Effects

So You Want to Sell Products On the Internet

Great! It’s getting dramatically easier to do so every few months, and the playing field keeps getting leveled.

There’s also a rapidly evolving set of best practices worth paying attention to, whether you’re a small independent seller or giant global retail organization.

First off, accept that the products you post online are going to be reposted, saved, shared, commented on and recontextualized by people using a variety of services and devices, if you’re successful. They’ll be stripped of the context of your store, as people are increasingly taking control of their content, including products found online. The products of yours that get reposted will become beacons leading new customers to your store, and you don’t have to pay anyone to get them there. (How often do you click on ads?) You just have to sell products that people think are worth sharing. And people really like to share.

Here’s what I would be sure to do if I was opening a new store online right now (and I just might):

1. Make a nice About page

People want to get some idea of who they’re buying from; it’s only natural. Include pictures of your face or team members’ faces and note your physical location in the world. Offer contact information and a real email address, not just a set of form fields. Pictures of your workspace, storefront or office are great. So is a full address. So is a paragraph or two about why you’re selling these things. Here’s a recent favorite About page.

All about MODULE-R, Brooklyn, NY

2. Take compelling photos of your products, and do not underestimate their importance

Photos are everything, almost, in this increasingly visual internet world. Make your product photos interesting and the kind of thing people will want to share and collect. Buying will happen in the midst of all that sharing and collecting. Photograph your product with a hand holding it. Here’s a classic Etsy blog post on the subject.

It’s worth spending time on this.

Remember cameras?

3. Write your copy with people in mind, not search engines

You want your products to be shared by people, which will help with search engines, but people will not share things that are written for robots. Be conversational, direct, detailed and vivid. Write the kind of copy people will want to copy and paste when they share your product because it strikes them as humorous, surprising or fascinating.

(I didn't write this copy.)

4. Make your shipping and return policy simple and prominent

Try to anticipate the questions people will have. Write these policies directly, like you’re talking to a friend. Keep them as brief as possible. Link to them from your product pages.

5. Juice up your product pages with metadata

You want Google, Facebook, Wanelo, Twitter and other platforms to know that your products are products, so that they can present them as products. I would use Facebook Open Graph tags and/or Wanelo tags. Schema.org tags (supported by Google) and Twitter cards are also worth your while. Here’s a good article about this with easy-to-use templates.

How to Build Your Own Living Structures

For example, if I were selling a collectible copy of Ken Isaacs’ How to Build Your Own Living Structures (1974) (I just bought one after years of searching, so I won’t be, but for the sake of argument), I would include all this in the <head> of my product page’s HTML:

    <head>
    ...
      <meta property="og:title" content="How to Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs (1974)" />
      <meta property="og:description" content="A very collectible vintage instructional book from the 1970s." />
      <meta property="og:type" content="product" />
      <meta property="og:url" content="http://www.example.com/product/12345" />
      <meta property="og:site_name" content="Cool New Store" />
      <meta property="og:price:amount" content="75.00" />
      <meta property="og:price:currency" content="USD" />
      <meta property="og:availability" content="instock" />

      <meta property="wanelo:product:name" content="How to Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs (1974)" />
      <meta property="wanelo:product:price" content="75.00" />
      <meta property="wanelo:product:price:currency" content="USD" />
      <meta property="wanelo:product:availability" content="InStock" />
      <meta property="wanelo:product:url" content="http://www.example.com/product/12345"  />

      <meta name="twitter:card" value="product" />
      <meta name="twitter:domain" value="example.com" />
      <meta name="twitter:title" value="How to Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs (1974)" />
      <meta name="twitter:description" value="A very collectible vintage instructional book from the 1970s." />
      <meta name="twitter:image" content="http://example.com/product/image.jpg" />
      <meta name="twitter:url" value="http://www.example.com/product/12345">
      <meta name="twitter:data1" value="$75.00" />
      <meta name="twitter:label1" value="USD" />
      <meta name="twitter:data2" value="0" />
      <meta name="twitter:label2" value="Available" />
    ...
    </head>

And these Schema.org tags in the HTML body of my product page:

    <body>
    ...
      <div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Product">
        <meta itemprop="name" content="How to Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs (1974)" />
        <meta itemprop="url" content="http://www.example.com/product/12345" />
        <span itemprop="description">A very collectible vintage instructional book from the 1970s.</span>
      </div>
      <div itemprop="offers" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Offer">
        <span itemprop="price">$75.00</span>
        <meta itemprop="priceCurrency" content="USD" />
        <meta itemprop="availability" itemtype="http://schema.org/ItemAvailability"
        content="http://schema.org/InStock" />
      </div>
    ...
    </body>

6. Just say yes to canonical URLs

Canonical URLs on your product pages will ensure that your products get indexed efficiently. They’re Good for Google, Good for Wanelo, Good for Business ™. They’re good for any new platforms that emerge in the future. These platforms all want a single, primary URL to link to your product, even if many different permutations of your URL can get people there, because they don’t want to create duplicate links to your products and waste everyone’s time.

