12 Business Ideas for College Students [QUIZ] (2021)

12 Business Ideas for College Students [QUIZ] (2021)


After studying some of the one million business owners who use Shopify, we discovered that founders tend to fall into one of five personality types. Which one are you? Start with our quiz.


Summer solstice is approaching, Stargazers, and with it comes long, hot days. For those of us in the full-time working realm who have a few vacation days saved, summer is a time to sit back and sip some sunshine. But if you’re a college student, summer may look more like opportunity—opportunity to reduce tuition debt, gain some real world experience, and set yourself up with a flexible side gig once classes resume.

The future is bright for those who seize it. Even better news: there are ways to design your summer around something you enjoy, where you set your own hours and make money. There is no shortage of clever small business ideas for college students. But which one is right for you? Well, it might depend on your entrepreneur personality type. 

In short, your summer startup should reflect your interests and leverage your strengths. Join us as we explore ways to make the most of your summer break and answer questions like:

  • Which is the best business for college students like me?
  • What is the best business for beginners?
  • What are the most successful small businesses?
  • How do I get started?
  • What are the benefits of starting a business as a college student?

You’re done with exams, young Stargazer, but we have just one more test. We need to know a little more about you so we can make recommendations tailored to your unique personality. Take the quiz below and sign up to join the Founder’s Zodiac community. Already know your Founder Sign? Skip ahead.

7 benefits of starting a business as a college student

If I could leap back in time, do it all over again, I’d have dipped my toes in entrepreneurship much earlier. The lessons I learned from side gigs have helped me grow personally and professionally. There are several benefits to pursuing business ideas in college—and it’s not too late for you to cash in on them:

  1. 📊 Gain real world experience in business. Sure business school can teach you theory and formulas, but there’s nothing like doing business to learn the ropes. 
  2. 🛠 Learn skills that may not be taught in the classroom. Strengthen your skills in empathy, delegation, stress management, customer service, and more. Student entrepreneurs have a leg up on fellow graduates once they hit the job market. The skills you learn outside the classroom become just as valuable as those learned in a lecture. 
  3. 🤝 Build your professional network. By the time you graduate, you already have a contact list full of people to approach for references, mentorships, and even jobs.
  4. 👩🏻‍🎓 Try out an industry before you graduate. Studying fashion management? Try running your own business selling clothes online to get a taste for the industry.
  5. 📝 Flesh out your resume. As a new graduate, your CV may be pretty sparse. But if you run your own business in college, you can add “CEO“ to your list of accomplishments.
  6. 💰 Earn extra cash. Saving to pay expenses and minimize debt is a good idea if you want to lessen the burden after you graduate.
  7. 📆 Enjoy an income source that works around your studies. As your own boss, you make the hours. The common struggle of scheduling a part-time job around studying and classes can add stress. Work on your own business on a flexible schedule and then go all in on your summer break.

💡 For parents and teachers

Know a college student looking for a summer opportunity? Share or use this guide to help them start a business that sets them up for success. For younger students, we’ve developed a useful resource on small business ideas for teens and kids.

12 business ideas for college students

Whether you’re fresh out of high school or you’re on break before your senior year of college, this is your moment. When else in your life will you have this much time—and youthful energy—to make a leap? There are plenty of business ideas for beginners that require little upfront investment, and can even be run from your home (or dorm room). 

Before we look at specific ideas picked for your personality type, get inspired by this list of the best business types for college students:

    1. Teach, mentor, or tutor. Help high school students with summer studies or younger college students prep for classes that you aced last semester.
    2. Sell handmade goods. If you’re creative, take a break from the books to work with your hands. You can sell your goods through an online store, marketplace, or in-person event like a local market. 
    3. Start a service-based business. What services can you offer in your city or town? Launch a basic website to advertise services for childcare, pet-sitting, delivery, personal shopping, maintenance, landscaping—there are endless possibilities.
    4. Try dropshipping. Dropshipping lets you sell goods to customers without ever having to buy product upfront or manage inventory. This is a great idea for those with skills in design and marketing. The products are less important than how you curate, market, and position them.
    5. Start a community-focused business or non-profit. If your goal isn’t to make money but to gain skills and experience, you could start a cause-based business that gives back to a charity or community organization that you care about.
    6. Monetize content or a personal brand. If you’re already a minor superstar on a social media platform like TikTok or Instagram, consider leveraging your growing audience to make money. Do sponsored content or set up an online store that sells merch to your fans.
    7. Sell print-on-demand goods. This is another great option for starting a business on a low budget. If you have creative skills, you can sell your art or graphic design printed on anything from t-shirts to camp mugs. 
    8. Become a freelancer. Make yourself available to take on freelance work like editing, copywriting, web design, or whatever it is that you do best. You can set up a portfolio site or create a listing on a site like Upwork.
    9. Create experiences. While the world emerges from lockdown, the masses are craving in-person connections. Can you create and sell experiences to tourists, for example? Think biking or culinary tours of your city’s favorite spots.
    10. Become a reseller. If you have an eye for potential, scour local buy-and-sell sites or thrift stores for interesting and vintage finds. You can curate a unique experience by fixing up old home decor or vintage clothing and selling them on a dedicated website. 
    11. Sell at pop-up shops and markets. Grow your own veggies and make preserves, bake cookies, make handmade goods, or curate vintage. Whatever your skill or interest, consider how you can make extra cash selling at weekend markets or a temporary pop-up. 
    12. Run a summer camp program. Alleviate parent burnout after a year of tenuous childcare and schooling. Choose one your interests—say math, drama, or wilderness exploration—and create an engaging camp program for young kids.

But wait, how do I get started? It’s as easy as just doing it. Set up an online store and get a feel for the tools before committing to a plan, then learn as you go with free resources like the Shopify blog.


Predict your own future. Start a college business and try Shopify free for 14 days


Handpicked summer business ideas and tips for college students

Hey, what’s your sign? We’re less interested in when you were born and more in what makes your tick. Here, we’ll hone in on your unique personality type and offer college business suggestions curated just for you. 

👟 Skip to your sign:

Feature sign: The Outsider

Illustration of The Founder's Zodiac sign, The Outsider

You’re our feature sign this month, Outsider, because you’re the most likely to already be planning for your financial future. Taking on debt to attend college was likely stressful enough for someone who avoids risk at all costs. If you’re already contemplating debt repayment, there are plenty of ways to get ahead of it now, even while you’re still studying. For you, starting a business in college could provide some financial peace of mind—allowing you to focus less on money and more on graduation.

Which is the best business type for Outsider college students?

You’re a reliable person, always submitting work on time and up to your high standards. Pick a business that doesn’t interfere with your dedication to your studies. Make your own hours and set your own boundaries so you don’t get overwhelmed. And remember to carve time out for social pursuits—the lessons you learn by joining teams or clubs or attending campus events could be just as valuable to your future.

3 college business ideas for Outsiders

Businesses that work well for you, Outsider, are those that you can run solo and without a lot of upfront investment. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Offer a service to other students based on your craft or field of study. As someone who goes all in on one thing, your expertise likely exceeds that of many of your classmates.
  2. Sell handcrafted goods at local or on-campus markets. You may not be a natural salesperson, but the experience will help build those necessary interpersonal skills if you choose to run a business after you graduate.
  3. Sell digital products online. If you’re a business major, sell business plan templates. Photography major? Sell presets for photo editing software. If you’re studying music, sell licences to stock sounds or songs. Whatever your field, how can you add value and attract customers by running a low-investment business selling digital products?

💡 Learn more: The 13 Best Small Business Ideas (No Inventory Required) (2021)

The Mountaineer

Illustration of The Founder's Zodiac sign, The Mountaineer

You’re probably a bit of an overachiever, Mountaineer. Maybe you’re fast-tracking graduation. Or working two side jobs in the pursuit of getting out in the real world quickly and debt free. Maybe you’re already maximizing your summer break by hitting the pavement to scout out internships. Gold star! Whatever your ultimate goal, you’re chasing it non-stop. That’s why you’re likely the most suited of all signs to start a business while you’re still in college. The benefits are obvious—and that boss title is great for bragging rights.

Which is the best business type for Mountaineer college students?

While you’re quite self-motivated—reaching your goal is reward enough—you won’t shy away from a little deserved attention. You’re a natural performer. And even though you’re satisfied to call all the shots, you definitely thrive surrounded by people. Why not leverage your natural charm and leadership abilities to run your own student business?

3 college business ideas for Mountaineers

Lean into your strengths by making and monetizing content or running a service business—anything that puts you in the spotlight or surrounds you with people. Your best bets:

  1. Start or grow a YouTube channel. Find a niche or underserved audience and produce content that creates value. Once you build a loyal fan base, sell ads or promoted content, or set up a merch store to monetize your personal brand.
  2. Design a summer drama or sports camp for kids.
  3. Offer your services as a consultant, based on your specific skills or field of study. 

💡 Learn more: Like, Comment, and Thrive: How to Start a Successful YouTube Channel for Your Business

The Firestarter

Illustration of The Founder's Zodiac sign, The Firestarter

If you’re not already running several businesses from your dorm room, Firestarter, we’d be surprised. You’re the type to always be looking for opportunity, running schemes, and making as much money as possible with the least effort. We can’t fault you for it—your ease in the business world is enviable, and it pays off. But if you haven’t used your talents to start a business in college, there’s no time like the present! 

Which is the best business type for Firestarter college students?

You get bored quickly if things aren’t challenging, fast-paced, and a little risky. It’s important for you to be able to pivot easily. With that in mind, look for businesses you can spin up—or fold—quickly. Choose anything that allows you to be relatively hands off so that you’re nimble enough to pursue new ideas. 

3 college business ideas for Firestarters

Here are some business ideas suited to your personality that you can act on today:

  1. Start a dropshipping or print-on-demand business to sell trending products.
  2. Run a service business offering coaching or mentorship in the field that you study.
  3. Invest in other small businesses. If you have some extra money to play with, back some projects that excite you.

💡 Learn more: Trending Products to Sell in 2021

The Cartographer

Illustration of The Founder's Zodiac sign, The Cartographer

Among all the signs, you’re the best at managing your time and budget. You keep meticulous records. Heck, your 25-year-plan is probably color-coded and laminated. Because you’re so organized, you know exactly how much time and effort you can bring to a side job or project between studying and classes. Starting a small business during your summer break is therefore ideal for you, Cartographer. You also get to be the boss (just the way you like it) and the extra cash will help minimize debt—your natural enemy—before you graduate.

Which is the best business type for Cartographer college students?

You’re a lone wolf, happy to get lost in the details. You’d rather work late than delegate if it means things get done right—and your way. You’re best suited to starting a small business that you can reasonably manage alone on top of your studies. Look for low-risk business ideas for college students like you that can be run from home.

3 college business ideas for Cartographers

Online businesses are perfect for those who lean a little more introverted. An online format paired with your creativity and attention to detail is a winning formula.

  1. Make handmade goods and sell them through an online store or marketplace.
  2. Create educational content—say craft, design, or home organization tutorials—and sell them online. Set up social accounts with free content and teasers to help build an audience.
  3. Offer freelance digital services like design, branding, writing, templates, or website development.

💡 Learn more: Online Business Ideas: 16 Best Low-Cost Ideas and How to Start

The Trailblazer

Illustration of The Founder's Zodiac sign, The Trailblazer

Your best trait, Trailblazer, is sometimes also your downfall. You have the problem of two many ideas and it causes you to lose focus on just one thing. At the risk of distracting you even further from your studies, a small business could actually be the cure for you. The constraints of a typical student job can feel restrictive to Trailblazers like you. And since you’re a natural at balancing a million things, why not add a little side hustle into the mix? 

Which is the best business type for Trailblazer college students?

A small business will allow you to act out your ideas, pour your creativity into a passion, and pivot whenever something shiny catches your eye. Since your passion naturally attracts others, consider a business that brings others into the fold. Design a working environment that you’ve always dreamed of—no dress code, no set hours, and lots of collaboration. You’re the boss, after all.

3 college business ideas for Trailblazers

Pick a business that lets you be flexible and solve creative problems. Here are a few ideas for Trailblazers like you:

  1. Create a series of designs around a trend or interest and sell them printed on products like tote bags or travel mugs. You can use a print-on-demand service to automate many of the tasks. Want a collab angle? Commission work from design students and sell their work too.
  2. Invent and sell a product or service that solves a problem—especially if it benefits college students like you. You have a built in customer base while you’re in school. And if it takes off, create work opportunities for your favorite classmates.
  3. Start a marketplace (online or a pop-up on campus) to help foster entrepreneurship among your peers. Sell the creations of others and take a cut for your hard work.

💡 Learn more: 12 Profitable Hobbies That Make Money

If you’ve yet to determine your Founder Sign, take our quiz, then sign up for our newsletter. The Founder’s Zodiac runs every month and offers up advice and relevant content curated just for your type. 

Illustrations by by Alice Mollon



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How To Make Merch For Your YouTube Channel Or Podcast & Sell It Online

How To Make Merch For Your YouTube Channel Or Podcast & Sell It Online


Are you a creator with a following? Making merch is one of the best avenues you can pursue to monetize your audience. But how can you make merch? This article walks through the entire process of how to make merch so you can start making and selling merch now.

How to Make Merch: Types of Merch Products You Can Make

How to Make Merch Products

First, let’s start with your merch options.

There are so many merch products available to creators now, and you can get them printed with quotes and images your audience wants to wear.

Here are some popular merch products:

  • Sweatpants: Sweatpants have long been the leisurewear of choice for all generations
  • Shirts & Sweatshirts: They’re easy to source, comfy to wear day and night, and consumers can always be tempted by unique designs
  • Socks: This lightweight item is cheap to ship, they can make fun gifts, and they’re a subtle way for consumers to rep their merch
  • Hats: Functional and simple, yet a go-to merch product
  • Mugs: They’re easy to customize and market
  • Phone Cases: Since the general population is pretty much stapled to their phones, why not offer customized phone cases?
  • Jewelry: Earrings, necklaces, and bracelets can be special, more premium merch options. Selling jewelry as merch can be easier than you think
  • Laptop Cases: Customize laptop cases and/or opt for various waterproof and hard-wearing materials—all branded with your logo, of course!
  • Backpacks: A necessary and very functional accessory, you can personalize backpacks with your logo or with embroidered illustrations
  • Beach Towels: Depending on your brand and audience, beach products might be an ideal merch product. Print your logo, designs, or slogans onto a beach towel!
  • Blankets: Create cozy blankets with your logo, designs, illustrations, or slogans. Provide a choice of fabrics and colors to suit your customers’ tastes!
  • Canvases: Are you an artist, designer, illustrator, or photographer? Print your work onto canvases so your customers can purchase your creations
  • Tote Bags: Tote bags are an original merch product and for good reason—they’re functional, easy to source, practical, and consumers love to have multiple on-hand!
  • Facemasks: Let’s face it—facemasks are here to stay for the indefinite future, so lean into it and create facemasks for your merch line! Whether you design your own masks or work with a fellow creator to develop something unique, it doesn’t matter; it’s a cheap and easy way to use up material and sell easy-to-ship products
  • Pet Bandanas: Does your pet have a popular social media account? Make some merch for your follower’s pets! Pet bandanas are an easy-to-make and sell item that plenty of pet owners can appreciate
  • Babygrows: A parent’s go-to staple, make babygrows with cute slogans, illustrations, or anything else associated with your brand
  • Aprons: Appeal to foodies, cooks, bakers, and home chefs with customized aprons!

