15 episodes

Just as fast as the seasons can change from summer to fall, so can changes in the markets of an online merchant. It's because of these changes that everyday we are learning and growing to help you stay on the latest trends and information. Empowering merchants.

Actionable Insights Joseph Maxwell

    • Entrepreneurship
    • 5.0, 5 Ratings

Just as fast as the seasons can change from summer to fall, so can changes in the markets of an online merchant. It's because of these changes that everyday we are learning and growing to help you stay on the latest trends and information. Empowering merchants.

    Chubbies—a brand that connects

    Chubbies—a brand that connects


    Add-to-cart rate is an excellent means of tracking product effectiveness.An easy way to connect with customers is through live content.Consider a live content strategy to better connect with your customers.

    Meet Devon

    Ecommerce product manager at… Chubbies!If you haven’t heard of Chubbies, and you live in the US, you are in for a treat. This company is a different take on clothing. They started with men’s shorts and have branched out. But it’s how that makes the difference. And that’s what we are talking about today.Devon takes responsibility for much of Chubbies presentation on their website.

    Another clothing company? What’s the difference?

    The number of fashion brands online today is staggering. Everyone from Walmart to Amazon Basics to Levi’s to American Eagle to Neiman Marcus to Gucci sells apparel. If you’re in the market for men’s shorts, most of the above still applies (check out this pair of Gucci shorts for $950USD).

    The first question I posed to Devon was: what sets Chubbies apart from all others in the category?

    They are trendsetters. They brought back short shorts. As a result, they have become widely known and almost a household name. Even better, men’s “short shorts” are fairly synonymous with Chubbies. That’s a great place to be.They connect with their customers. Chubbies is social. Chubbies is visual. Chubbies is audible. Remember, people love to connect with online brands, and Chubbies has nailed it. This is part of Chubbies DNA, and it shows.

    What’s Chubbies thoughts on product line expansion?

    They started with men’s short shorts (including swim trunks and casual wear). They have expanded into outerwear, pull-overs, Hawaiian shirts (love it!), and even packable windbreakers that turn into fannypacks! All over Chubbies website is the idea of Friday at 5:00pm and weekend vibes.

    What’s the common thread that binds these together? It’s what their customers want. Chubbies deeply integrates customer feedback into their product development process. This sounds cliche, of course. But, it is made easier because they are their own audience. They live similar to their customers, so this is a very authentic brand.

    Devon said that while innovation is part of the budget, the important part is measuring to understand its effectiveness. And then, being willing to cut your losses if something doesn’t stand up to the test of time (and sales).

    Measuring product effectiveness

    I asked Devon what are his favorite metrics to determine how well a product is received by the Chubbies audience.

    Sell-through rate. How fast are you moving through product? This is especially helpful when segmenting by channel—which platform is resulting in the majority of sales?

    Add-to-cart rate. Many merchants track conversion rate, but few that I have seen track the add-to-cart rate. Here’s the fascinating point: tracking the add-to-cart rate means you trust your checkout process. In other words, the product’s performance is not muddied or enhanced based on what people think of the checkout. Instead, the add-to-cart rate indicates immediate impact of a product on a person. Does this resonate? If they add to the cart, and then don’t finalize the order, you could be looking at process improvements on the checkout page.

    If you take one thing away from this podcast, consider monitoring your add-to-cart rate.

    A different take on website navigation

    Note: I always recommend embracing the process behind optimization. Don’t take this section as what YOU need to do to improve your navigation. Rather, listen to how Devon and Chubbies arrived at this idea.

    The Chubbies online experience is quite similar to other websites, but with one exception—navigation.

    Notice that there is no mega-menu. Instead, Chubbies has embraced the “F” browsing

    This sofa is different. Find out why.

    This sofa is different. Find out why.


    Industry West sells furniture—online. Few furniture companies are digitally native, let alone bootstrapped.Photography is a critical tool to helping the customer understand what they are getting.Product descriptions are written by someone who lives and breathes furniture—and that’s obvious. Actually, the entire company is comprised of this type of person.