How does it work? Just include a line like this with the simplest version of your product’s URL in the <head> of your product pages’ HTML:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://example.com/product/12345" />

Then, if your website is one that creates different URLs for pages based on how people navigate to them, or if you append various parameters to your URLs for tracking purposes, external platforms will still be able to point to your products effectively.

7. Treat visitors on mobile devices differently than visitors on desktop computers, and vice versa

This doesn’t mean use different URLs for these two cases (in fact, do not do that if you want to be successful). Just detect the customer’s browser user agent and optimize the experience for the kind of device they’re on.

You may end up with a lot of people posting and sharing your products from their phones. Those posts will be consumed by people on desktop computers. Don’t send those desktop users sitting there with their wallets handy to the mobile version of your website—it will feel broken to them and they won’t buy your product. Instead, try and use a single website that adapts intelligently to the different devices visitors use to view your content.

8. Keep your product pages up, forever

After all this, when your products sell out because they’re so incredibly shareable, note that they’re sold but don’t give up on the interested visitors who keep landing there thanks to the links you acquired. Give them options. If possible, give them a way to tell you that they are interested in the product—it feels productive for them and will be valuable for you. Then you can alert them when the product becomes available again. Best Made Company and ModCloth are both doing this well.

Or, show them lots of related products to check out, as on these new intensive sold-out Etsy listing pages:

A new sold-out view on Etsy

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to selling online, but these are some of the things I often see missing out there in the wide, diverse world of ecommerce websites.

The Discovery of Fascinating Objects

The Flickr iPhone app is the most addictive app on my phone at the moment after Wanelo. The kind of app I’ll start using and then blissfully ignore text messages and the outside world until I get my fill.

It’s not because of the great photos my friends continue to upload there (Instagram owns that part of my brain now and isn’t giving it back), but because of all the things collectors of vintage design, furniture, calculators, magazines, advertising, architecture, artwork, matchbooks, postcards, book covers, product packaging, candy and toys are sharing there. I don’t use it to look at photos per se but objects. It’s like the difference between inspirational images and products you can buy. An “upload-only Tumblr for collectors” was how I first thought to describe it (there’s no reblogging). Now I’m realizing how similar the mobile experience is to Wanelo.

Because it’s all that content plus the intense scrollability of the app, which is so important on mobile and currently lacking on the Flickr website. You can see a lot of stuff quickly on the profile and favorites views, where I spend most of my energy, using it like I first used Etsy and now use Wanelo: tracing back the people behind the things I like and seeing what else they like, then continuing on into infinity.

Flickr faves of the moment

The Company Your Company Keeps

If you have an app or web service out there with a rapidly increasing number of people using it, one of the most interesting things in the world for you is how people talk about it.

Wanelo has a lot of young users who like to post screenshots of their home screens, and these images of personal app arrangement are worth a thousand tweets.

In these shots, Wanelo is almost never grouped with existing shopping or commerce apps, though they’re doing a lot of shopping with it. I like to think that it’s because shopping as it’s existed online to date has been disconnected from people’s reality, which contains other people and involves a continual quest for entertainment and stimulation (not just a desire to search for a solution that meets a need).

#wanelo

My Wanelo Feed Erupted with Goodness Last Night

Feeding on Wanelo

This natural event occurred because we began surfacing the individual shops behind the hundreds of thousands of products from Etsy that have been posted to Wanelo by members. Members who had been following the etsy.com “store” on Wanelo and had saved Etsy products are now following the shops behind those products. If you happen to be following people like TouMou or anastridendeavor on Wanelo (or me, or Deena), your feed just erupted with goodness as well.

Store pages on Wanelo are created when members post products from a store. You can follow stores and get updates in your feed when new products from those stores are posted by members. (Did I mention that the new Wanelo feed is simple, lickable and alive?)

This is something I happen to have wanted for a long time: the ability to follow Etsy shops. I’ve favorited hundreds of excellent Etsy shops but when you favorite a shop today you don’t get updates from them, and you forget about them.

Another thing I’ve long wanted that now exists is attribution and ownership for products I’ve saved. When I save a product on Wanelo with a comment, I create a page with that context. If I tweet that save and someone resaves it from me or comments on my save, I get notified. It’s not unlike how reblogging works on Tumblr, and check-ins work on Foursquare.