This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are tons of options out there. But when you start selling merch, what kind of products you sell is up to you! You can mix and match your merch to suit your brand and get as creative as you want.

Where to Get Your Merch Made

Now that you have an idea of what kind of merch you can make—where do you get that merch made?

The good news is, you don’t have to make your merch yourself.

Long gone are the days of purchasing wholesale t-shirts in bulk and screenprinting your own designs onto them. You can work with dropshipping suppliers to make your merch for you.

We recommend outsourcing the merch-making process to a dropshipping company because it’s easier and likely cheaper for you! They handle the printing, packaging, inventory management, and shipping so all you have to do is make designs and handle your online store and customer service.

Below are 3 of the best dropshipping services we recommend.

Note: Looking for more dropshipping suppliers you could source merch from? Our Dropshipping Suppliers Directory lists dropshippers of all kinds. Find the products you’re looking for there.

Printful

Make Merch with Printful

Printful (Printful Review) is one of the best companies you can make merch with. Not only are they simple to use, but they also integrate directly with Shopify (Shopify Review) stores so you can automate order fulfillment and get your merch dropshipped directly to your customers’ doors.

Printful also offers a massive selection of print-on-demand products that you can customize with your own designs, illustrations, artwork, and slogans so you can make each merch item your own.

There are also no minimum order quantities or monthly subscription fees, and items generally go out to customers within three working days. They also offer custom packaging options, so your customer’s orders can be branded with stickers, labels, and customized packing slips.

Check Out Printful’s Shopify App Here


Gooten

Make Merch for Your Online Store with Gooten

Gooten is another reliable dropshipping supplier with a wide range of products to choose from. Their products are also print-on-demand so you can print your own designs, illustrations, slogans, etc. on each item, and they also integrate with Shopify stores.

We like to recommend Gooten because they offer print-on-demand products that other merch suppliers may not offer, like:

  • Journals and notebooks
  • Bathmats
  • Beer steins
  • Huggable body pillows
  • Compact mirrors
  • More ideas

Which can give you more choices that you may not see elsewhere.

If you’re looking to sell unique merch products, check out Gooten’s product selection to see what you can find.

Check Out Gooten’s Shopify App Here


Printify

Make Merch with Printify

Another great print-on-demand merch supplier is Printify. While their product offering is a little bit more curated, they provide high-quality items and promise quick turnaround times with their 90+ print provider locations.

Some of the items Printify offers include:

  • Insulated bottles
  • Enamel camping mugs
  • Desk calendars
  • Personalized lamps
  • Indoor wall tapestries

Check Out Printify’s Shopify App Here


Note: Like different products from all three of these merch suppliers? You don’t have to source your merch from just one supplier—you can source from all of them! To do this, it’s especially helpful if your store is on an ecommerce platform like Shopify so orders can be automatically fulfilled. Otherwise, you’ll have to manually track orders across all suppliers which can be confusing and lead to errors.

Getting Ideas for Your Merch Designs

If your talents lie in online marketing, sales, and lead generation, but you’re short on creative ideas for your merch, listen up!

You want to create designs that are distinct and tailored to the tastes of your specific audience. The important thing here is to avoid the generic. So, say you host a true-crime podcast. You’re going to want to make merch that’s tailored towards your audience and branded with your show’s title. Take True Crime All The Time as an example. They run a top-rated podcast and have successfully monetized their show by selling a wide array of branded merch.

Alternatively, if your YouTube, TikTok, or podcast shows have inside jokes, catchphrases, or different seasons, you can capitalize on creating products that your audience recognizes, loves, and identifies with. This is a simple yet effective way of uniting your online community.

If you’re still unsure what to print on your merch designs, reach out to your audience for ideas! Ask your followers to DM suggestions or leave comments on one of your posts. Run a competition for design/slogan suggestions where the winner(s) receive free merch and a shout-out on your social platforms. Or, run an Instagram or Facebook poll with multiple-choice suggestions where followers can vote for their favorite idea.

Designing Illustrations & Slogans for Your Merch

To actually create your merch designs, you have a few options. You can either:

  • Make Your Designs Yourself: If you’re up to the challenge, there’s plenty of software you can use to bring your design ideas to life, such as Canva and Adobe Photoshop. Check out YouTube or Skillshare tutorials to learn how to use the software if you don’t already know
  • Customize Design Templates: Find design templates on places like Creative Market and make them your own! This means you can still make bespoke designs without having to create them from scratch
  • Hire a Designer: If you don’t have the time nor the inclination, check out online marketplaces such as Upwork, Fiverr, and FreeUp to outsource your design work. A designer or illustrator will be able to turn your concepts into fully fleshed-out designs that look professional and high-quality

Setting Up Your Merch Store

How to Start a Merch Store

Now it’s time to set up your online merch store and generate some income and brand awareness!

If you’ve committed to a dropshipping supplier, it’s pretty simple to set up your store because you have no inventory to buy upfront, and you don’t have to wait until your merch has been made before you can start selling because your supplier can print on demand.

So, all you need to do is set up your online store using your chosen ecommerce platform, then integrate it with Printful, Gooten, Printify, or whatever other dropshipping partners you’re using. From there, you can import your products onto your online storefront and start selling.

If you’re starting from scratch, we’re going to briefly walk you through what you need to do to set up a Shopify merch store.

Let’s walk through it step-by-step.

Step 1: Pick a Name

Decide on the name of your merch store. This could be the same title as your podcast or YouTube channel, or TikTok profile, or it could be something associated with it (like a catchphrase) that your audience will recognize and remember.

For name ideas, check out Shopify’s Domain Name Generator!

Step 2: Register for a Shopify Account

It’s easy to sign up for Shopify and there are several payment plans to choose from—including Shopify Lite which is an excellent option if you’re just dipping a toe in the water. From there, you can upgrade your plan as you scale your business over time.

If you’re unsure whether Shopify is the right platform for you, they offer a 14-day free trial that you can start with before you commit.

Step 3: Set up your Shopify Store

Follow Shopify’s prompts to get your store set up—they’ll lead you through the most important parts. They also have a helpful guide that goes into detail and this checklist for starting a new Shopify store.

But, to give you a sense of what’s involved, these are the general steps:

  • Log into your Shopify account
  • Name your store
  • Choose your legal business name and address
  • Add your billing information
  • Choose your payment gateway and default currency. Shopify integrates with all the major payment providers and you can accept payments in multiple currencies
  • Set up your shipping options. If your customers are local, you could set up your store to offer local pick-up and delivery options
  • Set your taxes
  • Set up your domain name

Step 4: Choose Your Merch Supplier

After reviewing all your options, select a merch supplier that suits your needs best.

When you work with suppliers like Printful, Gooten, and Printify you have lots of flexibility; you can sell just one of their products and expand later, you can list a few products and change them around whenever you want, and you can even source from multiple suppliers.

Ideally, sourcing your products from a supplier who integrates with Shopify will make your life a lot easier, so we recommend making that a priority when you choose your merch supplier.

Step 5: Make Your Merch Designs

Make your merch designs or hire someone to make your designs for you!

Make sure your designs look exactly how you want them, ensure that they’re unique and don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright (this applies to slogans/quotes as well), and if you purchase templates, ensure that you purchase the correct licensing option (such as a commercial license) so that you have the right to print the designs on items that are being sold.

Step 6: Order Samples

This is a super important step—don’t skip it! Order samples to make sure the quality of the product meets your standards and the design is printed properly on your product.

Most dropshipping suppliers will offer discounts on samples so merchants can check their merch before they sell it.

Step 7: Take Product Photos

Take product photos of your merch to upload onto your store. Remember, these are what will attract customers, so make sure that they’re of good quality!

Step 8: Choose a Website Theme

Choose a website theme that best reflects your brand. Website themes can be customized in small ways to your liking, but the overall layout will generally stay the same so pick a theme layout that you like. You can customize the colors, images, menus, and sections later.

Step 9: Test Your Store

Test your online store to guarantee that everything actually works before going live. The last thing you need is glitches from the get-go!

The easiest way to do this is to run trial transactions, refunds, and order cancellations to evaluate whether everything is operating as it should be. It’s also worth appraising Shopify’s fraud analysis settings so you’re better positioned to identify any rare cases of fraudulent orders.

Step 10: Launch & Start Selling!

Launch your site and make it public so your audience can buy your merch! Remove your store’s password so your site is accessible to the outside world and orders can start coming in.

Step 11: Market Your Merch Store

Start marketing via your YouTube channel, TikTok profile, podcast, and social feeds! Let your audience know that your merch store is up and running so they can support you and grab the merch they want to buy.

You can also encourage your audience to share photos of themselves wearing or using your merch so you can share their posts on your profile. This kind of user-generated content not only cements the relationship you have with your audience but also doubles as social proof which goes a long way to add to your brand’s credibility and establish trust.

Conclusion

So now you know how to make merch that represents your brand and your audience will love! Go get your merch brand started—what are you waiting for?



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How a Former Banker Turned Pastry Chef Whipped Up Cult-Favorite Skincare — Podcasts (2021)

How a Former Banker Turned Pastry Chef Whipped Up Cult-Favorite Skincare — Podcasts (2021)


Before Kate McLeod founded her namesake skincare company, she took many turns in her career. From Wall Street to culinary to entrepreneurship, Kate McLeod followed her intuition to build a business that combines her skills and interests. On This episode of Shopify Masters, Kate talks about leaving behind investment banking to create waste-free body care products, managing retail relationships, and the realities of being a mom and a founder. 

Don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to Shopify Masters.



Show Notes

The art of applying French pastry skills to skincare

Shuang: For those who are unfamiliar, tell us what a body stone is.

Kate: The Body Stone is a solid cocoa butter based moisturizer and it melts on contact with warm, dry skin. In my opinion, cocoa butter is the best thing that you can put on your body. It’s filled with the vitamins and nutrients to really give you that nourished moisturized skin. But if you’ve ever seen raw cocoa butter, it’s rock hard. I wanted to make the cocoa butter enhance that application process. 

  Kate McLeod dressed in a black turtleneck holding a Body Stone within her kitchen.
Kate McLeod’s hero product, the Body Stone was born in the kitchen where Kate mixed in her interest in yoga and experience with culinary to create a zero-waste moisturizer.  Kate McLeod  

Shuang: And it’s such a beautiful product because, at the end of it, you don’t have a plastic bottle or any waste.

Kate: No, nothing like that. A big part of my journey was my time in the kitchen. By training, I am a Pastry Chef, and the Body Stone was born in my kitchen. I used both ingredients that were in my kitchen cabinet, and when it came time to store the stone and package it, I really didn’t know beauty but I did know food and I knew what I used in my kitchen. So every Body Stone is wrapped in this gorgeous hand-cut piece of linen. It’s the thickest cheesecloth, and that is what I had in my kitchen. A lot of our customers say that they use the cloth at the end as a makeup remover wipe, finding other uses. The stone itself will melt down eventually into nothing, and at those last few bits, you can throw them in a hot bath.

Then the actual container that we sell the Body Stone in, it’s a bamboo canister. The lid swivels open and the Body Stone gets tucked inside. I remember very early on, walking out of a Packaging Fair in Flat Iron, in tears because no one would speak to me. And I had this product and I didn’t know how to package it. And everyone had these high minimum order quantities and told me there was nothing for a body product that you had to take in and out of something and keep it clean. And they told me to put it in a deodorant stick and just make it.

And I didn’t like that idea. And I remember I went home and made myself a cup of hot chocolate, that’s my comfort food. I love cocoa, and I was looking around my kitchen and I spotted a spice canister, and it was a bamboo spice canister. I literally opened up my computer and stumbled into Alibaba and within a week I had found someone who would do a small order for me. And a few months later 500 Bamboo canisters showed up on my doorstep in Williamsburg and then the journey began from there. The bamboo canister is reusable. We sell stones in refill boxes that you can recycle. So there’s no plastic. No waste at the bottom of a bottle. 

Shuang: It seems like culinary skills and investment banking experiences all play a part in building your business. What was that pivotal point when you started to create the Body Stone? 

Kate: So long story short, I ended up back in New York in 2015. It was so different from 2008 when I got a job at Goldman. I definitely had an ego. I was a little cocky about it and felt like I knew what I was doing and I had a network. And here I was back in 2015, and I felt very small and scared, with no direction, and no job and a lot of my friends have left and I discovered yoga and I cried on so many yoga mats.

Then I met my sister-in-law Deb. We developed a very close relationship, and a couple months later she saw me putting lotion on and she was like, “What are you putting on your body?” She’s someone that wouldn’t even use white paper towels because they’re bleached. She really knew where her food came from, where everything came from. And she handed me this little jar of raw cocoa butter and a lot of people think of cocoa butter as these cocoa butter lotions that we’re familiar with in big pharmacies. The truth about those lotions is actually there’s only really two to five percent cocoa butter in those lotions. It’s really watered down with lots of fillers. I never really considered putting it on my body in that raw hardened state and she wouldn’t let me put it in the microwave because it was in a plastic container. So she was like, “No, go and spend some time with yourself.”And the deeper meaning of that went right over my head at the time but I remember I worked it into my skin and the next day, my feet, knees, and elbows were transformed. I thought, “There’s got to be an easier way to use this stuff.”

So I thought “Okay. Let me just pretend that the cocoa butter is chocolate couverture.” And use my pastry experience to tackle this idea. Instead of making a ganache or a truffle filling, which would be a 50/50 chocolate butter mix, let’s see if I can do that with cocoa butter and instead of adding butter from my refrigerator, I added in essential oils. I had this mixture and I used to pour it into jars. And I would dig it out with a wooden spoon and keep it next to the shower. Eventually, I wanted to share it with people and I moved to pouring the formula into my old silicone baking mold and I got it to firm up and it worked and people liked it, and that was the first version of the stone.

