If you’re an avid reader of the Shopify blog, you already know about the two in-depth case studies and business giveaways done by our content team. The first was Hello Matcha, a tea dropshipping business which wound up generating $922.16 in revenue in three days, and the second was Think Pup, a dog-themed t-shirt line that earned $1,248.90 in three weeks.
As part of the content team at Shopify, it was now my turn to build an ecommerce business from scratch and post my findings and results here on the blog.
I couldn’t be happier to take up the challenge. As a content creator at Shopify, I’m tasked with sharing many different strategies and concepts to help entrepreneurs build successful businesses. The interesting thing about these case studies is that they give us the opportunity to prove all the tips, strategies, and lessons we talk about every day.
With Syght Glasses, that’s exactly what I set out to do.
Since both of our previous case studies were dropshipping businesses, I decided to try something different. I wanted my case study to present new challenges, walk through new strategies, and have a different business model than what we’d previously covered.
I know a lot of people have questions about finding manufacturers, sourcing products, and buying from manufacturers overseas, so I decided to sell products sourced from China using Alibaba - the world’s largest source for wholesale trade goods.
Before I started, I came up with a few guidelines to ensure things didn’t get overcomplicated.
My Criteria to Make Sourcing From China as Simple as Possible
To make sourcing, buying, shipping, and selling my product as easy as possible, I developed a strict list of criteria to help me avoid spending too much money or dealing with any headaches. I wanted to keep it simple.
- I wanted the product to be light and small enough to fit into a shoebox. I didn’t want to ship massive and heavy products which would complicate shipping from China to me, and from me to my customers. I also didn’t want the product to be big because I didn’t want to take up too much physical space in the office.
- I wanted the product to be relatively cheap per unit, around $1-$10. This makes it easy to keep costs down, especially when making a large (100+ units) order.
- I wanted the price to be low enough per unit and leave me with enough wiggle room to have a great margin. Ideally, I was looking for something that I could confidently markup enough and sell at a 50%+ profit margin per unit.
- I didn’t want the product to be electronic or food-based. Electronics can break, require warranties, and create headaches. Food is just as risky. I didn’t want to risk being held liable for any bad food products as well as having to deal with storage and expiration issues. Of course, I could purchase liability insurance and incorporate, but I wanted to keep it simple.
- I wanted the product to be niche or serve a market of passionate people. I wanted it to be really easy to find where my customers congregated so I could put my product in front of them quickly.
Now that I had decided what my product wasn’t going to be, it was time to start brainstorming.
Coming up with a Product Idea
When looking for a product to sell, it’s a good idea to think about who exactly you want to serve. The more specific your customer is, and the more specific their interests are, the easier it will be to sell to them.
So, my advice is to choose the customer you want to serve and work backwards. Instead of thinking of a product first and then trying to find an audience for it, think of the customer first and think about what they need. For example, if I’m a passionate electric guitar player, what kinds of things do I buy regularly? What would make my guitar playing experience better?
I’m a gamer, so I started to look at things I could possibly sell by doing some research and brainstorming on Amazon and eBay. I looked at popular accessories and bestsellers for gamers.
After spending a lot of time writing down and brainstorming ideas, I began to narrow it down to non-electronic accessories such as special gaming mouse pads and ergonomic gaming chairs. Eventually, I stumbled across a product I could relate to - blue light blocking glasses.
Researching a Product Idea
Blue light blocking glasses are usually UV400 and work by filtering out blue light. This is commonly seen with shooting glasses, snowboard goggles, blue blocker glasses, night driving glasses and sleep glasses. My idea was to take these glasses and simply position them to gamers.
I deal with constant eye-strain issues at work and at home. To help cope with this, I sometimes wear “computer glasses” or even sunglasses indoors!
I started looking at other similar products around the internet (such as on Amazon, eBay and Google) to learn the following:
- How well they were selling (by looking at sold counts and review counts)
- How much they were selling for (to get an idea on the markup and my pricing)
- The feedback and criticisms in the reviews (to improve the product myself)
- What styles were selling best (to know what design/style to sell)
- Who the major players were (to get an idea of the market size and my competition)
From doing some research I could see that a popular frame style was a neutral and sleek wayfarer frame. It also seemed like people were willing to pay anywhere from $25-$90 for a good pair of glasses that protected their eyes.
Looking at the number of reviews on these glasses, I could tell that they were popular and there was a need for these kinds of glasses.
I also took to Google Trends and looked at what the searches for “gaming glasses” and “blue light blocking” looked like over the past few years.
What convinced me to sell these kind of glasses was ultimately how nicely it fit my criteria for the product I wanted to sell. They’re small, lightweight, cheap to produce per unit (more on that later), and offered the potential for a big profit margin. Plus, I’m a gamer, so I knew the target customer well.
Now that I had found a product, I wanted to create a logo to start generating some mockups of what I wanted the glasses to look like, to show suppliers in China.
Creating the Name, Logo and Branding
Creating the logo and coming up with the name wasn’t something I would usually do at this stage of starting a business. Validating the idea first is more important. But because I was ready to find a supplier for the glasses, I had to come up with a name and logo for the mockup.
I started brainstorming words and names that would represent the clarity and visual accuracy my glasses provide gamers who need them. Here’s a quick snapshot of my brainstorming:
I brainstormed names such as precision, fidelity, rigor, sniper, sharp, eagle eye, gun sights, sight, and hawkeye. Eventually, I liked the name of gun sights and sight, but I wanted to make it a little edgier and unique (it’s targeting young gamers after all), so I went with Syght.
Next, I started looking for free fonts I could use for commercial purposes. I wanted a clean and simple text logo with a bit of a futuristic/sci-fi look. I went to 1001 Fonts and began browsing through their “futuristic” collection of fonts. I filled out the sample text form with the name Syght to get a preview of each font with my business name.
I eventually found a font I liked called “Hemigraphy” that I could also use for commercial purposes (such as in the marketing materials and logo for my business).
While I was satisfied with the text logo, I also wanted a nice emblem I could place alongside it. I looked through Creative Market for a vector shape of an eagle’s eye or something similar.