    Meet Ian Leslie

    CMO at Industry West (connect on LinkedIn and Twitter).Industry West is now 10 years old. However, they run the business like a startup.Ian does pretty much everything when it comes to marketing: digital marketing, owned media, working with the PR team (and the website fits in there too).You know what’s inspiring? It’s seeing your furniture in public. Industry West’s furniture is everywhere. Oh, and he gets to work with some really cool people every day.He’s guided the marketing arm of a company through a global pandemic (COVID-19, as we are all-to-familiar with). He did a great post about this on Medium. At the time of recording, Industry West was working with a group in Buffalo to make masks.

    What sets Industry West apart?

    In the furniture vertical, there are a literal bazillion brands. From manufacturers like Thomasville to retailers like Nebraska Furniture Mart all the way to the small-town furniture dealers, finding furniture is not a difficult task.

    Industry West is different. Yes, it sounds cliche to say. Most of the participants in this category are focused on brick and mortar. Industry West is digitally native and just recently opened a store in SoHo. They are one of the first (if not the first) in this category to start online.

    We are so meticulous about how pieces are presented to the customer.Ian Leslie

    Online furniture retailing is unique in that you have pay close attention to how products are presented. Photography takes center stage. Industry West has been meticulous showing products in a way that resonate with their customers.

    Industry West also carries a large selection of inventory. This means that they can fulfill rush orders faster. If a restaurant needs new chairs quickly—they won’t have to wait for weeks. Yet, this carries the problem that inventory is money (but not in the bank). This is possible because Industry West is bootstrapped. Those that take venture capital are beholden to the investors and investors usually want quick profitable turn-arounds. Inventory on the shelf is not liquidity.

    Industry West lives out a long-term vision for their company—and that is one reason they continue to see steady growth after 10 years in business.

    The founders, Jordan and Anne, curate the Industry West catalog. Each piece has an incredible story.

    It’s safe to agree that Industry West is different, so we are able to get an inside look as to how they approach marketing, their website and content development in a different way.

    May I introduce to you… the furniture:

    This furniture is for a specific segment of the market (we talked about this in Episode #10, regarding who is this product for?). Oftentimes, a number of furniture brands will co-exist under the same roof. Industry West has fortified their position with how the product is presented. They also describe the product in intricate detail: type of wood, finish, fabric, etc.

    It’s hard to understate how important the photography is.Ian Leslie

    They also work to get the pieces into their applicable context. This represents more money as locations need to be scouted, product shipped, photographers scheduled, etc. One thing that Industry West has been successful with is crowdsourcing pictures. This allows them to make use of the value that others are generating.

    This is why they launched a store in SoHo so that customers can come and touch and feel the product.

    How COVID-19 is affecting the furniture market.


    • 53 min
    Putting data behind your gut instinct's voice.

    Putting data behind your gut instinct's voice.


    Test big. But expect small successes.Verify all gut instincts with data.If you are asked to do a “dumb” test, do it. You might be wrong (or right). Either way, the company wins.

    Meet Guido

    Guido is a cognitive psychologist (please read the wiki article—you might want to become one yourself, it’s pretty neat!).He has spent years learning how people work with environments (ecom is an environment) and how environments affect people. With ecommerce, we need to ensure that our buyers know whey they are getting and they don’t get lost in the purchase process—this is a valuable set of skills.He has spent years applying this research to many merchant experiences.And he comes here today to share a few of his findings with you.

    “My gut says that we should…”

    I’m sure we’ve all worked with “that CEO” who runs his business according to his gut. Gut instinct isn’t all bad. But it’s demoralizing when this is the only means of decision making.

    Dilbert on March 30, 2014

    We all know that gut instinct is just that—it’s rooted somewhere deep in our being but often has little basis in reality (sometime it does, though!). When making a big decision, like a job change, this might be our only source of guidance. But, in online selling, we regularly have more sources of data.

    Gut instinct can provide the hypothesis for A/B tests. By just making decisions on this “source of truth from who-knows-where”, we can fall majorly short. We then see the data that proves our instinct wrong, but then have to massage it to ensure that it supports our beliefs.