Finding your better half in business 

Shuang: Let’s talk about how you went from experimenting in your own kitchen to actually approaching businesses to carry your product and making it into a product for other people to use.

Kate: There were so many twists and turns there. Again, you never know who you’re going to end up speaking with. I looked up a custom mold manufacturer because I couldn’t afford all these molds produced overseas and that led me to this amazing man in Long Island City. He’s an incredible person who used to make all the Statue of Liberty’s for the tourist shops Without him my brand would not exist. I would not be here. But he helped me make the mold. Then, frankly, my husband gave me a little push out the door. I remember for a long time we couldn’t eat at our table because it was just covered with all different prototypes of these things I’m using. And then the first 500 Bamboo canisters came in. I remember I was literally making every stone in my kitchen at this point, and I bought a medical grade refrigerator to store the Body Stones so I wasn’t contaminating my kitchen. I had a sterile working environment and I have the canisters. 

Then someone introduced me to the owner of a beauty shop, down in Tribeca. And I went in with a stone and a canister wrapped in linen, no label. And I remember I told her about it. And it was a Clean Beauty store, and the store owner really liked it and said, “I have nothing like this on my shelves.” She took 20 and we sold them in a day. And she took 40 that weekend and she sold them. And I remember before the weekend was out. We didn’t even have a label on it. And then, what she didn’t tell me because she couldn’t guarantee it. But she gave one to Naomi Watts. And Naomi Watts put it in this blog called “Into the Gloss” the next month. And that definitely got attention. And I was literally still making them in my kitchen. And that was both amazingly exciting because I had orders coming in from all over the world. And it was also really scary because I was hand pouring them and I had no help. And after I got through those orders, I literally took the website down. 

 Kate credits her partner Nichola Gray for being her ideal business partner and pivotal for scaling the business.
Kate credits her partner Nichola Gray for being her ideal business partner and pivotal for scaling the business. Kate McLeod  

Shuang: Tell us about your business partner and why having Nichola was so pivotal? 

Kate: She’s such an incredible human being, but she sat down at a table, at one of my favorite cafes. She met me and we were complete strangers. And I pitched her my idea and she listened. She really listened and she didn’t listen with an ear for why this would not work. She listened with curiosity and genuine interest and let that curiosity lead her to ask questions. And took it home and tried it. And was into it and you can just tell when someone’s being real with you. 

A mutual friend introduced me to Nichola. And that was really when things began. And with Nichola, we got out of my kitchen. We set up, what we call affectionately, the Butter Atelier. Our first workshop was in Dumbo. And, Nichola got it. She believed in the idea but more than anything she believed in me. And she has a very different skill set than mine. She has been a consultant and gone to business school. And we just took a leap of faith on each other. The spring of 2018, I just spoke to anyone who would listen and I just blind emailed people and I showed up for meetings. And we had stumbled upon Shopify.

We had used one of your basic themes. What I realized at the time was that none of my taxes were set up properly on this competitor’s platform. And I discovered Shopify handled the taxes. And you also have the Shopify POS. And when I say I literally talk to anyone. I mean I would always take an UberPool home at night because getting from Dumbo to Williamsburg and I would literally try to see if people would buy the stone? And I would ring people up. They’ll be like, “How am I paying you? Do I Venmo you?” and I’m like, no, no! I’ve got my cash register and I pull out my Shopify POS clip and put it in. Shopify enabled me to start this business. 

The celebrity stepping stone to retail relationships

Shuang: Now your products are in Anthropology and Goop, how did you go about building all these retail relationships?

Kate: We did not actually have PR until a couple of months about and we went years without it. We were purely word of mouth and we’re bootstrapped for the first two years. And it was just about finding who would talk to me. And I would guess domain handles and email out to different buyers or editors and just try and get it in front of people’s faces. 

For Anthropologie, I’ll never forget when we got that email. They actually reached out to us, and it was a full-circle moment. I used to work at Anthropology when I was in college and that’s one of my favorite stores. And when they reached out I literally remember I got on the phone with a buyer and I told her so many stories. 

The stone is just so different that people would give it to people who they didn’t know what to get. People who could get anything and that’s how it was very well received at Goop. That’s how it got into Naomi Watts’ hands. It’s also how it got into Lily Aldridge’s hands. Within the first few months, after we had launched, she put it on Vogue magazine as her belly moisturizer of choice when she was pregnant. So I’m assuming Anthropologie saw us in one of these articles.

Favorite tools and apps for scaling her business 

Shuang: You went through so many iterations of your website. Have there been favorite tools and apps that you really enjoyed?

Kate: We actually just upgraded to Shopify Plus. And that was a company milestone. Where it finally made sense financially. And we’re so excited and already on Shopify Plus. For example, my product in the hottest of months in the South can occasionally soften because it is a product that melts on contact. But what’s so amazing about Shopify flows is that we’re able to identify customers that live in hotter regions. We can send them proactive emails that are like, “Remember when your package arrives go out and get it right away and don’t let it sit in your mailbox.” Those black mailboxes can get up to 140 degrees inside. They’re like slow cookers. It’s amazing to be able to help our customer experience. 

  Kate McLeod working on her computer and in the foreground, there’s a batch of packaged Body Stones.
In addition to Shopify POS, Kate McLeod credits Shopify Capital for allowing the business to work through a large payment when scaling the business. Kate McLeod  

We’re fully bootstrapped. And there was a particularly hard period last summer. We’re scaling and we’re doing very well but there’s a lot of costs that go into scaling, the ingredients, our canister, and other raw elements. It got tight but really tight for a couple of months and we realized that Shopify Capital was an option. And we applied and the money hit our account within 24 hours. We were able to pay a large bill for packaging. And that led into the holiday season, where we really started playing with paid ads on social media. And we got some amazing press pieces, and our business really exploded and took off from there. That was really big for us. We were really grateful that it was there.

Juggling motherhood and expansion plans during COVID

Shuang: You mentioned that Nichola and yourself are both moms, how did COVID impact your business and work-life balance? 

Kate: When the pandemic hit I had a six-month-old. And I was being really hard on myself. I figured I should have been feeling like myself again. And that was just not the case for me. And I would read these articles online. I would just torture myself with these articles where it was like, “oh yeah by six months I felt like I bounced back.” I was really having a difficult time balancing, spending time with my baby, and building a business. I remember my mornings had no routine, and then the pandemic hit. And I think that is the big silver lining for me. When I no longer had to do that morning commute to the office, and my family and I, left the city. We went up in the Hudson Valley, and it just felt like this massive reset. It grounded us as a family and gave us so much more time as a family to spend time together and the business. I’m so grateful that this has been established as this new norm. It’s priceless, as a mom, that in between calls you know when I finish this conversation. I’m literally looking outside right now and Ollie is running through puddles, it’s raining today, and his yellow rain boots. And he could be an ad for rain boots right now. And he’s just stomping some puddles and I can see that. That’s amazing to me. That’s just so great. And I’m having this conversation with you and that to me, I feel so blessed.

 Kate McLeod along with her son, playing in a living room setting.
Despite all of the challenges of COVID and motherhood, Kate’s grateful for a newfound balance while working from home. Kate McLeod  

And I’ll go outside and I have to run over to the workshop which is 10 minutes away because we’re expanding. We’re taking on more space in the workshop and I’ll run outside and I’ll give him a hug. And I’ll get in the car and I’ll go meet Nichola at the workshop. And it’s just like how lucky am I? That’s insane. And we’re so blessed that during the pandemic we moved upstate. And we’ve embraced and been embraced by the community up here. We’ve grown our team, our production team from two to over 15, over this past year.

Shuang: I noticed that you guys are expanding into accessories and beyond, what are some exciting plans for the future that you can share?

Kate:  I think I’m on version nine of my baby balm cream and I don’t know if I’ll ever come out, but you are right, we are expanding. We just launched our dry brush, and the dry brush is really the partner. It is the perfect pair to the stone. And the routine is dry brush, shower, then use the body stone. And then dry brush it primes the skin. Your skin is your largest organ. It’s porous getting back to the fact that, yes, the body stone is very nourishing to the soul and to the spirit. But it is also very nourishing to the physical body. The dry brush helps exfoliate. 

I definitely have a lineup of products that I would love to introduce but we’ve done things very slowly, very, very thoughtfully. There is intention behind every element of the packaging. There is intention behind every new scent or accessory that we release. That’s one of the pillars of our brand. And so, we’ll follow that, and see where it goes. But there are some exciting things that I think you’ll see coming in 2022 or maybe even the end of 2021, that might move to different parts of the body. Might use two different types of applications, and I’m very excited to see where it goes. It’s a very fun journey.



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How Phidon Pens and Shopify Capital Took a Local Favorite to the Next Level — Founder Stories (2021)

How Phidon Pens and Shopify Capital Took a Local Favorite to the Next Level — Founder Stories (2021)


No one knows the value of a good community more than people who’ve left their home. In 1988, with $300 to their name, that’s exactly what Baldeep and Mano Duggal did, immigrating half a world away, from India to Canada. 

Finding their niche in the community was a struggle at first but they embraced their new home and country. Baldeep eventually opened his own accounting practice, but felt there was something missing. One day in 2007, after attending a pen show, Baldeep came home and said to Mano, “I want to open a pen store.”

Naturally. 

The result was Phidon Pens. Though the store is thriving today, 2007 was a strange time for exploring a new career. The Duggals were paying for their daughter’s college education, and when it came to market research, “there were no numbers,” says Mano. “There was no data available for a pen store.” 

But the Duggals knew they wanted to open more than a pen shop. It was going to be an outlet for their community-centric passion and a way to give back.

Ask Mano what the couple’s store sells and you might expect the first answer to be pens. “The pleasure that has come from this business in the last 13 years…the clientele we have built, the community we are part of, the things we have done via Phidon in our community does not equate to a bonus check,” Mano says. “It’s just a beautiful business.” 

Phidon was more than a store. It was a local destination. A place to check in on old friends. And together they built the business with their own money and passion, they never needed startup capital.

Then in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shutdowns threatened to take it all away.

Scaling a traditionally stationery business without losing its hometown charm

Tying a business to its community can be a double-edged sword. Phidon Pens attracted customers and turned them into friends. This approach helped create repeat business and loyal customers.

We’ve seen customers who have dated, got married, had a child. We’ve seen people who have lost a parent, or a dog, or had an accident…I feel humbled that they made me part of their story. We are now trying hard to connect with our online customers the same way.

Mano Duggal

The problem: traditionally, this style of business has a short revenue ceiling. And local appeal doesn’t always translate online. 

Mano and Baldeep Duggal stand in front of their store, Phidon Pens.
Baldeep and Mano Duggal in front of Phidon Pens in Cambridge, Ontario.

The Duggals’ approach to inventory often meant buying only two of each pen model at a time. In the physical store, Mano found she didn’t need more than that. If a pen was no longer in stock, the customers simply didn’t see it. But online, this approach meant that buyers would quickly face out-of-stocks.

Before COVID-19, Baldeep and Mano were building a community legacy that went beyond pens, beyond business success. But the pandemic threw a wrench into everything. How could they achieve financial success or community success if their shop wasn’t open? And how could they solve these inventory problems?

The small-town touch, at scale

On April 2, 2020 after just two weeks of work, Phidon Pens opened its web store. “Shopify made it so easy for us to go online,” says Mano. “I’m such an analog person. But learning Shopify was so easy…. Any time we had some troubleshooting problems, Shopify would call us back.” To Mano, Shopify’s approach mirrored her own. With every call, she was on a first-name basis with the rep from Shopify.

I don’t think I sell pens. I’ve always said I sell an experience. I hope people feel that way when they’re shopping online with us as well.

Mano Duggal

Setting up the online store went smoothly. And to Mano’s surprise, the business managed to retain all of the personal touches that made Phidon Pens a local hit. She still sends out thank you notes in online orders, including notes she writes herself. “I want someone, whether they made a $50 purchase or a $500 purchase, to feel good when a package arrives,” she says.

The approach works. One package brought more awareness when a customer posted it on Reddit. Now, customers even send her messages, wondering which colors she used to pen the thank you notes. 

Scaling with Shopify had surprising effects. Rather than making the store less personal, it brought Phidon’s personal approach to more customers. 

When one new customer, who had spoken to Mano on the phone, purchased a Mother’s Day gift for his wife, it had a lasting effect. The wife called Mano and said, “To me, it’s really important that this came from your store.” Mano was blown away by the new connections she was making online. “I don’t know her!” she says. “I’ve never met her.” 

A fountain pen rests on a notepad. A green inkwell is at the top of the image with green envelopes to the right.
Beautiful pens and stationery are only one part of what makes Phidon Pens unique. Arman Duggal

Cruising through capital without a worry

In the early days, the Duggals struggled to gain traction—adjusting to a new country, finding a job, starting a business. At that time, securing capital for their store seemed like a distant dream.

Their success with Shopify changed that. One day, their increase in sales meant they were eligible for funding from Shopify Capital. This took Mano and Baldeep by surprise but saw it was a vote of confidence in their business. They immediately knew how this boost of funding could help scale their business, and were confident that they could pay it back.

Just two days later, the funds were in the bank. The capital proved to be a boost for Phidon, allowing them to invest in more inventory. The challenge of out-of-stock alerts on its website vanished with increased inventory they were able to buy with their Shopify Capital funding. The Duggals went on an order spree, building up supplies to meet wider demand.

With new customers surprised to see the level of personal detail Mano gave to every order, Phidon found itself facing a new opportunity: the possibilities of business at scale. 

New opportunities through new capital

With new capital, the Duggals solved their inventory problems—without losing the community-level charm that made Phidon special in the first place.

Perhaps more importantly, Phidon Pens now had the capital to scale to meet new demand. Seeing how well people were responding to their online presence, Mano reported that she and Baldeep took on a new attitude: “We were like, ‘OK, let’s do it. We can scale up.’”

With their cash flow increasing just as quickly, they had no problems paying back the Shopify funding. Soon they were eligible for a second round—which offered even more funding. “When we took the second round of capital, we were ready for it,” says Mano. 

With the capital to handle the demand on inventory and Shopify in place to help handle fulfillment, sales have significantly increased over the past year. Mano and Baldeep sustained their business, grew their online collection, and stayed true to their mission.

We always want to make sure Phidon can do well enough [in sales] so we can do all the things we want to do in the community…I couldn’t have done what I wanted to do without Shopify Capital’s help.

Mano Duggal

The Duggals are setting fresh goals now, looking for growth of 10% and higher, without losing what made them special in the first place. As for Mano, she doesn’t have any plans on giving up those thank you notes any time soon. And her customers wouldn’t have it any other way.