After choosing my emblem, I purchased the extended license for $180 and put everything together in Photoshop. I chose yellow and black for my branding, the colors of the glasses I would be selling.
I also created high resolution and transparent background variations for printing on the glasses and for using in any other marketing materials.
Now that I had everything I needed, it was time to find a supplier who could make my glasses.
Finding and Contacting Suppliers On Alibaba
Alibaba is the largest wholesale and manufacturing marketplace on the internet. To find a manufacturer that could create the exact glasses I wanted, at a good cost, Alibaba made the most sense.
Before making any kind of commitments, I wanted to reach out to potential suppliers for some initial details and pricing. I only wanted to get an idea of what it would cost and what the glasses would look like. If I could find glasses that I could sell at a 50% margin with the shape and look I wanted (black wayfarer frame with amber colored lenses), I would consider making an order.
There are two ways you can begin your search on Alibaba. You can either search for products or search for suppliers. I would recommend trying both with your product keyword.
To improve my results, I kept revising my searches with the keywords the suppliers used to describe the product I was looking for. “Computer glasses” didn’t yield as many good results as “anti blue light glasses.” For other products, you might need to get more specific or more general if you’re having a hard time finding what you’re actually searching for.
I then added the glasses and suppliers that were closest to what I was looking for to a shortlist. You can do this with Excel or simply by adding the product or supplier to your favorites on Alibaba.
At this point I wasn’t yet interested in knowing whether they were a quality and credible supplier. This was just a list of suppliers I planned to reach out to regarding price. Once it comes time to placing an order, that’s when I suggest doing your due diligence and comparing suppliers. However, the due diligence part is very important! There will be more on it later.
I began to compare all of the glasses I liked based on their material, minimum order quantities, and price. I created a list of what I wanted for my glasses and sent them out to all the suppliers on my shortlist. One important thing to keep in mind is that product listings don’t always align with what suppliers will tell you. For example, the listing might say a minimum order quantity of 200 but when you inquire, it might actually be 500 or more. That’s why it’s always important to ask and not assume anything.
I wanted a low minimum order quantity. Ideally, I was seeking 100 glasses for my first order. I knew this would be challenging since most suppliers, especially for small objects such as glasses, want very large minimum orders of 500-2000 pieces to start.
I also wanted a specific frame style and color for the glasses with my logo printed on the side of the frame. Again, most suppliers offer customizations, so don’t be afraid to request different designs and features for your products.
Even though a listing may not have explicitly shown a wayfarer frame, I still contacted suppliers to ask if they can produce what I wanted. Because of the language barrier, I would often upload an image of exactly what I wanted when inquiring, or link out to an image from another supplier’s listing.
Here’s a rough mockup I put together in Photoshop, using an image of glasses from Alibaba I found, with my branding and where I wanted it.
Here’s what my message looked like to nearly every supplier I contacted.
Since Alibaba isn’t perfect when it comes to tracking dozens of requests, I began to track all of my requests and communication with each supplier in a spreadsheet. This would allow me to easily compare all the suppliers as well as keep track of who’s responded to what and who hasn’t.
Some suppliers understood what I wanted, a few wanted really high order quantities, and others never got back to me. I contacted around 20 suppliers in total and after a few days of exchanges and more questions (from both sides) I narrowed it down to 2 suppliers who offered me a good price and low minimum order.
Researching Potential Suppliers
From here, I began to do some due diligence. I wanted to ensure the supplier I was working with was reputable and could deliver a quality product. The first thing I looked at is whether they were a manufacturer or trading company. You can see this by visiting their company profile and looking in the Business Type area. What I ideally wanted was to deal with a manufacturer and not a trading company since I didn’t want to pay extra to deal with a middleman.
Next, I checked how long the business has been active. Each listing will have a badge with the years active. I wanted to work with a supplier that was at least 5 years active. Any business that was around 1 year seemed like a risk to me. There are of course always exceptions to this but I wanted to be safe.
Next, I wanted to deal with a manufacturer that specialized. I’d rather work with a supplier that only made glasses than one that made everything from yoga pants to face creams. If the business had “optics”, “eyewear” or “glasses” in their name, I knew they we’re specializing.
I would also Google the company and see what turned up. Sometimes you’ll find websites talking about the business or even warning you about the business. In most cases, not much will turn up besides their physical location in Google Maps and their official website. Still, it’s a good idea to check, just in case.
Lastly, a nice to have would be dealing with a supplier that has Trade Assurance. Most businesses on Alibaba offer this and it ensures that your payment is protected under Alibaba in case anything goes awry. I also checked any feedback the supplier received from other buyers under Company Profile > Business Performance > Feedback.
After doing my due diligence, it was time to start the process of ordering.
Product Validation Before Ordering
Before ordering, I wanted to ensure I could confidently sell these glasses by figuring out the channels I would sell them through, and determining whether I could at least break-even.
First, I wanted to see how many I would need to sell to at least break-even. There was nothing scientific about what I did. I simply used my best judgement to guess based on the quotes suppliers were giving me. If I retailed my glasses at $39.99 (in the range of what my competitors sold their glasses for), how many would I have to sell to make my money back? This screenshot outlines my thought process:
Here, I guessed I would order 100 glasses at a total cost of $700 (including shipping from China). This would bring me at a cost of $7 per pair which leaves me with a profit of $32.99 per pair sold. That’s a 82.5% margin! That’s over my goal of at least 50%, which is great. Doing the math, I would have to sell 21 pairs of glasses out of the 100 I ordered to make back my initial $700 investment. Not bad!
Obviously I wanted to turn a profit and sell all of them, but giving myself an achievable number like that gives me confidence. Also, this isn’t accurate, it just gives me an idea. Keep in mind that this doesn’t include any fixed costs for the business, variable costs like shipping, or marketing costs. I will likely need to sell double after all my expenses are incurred just to actually break even.
Next, I began to brainstorm channels and places to sell at least 21 glasses and break even. I created a list of different marketing channels and estimated how many glasses I would sell in each. If I couldn’t confidently add up to 21 or more, it probably wasn’t worth doing.
