lot of people ask me, they say, "Should I do that? Is it worthwhile?" Talk to me about that. Do you think that helps conversions? Do you think it's valuable?
Charles: I think it's a massive boost to conversions. We've done some analysis around how many people that we engage on live chat actually converts and it's around about 80%. If someone engages with us we convert them with those individuals about 80% of the time.
We've taken it one step further. We've put some triggers on to the live chat now. The customers on the side for longer than three minutes then they get an automatic message from us saying, "Hi. It's Helen, your customer service. Anything we can help you with?"
We look to engage them. We know once we've engaged them we have a very high conversion rates with those individuals. We've taken it one step further. We're not waiting for them to contact us. We're actually out reaching to them and trying to engage in conversation with the visitors on the side.
I think that's probably what would happen if you were in a live store. If you were browsing a physical store a shop assistant might walk over to you and say, "Can I help?" That's really what we're doing.
Kurt: I have one final question for you. What do you wish you knew when you started? One thing. If you could go back and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?
Charles: I think I would focus more on getting free visitors. I think the real power in what we do is the organic visitors that we get. It's very difficult to run a business of AdWords or of paid visitors. You need to get these free visitors to your site and you need to get a lot of that. I would have started focusing on that a lot sooner than I have with the shop.
I spend a lot of time talking about the product descriptions, making them unique. We've only started doing that about three or four months ago and simply making those changes on-site has boosted our organic and free visitors. That's the key to all of e-commerce is to get the free visitors.
Kurt: You're absolutely right. The organic traffic is the holy grail of e-commerce traffic. It sounds like the success, the bare minimum to get that organic traffic is having professional, well, unique, compelling, professionally copy written product descriptions and professional photos to go along with it to really own the product.
Charles: I think that's right. If you're presenting an on-site experience and is unique and authorative and that is yours, then one's going to follow all the links and all the interest from outside that you're going to need as well to boost those rankings.
This stuff is in your control. It's how you present the website. Therefore, you need to pull out all stomps to present something that is unique and exciting and user-friendly and people want to come back to all the time.
Hopefully, off the back of that and maybe with a little pushing you can start encouraging links into your website. The combination of those two will boost your rankings and get you your organic visitors.
Kurt: Absolutely true. Thank you Charles. This has been easily one of the most valuable podcast interviews we've done. If people can connect the dots in the tips you've given them then they’ll really be able to move the needle on the revenue.
Charles: Well, thank you very much for the opportunity Kurt. I appreciate it.
Kurt: Thank you for joining us.