Learn more about Shopify Capital





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Post-Pandemic Shopping Trends, Based on Shopify Research (2021)

Post-Pandemic Shopping Trends, Based on Shopify Research (2021)


By now it’s a cliché; to say that the pandemic has forever changed how we shop. The enduring lockdowns, retail closures, and stay-at-home orders pushed most of us out of our normal habits and pulled new online products and services into the limelight. Ecommerce activity soared in 2020 as consumers flocked online to stock up on home office furniture, masks, sweatpants, and flour for all our shelter-in-place needs.

Now, with ongoing vaccine distribution and lifting lockdown orders, the key questions all business owners must answer are: how do they plan a product strategy that’s pandemic-proof? Should stores keep stocking up on 2020’s hottest items, or should they turn their attention to new categories? And as online businesses prepare for spending to shift once retail is back in full force, how can they keep the customers they’ve already earned?

We turned to shoppers themselves for clues into the future: we worked with a research group to survey 3,000 North Americans in March 2021 about their post-pandemic shopping plans. Where are their dollars headed once the pandemic is over?

Below is a list of the top ten categories of products shoppers plan to buy post-pandemic. Let them inspire new items to add to an existing brand, or perhaps, to start a new one.

Post-pandemic product trends

1. Baby clothes and accessories

Is there a secret pandemic baby boom happening? Despite headlines proclaiming a “COVID baby bust” this year, our research found that 24% of parents and parents-to-be expect to spend more on baby items post-pandemic.

The audience makes perfect sense for ecommerce: busy parents value the convenience and safety of online shopping more than any other demographic. And unlike their adult variety, most baby items are viewed more as commodities rather than items where you’d spend a ton of time shopping in-store. In other words, once you find a baby formula you like, you stick with it. As one shopper we surveyed said, With craft supplies and baby toys, I don’t have to worry about size and prefer online shopping.”

Even though it’s a crowded category, there’s still plenty of opportunity to break into the You could curate items under a brand, or specialize in a niche product. Functional items, like baby bottles, diapers, bibs, might yield lower margins, but they’re also ripe for subscription based revenue. For those with a more creative bent, novelty items like toys, books, and crafts, could generate higher margins, but also cost more to acquire new customers.

Not interested in product development? You could start a reseller business where your focus is on marketing and selling products made by other companies.

Lauren Sotto, a Shopify employee who runs McCoy Kids, curates sustainable, heirloom-quality” brands and items both online and retail. Her online marketing strategy focuses on adding differentiators, or reasons why customers would come to her store versus buying directly from brands and marketplaces. For example, she advises brands to consider specialized gift services. “We’ve been very successful offering free gift wrap/messaging and free local delivery, Lauren says.

Organic Baby Shop is another reseller that specializes in importing European formula—believed by many parents to be superior to American formula. By finding an in-demand niche, they can focus less on their own branding and more on providing responsive customer service and shipping and fulfillment.

2. Virtual classes and experiences

From orchestras to yoga centers and book clubs, companies in the entertainment and education business scrambled to get online when lockdowns began. Fortunately for these resilient businesses, consumer appetite for virtual learning will likely continue post-pandemic. Why? Perhaps it’s the safety and immunity from new virus strains. Or perhaps we all love the convenience of being able to take a class, or watch a live concert, from anywhere in the world. 

For example, pre-pandemic I would’ve had to fly to Rome and take a chartered bus ride out to attend one of Nona Nerino’s famous live cooking demos. Now, the 84-year-old grandmother hosts her classes virtually. And although all her dishes can be made with local supermarket ingredients, Nona also sells Italian-imported pantry items.  

Yoga Wild, a studio based in Washington state, launched on-demand virtual classes during the pandemic for a low subscription fee. They also showcase shorter, free versions. Virtual classes help the teachers maintain relationships with existing students, and expand their reach to new ones who may return to studios or continue online.

Yoga Wild Youtube channel
Yoga Wild shares free, shorter versions of their in-person classes online.

Another benefit of virtual classes and experiences is that you can easily turn them into video ads for multiple platforms, thereby extending your reach. Besides your own store, you could recut the same video for all your favorite social networks, YouTube, etc. 

It’s worth noting that this “category” was the most polarizing amongst consumers. While 23% planned to spend more on virtual classes and experiences in a post-pandemic world, 20% planned to spend less on this category.

3. Sporting goods

Miss that sweaty communal gym feel? Not I. And apparently, not a lot of others: nearly 30% of American gym-goers don’t plan on returning to a gym until 2022, at the earliest. After more than a year of ditching gyms for retrofitted home gyms and outdoor trails, it’s no wonder that 19% of consumers plan to spend more on exercise equipment, even as gyms reopen.

Strength Fitness USA combines personal or commercial gym equipment with white-glove service. Owner Joe Serrao began the store in 2016 after spending the first part of his career as an electrical engineer. For selling high-ticket items, like gym retrofits, Joe thinks the best marketing strategy is testimonials.

Nothing will help you stand out like generating real, positive customer reviews,” Joe says. Provide exemplary customer service. Be genuinely helpful and interested in your customers’ needs and well-being. This will all work together to help you succeed/

Strength Fitness USA integrated its Shopify store with Yopto to collect and surface positive reviews across its website and social media channels.

If you dont have a warehouse to store all that bulky fitness equipment, dropshipping might be a more accessible route. Dropshipping lets you choose and market in-demand products that are manufactured and shipped by a third party.

Were also bullish on bike saddles, one of the top trending products we identified earlier this year. Search volume for the term bike saddles” is getting 22,200 searchs per month. People are also looking for more specific types, such as “comfortable bike saddles”; (12,100/mo), “mountain bike saddles” (3,600/mo), and “road bike saddles”; (4,400/mo). Other bicycle equipment is also likely to remain stable through the warmer seasons as consumers stick to their new, COVID-era mode of transportation.

4. Household cleaning products

Even as demand for cleaning products settles down from our pandemic stockpiling days, 19% of consumers plan to buy more cleaning products as things return to normal. 

Cleaning products can be added to an existing product portfolio, too. For example, Hello Green is an Australian store selling eco-friendly household brands for items like reusable baby food pouches and disposable cutlery. During the pandemic, they expanded their lineup of cleaning products, appealing to the eco-conscious with green solutions to sanitizers, laundry detergent, and more.

Cleaning products are ripe for retention opportunities, given most of us stick with a product we like and repurchase them without thought. For example, you could offer subscriptions which give shoppers a convenient, personalized, and slightly discounted way to automatically buy what they need on a recurring basis. You could also breed customer loyalty through a rewards program.;

Better Life is a lineup of plant-based cleaning products that was featured in Shark Tank and numerous magazines. They offer a loyalty program with 20% off for members and referral discounts.

If you’re a Shopify store owner, you can start or add a subscription business model with our plug-and-play apps.

5. Beauty products (e.g., skincare, haircare, etc.)

It’s projected that the global beauty industry will be worth a jaw-dropping $756 billion by 2026. And although most beauty products are bought in retail, the pandemic has activated plenty of online beauty consumers. 47% of consumers bought more beauty products online in 2020, and 17% plan to buy even more post-pandemic as we venture back into the real world where fine lines and wrinkles come in HD.

If you’re already an avid consumer and researcher of beauty products, this might be the category for you. Your first step is deciding what to sell in a very broad category: there’s makeup, haircare, and skincare, to name a few.

After that, you need to learn everything you can about your target audience: who influences them, where they hang out online, where they discover new beauty products, etc.

SUGAR Cosmetics founder Vineeta Singh spotted a gap in the market for cosmetics that complement Indian skin tones. Going against what every other Indian cosmetic brand did at the time, she aimed her label squarely at young women who followed global beauty trends but wanted things to be “Indianized” for them, as Singh describes it. She also employed many women in her target audience, which became a perfect testing ground for new concepts.

6. Personal care products (e.g., toothpaste, soap, etc.)

Personal care is one of the most stable industries you can join. Pandemic or not, we need (or try) to maintain our personal hygiene routines.

And apparently, few of us miss buying toothpaste in real life. 40% of consumers bought more personal care products online during the pandemic, and 17% plan to buy more of this after the pandemic. From shampoo to razors and menstrual pads, the pandemic gave us the opportunity to skip those humdrum trips to the drugstore and head straight to online retailers.

What should you sell? Soap is a safe bet, as 71% of those surveyed said they plan to wash their hands more even after COVID-19 is but a distant memory. Soaps and bath bombs are ripe for DIY-ers and don’t require expensive storage space.

Alternatively, you could focus on differentiating yourself from the generics of the world through high-quality formulations. Twice is a premium toothpaste brand backed by Lenny Kravitz, and invented by a family of dentists. It boasts vitamins and antioxidants, and uses 100% recyclable packaging.

Twice lets its happy customers do the talking, showcasing more than 1,000 positive reviews on their Shopify store. To inspire confidence in a first-time customer, they also offer a 100% money back guarantee and no minimums for canceling a subscription, and donate 10% of company profits to charity.

Founder Julian Levine told us in an episode of Shopify Masters that features tell, but benefits sell, “At the end of the day, you need to have a product that really speaks to the consumer, and showcases to them how it’s going to improve their lives,” says Julian.

🔖 Resources:

Examples: Twice, Cleure

Recommended reading:

7. Groceries

Groceries are a trillion-dollar industry, so even though 90% of grocery shopping is still happening offline, there is sizable revenue for ambitious ecommerce brands. The pandemic activated plenty of new online grocery consumers in a manner that’s expected to continue to surge: 21.5% of groceries sales—worth more than $215 billion—will happen online by 2025.

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) plays a miniscule, but growing, part of that pie. According to Dan Frommer, editor of The New Consumer, the “vast, vast majority of online groceries happens through a big aggregator—the Instacarts and Amazons of the world.” However he thinks there is a huge opportunity for independent brands now that more consumers are comfortable shopping online.

“High-end, direct-to-consumer meal kits seems like an obvious growth opportunity, but it will really depend on how companies can handle pandemic-related deflation,” says Frommer.

For example, Omsom specializes in quality Asian sauce packets, enabling home chefs to make Asian dishes like Thai larb and Filipino sisig at home. Their brand is bold, loud, and audacious, with colors almost as shocking as their spices. To Frommer, Omsom is a perfect example of a strong, high-end DTC brand in the grocery category.

“Omsom has an email newsletter that sounds more like you’re hearing from friends than a company that’s trying to sell to you. They probably had an unrealistic growth year because everyone was home and cooking. The challenge for them now is to work harder for repeat purchases,” he says.

Another trend? A focus on health and “preventative eating.” According to a 2020 survey conducted by FMCG Gurus—a market research company specializing in food—80% of consumers indicated they were planning to eat and drink more healthily in 2021 as a direct result of COVID-19. Already, 58% of North American consumers say they regularly research different ways to improve their health. Meanwhile, six out of 10 consumers surveyed by Innova indicated they were looking for products to support their immune health, with one in three saying these concerns increased in 2020.

Due to the sheer amount of grocery sales still happening offline, the key for many food and beverage sellers is wholesale distribution and partnerships.

8. Athleisure clothing

It’s a yoga leggings world, and I am all for it. The pandemic sparked a major shift in what people wear, with consumers swapping out what my colleague Greg calls “hard pants” (jeans) for stretchy yoga pants, sweats, and shorts. According to our survey, 41% of consumers purchased more athleisure clothing online during the pandemic, and 19% plan on buying even more in this category as lockdowns ease.

Whether or not this represents a fashion trend that would probably make Coco Chanel turn in her grave, awaits to be seen. One thing we know for sure—after a year of Zoom meetings with executives in baseball caps, it’s unlikely we’ll be going back to suit and tie anytime soon. Furthermore, many studies show that people are more productive when they’re comfortable.

What does post-pandemic athleisure look like? Does it need to accommodate a hybrid work model? A home-to-office-to-nightlife lifestyle? It’s anyone’s guess, really, which represents an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs in this category.

The key word here is “lifestyle.” When considering your marketing strategy, think about where your audience hangs out. You should already be following relevant influencers and social media accounts that your target audience follow. If you’re just starting out, consider tapping influencers to help you promote your products.

Women’s Best, a brand selling athleisure and supplements for health-conscious women, targets those who reject Barbie-proportioned sizes marketed by competing businesses. Their brand aims to celebrate health above dated concepts of beauty.

The brand has also made an international name for itself by localizing their Instagram stores. The U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany, the UK, and France all have custom Instagram accounts that lead to specific online shops—in local currency and languages—for regional customers.

9. Clothing accessories (e.g., shoes, hats, etc.)

Sales of accessories were already up during the pandemic—48% of consumers bought more of these through ecommerce stores in 2020—and 19% plan to spend even more on accessories in a post-pandemic world. After months sporting new Crocs and baseball caps, consumers are eager to freshen up their accessories for life outside the house.

The hardest part in getting started is probably narrowing down to a particular product. Jewelry? Vintage clothing? Bags? If you have a hobby, you could also learn to monetize it.

Passionate about Italian leather shoes? You can help consumers skip the middleman (and middleman fees) by working directly with manufacturers. That’s how Velasca began. In order to compete with Goliath brands, founders Enrico Casati and Jacopo Sebastio focused on sleek storytelling and photography to appeal to a new generation of consumers struck by a recession in 2012.

Velasca also elevated its marketing efforts by publishing a magazine called A Million Steps, which showcases the Italian way of life through interviews and stories on pop culture, sports, food, and more. There’s no mention of Velasca’s shoes or promotions to be found—it’s a separate editorial effort meant to accompany fans’ journey through life.

While it’s unclear where the shoe winds will blow post-pandemic, it’s probably safe to say that with more public foot traffic, we’re going to need better shoes.

10. Pet supplies

The pandemic led to a slight uptick in pet adoption, so you can bet the pet supply business will surge as a result. At least 18% of consumers plan to buy more pet supplies post-pandemic, according to our survey. 

Like beauty products, pet supply products can breed a lot of brand loyalty and repeat purchases—if your pet loves a certain product, you’re more likely to keep buying the exact same product. Big box stores in particular can trigger “choice paralysis.” This is where an overabundance of options makes it hard for customers to decide what to purchase, sometimes resulting in no purchase at all.

That’s good news for ecommerce stores. Given so many of us were forced to buy online this past year, the hurdle of convincing a pet owner to try a different shopping channel is already out of the way.

From dropshipping to homemade treats, the type of pet supply store you start really depends on your interest, time, and risk appetite.