The more specific you get with this, the better. Remember that these are very rough estimates. There’s no science to this. Most of this is simply to get you to brainstorm and ensure you have some kind of an idea of how you plan to sell your product.
The best way to validate any business is with pre-sales. I chose not to pre-sell my glasses since I did not receive a sample (more on this in the next section). If I had a sample I could photograph, I would attempt to pre-sell the glasses using Facebook Ads and gauge the interest for these glasses from there.
This would also allow me to test messaging and branding. I could see what messaging and branding gamers responded to more. However, being that I wanted to start this business as soon as possible, and write this case study as quickly as possible, I chose not to validate my product this way.
Now that I had the confidence that I could sell this product and break even, it was time to order. The next few sections will go over ordering a sample, creating a logo and branding, and ordering a large quantity.
Getting The Sample And Ordering Initial Stock
Most suppliers offer samples so you can see first-hand the quality of the product before making a larger purchase. Typically, I would order a sample from the suppliers I narrowed my shortlist down to. Samples can run you around $100 or more (depending on the product) but most suppliers will refund you the sample cost once you place an order with them. These costs are to keep tire kickers away as well as pay for the shipping, customizations, and production of a single product.
Placing an Order On Alibaba
Once I narrowed down my suppliers based on quality, price, and trust, I reached out through Alibaba’s message center and began the process of placing the order. A good place to start is to ask for an exact quote that includes shipping and printing/mold or to ask for an invoice.
Once I looked at the invoice, and thought the price was reasonable (you can always try to negotiate) I asked for a payment link. Personally, I prefer to pay through Alibaba itself or Paypal. I think these are safer options than Western Union or anything else an Alibaba supplier might ask you to pay through.
Once you ask for an order link, the supplier will usually generate one for you in Alibaba, and you’ll get an email asking for payment, based on the agreed price. If the supplier is under Alibaba’s Trade Assurance, it’s a good idea to pay through Alibaba so that your transaction is protected.
Once paid, wait for the supplier to confirm the order. Feel free to ask any questions about the production time and shipping time.
Once I got my link, I paid. Then the waiting game began. First, I needed to wait for the glasses to finish manufacturing, then I had to wait for them to arrive after they’ve been shipped.
Beefing Up The Product
The glasses I'd be receiving from China would not have any packaging. I didn’t want to neglect the unboxing part of the customer experience but I also didn’t want to pay more to the manufacturer to have them create packaging for me.
I decided I would create my own packaging. I didn’t want to spend more on branded packaging so I had to get creative. I decided I would order 100 hard travel cases, 100 microfiber cleaning cloths, and 100 stickers and hang tags to make the product look more professional. This would also help increase my gaming glasses’ perceived value, allowing me to sell the glasses for a high price and margin.
Finding and Ordering the Glasses Cases
I looked to AliExpress to find 100 hard cases to ship with my glasses. AliExpress is similar to Alibaba, in that it’s a marketplace to find manufacturers, but in this case, you can purchase a smaller quantity or even just one item at wholesale prices direct from China. You can also do AliExpress dropshipping and Alibaba dropshipping. I didn’t want to brand or customize the cases so AliExpress made more sense.
I searched “glasses cases,” sorted by the lowest price, and filtered sellers that shipped to Canada. I began to look through the top listings, reading the descriptions and reviews until finally settling on the following item:
It was black, had no logo or branding, and was inexpensive. I placed an order for 100 and the total came out to $184.92. That’s about $1.85 per case.
Finding and Ordering Microfiber Cloths
Next, I wanted to find 100 microfiber cloths. Since I didn’t want to spend money or time branding them, I simply looked for microfiber cloths that were yellow (the color of my brand).
I again sorted the results by the lowest price and filtered the results to sellers that shipped to Canada. I eventually landed on the following product after going through the description and reviews of the seller:
This was perfect as the lot had exactly the number of microfiber cloths I needed, so I ordered.
It came out only costing me $12.00 for 100 microfiber cloths.
Finding and Ordering Stickers and Hang Tags
To create and order stickers, I decided to go with StickerMule. There are a lot of options for sticker companies but they’re who I was most familiar with and felt the most comfortable using. I selected my preferred shape, uploaded my logo, and ordered 100 2”x2” rounded corner stickers.
For the hang tags, I did some searching. I wanted to find a printing company that could provide inexpensive paper tags with a hole already punched into them so I could easily tie them to my glasses. Kind of like this:
After some searching on Google, I found GotPrint, who offered a low enough minimum with the exact look I wanted. I uploaded my logo and ordered 2”x2” hang tags with a hole punched top center on each of them.
Both the stickers and hang tags required me to confirm a “proof.” A proof is a mockup of what the stickers and hang tags will look like once completed. This requires my confirmation since that manufacturer wants to ensure I approve the end result before mass producing and shipping my order.
At this point, since I had to wait for the order to arrive before I could take any photos of the product and begin selling it, I decided to begin building the website and writing sales copy for the homepage.
Building The Online Store
The first thing I had to do was create a store on Shopify. Since I was only selling one product, I wanted a theme that focused on one product instead of having an entire catalogue for several products.
I decided to go with Startup for my theme. It was a theme I was previously familiar with, looked great and made it easy for me to feature and focus on selling one product.
Now that the theme was selected and installed, and I created my store on Shopify, it was time for me to purchase a domain name. I bought mine through Shopify in Online Store > Domains > Buy New Domain.
And so, SyghtGlassesShop.com was born!
After buying the domain, I also created forwards for emails firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com to my personal email.
Next, I started by adding a placeholder product and used the mockup of my glasses I created earlier. This helped fill out my website and made designing everything a lot easier.
Looking at the theme, I looked at the sections that needed sales copy and created a new Google Doc to begin writing copy for the home page. Here, I would also write a great product description. I also created a new Google Doc for each page of my store that I would need to write up.
I’m not a professional copywriter but I do know the basics of good sales copy. I needed to give my product a unique selling position, and describe what pain points my product solved and how.