A Wanelo save page

It’s a step toward helping every active member of Wanelo create content and get feedback on their activity.

Because shopping, since the Industrial Revolution anyway, has been about passive consumption. “Consumption” from “consumer”: a word with a telling etymology that didn’t take off until the late 19th century, after factories had begun manufacturing uniform products en masse and needed to advertise to generate demand:

early 15c., “one who squanders or wastes,” agent noun from consume. In economic sense, “one who uses up goods or articles” (opposite of producer) from 1745. Consumer goods is attested from 1890.

The internet was not designed for passive consumption (that’s what TV was for, and I like to think that the internet began with the creation of the Whole Earth Catalog). And I don’t think consuming in the traditional sense has much of a future. Buying things can be a lot more creative, meaningful and fun. Payment is a form of communication, as Jack Dorsey likes to say, and people prefer to communicate with other people. Left to their own devices, people also tend to seek out unique products and customize things for themselves.

Wanelo is reorganizing shopping around people. That can sound vague if you haven’t picked up Paul Adams’ book Grouped for example, but it’s simple and powerful, and I think soon to be obvious and inevitable: people first. People organize the content and help it get discovered. A typical content-driven ecommerce site will have lots of categories to drill down into, carefully organized by the retailer and created by the retailer. Social context around the products is usually minimal or plastered on, and the experience is often one-dimensional, with the retailer talking at you. On Wanelo you discover products through people, and through the entities that people create while using the site (stores, collections, saves and *more*, coming soon). People look to other people for clues and guidance, just like in real life. And we don’t tell them who to listen to or what to buy.

Tons and tons to do (I’m making commits and writing tickets in another window as I type), but OMG it’s fun. And my Wanelo feed keeps getting better.

The New Wanelo

It’s generally considered pretty risky to rewrite, redesign, rebuild, rebrand and relaunch a service that’s just started to take off among users, but it’s working out nicely at Wanelo. And we like it dangerous.

Wanelo logo

Wanelo‘s got a new look (big up: @ednacional), new backend (Ruby, PostgreSQL, Solr, Redis), new frontend (Haml, SCSS, CoffeeScript, Gibson-Regular), new bookmarklet (@jicksta, @paulhenry), new infrastructure, new process, new metrics, new team, new gifs, new features (like inline editing of products you post), new pages, new following feed, new feed feeds, new URLs, new office, new officemates, new mystical courtyard with hummingbird guides, new admin tools, new rules, new mission, new books, new members, new stores, new bikes, new energy and new shoes.

It’s so fresh, clean, modern and pure in intention, and so full of potential right now, it can make you fall in love.

Newer hotness now shipping daily, and I can’t wait to be able to talk about the next few things in the queue.

The Discovery Problem

There are a lot of really awesome and well-made things being sold by creative businesses these days. Things you do not know you want until you see them, because you did not know they existed and wouldn’t have thought to search for them. Things that enrich your life because they have meaning for you (you discovered it!) and are special or rare.

There are a lot of great platforms for selling these things: Etsy, Shopify, Big Cartel, Goodsie, Gumroad. But generating demand for these things, and helping them get discovered, is a distinct problem on which I don’t think we’ve made a great deal of headway yet. Sellers and retailers are still shouting, or advertising, at people to buy their stuff, inefficiently. The best ones are telling stories and engaging people in conversations, but it takes a lot of work to gain traction. It also takes a lot of money and effort to build brands the traditional way. So a lot of awesome things are being lovingly made and never seen or sold.

Turns out seller-focused platforms may not be in the best position to attack this problem. It may not make a lot of business sense to try. When sellers are your primary customers, you must focus on their needs and keep them happy. Sometimes things that are best for buyer discovery do not make sellers happy. Sellers would not be happy to see other sellers’ items on their website, for example, or on listing pages that they paid for. Understandably so. Whether or not such a thing leads to more sales and more customers is inconsequential. If sellers aren’t happy, they won’t list items on your service.

A website from an individual seller, whether that seller is an independent designer or Macy’s, is never going to be wholly aligned with the interests of buyers. It’s naturally biased, and limited. And from the seller perspective, visitors will be hard to come by unless you’ve done the hard work of building up an engaged following, in addition to all the other hard work.

Amazon is focused on buyers, and will show you things from lots of different sellers, but Amazon is optimized for convenience, and for buying things you have already decided you want. Amazon is not focused on discovery.

I’ve been thinking that maybe what this world needs are seller-focused platforms optimized for selling, and buyer-focused platforms optimized for discovery.