    Guido makes a case that this idea you have should be the foundation for better understanding your customer’s behavior. As you are able to accommodate, the goal is that you become more profitable.

    He also suggests that A/B testing should not be simple color or textual changes. Why? There is nothing learned or gained that isn’t already known. A red “add to cart” button draws more attention, but if a customer is already looking to purchase, they will find the button. That goes without saying that the add to cart button must be readily visible (if it’s hidden or hard to find, then please fix that).

    Side note:

    The smallest, hardest to find checkout button.

    A cart button that is smaller than the Customer Account login (in the upper right corner) should be immediately fixed. No A/B test is needed here. I am working to preserve the privacy of this company, otherwise, I’d show the entire header so you can get a perspective of just how small this is.

    A/B test research

    Whether or not have a gut instinct directive, your next step is research (Guido mentions that this is quite boring).

    Google Analytics: hopefully you have enhanced ecommerce enabled. Are there products that have a higher bounce rate? What is the drop-off in your cart? In the checkout? What are people searching for? Where is the audience dropping off?HotJar/FullStory: what do people click on? How do they browse the website? Are they getting stuck in a particular part of the website? does it seem like they can’t find a product?User interviews: what is your moment of inspiration? What are your pain points on the website?Better yet, ask to talk with people in-person, and watch them use your website. You’ll quickly find where they get stuck.There are also agencies that will perform user studies.

    With this research, you should now have a list of improvements. Prioritize them. Go for the biggest fish first. But, don’t just run to an A/B test!

    Try to figure out several different ways to improve it.”Guido Jansen

    Don’t just stick with your first idea and run with this. Exercise yourself to come to multiple solutions.

    Expand beyond your customers.

    Be creative in locating those who have never purchased from you. For example, you coul

    • 38 min
    Back up and push

    Back up and push


    You’ll make it through this.Be creative.Be willing to make tough decisions.Focus on what is most important.Keep connecting with your customers.

    Meet Alida Sholl:

    Connect with Alida on LinkedIn.

    She is the director of operations at Rep Fitness. She is responsible for sales, customer service, account management and the entire tech stack. This covers pretty much all customer touchpoints, so this is a very important role for making happy customers at Rep Fitness.She has an incredibly diverse background: industrial engineering, process improvement and animal welfare. All of this has prepared her to take on the excitements and challenges of her current role.

    Meet Rep Fitness:

    Rep Fitness is NOT like Gold’s Gym equipment (the latter might break if you use it, the former won’t).Rep Fitness focuses on the home/garage gyms. The goal is to make functional fitness accessible for all. While not at the top of the price point, the product they offer is very durable.Rep Fitness strives to have excellent customer service. They want happy customers. As such, they support the customer through the entire sales cycle, including set up after the purchase. It is admirable that they help customers find the right product instead of the most profitable product.Alida points out that equipping a home gym is never complete. Very true, indeed. Keeping your customers happy through this process will ensure they keep coming back.Rep Fitness was started by two brothers—they bought a container of barbell weight plates, and everything went from there.

    Setting the stage.

    Rep Fitness is high growth. They are used to new challenges (maybe even enjoy the adrenaline dump from growing fast—just a little bit?).

    This episode will focus on adapting to challenges. Through this COVID-19 pandemic, many merchants have faced the challenge of less sales. Rep Fitness has had the opposite challenge—”too many” sales. As we look into this, you will see that the techniques for dealing with too many or too few sales are similar. It comes back to adapting and being willing to make really difficult decisions.

    For most online retailers, Black Friday is the big day of the year. If a sales record is to be set, it’s going to be on Black Friday.

    We as a team, are very scrappy and willing to just get in and make those quick decisions to keep us moving forward.Alida Sholl

    Rep Fitness has blown their Black Friday sales records for days and days through the lockdowns associated with COVID-19.

    Joseph wonders if this is like Black Friday on steroids (pun intended, possibly). Alida said its the “best steroids ever”.

    Getting into the challenging weeds.

    Rep Fitness has had to deal with unprecedented order volume. On the surface, this sounds like a dream—tons of orders coming in, all while lockdowns are forcing many other businesses into closure.