I looked at websites of similar products (such as HD glasses and night driving glasses) to get an idea of the language they used to describe their products. I also watched YouTube reviews of other glasses and read Amazon reviews of other glasses to see how people talked about their pain points and how the product solved them. I didn’t need to invent the problem I was solving, I just had to find it and see the exact language customers used to describe their pain.
I began to customize the theme to suit the colors of my branding through Shopify’s theme customizer.
The next step, before going any further, was installing a Facebook custom audience pixel on my website (so I could retarget traffic through Facebook later) as well as setting up Google Analytics (so I could track my traffic and goals).
Next, I wanted to set up email marketing. I set up an account and an email list (check out some email marketing apps) so that every customer is added was tagged as “Syght Customer.” This allows me to followup with customers for future promotions and products.
I figured it was also worth installing some of my other favorite apps. There are a lot of great apps out there and I recommend trying the alternatives to these as well. I only use these because it’s what I’m familiar with. Here’s what I installed in my store and why:
- Fraud Filter: To create custom filters and block fraudulent purchases. (Alternative fraud filtering apps)
- Improved Contact Form: Create a contact page with contact forms for free. (Alternative contact form apps)
- Order Printer: This allows me to print the order so that it makes a nice packing slip or invoice when I ship the order. (Alternative order printing apps)
- Affiliately: This is important. I want to be able to create an affiliate program and pay influencers that send customers to my store. There will be more on this later. (Alternative affiliate apps)
- Free Shipping Bar: This allows me to place a sticky bar at the top of every page, letting people know that shipping is free. (Alternative promotional bar apps)
- Groupie: A cool little app that lets me know when someone with an IMDB page or massive following on Twitter buys from my store. This way, I can reach out to customers with an audience and ask them to share their experience with their fans.
- Tawk.to: I think live chat is really important. It adds trust and accessibility, which is what a lot of customers seek before making a purchase. (Alternative live chat apps)
- Receiptful: This will allow me to customize the order confirmation emails that go out to customers and make them look nice. The free version was all I needed.
- Shippo: Eventually, as the orders began to come in, it was very time consuming to go to the post office and buy postage for each order. I eventually began using this app to buy postage online and fill customs forms out from the office. (More on this later) (Alternative label printing apps)
- Shopify Product Reviews: This allowed customers to leave reviews of the glasses on my website. This helps add social proof to my website. (Alternative reviews apps)
- Review Companion: Free way for me to send follow up emails to buyers to leave a review for the glasses.
I eventually edited the theme, after going through a few iterations and talking with co-workers at Shopify, to improve conversions on the page. I made the top navigation sticky and included the Canadian and American flag along with a Buy Now call-to-action. A few other changes were made after taking product photos (which I’ll get into later) and after getting some traffic.
Creating Visuals For The Sales Page and Store
For the hero image I would eventually end up using, I wanted a stock photo of someone playing video games or on their computer that I could Photoshop either my logo or glasses onto.
I went looking on stock photo sites such as Stocksy and iStock. Searching “gamer” and “computer” I found a few good photos on both sites. By the way, Shopify has since launched a new stock photo site where you can download free images for your store and marketing campaigns. I eventually settled on the following:
Once my glasses arrived, I’d take a side-angle photo and Photoshop them onto his face, as you see now on the site.
Next, I wanted to create a diagram showing how the glasses work. I wanted to show a full color light spectrum entering the eyes from a computer monitor, with the glasses blocking out blue light in the spectrum.
I used Iconfinder to find a silhouette of a head and silhouette of a monitor, and used Photoshop to create the diagram I would use on the store.
Lastly, I wanted to find icons I could place on the homepage to highlight some of the features and benefits of the glasses. I used Iconfinder again, found 3 icons and included them on my homepage.
With the site completed, all I could do was sit back and wait for my products to come in.
The first thing to arrive were the stickers. They came out perfect and as expected with no issues.
The next thing to arrive were the hang tags. Both the stickers and the hang tags arrived pretty quickly, since the supplier is in the US.
Almost immediately, I realized I needed something to tie these hang tags to the glasses. I swung by the local Wal-Mart to pick up some string.
Almost a month after ordering the glasses cases from Aliexpress, they finally arrive.
The package it arrived in didn’t seem appropriate for the quantity I ordered. The box was oversized and there wasn’t enough protective packaging. It arrived in a cardboard box that had been taped over several times.
As a result, some of the cases were damaged. The ends of some of the cases were frayed and the clip pin was broken on others. Fortunately, it looked like 80 cases or so came out perfectly fine.
I also eventually received my order of 100 microfiber cloths.
During all this time, as I was setting up my website, and receiving stickers and hang tags, I was waiting for my glasses to arrive.
I ordered the glasses on November 11, 2015. The glasses soon went into production (since they required custom branding) and on November 29 2015, almost 3 weeks later, the glasses were finished and were shipped. On December 9, 2015, nearly a month after placing the order, the glasses arrive at Shopify HQ. This was expected and around the average length of time for orders on Alibaba.
When I opened the box, I was pleased with what I received. The glasses were placed in plastic bags and packaged into smaller boxes. Each of the glasses seemed undamaged and had the quality I expected.
Here’s how the final product looked when I put it all together:
Taking Product Photos
Now that I had the glasses, it was time to take some visually appealing product photos so that I could begin selling them.
I was lucky enough to have equipment available at the Shopify office to take some great product photos. I was also fortunate to have the help of a colleague who has experience taking excellent photos.
However, I could have easily taken great looking photos myself with my smartphone. It’s not a complicated process and it doesn’t require any fancy or expensive equipment. We have a video showing you how to take a DIY approach to taking professional product photos.
Here’s how one of the photos turned out:
The glasses were a bit of a challenge to shoot. They would reflect a lot of light and drop many shadows. I wanted a solid white background for my product photos to use on the product page and homepage. To learn how to properly shoot reflection-sensitive products like these, check out our blog post on taking product photos for jewelry. I also recommend checking out our DIY product photography tools blog post for tools and resources to make your product photos more professional.
I ensured I took product photos from nearly every angle possible to show off as much of the glasses as I could. Since I was only selling one product on the website, I felt it was necessary to fill up the website and sales page.