If you feel passionate about your own idea, you could go the product development route. For example, UK-based Poppy’s Picnic sells its own raw dog food and prepared meal plans for the cooking-fatigued canine owner. Poppy’s leans heavily into health claims for raw dog food, such as extending pet life, preventing weight issues, dull coat, etc. Their branding also appeals to the conscientious dog lover, with a blog that tackles topics like “pet-safe plants” and “hosting dog weddings.” Their Instagram account features, of course, adorable pet pictures tagged by customers, with real rave reviews. A+ content.

Poppys Picnic on Instagram
Poppy’s Picnic/Instagram

Alternatively, you could resell pet supplies and become a one-stop shop competing against the PetCo’s of the world. Teddybob is a Canadian retailer that provides all kinds of basic products for dog and cat owners.

While their collections are extensive, Teddybob does a great job of narrowing the focus of their branding and cutting out any opportunities for choice paralysis. Despite selling everything from litter boxes to heating pads, their sleek, modern branding always acts as the unifying force behind their collections. Aside from the occasional color variant, their everyday supplies tend to have few options. And shoppers can check out fast with Shop Pay—savvy.

Now what? Post-pandemic, it’s all about retention

As the economy re-opens, many ecommerce businesses met the moment with the right product or rapidly pivoted to fit customer needs. Those that thrived during the worst of the pandemic should anticipate change—and some attrition. For existing online businesses, the biggest challenge now is retention.

“Perhaps someone tried you once during the pandemic,” Dan says. “How do you maintain that relationship for the next decade?”

In our view, strong storytelling, product expansion, and seamless checkout are all ways to maintain or build loyal customers even as habits reverse and the big box retailers return. It’s not easy. But as an entrepreneur, you were never about easy.

Main illustration by Luca D’Urbino.



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6 Creative Ways to Thank Customers for Their Purchase (2021)

6 Creative Ways to Thank Customers for Their Purchase (2021)


Showing sincere appreciation is one of the easiest ways to build a closer relationship with buyers as they move through your customer journey map. It’s simple, but remarkably few companies ever take the time to genuinely thank customers for their business.

When it comes to standing out against entrenched competitors, it’s critical for ecommerce businesses to find their moments of opportunity. It’s rarely practical to compete on price or efficiency. However, new and growing stores do have a set of differentiators worth investing in: product, brand, and customer service.

Companies that focus on creating meaningful customer experiences can choose to compete on loyalty and word of mouth, beat the behemoths, and carve out their own place in the market.

In this pursuit, thanking customers for their purchase goes a long way. In fact, 68% of businesses have lost a customer because they feel a company is indifferent to them, and nearly half of US consumers say customer appreciation is an indispensable part of providing excellent care.

Being purposeful and personal when thanking your customers can help showcase the human aspect of your brand, create connections, and build customer retention.

Why show customer appreciation?

Customer appreciation is the art of showing gratitude toward your customers. It’s a consistent and unselfish approach to engagement that shows customers you value them. This can include things from including thank you letters with first purchases to sending valued customers exclusive deals.

A simple expression of gratitude can create a good customer experience and improve how someone views your company. We can see this in action through purchases. In fact, 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience.

The three objectives when implementing customer appreciation include:

  • Make customers loyal. As described by Harvard Business Review, it can cost between five to 25 times more to acquire a new customer. So, it’s a smart move to retain as many customers as possible.
  • Have more profitable customers. Satisfied customers spend more on average with less hassle. As you can see from research done by Bain & Company, a 5% lift in retention can increase profits by 25% to 95%.
  • Have customers talk positively about your brand, also known as word-of-mouth marketing. 92% of customers consider recommendations from friends and family the most credible forms of advertising, which leads to higher referral rates for your business.

There’s no doubt that companies with better customer experiences outperform their competitors. Showing appreciation is an easy way to build meaningful relationships with customers and make them feel valued.

How to thank your customers

Sending the perfect thank you doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, most consumers don’t have a high bar when it comes to appreciation: a study by TD Bank found that 60% of consumers said appreciation should be conveyed by saying thanks directly to the individual, while 44% agreed that thank yous should be personalized.

Show customers that there’s a real human behind the scenes and behind the screen.

Thank customers without an overt expectation of anything in return. For example, don’t ask them to “share on social media,” and don’t pester them to buy in the same breath. Simply express gratitude, personally and directly, for being a customer and placing trust in you to deliver. That’s enough to create a connection.

1. Who are you thanking?

It might feel overwhelming, or even disingenuous, to personally thank every customer with every order—and as your business grows, it will be impossible to manage all by yourself. For that reason, it can be helpful to segment customers into the groups that you’d like to prioritize.

For example, handing out a swanky gift package with every order is a surefire way to blow your budget. But segmenting high-value customers and sending them a handwritten note with a branded gift can cement an already positive relationship. Here are a few ways you can group your customers for different tiers of thank yous:

2. Set an appropriate budget

The budget for your thank you program will be linked with the number of customers you want to reach out to. But even if you’re hoping to show gratitude to all of your customers, you don’t need to spend a ton of money to create moments of delight.

In The Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuk writes: “It’s not the money that makes these efforts shocking and awesome, it’s the care and creativity involved.” Frugal wows are often just as effective at creating that connection.

We’ve got lots of examples of simple cost-effective ways to thank your customers below.

3. Build a repeatable process

Depending on whether you’re including a thank you in every box or just occasionally sending out swag, decide on a repeatable process to get those thank yous in the hands of your customers. It doesn’t have to be automated, but structuring the process will make sure it happens.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to create genuine moments of delight.

If you’ve got a team working for you, provide an easy way for them to nominate customers for thanks. It might be a Google form or a Friday afternoon session writing handwritten cards.

Pulling the entire team into these moments of delight creates a culture of gratitude for your customers.

Free Reading List: Customer Service Strategies

Focusing on customer service can turn negative interactions into positive reviews (and repeat customers). Learn how with our free, curated list of high-impact articles.

Six ways to send thank you messages to customers

While creative planning and smart decision-making set the stage for delight, at the end of the day, you still need a few simple ideas to act on.

If you’re in need of a little inspiration, here are six ways you can spread gratitude around. We’ll also share a few examples of businesses that go the extra mile for their customers.

  1. Send handwritten thank you notes
  2. Include package inserts
  3. Provide free gifts or samples
  4. Create personal connections with video
  5. Offer post-purchase discounts
  6. Spotlight your customers

1. Send handwritten thank you notes

This is a tried and true way to thank your customers. Writing a personalized thank you note shows that there’s a human involved behind the scenes and behind the screen.

Thank you notes are effective because they’re a bit of a lost art. Think about the last time you actually sent a handwritten letter instead of quickly firing off an email or a Facebook message. Those mediums allow for incredible efficiency, but a handwritten card goes beyond the ephemeral nature of our digital inboxes and creates something tangible and meaningful.

Remember these five tips when writing the perfect thank you note:

  1. Use quality stationary or unique cards that express your brand (you’ll likely want to upgrade from a free business card maker).
  2. Personalize it by using the customer’s name.
  3. Say thank you and be specific about why you’ve sent the note.
  4. Be thoughtful—reference a conversation or part of their order that shows this card is specifically for them.
  5. Sign off the card warmly, but professionally. (Thanks again, Cheers, Kind Regards, Sincerely, etc.).

Let’s look at some examples of good handwritten notes to customers.

John’s Crazy Socks

A brand that describes itself as “a business built on love” knows a thing or two about making a connection. Customers almost always receive a personalized, handwritten note inside their sock order.

handwritten letter from John's Crazy Socks
Source: Twitter

Nalu

Online store Nalu sends a handwritten thank you with every customer’s purchase of new slides. It includes a DIY note card and visuals from Nalu’s latest spring campaign to build hype and excite customers for upcoming products.

handwritten letter from Nalu
Source: Twitter

Epic Provisions

Sending a handwritten note after a difficult customer support interaction can help create a positive resolution. Epic Provisions followed up with this customer after they were unhappy with a recent order and made a fan for life: “Best customer service ever!”

handwritten letter with purchase from Epic Provisions
Source: Twitter

ZULZ Bag Co

The card says it right on the front: “Thank you!” ZULZ Bag Co. likes to add a handwritten card and stickers to orders, welcoming customers to the ZULZ family.

Welcome letter from ZULZ Bag Co
Source: Twitter

Chewy

When Julia Alena contacted Chewy’s customer support, she wasn’t expecting much. But not only did she get the resolution she wanted, she also received hand-drawn illustrations of her dogs! That’s going above and beyond handwritten notes, but probably earned Chewy a customer for life.

Chewy's customer support example

While sending a handwritten note in every order might not be scalable, you can always set a monthly goal for yourself or for your team. Brandon Eley, founder of 2BigFeet, explains how he ensures he contacts as many customers as possible: “It’s my goal to send 1,000 cards every year, which works out to just four cards every weekday.”

Involving your entire team helps create a culture of gratitude for your customers.

You might also send out thank you cards after replying to a customer, a special order, or a holiday. It doesn’t just have to be a card inside the order.

If you’d like to streamline this process a bit, you can use a service like Postable or Touchcard to send out thank you notes on your behalf. For one-off notes, or if you’d like invest a bit further in this idea, there are a number of online options for sourcing quality cards that will brighten up your customers’ mailboxes, including Lovepop, Galison, E. Frances, Burro Goods, and Paper Luxe (all built on Shopify).

postcard examples for customers

2. Include package inserts

Adding something small to an order that’s heading out the door is a great way to say thank you. You’ve already paid for the shipping and the box, so this is one of the most cost-effective ways to give customers a little extra delight.

Packaging inserts are all about exceeding customer expectations. Unboxing is an experience in itself, and customers look forward to the moment they get to hold their new product in their hands. They are primed to be “delighted” with just a little extra effort. It’s also an opportunity to add value to the order through beautiful how-to manuals, and a chance for upsells.

Below are a few standout examples from stores who understand the value of delivering a small surprise.

Frank Body

The Frank Body brand is bold, to the point, and all about beautiful bodies. It includes a package insert with its body scrub orders that reinforces the brand, offers a simple how-to, and encourages customers to stay in touch through social media.

Frank Body package insert

Grilla Grills

Grilla Grills sells smokers and grills online. Every order comes with a couple of free gifts, like thank you stickers, koozies, and even a handwritten note to put a smile on customers’ faces.

Grilla Grills package insert

Package inserts can be as targeted or as catch all as you like. Just make sure you keep a stack next to your order packers and toss one in each box. Need to stock up on package inserts? Check out these providers for high-quality stickers, business cards, and flyers:

Stickers

Business cards or promotional material

3. Provide free gifts or samples

Is there anything customers like more than a free sample? Tossing in a small sample or gift with their order is a great way to say, ”Thank you for purchasing.”

Free samples aren’t just an amazing way to surprise and delight your customers, they also showcase something the customer hasn’t tried yet. If they like it, you might even see them purchase it in their next order. Just be sure to try and match the sample to your customer’s profile as much as possible to make sure it’s something they can use.

Beardbrand throws a couple samples of its top-selling products for customers to try into bigger orders.

beardbrand samples

4. Create personal connections with video

If you want to take things a step further, try recording a personalized thank you video for your customers. The great part of videos is that it’s impossible to fake being personal. The customer knows how much time you’ve really put in.

Whatever the medium, the key to thanking customers is to be personal, thoughtful, and genuine.

Personalized videos come across as very thoughtful because they are time-consuming, manual work. Send videos in a post-purchase follow-up or as a separate interaction entirely. Videos are particularly great for special occasions and holidays where you can be creative with the theme.

Popov Leather

Every new customer gets a personal video from the founder and creator, Ryan Popoff. They aren’t particularly scripted, but they are warm and welcoming and showcase the humanity behind the brand. You know you’re not just getting a factory-made item.

popov leather video follow up

Wistia

Everyone at Wistia uses a video signature that features a little introduction to who they are. These could easily be adapted for thank you videos on receipts or sent out during the holidays.

Videos are a great experiment to run if only to see how customers react. There are many different ways to use videos in thanking customers, which means you can really get creative. Here are a few tools to check out to create quick, personalized videos:

5. Offer post-purchase discounts

Rewarding loyal customers with discounts and coupons is a great way to keep them coming back while thanking them for their patronage. Although you have to be careful with discounts, as they can train customers to wait for deals, sending a discount to a new customer is usually a cost-effective way to get them to return and make another purchase.

Outdoor Research

Not only are its emails really inspiring, Outdoor Research gives a discount code for customers to enjoy 15% off their next order.

discount code for purchase from Outdoor Research

Julep

Julep runs a makeup box subscription and always adds a little bonus for customers who need to stock up.

Julep post purchase discount example

Writing copy for your coupons can be a bit tricky, because you don’t want to come off as trying to make a sale or as overly pushy. Use words to promote the exclusivity of the coupon like:

  • Just for you
  • As a thank you…
  • A customer perk for you!
  • For our loyal customers

Discounts can either be sent separately, as a package insert, or in a thank you email. If you’re creating discounts, make sure you use a unique coupon code so you can track how effective it is.

6. Spotlight your customers

Showcasing your customers is a great way to publicly share how much you appreciate them.

Build strong customer relationships to elevate your brand above the competition.

User-generated content (UGC) is especially great in the creative industries, because your customers rely on exposure to grow their own audience. For example, hairdressers love to be featured on Instagram. Small businesses love a shout-out on Twitter or on a blog. It can help give them credibility and gain clients. Plus, it creates a bond between you and them.

Luxy Hair

Showing off its product is just one advantage of Luxy Hair’s user-generated content. It also helps its clients build their brand through sharing beautiful images.

LuxyHair user generated content

Wool and the Gang

WATG will frequently share its customers’ knitting projects on Instagram. Its customers love it, and it gives its feed more of a community feel.

To find great content to share, create a hashtag that customers can use on their own posts. Before sharing content, make sure you ask the owner for permission.

Wool and The Gang user generated content

“Thank you for your purchase” templates

Now that you have an idea of what a good business thank you looks like, let’s check out some templates you can use to say “Thank you for your order.” You can copy and paste these customizable templates into an email or note and send them to customers after they buy something.

Coupon code

Use this template after a first-time purchase to get customers back to your store and buying more. It’s standard to give a 10% coupon, but you can give whatever works best for your business.

Thank you so much for your order! We really appreciate it.

Enjoy 10% off your next purchase with this coupon code: THANKYOU10

Follow-up

Use the follow-up template to say thank you, but also to check on how your customer is feeling about their purchase. You can add a review request and a coupon to this email if you like.

Hey, [FIRST NAME]. Settled in yet? It’s been [NUMBER OF DAYS] since your [BRAND NAME] journey. We’re keen to know how you are getting along.

Order received

This email template lets customers know you are working on their order and thanks them for a purchase.

Thanks, [FIRST NAME]! We got your order, and it’s really lovely. We’ll send you an email when it ships.