A buyer-focused platform optimized for discovery puts buyer happiness first, and buyers in control. It’s a place where buyers help other buyers discover things, and puts the right buyers in touch with the right sellers. It’s a place where demand for unique items is generated and aggregated, and creative makers of things benefit.

Wanelo is buyer-focused, and has been inspiring euphoria among a growing legion of young females—the same generation I’ve been watching propel Tumblr to new heights.

I see a lot of work ahead, but I know there’s something there. So I’m going to go help Deena and Kristina Varshavskaya and team figure out what that is, then turn it all the way up, in San Francisco.

I’m going to miss Etsy, and New York, and the astonishingly awesome people I’ve been lucky enough to work with these last few years. Etsy is deep in my bones. I see the next step as a natural continuation of that work. And I won’t be stranger :)

Be Good

by pleasebystill on Etsy

If you start from successful startups, you find they often behaved like nonprofits. And if you start from ideas for nonprofits, you find they’d often make good startups.

–from a Paul Graham classic that’s worth reading in its entirety, repeatedly, and keeping handy in your Instapaper account.

The Sun Rises in the East

Etsy’s Treasury is something I’ve been fascinated by for a while. It’s an ever-changing, member-curated shopping gallery with some unique constraints. Treasury lists only live for 48 hours. Each list has a limit of 42 comments. You can only create a list if the total number of lists falls below 333 (shorthand for <333, meaning 'MUCH LOVE', according to Wikipedia). And you can only have one list living at a time. These constraints create scarcity, which makes the opportunity to create a Treasury list more desirable. The constraints also help to give the Treasury a “live” feel—what you’re seeing in the Treasury and sharing with other visitors is ephemeral, and will soon go away. As we used to say, “Embrace the decay!” Plus there are some real-time aspects to the Treasury that are rare on the web: When you’re viewing a list, you can watch other people’s clicks as they happen—the items are highlighted in yellow for other visitors the moment they’re clicked. Each list is a temporary, shared space. You can see this in the Treasury list URLs, which contain a “room_id.” The lists are rooms, and you always know how many other people are in the room with you. In the early days, this was made explicit from the start, and you could watch other visitors fly into rooms from the main Treasury page.

In other words, everything that makes the old Treasury unique is related to the fact that it’s a Flash application: its constraints, and its real-time feel. These things are inseparable from its origins in Flash. But at Etsy an entirely new infrastructure for collections is being created, powered by MongoDB.

So we launched Treasury East as a testing ground for a new unlimited Treasury world, where anyone would be able to create a curated list of items, and that curation activity would be rewarded and harnessed as the important signal it is in a marketplace of one-of-a-kind items made by humans. Etsy is filled with things you never knew existed and never knew you wanted. People welcome guidance and clues from other people in this environment.

And the birth of Treasury East has been remarkable. It feels like the flowering of something new and great, as fascinating items and shops are surfaced by people with a talent for finding things.

Because as any collector knows, it’s fun and satisfying to find things, and can be an outlet for self-expression. Here’s a list I made this morning while on a vintage mid-century modern housewares binge (it happens):

The Modern Home by sean11 on Etsy

Already we’re seeing games emerge organically, some reminiscent of the Etsy Sneak Attack and PIF (Pay It Forward) phenomena, like Treasury East BnR (Buy and Replace), started by Grace of Homespun Handmaiden. BnRs are bemoaned in the old Treasury world but in this new environment they start to feel like a primitive social-commerce life form that might evolve into something more interesting.

OK I’ve started a treasury east that’s a BnR (buy and replace). Basically you can buy any of the items in the treasury and post the transaction link in the comments. I then go to YOUR shop and replace the item you bought with one of your items! It’s a win-win for all involved. This is a great way to promote your shop and support fellow etsians at the same time!

Keeping an eye on the constant stream of Treasury East blog mentions and Twitter mentions for more.


Finding Yourself Through Your Favorites

Japanese Tumblr users are “addicted to reblogging,” ffffolks on FFFFOUND are defining themselves by the images they find, and Etsians are hearting more items than ever. I’m discovering more about myself as I build up my Etsy Favorites, namely that I’m fond of hand-drawn pattern and complexity:

We just need better ways of sharing, organizing, displaying and discovering these things (working on it!).

Search Datamob

Datamob

Lauren got the search functionality for Datamob up and running, making the site about 1,000 times more useful. Adjustments are in progress but you can subscribe to feeds of search results.

Recent additions: NPR API, BBC Backstage, CrunchBase API, CrunchBase Map, TheMiddleClass.org, geophysically scaled economic data, Walk Score, Lee Byron’s San Franscisco Walkability Map, Toby Segaran’s Industry Browser and a number of resources.