I used Photoshop to crop and center the glasses, as well as resize every image since the raw files were thousands of pixels high and wide.
To make them a smaller file size and easier to load without sacrificing any quality, I used TinyPNG.
After adding all the product images to my website, it was time to establish my brand on other platforms.
Setting up and Growing Social Media Accounts
Obviously, it was important that I establish a presence on platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Not only to increase the perceived legitimacy of my business, but for additional (cost-free) sales, too.
To do this, I would actively follow, comment and like other user activity on Twitter and Instagram every day. The idea was that if I engaged with people on Twitter and Instagram that were interested in video games and esports, they would likely be interested in my glasses.
So first, I setup my Twitter and Instagram account. For Twitter, I was able to register @syghtglasses. The profile picture, banner and name for the Twitter profile were pretty standard.
However, for the bio and pinned Tweet, I specifically included an exclusive coupon just for Twitter. This way, it would allow me to better track the sales from Twitter as well as encouraging new Twitter followers to make a purchase.
Instagram was set up the same way to stay consistent with my branding and track purchases.
To grow my following on Twitter, I would spend a half hour or so following Twitter users that were following Twitter accounts in the gaming niche. To find popular Twitter accounts in your niche, try Followerwonk. For example, I would go to MLG’s Twitter profile (a website that hosts competitive gaming tournaments) and click on their “Followers” link.
Here, I would follow up to 50 people per day in hopes of them following me back or checking out my store.
I would also search Twitter for users talking about MLG, esports, or games that were just released in order to Like their Tweets.
After a few days, I would use TwitNerd to see who hasn’t followed me back. I would then unfollow the users that didn’t follow me back within 2-3 days in order to keep my following count low. I didn’t want my following-to-followers ratio to get too high as it wouldn’t create a good brand image.
I applied the same strategy to Instagram. I would search for users and photos related to video games and follow, like and comment to get noticed. After a few days of following users, I would use Unfollowgram to unfollow anyone who didn’t follow me back.
It’s important to not overdo this. You need to be careful not to follow too many users at one time on either platform. I would follow roughly 50 people per day on Twitter and Instagram, which would only take me about 30 minutes a day to do.
The other part of social media, besides growing an audience, is keeping your audience engaged by sharing content. I chose to curate and share content I found around the internet rather than to create my own (such as blog posts). I didn’t want to spend too much time creating content since I was looking for quick wins. For a long-term strategy, I would have started blogging about video games and creating videos on YouTube.
For Instagram, I used Latergramme to schedule Instagram posts on my phone, to make it easier for me to post and share images.
Both Buffer and Latergramme have free plans, which I chose to use to keep the costs down for this case study.
Now that my website and social media was set up, it was time to start getting some feedback and begin selling.
Getting My First Sale and Website Feedback
The easiest and quickest way to get some early feedback, as well as sales, is to talk to friends, family and coworkers. I’m not suggesting you pitch all of your friends and family, because most likely they’re not your target customer. However, it’s a good idea to get some feedback from any really intelligent people you might know, especially since a few sales might come out of it.
Some of the smartest people I know are my colleagues here at Shopify. So, after receiving the glasses and creating the sales page, I was very open to feedback. It helped me with the language I chose to use on the website and how I chose to position the product.
Any questions that would come up, I would note down to later include answers for on the website since it was likely other people would have the same questions.
After receiving some feedback from gamer colleagues in Slack, and taking notes to make changes on the store, I got my first order!
Packing and Shipping My First Order
It was time to package, ship and fulfill my first order!
Because I chose to offer free shipping on my store (to increase checkout conversions), I wanted to keep shipping costs down to maintain my high margins.
The first thing I had to decide was how I would ship the product. Since I had the hard cases, I knew that I wouldn’t need to buy expensive protective packaging as I could just ship my glasses inside them.
I chose to ship all orders with a bubble mailer envelope that Canada Post sells.
The next step was printing a shipping label since I didn’t want to write the sender and recipient address by hand each time. I used an app called Order Printer to print a packing slip for the order, as well as the sender and recipient address, which I would tape onto the front of the package.
After printing the invoice, I simply cut it to shape and used clear packaging tape to stick it onto the bubble mailer.
This may not be the most elegant looking package, but it’s great for people who have little to no experience shipping merchandise. It’s okay to keep things really simple in the beginning until your sales ramp up and you begin to consider things such as postage printing, label makers, and fancy packaging.
I took the package to my local post office and asked for the most economical shipping choice to Finland.
Shipping this package by air cost $9.49 CAD.
Next, I had to fill out a customs form, which the post office provided. Every time you ship an item internationally, you will be asked to fill out a customs form. This form will ask for a description of the contents, the value, the weight and whether the package contains a gift, sample or merchandise. Based on the information you put in your customs form, your customer may be charged duties and taxes. You can always use a Duty Calculator to see how much and see whether or not it’s worth paying for your customer.
Most shipping services, such as Canada Post, United States Postal Service and FedEx, allow you to print customs forms at home. This will save time by allowing you to bring your pre-filled customs form to the post office.
After shipping my first order, I realized international shipping could get expensive. I chose to switch from free shipping worldwide to free shipping in the US and Canada on my store.
With my first order in the books, I got the confidence to begin promoting my glasses around the internet.
Submitting to Product Hunt and Reddit
The first place I looked to was Product Hunt. Product Hunt is an invite-only community where product creators and founders share their cool new products and tech.
There is a Games section on Product Hunt for developers and designers to share their games, so I figured submitting Syght Glasses to this section would be a good idea.
With a little help from a few members of the content team here at Shopify, the post on Product Hunt did relatively well.
In the end, it got 28 votes and 4 comments. 6 sales wound up coming in from Product Hunt.
To give the post a better chance at being successful, I submitted my Reddit post early in the morning, around 8 am, in the middle of the week. The title of the Reddit post was very descriptive instead of just putting “Syght Glasses” since the brand is unknown.
The post on Reddit began to climb very quickly.