Reward

Similar to the coupon thank you card template, but the message is a bit more warm and friendly. The reward can be a gift card for a recent purchase.

Thanks for your support! We think you’re pretty awesome. As a token of our gratitude, below is a reward you can use during your next visit. Enjoy!

Free: Shopify Store Trust Checklist

Shopify’s research team conducted a series of in-depth interviews with North American shoppers to learn how customer trust is formed in online stores. This checklist is a summary of their findings, created to help business owners understand what essential aspects of their online store experience creates trust among customers, along with the trust-busting mistakes to avoid.

A thank you goes a long way

There are so many different ways to thank your customers and create moments of delight post-purchase. Remember, the key is to be personal, thoughtful, and genuine. Customers—and people in general—love a sincere thank you but dislike insincerity.

When you have an attitude of gratitude, creating connections with customers is natural. Building these customer relationships gives you the opportunity to elevate your brand above the competition.


Ready to create your business? Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify—no credit card required.

Thanking your customers FAQ

How do you say thank you to your customers?

You can thank online shoppers with a handwritten note sent to their home address, a personalized email from a real person, an automated SMS, or a printed note in their package. Saying thank you to your customers gives them a positive experience and supports customer retention.

Why should you thank your customers?

Thanking your customers builds and nurtures meaningful relationships. When customers trust you and feel appreciated by you, they are more likely to return for future purchases. Customer retention is the most effective growth hack for ecommerce businesses today.

How do you write a thank you note after a purchase?

Start your note by greeting the customer by name. Tell them you appreciate their business, mentioning the specific product they purchased. Tell them how to get in touch if they have any questions or issues, and then sign off with your name.

Can I send handwritten thank you notes to customers?

Yes, you can. If you get a limited number of orders every month, you can do this yourself. But if your store is growing, hire a letter-writing service to do it for you.





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How to Do Product Research in 2021 (+ Tips and Tools)

How to Do Product Research in 2021 (+ Tips and Tools)


 

Now that you’ve selected a product and niche to further explore and evaluate, it’s time to put it under the microscope. Without properly evaluating your product and niche idea, your choices will be random—and so will your chances of success.

Using the evaluation criteria below, you’ll get a much better sense of your product and niche, along with a better understanding of its strengths and the knowledge to identify its weaknesses.

You will likely never find a product or niche market that fits all the criteria below. But evaluating your idea against this list will give you a better understanding of your chosen product/niche, helping you avoid pitfalls and increase your overall chances of success.

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Free Webinar:

How to Find and Source a Winning Product to Sell

In less than 40-minutes, let us walk you through how to find product ideas, how to validate them, and how to sell the product once you have an idea you want to pursue.

What is product research?

Product research is how you validate a product idea and see if it’ll be successful or not. It’s a part of the product development process that helps identify customer needs and if your idea can meet market demand. The result is a better return on investment on your product.

Product research answers questions such as:

  • Will the product be a success in the market?
  • What are similar products in the market?
  • What’s the best way to develop and sell the product?

Businesses that perform regular product research stay ahead of competitors. It also helps with developing innovative, high-value products, because you’ll always know what’s on trend and if the trends will grow sustainably.

How to do product research

Before we get into each evaluation point, let’s take a look at a quick overview of all the criteria we’ll be covering:

Market-based criteria

  • What is the potential market size?
  • What does the competitive landscape look like?
  • Is it a trend or a fad, a flat or a growing market?
  • Is your product available locally?
  • Who are your target customers?

Product-based criteria

  • What is your markup?
  • What’s your potential selling price?
  • What is your product’s size and weight?
  • How durable is your product?
  • Is your product seasonal?
  • Does your product serve a passion, relieve a pain, or solve a problem?
  • How often will you need to turn over inventory?
  • Is your product consumable or disposable?
  • Is your product perishable?
  • Are there any restrictions or regulations on your product?
  • Is your product scalable?

Let’s look at each of the criteria in more detail:

Evaluate market size

Market size can be difficult to determine but with some educated guessing you can probably get a good idea. For example, a product that caters to pregnant females between 25 and 40 years old probably has a sufficient market. But a product that caters to pregnant females between 25 and 40 years old who like punk rock music will likely be too narrow.

Example: Daneson sells high-end, luxury toothpicks. You can imagine that it takes a pretty discerning and dapper man to purchase exquisite toothpicks.

Daneson toothpicks

A product like this likely has a very narrow market size. This narrow market size limits the revenue potential for this business. However, depending on the exact market, a narrow market size potentially can be easier to market to, allowing a company like Daneson to penetrate its market and capture it more cost effectively.

Determining exact market sizes is usually impossible for most businesses, but there are some ways to understand market size in a more general way. Google Trends is a good starting point—not to determine market size, but rather to determine market demand trajectory.

toothpick trends

From there you can also look for your particular product idea being sold elsewhere and look at the number and quality of customer reviews. Are there no reviews, just a few, or hundreds?

This can give you an idea of how many people are searching for your keyword terms and, in return, can also give you a better sense of the market size. Combine all these methods with some realistic judgment and you should start to get a good sense of the potential market size of your product idea.

Analyze the competitive landscape

What does the competitive landscape look like for your selected product and niche? Are you first to market? Are there already a few competitors or is the market saturated with people selling the same product or targeting the same niche?

If you’re first to market, you’ll want to do a lot of market research to determine that there is in fact a market interested in your product.

If there are many competitors in the market, that’s a sign the market has been validated. However, you’ll likely have to determine how you can differentiate your brand and products from the sea of competitors in order to carve out your own spot.

Google searches and SimilarWeb will help you uncover current market players, and an SEO tool like Ahrefs can tell you approximate search volumes for your chosen keywords.

Doing keyword research with a tool like Ahrefs or Semrush helps get a realistic view of search demand. It also helps with opportunity mapping: if the difficulty is high, I can look for longer-tail results. The long-tail approach is best for entering new markets.

It will also tell you how competitive they are (meaning how many other people/businesses are bidding on those words).

keyword research for product research

Determine product category outlook

Riding a fad can be dangerous. A trend can be lucrative. Stable markets are safe, and growing markets are ideal. Understanding where your product and niche lay can play a huge role in your success or failure.

To better understand the differences between each of these, let’s look at the growth curves, then at real world examples of each type:

product categories trend chart

Fad

A fad is something that grows in popularity for a very short period of time and dies out just as quickly. A trend can be lucrative if your entry into the market and exit are timed perfectly, but this can be difficult to predict and usually a recipe for disaster.

A Geiger counter is a personal electronic device about the size of a cellphone that measures the level of radiation around you. Shortly after Japan suffered an earthquake in 2011, Geiger counters were flying off the shelves. However, as you can see from the Google Trends graph below, interest died as fast as it started.

google trends data

Trend

A trend is a longer-term direction that the market for a product appears to be taking. It doesn’t grow as quickly as a fad, it lasts longer, and generally it doesn’t decline nearly as quickly. Trending products can sometimes also develop into long-term growing markets, although this can be difficult to predict.

As an example, over the last 10 years, gluten-free foods have been growing in popularity. We can see from the graph below a consistent climb, but this likely would be predicted and labelled a trend, as opposed to a growing market, due to the ever-evolving and changing nutrition market.

Stable

A stable market is one that generally is immune to shocks and bumps. It is neither declining nor growing but maintains itself over long periods of time.

A kitchen sink is a perfect example of a product with a market that has generally remained constant and flat for decades. There’s likely not going to be any huge spikes or dips in the interest and purchase behavior of kitchen sinks.

Growing

A growing market is one that has seen consistent growth and shows signs of a long-term or permanent market shift.

Yoga has been around for a long time, but over the last ten years or so has become a mainstream health and fitness activity. The benefits of yoga are well established, making this niche a solid growing market.

Google Trends will help give you the big picture as to whether something is a fad, trend, growing, or stable market. If you see unexplainable spikes, try doing some further searching to see what the possible cause was.

Is your product available locally?

A product that’s readily available locally means there’s one less reason for consumers to seek your product out online. However, a unique or hard to find product that isn’t available locally means there’s an increased chance of someone looking for it online and increases their chances of actually purchasing it online.

Example: Ellusionist sells artist collaborations: high-end decks of cards for magicians and card players alike. Sure you can go buy a deck of cards anywhere, but these are not just cards—they’re works of art and trick decks, and if you want one, it’s only available online.

product research example

One of the simplest ways to find out if your selected product is available locally is by doing a search on Google for your product + the name of your city, or if you don’t live in a major city, try substituting the name of the major city you’re closest too. For example, you could search for “magician deck of cards + new york.”

Determine your target customer

You don’t need to go into great detail defining your exact customer persona at this point, but, you should be aware of the type of customer you would likely be selling to and their online purchasing capabilities.

If you have a product geared to teens, it’s important to keep in mind that most teens don’t have a credit card to make purchases online. Similarly, if your product is geared toward older baby boomers, you may find that your target demographic has a lower level of technology adoption and doesn’t like to purchase online.

To find out more about who your target customers are, you can look into your Google Analytics account. Shane Pollard, Chief Technology Officer at Be Media, explains that, when doing product research, he likes to “have a good look” into the following Google Analytics reports:

  • Audience demographics, because this is key to understanding age ranges, male vs. female, and how the current product appeals to that demographic.
  • Geo location, because knowing what audiences are doing in a location can help form an insight. For example, that people in Melbourne don’t need a lawn mower as much as people in Perth, based on Melbourne having a higher percentage of people living in apartment complexes, due to Perth, having more of an urban sprawl.
  • Top pages, which are a great pulse check for how many people are looking at products. Shane has come across reports where the top product was described as outperforming every other product by 10x, only to review top pages and see that the 10x was in reference to hundreds of visits, and not thousands. The way the data was phrased made it sound like more of a performer than it actually was in scale.

Determine markup

It is vitally important to take markup for a specific product into consideration before diving too far into a product idea. When you begin selling online, you’ll quickly find out there are lots of small fees that will eat into your margins, so having a strong initial markup will provide you with the necessary cushion to absorb these little costs.

To understand margin a little better, let’s take a look at a real product. For this example, we will use a pet pedometer—a small electronic device you connect to a dog’s collar to count how many steps they take.

Looking around at other pet pedometers, we determined that an average retail price on a product like this would be $24.99. Using Alibaba, we found out that we are able to get these pet pedometers at a cost of $2 per unit.

A 1,200% markup! Looks good so far, right? Let’s take a closer look at the other fees that we will need to account for:

product research costing example

You can see from the example above how the small fees will whittle away at your margins. In this case, a product that had an initial markup of over 1,200% ends up with a markup of less than 100% when all is said and done.

Of course, these are just approximates and you can cut costs significantly by handling fulfillment yourself and spending less on advertising. Regardless, knowing this information upfront will be important to know.

Figure out selling price

Selling an inexpensive product means you’ll need to move many units to make a decent profit. Additionally, along with moving a lot of units comes increased customer service inquiries as well as an increase in other operating metrics. On the other hand, selling very expensive products means a longer sales cycle and more discerning customers.

Generally, a product price point between $75 and $150 is recommended, as it minimizes the need to find a large number of customers to turn a decent profit and is still able to give you some cushion for marketing and operation costs.

Our previous example, the pet pedometer, had a relatively low selling price of $25. Because of this, variable costs ate away at much of the profit, leaving a profit per unit of only $12.95.

Let’s see what happens, though, if we switch out the pet pedometer for a new product and assume that this new product has a potential selling price of $100 (4x more than the pet pedometer). For consistency, we’ve also multiplied the other appropriate cost by a factor of four.

product research costing example 2

Because of the higher pricing, we have much better margins—73% vs. 42%—for the pet pedometer, and our profit per unit skyrockets from $12.95 to $76.75.

Determine product weight and size

Product size and weight can have a big impact on your sales and bottom line. These days, many customers expect free shipping, and just rolling the shipping cost into your prices doesn’t always work. This means these costs tend to eat into your margins. If you decide to pass the shipping costs onto your customer, you’ll find that the shock of high shipping will likely hurt your conversion rate.

Additionally, if you don’t plan to use the dropshipping model, you’ll need to consider the cost of shipping the products to yourself (or your warehouse) from your manufacturer, as well as storage fees. If you’re ordering your inventory from overseas, you might be surprised at the costs involved.

Example: There is a popular yoga mat company that sells oversized workout mats. The product itself is a reasonable $99. However, shipping is $40 to Canada and $100 to the rest of the world. For many consumers, it would be hard for them to justify spending 40% to 100% more for shipping.

Is your product durable?

How durable or fragile is your product? Fragile products can be an invitation for trouble. Products that can break easy will cost you more in packaging and you’re bound to have more returns and exchanges.

Is your product seasonal?

Businesses with seasonal demand can suffer from inconsistent cash flow. Some seasonality is OK, however, an ideal product will have somewhat consistent cash flow year round.

If you do choose a highly seasonal product, you may want to consider ahead of time how you can overcome seasonality, possibly by marketing to different countries in the off season.

Check for seasonal trends by looking at Google Trends for your product and niche keywords.

Does your product serve a passion, relieve a pain, or solve a problem?

We discussed this point early on in this guide, but it’s always an advantage to sell products that serve a passion or solve a problem.

An additional benefit is that when you sell products that satisfy one of these requirements, your marketing costs tend to be lower, since customers are actively seeking out a solution as opposed to you having to heavily market your product to find them.

What will your product turnover be?

It can be risky to have products that constantly need to be changed or refreshed. These types of products run the risk of not selling before the time of turnover. Before jumping in head first and selling a product with regular turnover, it’s vital to know what your turnover schedule will look like and plan accordingly.

For example, smartphone and tablet cases are a hot market. Yet creating new designs usually requires a high initial investment for designing, prototyping, and minimum order quantities. One of the harder parts of building an online business in a niche like smartphone cases is gaining enough traction and exposure before the next model smartphone/tablet comes out. Not selling through your inventory fast enough could leave you with a stockpile of outdated cases.

Is your product consumable or disposable?

Having consumable or disposable products makes selling to the same customer over and over again more natural by essentially putting a time limit on the product’s life and giving the customer a reason to come back to you for replenishment.

Harry’s, for example, sells products that generally are highly consumable, like razors, shaving cream, and deodorant. This model keeps consumers coming back to their site to repurchase.

harry's website

Is perishability a factor?

Perishable products are a risky proposition for any business, never mind an online business. Since highly perishable products require speedy delivery, shipping can be costly. Even products with a longer perishability timeline can be risky, as it complicates storage and inventory, potentially leaving you with spoiled products.

For example, food products, supplements, medication, and anything else that needs to be kept cold or has a short expiration date all require special consideration when ordering inventory and shipping to customers.