As a result, a lot of traffic came from Reddit and other collateral sites that linked to my site because of this submission being at the top of the subreddit for two days.
16 orders came in on the day this post was on Reddit. However, I can’t confidently attribute them all to Reddit because looking at Google Analytics and Shopify, many of the purchases had an unknown referer. I could have perhaps used UTM tags in the URL I submitted to Reddit, but I didn’t want to make the URL look suspicious or break any rules in the subreddit.
After staying at the top of Shutup and Take My Money for two days, the submission ended with 185 total upvotes and 59 comments.
The lesson here is to find websites or subreddits in your niche where you can share your cool products to get eyes on them and hopefully a few sales. There are many sites like Product Hunt for your niche, where you can submit products or have your product featured. An example of a few sites like this are Uncrate, Gear Patrol, and Well Spent. To help you get started, here’s our guide to hacking the press.
Handling the Influx of Orders: Packaging, Shipping and Fulfilling Many Orders
Within two days of creating Facebook ads, submitting to Product Hunt, submitting to Reddit, and creating Google Product Listing Ads, I had 21 orders.
This is where the real work came in. I now had to tie 21 hang tags to 21 glasses, pack 21 glasses into 21 cases, fill out several customs forms, print 21 shipping labels, and package and ship 21 orders at the post office.
It’s a much more time consuming and stressful process than I originally thought.
Here’s how my workspace looked most of the time.
Eventually, once everything was packaged, labelled and ready to go, it was time to drop it off at the post office.
For the purpose of this case study, I shipped these products like most new store owners would: by heading down to the local post office and having a clerk provide assistance with customs forms and postage.
I brought 13 packages down to the post office at 9 am (right when it opened) to avoid any lines, but a line quickly formed behind me. Christmas was around the corner and there was only one clerk working at that time.
After about 20 minutes of filling out papers and the clerk measuring and weighing the packages, a woman stormed up to the counter.
“Is there anyone else in the back that could help us?” she asked. Almost as soon as she finished her sentence the clerk responded with a calm “nope.”
Immediately I saw her face scrunch up in anger as she turned to me and pointed. “You’re an asshole!”
As I stood there, partially in shock, my only response was “Merry Christmas to you too!” as she stormed out of the post office.
Needless to say, that was my last time going to the post office. From here on out, I decided to buy my postage and fill out customs forms online.
I used Shippo to fulfill orders and buy postage online for the rest of the orders.
This allowed me to generate a label, with the postage paid, that I could simply attach to the package and drop off in a mailbox or at the post office. No more lines, no more angry, impatient letter-senders.
When I calculated the average shipping cost per package, it came out to $9.49 USD. This includes purchasing the bubble mailers and printing postage using Shippo. Postage to Canada and US was usually around $8-$11 CAD and the bubble mailers were around $1-$2 CAD each depending on how many I bought at a time.
If you’re in the US, you can also check out Shopify’s Shipping Labels.
After dropping everything off at the post office, my business had a lot of momentum. At this point, I wanted to try my main marketing strategy and put together an affiliate program for my glasses, and have influencers and gamers help sell them.
Setting Up An Affiliate Program
I needed an app that allowed me to run an affiliate program with my Shopify store. I chose to use Affiliately, which allowed me to create a unique, trackable coupon for each affiliate. My idea was to create a $5 off coupon that would pay the affiliate a $10 referral bonus. Affiliates could also directly send traffic through a trackable referral link such as syghtglassesshop.com/?ref=affiliatename.
After setting everything up, I chose the $16/month starter plan which allowed up to 50 affiliates. Having 50 active affiliates would be more than enough at this point.
After uploading my logo, setting commissions, and activating Paypal mass payments, it was time to find people willing to promote my glasses.
Finding Influencers to Promote My Glasses
My plan was to find gamers on YouTube with medium-sized audiences and Twitch.tv streamers with decently sized audiences. There are a lot of people with large audiences on YouTube that record and upload videos of themselves playing video games. Twitch.tv, another video platform, allows gamers to livestream their playthroughs.
My plan was to offer each influencer a spot in my affiliate program. I would generate a unique code for them (usually their online alias) and offer their audience $5 off of the glasses. For every coupon redeemed, they would earn $10. I didn’t want to pay for sponsorships initially to try and keep my expenses down. I’d rather pay affiliates for every sale they help bring in. I also hoped that my affiliates would either review my glasses on their YouTube channel, or include a banner/link on their stream page and social media.
I first started on Twitch.tv and looked for streamers actively playing games that I thought had the target customer for my glasses.
I looked for streamers with small to medium sized audiences, who already had banner ads on their stream pages. This was a sign that they’re looking for or accepting sponsorships.
Next, I searched YouTube for channels that had “let’s plays” for the newest games (let’s play videos have exploded in popularity recently) For example, I searched “Fallout 4”, a new game at the time, and checked out all the channels I found. Again, I didn’t want to reach out to channels with millions of subscribers since they weren’t likely to be as approachable as a smaller channel looking to monetize their content.
While looking through these websites, I began making a short list. I put all the potential people and channels I wanted to contact into a spreadsheet including information such as followers, views, and contact url/email.
After getting a list of around 30 content creators, I sent the following email:
After a few responses to my emails and some correspondence, I got 4 people on board to help promote my glasses.
A few Youtubers I reached out to with a sponsorship opportunity eventually posted an awesome video review of my glasses after I sent them a free pair. In total, I sent four pairs of glasses out for influencers to talk about and share with their audience. As of the writing of this case study, 3 influencers created reviews and shared them with their audience.
Here was a response to a video on Twitter from one of the followers of an affiliate:
Overall, I was very pleased with the reviews! They were all positive and very professional. Only three purchases have come from these affiliates.
Over the course of the store being open, I had many requests from people asking to be affiliates for my glasses. I included a link at the bottom of my website to a page called “Get Sponsored.” This page detailed how anyone could begin promoting my glasses and earn $10 for each sale.
One applicant had an Instagram profile that posted gaming memes and had over 140,000 followers.
I generated a unique link using Affiliately and created a coupon exclusively for his followers. This Instagram shoutout provided a nice surge in sales for three days.