Are there any restrictions or regulations?

Restriction and regulations on your product and niche choice are annoying at best and crippling at worst. Before you move forward with your product idea, you’ll want to make sure there are no regulations or restrictions on your product selection. At the very least you’ll want to make sure they are manageable.

Certain chemical products, food products, and cosmetics can carry restrictions not only from the country you are importing your goods into but also the countries you’re shipping your products back out to.

You’ll want to consider making a few phone calls to customs and border services of the country you’ll be importing your product into, along with your warehouse, if you plan on using one, as well as the Food and Drug Administration in the case of a food/supplement product.

Is your product scalable?

It’s difficult to think about the future and growing your business when you’re still in the launching phase, however, scalability should be considered and built into the business model right from the start.

If your product is handmade or contains difficult-to-find materials, think about how to scale it if your business takes off. Will you be able to outsource manufacturing? Will your number of employees have to increase with the number of orders or will you be able to maintain a small team?

Free Guide: How to Find a Profitable Product to Sell Online

Excited about starting a business, but not sure where to start? This free, comprehensive guide will teach you how to find great, newly trending products with high sales potential.

6 tips for effective product research

Whether you’re researching your first or fifth product, keep these product research tips in mind:

Follow consumer trend publications

Consumer trend publications can expose you to new products and industries you may not have known existed. They also help you stay up to date on the latest trends to remain competitive and discover new product opportunities.

One free platform to follow is Trend Hunter. Trend Hunter is the largest trend community, with over 200,000 people dedicated to finding the latest trends. You can find trends for anything on this site, including beauty, fashion, culture, luxury, and more.

Say you spot a trend like “empowering pandemic emojis.”

trendhunter website

You could turn this into a business idea and create a range of apparel or accessories based on these designs.

Another trend platform to check out is PSFK. It’s a membership website that produces reports and insights around retail and customer experience trends.

Take Inkkas, for example. The brand found the trend for wearing Pervuian textiles and turned it into a shoe business. Inkkas works with local artisan shoemakers in Peru to create the designs, then sells them online through a Shopify store.

inkkas homepage

Find bestsellers on Amazon

Amazon is one of the largest consumer marketplaces in the world. You’ll for sure find thousands of product ideas the minute you land on the site. But it’s easy to get lost in all the products and ads if you don’t have a plan.

To speed up the process, go straight to Amazon’s bestsellers list. You can find profitable products from any category, from toys and games to patio, lawn and garden and more. All products on the list are based on sales and updated hourly. So you’ll never run out of product ideas for your business.

amazon best seller examples

If you want more detailed information about products on Amazon, you can use a product research tool like Jungle Scout.

JungleScout dashboard

You can easily search from any product by keyword, category, or custom filter with the brand’s product database, a searchable catalog with over 475 million products from Amazon. Or evaluate product ideas in seconds with its Chrome extension. All of this can give you ideas for winning products, whether you’re an Amazon seller or run an online store.

Shane also looks at a few different factors when doing Amazon product research:

  • Product listing reviews
  • Who is spending on ads
  • Product variants
  • What product bundles exist

Browse social curation sites

Image curation sites can be a rich source for finding product ideas. Just by looking at likes and trending photos, you can get a sense of market demand for a specific product or niche.

A few sites to check out include:

  • Pinterest, the largest visual discovery engine and curation site
  • We Heart It, for fashion and beauty product discovery
  • Dudepins, for discovering and buying products for men
  • Fancy, for unique collections, from home decor to art to clothing
  • Wanelo, a digital mall with over 12 million products people can discover and buy

Evaluate B2B wholesale marketplaces

B2B wholesale marketplaces are a gold mine for finding new product ideas straight from the source. These sites will expose you to thousands of potential product ideas to sell. If you end up liking a product, you can buy it right away.

Two sources you’ll want to check first are Alibaba and AliExpress, which are marketplaces that connect you to manufacturers from Asia. They have hundreds of thousands of products to explore. You can find almost anything.

The trick is looking at the various marketplaces to see what’s trending then cross-referencing it with Alibaba to see if you can spin it in a unique way.

Alibaba is for B2B transactions. So if you want to order large quantities of a product directly from manufacturers, you’d use Alibaba.

alibaba homepage

On the other hand, AliExpress is available to everyone. If you want to test a product, you can order in small batches from AliExpress.

aliexpress homepage for product research

Another place to do product research for dropshipping is Oberlo. In this product sourcing app, you can check out trending dropshipping products based on data from AliExpress. Oberlo shows you which products have lots of sales and which have few, and how recent those sales were.

Using Oberlo search for product research

Other B2B marketplaces to explore are:

Observe niche forums

Industry and niche forms are another way to discover new products to sell. They are also a good place to connect with potential customers over shared experiences and to discuss relevant topics with them.

Some niches, like gaming, have active online communities. For example, if you wanted to do product research, you could head to websites like GameFAQs or NeoGAF to observe discussions around video games.

NeoGAF homepage

There’s also Reddit, which is the forum of all forums. You can find communities within Reddit for any topic, like tech, culture, and environment. To date, there are over 2.2 million subreddits, also known as communities, where people come together to talk about different topics related to the community’s title.

And if you’re still not finding any forums around your niche, try searching Google. Type your niche + forum into the search bar and see what results come up.

google search for forums

Ask your own customers

Whether you have five or five hundred customers, one of the best ways to get product ideas is from your own customers. You can send an email to your customer base and ask for their feedback on a few product ideas you have in mind.

tweet asking customers for feedback

It’s a tactic that Alfred Lua, founder of Open Atlas, uses to improve on his existing product line.

“From my experience running Open Atlas,” he says, “I found doing customer service myself was helpful for getting product ideas. For every order, I would email the customer and ask about their experience: ordering, delivery, product, etc. A handful would reply and give me their feedback. I collected their feedback for version 2 of my product.”

email asking customers for feedback

Whether it’s you or your support team sending these emails, you can still get feedback and use it to inform your product development process.

Find your next bestselling product today

Choosing the right product and niche is at the very core of your ecommerce business and is one of the most important decisions you’ll make.

Using the above criteria as a guideline can help you find low-competition, high-demand products that’ll likely be a success.

 

Do you have another method of validating a product idea that has worked well for you? Let us know in the comments.

Illustration by Luca D’Urbino

Product research FAQ

What’s the difference between product research and market research?

The main difference is that product research refers to evaluating the probability of a product’s success within a chosen market, while market research refers to investigating the customer’s needs and preferences and understanding the competitive outlook.

How do you start product research?

  1. Evaluate market size
  2. Analyze competitive landscape
  3. Determine product category
  4. Define target customer
  5. Figure out profit margin

How do I research a product to sell?

  1. Follow consumer trend publications
  2. Find top sellers on Amazon
  3. Browse social curation sites
  4. Evaluate B2B wholesale marketplaces
  5. Read niche forums
  6. Ask your own customers

What is an example of product research?

One example of product research is finding a trending item in a publication like Trend Hunter, then determining through an evaluation whether it’s a viable product to sell. Once it’s proven, you can move on to the product development process to create an early version and work out any supply chain issues.



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How to Reduce Shipping Costs as a Small Business in 2021

How to Reduce Shipping Costs as a Small Business in 2021


How can a small business compete with the likes of Amazon when it comes to shipping?

Every year our shipping rates increase, but it seems like the big brands get better shipping discounts.

Shipping is one of those unglamorous-but-crucial things that every ecommerce company has to deal with. No matter what size you are, you want to do it well for yourself and for your customers.

We get that. Which is why this guide will help you reduce shipping costs, so you can provide a better customer experience and earn more profit in your business.

Reduce your shipping costs today 📦

Use this free shipping calculator

Try our Shopify Shipping calculator to figure out your shipping costs and create a strategy that increases sales and goes easy on your bottom line.

Access the shipping calculator

Know your shipping basics

One challenge every online store comes across is shipping. It can be a bit intimidating: you do the work to make, pack, and mail your products once a sale comes in. But once you hand it over to a shipping carrier, it’s out of your hands. It’s the carrier’s job to deliver your package on time and in pristine condition.

If the package comes damaged, or never comes at all, it could leave a bad impression on your customer.

 

Shipping fees are the cost used to ship items to a customer. They include:

  • Boxes, packaging, tape, and stickers
  • Labor for sending an item
  • Courier costs for collecting and delivering item
  • Import/export fees when shipping internationally

As a merchant, you have to determine and disclose shipping costs on your website. Some of the most common questions you’ll get as a store owner will be related to shipping.

To combat this, merchants create a shipping policy that sets expectations for customers about shipping times and costs. It’s also a reliable asset when customers have complaints or questions about their orders.

shipping FAQ example

Shipping costs influence whether a shopper buys your products, or not.

In fact, ecommerce research group the Baymard Institute found that nearly half of all online shoppers abandon their carts because extra costs (like shipping and taxes) are too high. While you can’t change the local sales tax on your product, there are some ways you can reduce shipping costs in your online store.

If you haven’t determined a shipping strategy yet, read Shipping Strategy: Get Packages to Customers WIthout Cutting Into Your Bottom Line.

How to reduce shipping costs for a small business

Now that you’ve had a little refresher on what shipping costs are, let’s look some easy ways to reduce shipping costs in your store:

Reduce the weight of packages

When it comes to shipping packages to customers, weight is money. The heavier the actual weight or dimensional weight, the more it’s going to cost to ship.

While it may only be a few cents per package, think about that few cents over several hundred packages. This is why lightweight packaging is good for reducing shipping costs and improving profit margins.

Some ways to reduce package weight include:

  • Pack products in corrugated boxes. Corrugated boxes are a type of ecommerce packaging that’s stronger and lighter than regular cardboard boxes. They have rows of small air-filled grooves between the inner and outer layer of the box.
  • Use lightweight packing material. There are many types of packaging material to choose from, some heavier than others. Some lightweight options to try are air pillows, packing paper, bubble wrap, foam inserts, Versa Pak wadding rolls, and excelsior. The goal is to keep items packed tight and lower their weight.
  • Design a custom shipping package. The closer your shipping package matches the shape and size of your items, the less packing material you’ll need. If you have a product that sells in high volume, the expense of producing a custom container may offset rising shipping costs quickly.

If you are shipping very heavy items, check and see the rates that are available if you were to use carrier-provided Flat Rate packaging. It offers the same rate no matter how much the value of the package is.

Lightweight packing practices can save you a few ounces each shipment. Over time, this could lead to sizable gains in profit margins and return a good investment on your time and resources.

Choose the right-sized packaging

When thinking about cutting shipping costs, one thing you can do is change your packaging.

It’s easy to buy or get packaging that is a little bit bigger than what you’re actually sending. For example, you could use a poly mailer instead of a box, or even a padded envelope if you need a little bit more protection.

poly bag mailer example
Source: Pinterest

Your shipping cost is dependent on the size of the package and the weight of the package. Cardboard is heavy, and anywhere you can trim down weight will help you win over time.

And if you’re paying for your packaging, a bit of research could save you some money. Many carriers give away free packaging.

For example, the USPS offers packaging of various sizes it gives away for free when you pay for shipping under specific mail classes. UPS and DHL Express also offer free packaging.

Whether you’re getting your packaging for free or ordering custom packaging, knowing what types and sizes of packages you use most often can also save you money.

Start by measuring your products and figure out how many you typically send at one time. That will help you see what size packages will work for the orders you ship most often. If you’re selling one item at a time, versus several, just look at your order history to figure it out and order packaging that would fit with your normal orders.

Use flat-rate shipping when possible

Shipping container geometry and pricing are always changing, and not for the better of your bottom line. It may even be hard to keep up with all the changes.

In 2021 alone:

  • UPS increased rates by an average of 4.9%, with larger increases for oversized and heavy packages.
  • The United States Postal Service (USPS) increased rates ranging from 2% to 4.95% or more, depending on size.
  • Fedex increased freight shipment rates from $0.10 to $0.35

Due to rate hikes, online brands are looking toward flat-rate shipping to decrease shipping costs.

Flat-rate shipping means the shipping costs are a single rate, regardless of weight, shape, or size of the item. The immediate benefit of flat-rate shipping is converting variable costs into fixed costs. So if you plan to ship 10 items within the specified weight range, you know in advance exactly how much it’ll cost.

You can set up shipping rates in the checkout area for customers in your Shopify store.

You can create flat shipping rates for any order within a shipping zone or orders that meet a specific price or weight range. For example, in a shipping zone for the United States, you could set a flat rate of $5 and another flat rate of $3 for orders over $50. You have control over what a customer is charged at checkout.

Use Shopify Shipping to cut carrier costs

Shopify Shipping makes it faster and easier to fulfill orders. You can buy shipping labels in Shopify, print multiple labels at a time, and get orders out the door quickly. Merchants can save up to 88% on shipping costs in the U.S. and send products around the world with confidence.

Shopify Shipping has allowed our business to grow. We’re not buried in fulfilling orders—we’re able to concentrate on thinking about where our business can go long term.

Uchenna Ngwudo, Cee Cee’s Closet NYC

Shopify Shipping gives you pre-negotiated discounts with shipping companies such as:

  • USPS
  • UPS
  • DHL Express
  • Canada Post
  • Sendle

The best part? You don’t need to pay a monthly subscription fee for a shipping solution. Shopify Shipping is already available in your dashboard, so you can manage products, customers, inventory, and shipping all in one place.

Leverage the discounts available with Shopify Shipping in your shipping strategy and make it easier to offer free or flat-rate shipping to customers at Checkout. You can also reach international customers easily with automatically generated customs forms and discounts on international shipping.

Learn more by reading Shopify Shipping Services: Offer Affordable and Convenient Shipping for You and Your Customers.

Use this free shipping calculator

Try our Shopify Shipping calculator to figure out your shipping costs and create a strategy that increases sales and goes easy on your bottom line.

Access the shipping calculator

Know when rates change

Stay on top of pricing changes so they don’t cut into your bottom line. Shipping carriers review their pricing each year and adjust rates due to higher costs like labor and fuel. New prices are implemented every January and can also occur during the year.

Not sure what the latest rates are? Read How to Prepare for Shipping Rate Changes in 2021. We update the article every year, so shippers can optimize their shipping strategy and reduce shipping charges.

Decrease shipping distance

If you are interested in reducing the distance between your product and your customer, consider using a 3PL, or a third-party business that handles ecommerce logistics. They can work with different fulfillment centers to reduce your shipping distance and optimize shipping costs through shipping zones.

Shipping zones are a group of regions or countries that have the same shipping rates. Carriers use zones to calculate rates for shipping services based on groupings of ZIP codes from point of origin to destination.