13 orders came from this shoutout. The best part was that I didn’t have to pay for the shoutout upfront. Paying for shoutouts on Instagram is an effective way to put your products in front of someone else’s established audience. However, the cost can vary and results aren’t always guaranteed. Making the shoutout commissioned-based is a lot safer and most of the time, less expensive.
Creating Facebook Retargeting Ads
After I ramped up marketing efforts and got more traffic to my website, I wanted to create Facebook ads retargeting people who visited my website but didn’t buy. To learn how to create Facebook ads that target your website visitors, read our beginner’s guide to Facebook Custom Audiences.
I created two different ads, with different copy and images, to see which performed better.
I tried to go with two very different styles of describing the benefits of these glasses. For the images, I tried showing the glasses being used, and just the product itself.
I set an aggressive budget of $20 per day for this campaign. Retarget ads generally perform better so I was confident I’d get a good return on this investment.
I set the objective of this campaign to website clicks instead of conversions. I wanted to get as many impressions and clicks as possible, and I didn’t want Facebook to try to optimize my ad for conversions. In other cases, I may have chose to optimize my ads to be shown to users who are more likely to convert, but since this was a retargeting campaign, I wanted to put my ad in front of website visitors as frequently as possible.
I ran these ads for around 10 days while I began to ramp up marketing on other channels. The ad on the left, (above) with the gamer looking into his computer screen, performed better. It had 42 clicks over the second ad’s 35 clicks. The ad on the left also converted better than the ad on the right.
Here’s the result of my campaign after 8 days of running it.
I did choose to pause the ad for two days, as you’ll see in the graph above. I did this to tweak the ads and the sales page after getting some results.
At the end of the campaign, I can attribute 5 sales to my Facebook retarget ads. I spent $98.13 total for the entire retargeting campaign, which means this campaign was profitable since $199.95 of revenue came from Facebook.
Creating Google Product Listing Ads
I decided early in this case study that I wanted to test Google Product Listing Ads. I’ve never tried them before, but decided to give them a shot after seeing how easy it was to sync my Shopify store with Google Ads using Google channel.
This app allowed me to easily add products to my Google Merchant account and show my products in Google Shopping as well as inline product ads in Google searches.
To do this with your Shopify store, read our documentation. Syncing up my store was very simple. First, I had to create an Adwords account and Merchant account. Next, I installed and setup the Google channel app and synced my glasses to my merchant account.
Finally, I created a Shopping ad in Adwords to show my glasses in Product Listing Ads. I kept the budget to $10 a day and the CPC to $2 maximum. I targeted search terms such as “blue light blocking glasses” and “anti fatigue glasses” as well as the brand names of competing glasses. I chose to only show my ads to American and Canadian searchers.
After running this campaign for roughly 19 days, I had some pretty awesome results.
I spent $155.92 CAD total during this campaign with an average cost per click of $0.97 CAD and click through rate of 2.03%.
The best part? 8 purchases came from my Google Product Listing Ads! That’s $319.92 USD of revenue after spending roughly $112.26 USD on ads. That’s a cool profit of $207.66 from Google Shopping.
Getting Featured on PSFK
At the end of December, something really cool happened, likely thanks to Product Hunt or Reddit. PSFK wrote an article talking about my glasses, without having to pitch them at all!
I’ve never heard of PSFK but when I saw that they were verified on Twitter, and had a decent following, I was really honored and happy to have such a positive write up on their website.
It didn’t bring as much traffic as Reddit, but it was free exposure that brought in a few visitors and 1 sale.
Total Sales and Breakdown
Let’s now get into the good stuff: money.
First let’s look at the timeline. I officially opened for business on December 10, 2015. I closed the doors to the business on January 17, 2016. That’s 39 days (just over 5 weeks) of running this business and selling glasses.
During the course of those 5 weeks, the store made $2,416.51 in total revenue. 61 pairs of glasses were sold and shipped out, plus the 4 that went to affiliates to try out and review. Here’s a general breakdown of all the sales:
Here’s a detailed breakdown I created in Google Sheets. I would add to this spreadsheet every time I got a new sale, to track sales for this case study.
There are quite a few unknowns but I can confidently attribute most of them to Reddit and Product Hunt. Many of those “unknown” referral sales came on the same day submitted my product to both of those sites.
The other thing to note is how many sales came from Google Product Listing ads. I’m actually pretty surprised how well those ads performed. 8 sales can be attributed to Google PLA and, when you look at the expenses breakdown below, only $112.26 total was spent.
Even though I only scratched the surface on affiliate sales, I was impressed with the total amount I sold. 16 total sales came from affiliates.
I was not surprised to see only a few sales from Twitter and Instagram. Growing your social media presence organically takes a long time and certainly longer than one month to see sales from it.
The 3 sales attributed to “Other” came from Slack (my first sale!) and sharing the store with friends.
The business incurred $2,071.99 in total expenses. I will breakdown below where each of these expenses came from.
Shipping made up a good chunk of my total expenses. However, shipping is a variable cost, as it was dependant on how many glasses I sold. It looks like a big number but when you do the math, you realize the shipping cost per unit is reasonable.
It’s also worth noting many of these are one-time expenses. The theme and logo were expensive, one-time costs. The theme was unnecessary but I wanted something very particular for my store’s look, so I did not mind incurring that expense.
The best part of this breakdown is that the business is profitable! After selling for 5.5 weeks, Syght Glasses made $344.52 in profit. Considering how much inventory was left, and how long Syght Glasses was officially open for business, I am very happy with the results.
To wrap up this breakdown, here’s an overview of the store that shows sales, conversions, and traffic:
The most interesting thing that stood out to me is that half of my traffic was mobile. I wasn’t surprised by this as this is now a well-known trend but it’s something to remember the next time you’re designing and setting up your website. Consider how the website will look for mobile traffic.
The “reached checkout” percentage (2.83%) was higher than my “added to cart” percentage (1.89%) which might not seem logical at first but with my theme, since I only sold one product, the buy buttons sent visitors to checkout immediately instead of adding the product to their cart first.