Zones are numbered 1 through 9, with Zone 1 being local delivery under a 50 mile radius and Zone 9 being freely associated states. The higher the zone number, the higher the shipping costs.

One way to decrease distance is by using multiple fulfillment centers. This way, you’ll be closer to customers when they order and can reduce the time and money it takes to ship.

The map below by ShipBob shows the difference between an ecommerce business using one fulfillment center in Moreno Valley, California, versus three fulfillment centers in Moreno Valley, Dallas, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

shipping zone coverage
Source: ShipBob

Notice when using one fulfillment center, there are a lot of green, blue, and purple shades, which indicates Zones 6 and up. If you want to ship a package from Moreno Valley to New York City, it’s going to cost you the Zone 8 shipping price.

If you’re using three fulfillment centers, you could ship the package from Bethlehem to New York City, which falls into Zone 2 and will cost significantly less than shipping from across the country.

International shipping is a whole other strategy, which involves customs forms and pricing mechanisms. The solution for international shipping is easy: use Shopify Shipping.

Shopify offers merchants in the United States, Canada, and Australia access to discounted rates with global carriers. When you buy international shipping labels through Shopify, the correct documentation is automatically created for you and can be printed.

When orders are ready to go, you can schedule a free or discounted pickup for UPS, DHL Express, or Sendle carriers, which saves you time and money from fulfilling orders manually.

Offer local delivery or pickup

One way to reduce shipping costs is not to use a carrier at all. A recent trend coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic is people shopping through local, independent businesses. According to our consumer trends data, nearly a third of buyers say they’ve bought something online and had it delivered locally during the pandemic.

As an online store, local delivery lets customers buy your products online and have you deliver it to their homes. You could also allow customers to come pick up their online order from your store. Local delivery and pickup are alternatives to shipping with a carrier and can save you money.

Offering local delivery services also helps you:

  • Connect with your local community by making it easier for locals to shop with your brand
  • Improve customer experience by saying goodbye to shipping delays and variable costs
  • Increase sales through 25% higher cart sizes and average order value

Giving customers the option to get local delivery removes the barriers to purchase, which impacts your bottom line. It also gives you the chance to lower shipping costs and build customer loyalty.

Creating cost-effective shipping strategies for your ecommerce store

There’s no doubt about it: the cost of shipping can eat into your profit margins fast.

Use these cost-effective tips to reduce shipping costs in your business today. Make sure you use Shopify Shipping to get the best rates available, whether you’re shipping domestic or international. And try to offer local delivery when possible. This will help create better experiences for shoppers, lower rates and delivery times, and increase revenue for your store.

Illustration by Luca D’Urbino


Ready to create your business? Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify—no credit card required.

Shipping costs FAQ

Why are shipping costs so high?

The shipping process is complex and requires many separate costs that add up and produce higher prices. Factors like labor, fuel surcharges, parcel weight, package dimensions, value, and destination all factor into a shipping rate determined by couriers. The bigger a package is, the more expensive it is to ship.

What is the cheapest shipping method?

Shopify Shipping is one of the more affordable shipping methods. The service works with major carriers to provide you with discounted rates for shipping. Available carriers are USPS, UPS, DHL Express, Canada Post, and Sendle to help your packages arrive safe and on time.

How can I reduce my shipping cost?

  • Reduce the weight of packages
  • Choose the right-sized packaging
  • Use flat-rate shipping when possible
  • Use Shopify Shipping to cut carrier costs
  • Know when rates change
  • Decrease shipping distance
  • Offer local delivery or pickup

How can I pay less for USPS shipping?

See if your packages are eligible for First-Class Package Service try using Flat Rate or Regional Rate packaging for Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express.. You could also use Cubic pricing, which is a USPS exclusive rate that offers lower shipping rates when you send items with small shipping volume under 20 pounds through USPS Priority Mail. USPS Cubic pricing is available to merchants on the Shopify plan and above.



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TikTok For Business: A No-Bullshit Guide (2021)

TikTok For Business: A No-Bullshit Guide (2021)


Five minutes into our conversation, greenery proprietor Sonja Detrinidad has already discussed menopause, Snoop Dogg, and her “murder scale”—the perceived level of danger of each of her plant-sourcing missions. 

My first question—how did a 50-something ex-finance professional crack the code to selling on TikTok?—answers itself. “I want to be the Martha Stewart of succulents without the jail time,” she tells me, unprompted. “But I’m willing to do a small misdemeanor for a good cause.” And there it is.

Sonja is the founder of Partly Sunny Projects, an online plant business shipping the fruits of California sunshine across the country. The idea sprouted as a diversion from her stressful job, was watered by the uptick in pandemic-borne hobbies, and fertilized by her captivating TikTok persona.

It’s OK if you polarize an audience. The people that like you are just going to like you that much more.

She didn’t set out to be the internet’s favorite plant mom. It happened organically. Though she discovered quite by accident the formula for harnessing TikTok for business, there is actually a method to Sonja’s madness. “It’s OK if you polarize an audience,” she says. “The people that like you are just going to like you that much more.” 

I picked Sonja’s brain for her takes on quitting a job, starting over, and finding community in a global pandemic. And, from her garage-slash-headquarters, she shared the key ingredients of her not-so-secret sauce for winning at TikTok marketing

Seeding success

Close up of a succulent plant, shot from above
Burst

After investing 16 years in a successful career as a mortgage professional, Sonja saw the industry change—and the stress was piling up. “I found myself curled up in a fetal position, crying and drinking vodka underneath my table,” she says. As a distraction, she challenged herself to update her home’s landscaping on a $0 budget. She took to local buy-and-sell sites to find free plants. “I basically would troll Craigslist like a hyena looking for a snack,” she says, adding that she sometimes found herself in sketchy situations in the process (hello, murder scale). 

Sonja began blogging about her misadventures, growing a following for it through Facebook. Soon, others were seeking out her plant-sourcing skills. She positioned herself as a personal plant shopper, taking requests through a WhatsApp group chat, then invoicing her customers. “I didn’t see anybody else in this space,” she says. “People were selling on Facebook or websites, but no one was doing one-on-one shopping trips.”

I thought, ‘Who’s going to want to buy plants during a pandemic?’ And the answer was everyone.

Sonja quit her job to sell plants full time, and for the next nine months operated her business in this way. The requests were flying in, but the system wasn’t working—she hated invoicing with a fiery passion. “I’d rather pull out my own nails,” she says. She switched to running a Shopify store in March 2020—right at the outset of the pandemic. 

Unbeknownst to her at the time, Sonja launched her site at precisely the right moment to capture a collective interest in at-home hobbies and distractions. “I thought, ‘Who’s going to want to buy plants during a pandemic?’” she says. “And the answer was everyone.”

Portrait of Partly Sunny Projects' founder Sonja using a plant as a moustache
Sonja turned to TikTok to promote her business—a platform that was a natural fit for her unique brand of comedy. Partly Sunny Projects

Then TikTok happened. Sonja revised her format of sharing her plant mom stories and took to the video platform to help drive traffic to her business. It was a natural fit. 

Partly Sunny is now pulling in more orders than Sonja can manage on her own. Her husband, an aerospace engineer, steps in to help where he can, though working in dirt “is not his cup of tea.” Sonja also brought on a company to manage shipping and recently hired her daughter to help grow her other social media channels. Sonja attributes most of this success to TikTok. Although you’d never expect that her one-woman show was a brand account, it’s still responsible for the bulk of her traffic and sales.

 A no-bullshit guide to Tiktok for business

A screengrab of Partly Sunny Projects on TikTok
Partly Sunny Projects/TikTok

Each social platform that evolves from niche to mainstream eventually has businesses chomping at the bit to be relevant to its users. Some fall flat with a too-strong sales pitch, but the brands that can find that sweet spot—the right content in the right tone at the right time—can win. In the early days of platforms, it’s possible to grow on organic content alone, before ads and algorithms make it increasingly more challenging.

TikTok’s notoriously mysterious algorithm makes it tough for brands and influencers to crack the code. What makes something go viral? How do you get your content surfaced to more TikTok users? Sonja, who started amassing tens of thousands of followers every month with tell-it-like-it-is plant advice from her garage, had clearly stumbled onto something.


Start a TikTok business and try Shopify free for 14 days


How to win at leveraging TikTok for your small business in eight steps, according to Sonja:

1. Be yourself

“I’m a woman in my 50s and in menopause,” says Sonja. “I don’t have the energy to put on a facade of somebody that I’m not.” Her personality in our interview doesn’t diverge from the one I’d been following for weeks on TikTok. I feel like I already know her. The intentional lack of polish (see Step 5) and relatable blunders (see Step 4) are a refreshing break.

“I’m not wearing a bra. Who the hell is?” she says. “It’s a pandemic”

2. Make people laugh

Have you seen the meme where social media platforms are mapped to characters from the movie The Breakfast Club, in which the smart kid is Reddit and the popular rich girl is Facebook? Every platform has its own personality, and if you’re a brand publishing content across all of them, it’s not as simple as copy-paste. Be conversational on Twitter, inspirational on Instagram, and on TikTok? Be funny. (Or hire someone who is.)

There are two things that bring people together, no matter where they are on the planet: laughter and grief.

“There are two things that bring people together, no matter where they are on the planet: laughter and grief,” Sonja says. “If your mom dies, you know exactly what that feels like, no matter who you are.” And laughter levels the playing field in the same way. One of her recent viral videos garnered a ton of comments in other languages. “Laughter translates all across the world,” she says.

Screengrab of Partly Sunny Projects on TikTok
Sonja’s content strikes the right balance between entertaining and informative. Partly Sunny Projects/TikTok

3. Add value to build trust

Partly Sunny’s TikTok is funny, sure, but it also creates value for its audience—the legions of new plant parents looking for no-nonsense advice. Sonja answers community questions and publishes everything from debunking plant myths to tips on composting. She’s not technically an expert, she reminds me, but she’s candid about her own trial and error. 

Vulnerability goes a long way to building trust. Only then can you convert that audience to customers, Sonja says. “Make yourself valuable on the platform as a source of information, then you can do a little side step like, ‘Oh, by the way, go ahead and order my products,’ because people already have trust in you.”

4. Be relevant and relatable

In one of Sonja’s recent posts, she revealed that an innocent trip to buy one plant resulted in a car full of greenery. “Brilliant,” I told her—she used a relatable concept like impulse shopping while covertly revealing all of the latest plants to drop on her website. She calls out the hordes of self-proclaimed “plant addicts,” in another video. “There’s no meetings. It’s not an addiction. You’re fine,” she tells me, noticing the plant takeover behind me.

Just go and do your thing, whatever your thing is. Your people are out there and they’re waiting for you to show up.

Being relatable isn’t hard if you just be yourself, Sonja says. “Just go and do your thing, whatever your thing is,” she says. “Your people are out there and they’re waiting for you to show up.” She points out that some high-profile creators have huge production teams, churning out polished content. “I’m just doing this in a garage, trying to make sure that you don’t see the flap in my arms.”

💡 TikTok Marketing 101

For a tactical look at using TikTok for business and developing a marketing strategy, including advice on buying video-creation gear, running TikTok ads, and scheduling your content, read our guide to TikTok marketing.

5. Aim for substance over polish

Sonja hasn’t jibed with Instagram in the same way she has with TikTok. “It’s highly saturated with all their filters,” she says. She tried to hire a marketing firm to help her with her Instagram strategy but found the recommendations diverted from her natural instinct to be raw and unfiltered. “What TikToK has proven is that these beautiful people with beautiful photos have no personality whatsoever once they try to transition,” she says.

In her business, overproducing can also be a detriment. “With plants, the last thing you want to do is use filters,” she says. “It’s not the reality, and it leads people to have unmet expectations of what their gardens should look like.” 

Partly Sunny Projects' founder Sonja shows off her garage where she runs her business
As a one-woman show, Sonja doesn’t have time for production value. She shoots TikTok content from her garage, which she describes as a “shit show.” Partly Sunny Projects

6. Don’t sell to people, move them

Early in the pandemic, Sonja received a note from a customer: “Second order. Thank you again for sharing your videos on TikTok. Not to put pressure, but you have changed my life. I finally found something that helps me with my anxiety and sad days.” 

People buy from people they like. That’s how it works.

Sonja will occasionally nudge people to her website in an active way but, for the most part, she doesn’t have to. Those who follow her, who have been moved by her content or helped on their plant care journey thanks to her advice will think of her when they’re ready to buy. “People buy from people they like,” says Sonja. “That’s how it works.”

7. TikTok is a community

Like any social platform or online community, engagement and neighborly acts will get you far. Brands that try to engage in a faceless manner, talking at audiences, lose the connection to the communities they’re trying to sell to. It’s important to treat social marketing as a two-way street: engage with commenters, respond to questions, and build a community around your cause or topic.

Sonja takes this one step further, nurturing a community of her peers and fellow plant sellers. “I’m a strong believer that rising tides really do lift all ships,” she says. “I don’t feel like helping other sellers is going to take away from my success.”

8. Find your platform and double down

In the way that Sonja hasn’t quite connected with other social platforms, TikTok might not be for you. Whether it isn’t where your audience is hanging out or you’re not a natural on camera, you may decide to abandon your efforts if you’re not gaining traction. In the beginning, your best bet with any marketing efforts is trial and error. Test, test, test to see what sticks and invest your energy there.

“I’m OK focusing on the one thing that really works for me right now,” says Sonja. And while she made little headway with Instagram, hiring her daughter to manage that account is a much better fit. As she scales, Sonja knows she’ll need to delegate more, but being the face of her brand is something she’s not ever willing to give up.

Branching out

A shelf covered in planters hangs on a wall
Burst

Sonja processed 1,200 orders in a single month at the height of plant-shopping season last summer. And, since launching her subscription box to 35 customers, Sonja has increased her subscriber count to 150 for her latest shipment. 

As her business continues to grow, she’s realistic—and candid, of course—about her own limitations. “Living in Southern California is very beneficial,” she says. “I can’t swing a dead cat out here without hitting a greenhouse.” There’s no need, she tells me, to open her own greenhouse when there are more than enough sources, but she hopes to one day move out of the garage and into a dedicated warehouse. 

I have so many ideas, it’s like bees buzzing around in my head.

But space is just logistics. Sonja’s real aspirations are much more grand. “I want Snoop Dogg and I to have a gardening show together,” she says. “I’d call it Hoein’ with Snoop.” And who’s to say it’s unrealistic—she is, after all, a 50-something ex-finance professional who amassed more than 350k TikTok followers by talking plant life from her garage. “I have so many ideas,” she says. “It’s like bees buzzing around in my head.”

Feature Illustration by Islenia Mil



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