My purchased percentage (0.58%) is relatively low. However, considering I had large surges of traffic from places like Reddit (where not every visitor was my target customer), it was acceptable.
How the Business Could Grow Moving Forward
The business did really well considering it only really existed for one month. Many of the strategies and tactics I employed throughout this case study were short-term plays. There are things I could have done that may have taken a little more time, but they would have paid off in the long run.
There are also some things which I simply didn’t do, and if I were to run with this business full-time, I would definitely explore.
Since I was looking for quick wins, I didn’t utilize the blog in my Shopify store. However, if I was running this business full-time, building out the blog would be one of the first things I’d do. Afterall, I know first-hand how valuable a blog can be since I write for Shopify’s!
The idea would be to write articles that would allow organic traffic (gamers searching for gaming tips and news) to find the website. This would also allow me to share my own content on social media instead of curating content from other sources.
Acquiring More Affiliates and Sponsors
At the start of this business, I thought affiliates and sponsors would be the best way to sell my glasses, and I still do. A lot of the review and unboxing videos that affiliates create will live in perpetuity, which means people will keep coming across them and learning about my business for years to come.
Moving forward, I would continue to contact influencers and content creators, and try to build relationships with key people in the gaming scene. I think part of the long-term success of a business like this is staying in touch with what’s going on in the gaming community and being a great part of it.
Paying for Sponsorships and Spots
I wanted to avoid having to pay people to talk about and share my product with their audience. The reason for this was to keep my costs really lean.
Now that I know I can sell the glasses, and that people want them and like them, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay the right influencers to promote them. I would also consider sponsoring teams, events, and Twitch streams to build brand awareness.
I wouldn’t expect a great ROI initially. These kinds of sponsorships are simply to build brand awareness and get your business known in your communities. This would be a long-term play.
Creating Content on YouTube and Twitch
Instead of paying people who play video games to share my product, I could be the one creating the entertaining content, building an audience and sharing my product.
As a gamer, I am not opposed to making money playing video games.
Obviously, it’s not that easy. However, uploading videos of myself playing or talking about a few video games, which are promoting my glasses on the backend, seems like an excellent long-term content marketing strategy.
Exploring Facebook Ads to Cold Traffic
I only used Facebook Ads to retarget visitors of my website. I didn’t try showing Facebook Ads to cold traffic.
One thing I might have tried was creating a lookalike audience of my website traffic and running an ad to that custom audience, targeting interests such as PC games.
Looking into Prescription Options for Glasses
A big part of creating and running a successful business is listening to your customers. One of the most common questions I got was “do you sell a prescription version of these glasses?”
Gamers that wear prescription glasses couldn’t wear my gaming glasses. It didn’t make sense to wear these glasses over their prescription glasses, and it didn’t make sense to buy my glasses if they needed prescription glasses to play their games.
I have no idea how I would go about finding a way to manufacture prescription glasses. Obviously, I would attempt to ask my supplier and other manufacturers, as well as do some research.
I’m a big believer in list building and email marketing for any kind of business. Email marketing is a very effective long-term strategy that I didn’t think was necessary for what I was trying to do in one month.
I also didn’t want to cannibalize the sales from my affiliates. If I had a popup offering a discount, I didn’t want visitors to use that discount instead of the one an affiliate might offer, and thus not allowing the affiliate to earn a commission.
One way to do this is to offer a significantly lower discount to get people to opt into my email list or to simply offer something else like a newsletter or PC building guide.
As esports grows in popularity, I could put together a weekly newsletter sharing esports news and updates, while promoting my glasses on the backend. There are a lot of opportunities here for my business to grow through email marketing.
Gaming Magazines or Bloggers to Review Glasses or Feature Them
While I looked at influencers on Twitch and YouTube to review my glasses, there’s still an opportunity to reach out to gaming magazines, blogs, and websites to talk about my glasses, too.
Beef up Unboxing Experience
Now that I’ve written this case study and I got some feedback from customers, I realized I made a mistake. The unboxing experience was not as good as it should have been. Looking back, I would have spent a little more money on the packaging and a little more time finding a nice box to ship the glasses in.
While the product itself received great reviews, most customers were let down by the packaging. If that sounds crazy to you, it’s not. The packaging the product arrives in is part of the experience of getting something new. I neglected to make the experience as amazing as possible. I should have taken more tips from Richard’s blog post on the unboxing experience.
Building this business and writing this case study was an amazing experience for me. As an entrepreneur, I had the opportunity to experiment and learn a lot. Not only did I learn a lot, I created something that will hopefully teach and inspire many entrepreneurs for years to come.
My mission with this case study was to explore areas and cover subjects that we haven’t touched upon here on the Shopify blog. I wanted to create a business that was simple enough for anyone to replicate, without it having to be something like a dropshipping business. I wanted to show that creating, ordering and shipping your own products doesn’t need to be complicated or an ordeal.
It just takes finding the right supplier and understanding the process of getting the product from you to your customers. I hope this case study has inspired you to go beyond simply taking the easiest path possible and instead, taking the path that’s most desirable to you, without overcomplicating the process.
Win This Business (The Giveaway has Ended)
We’re giving away this business to one lucky entrepreneur, along with a bunch of extras in partnership with Shippo to help propel your success.
Here’s What You Can Win:
- The entire store and all of its creative assets
- 6 months free on Shopify Unlimited plan
- Remaining inventory including glasses, cases and microfiber cloths
- Contact information of glasses supplier
- Syght Glasses social media accounts
- One month free of Shippo
- $100 in Google Adwords credit
- $50 in Facebook Ads credit
- A consultation from a Shopify Marketing Expert of your choice
Entering the giveaway is simple. Earn entries below by completing at least one of the actions. The more actions you do, the more chances you’ll have to win. If you’re leaving a comment, tell us why you want to be an entrepreneur or why you became an entrepreneur.
You can retweet and share the contest every day during the giveaway period and get more entries. All entries are weighted equally. Be sure to read the contest rules before entering.
Check back on March 9th, 2016 at 12:00PM EST to see if you’ve won!
May the luckiest entrepreneur win!