    However, Rep Fitness has had to come to grips with how this affects them:

    24-hour fast shipments—no longer possible.Order fulfillment process—completely rebuilt.Customer expectations—must be reset.

    Rep Fitness’s fulfillment team takes pride in getting all orders shipped on the same day. They go home knowing that they got their orders out quickly—and the customer will be all the happier.

    What are the goals we can set for today?Alida Sholl

    Alida’s team had to focus in on the here and now. They adapted from long-term to the short-term. While this sounds counter-intuitive, you do what you have to do. When a tsunami hits, you don’t focus on long-term business goals. You focus on today.

    If your business has lost the majority of its revenue, your adaptation is still the same. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Look at today. What can be cut? What can be promoted?

    Customers have quickly adapted to realizing that delays are inevitable. They are giving extra s

    • 26 min
    Your homepage is irrelevant.

    Your homepage is irrelevant.


    Roughly 20-30% of website visitors first visit your home page. Have you forgotten about the other 70-80% of landing pages?Establish a pipeline from your customer service department. Find out how people find your products and what they have to say about your offering.Take advantage of multiplying your content: written, video, images. This 3x’s the opportunity that someone will come across your brand.

    Meet Keenan Davis:

    Connect with him on LinkedIn.

    He has been in the digital marketing space for over 20 years. That’s back in the days of Yahoo! being “the star” search engine. And, you could use meta keywords to get to the top of that search engine (it was a big deal).Then, banner ads were all the rage… but Keenan got past that hype pretty quickly.

    The internet today is a young adult’s age.

    Especially when you compare it to newspapers (since 1690). Or when compared to the radio (since 1895). As such, it’s natural to see things come and go.

    Side note: my (Joseph’s) daughter and son have gone through a phase where they love to push a stroller on walks.

    Yes, there used to be Altavista, Lycos, MSN Search, Ask Jeeves(!), etc. Now, it’s pretty much Google. The rules of business hold true, and the one big market player is here. Bing is a distant second.

    What is actually a visitors first impression?

    If you look at your website’s analytics, you will probably see that the home page is the biggest entry point for traffic (often 20-30% of landing page traffic). But is that a visitor or potential prospect’s first impression of your brand?

    Keenan suggest that we dig a layer deeper. Instead of looking at the 20% as being the biggest landing page (and in need of the most optimization), we should instead work on the other 80% of pages.

    Your listing on Google, Bing or Yahoo is probably a more accurate representation of what the first impression really is.Keenan Davis

    If we marketers think of our entry point being a search engine, with the actual entry point to our website NOT being our homepage, we will see that our homepage is almost irrelevant. People are most likely to see our brand on Google, and then on a product page or an article.

    They are least likely to type in our website directly into the URL bar and proceed there. They only do that if they know our brand.

    Amazon is also key. If you are on Amazon, make sure your product pages have good, rich content. Make sure you use Amazon A+. Do your best to leverage reviews (see the end of this episode for a great idea).

    The second largest search engine is YouTube. That was news to me. Are you taking advantage of search traffic here? For example, you must have a solid video strategy. Share your story through videos. Validate your expert status on YouTube. Make that personal connection.

    The key is that they represent points of interaction before a visitor or prospects even lands on your website! When they do, it is likely not to be your home page.

    Take advantage of the rest of your website.

    Sadly, many corporations forget that they sell to consumers. They think they sell to themselves (if I, Joseph, could be so bold, many CEO’s are the most guilty here).

    Keenan recommends putting yourself in your customers shoes. How do you find your products? What are the keywords you search for? Where do you search for it? What results come up first?

    Talk to the customer service department. What questions do they field on a daily basis (we have talked about this in a number of episodes)?

    Also, utilize paid search. If you are listed in the top 10 on the first page of search results, you are doing very well organically. But, if you pay for ads, you will now have two listings on that first page of Google. In your ad, make sure you list your phone number and your value proposition: free shipping, great return policy, 45 da

    • 28 min
    Selling online is like living in a closet

    Selling online is like living in a closet


    Be consistent: call one customer every day.Be authentic: embrace who you are and publish that to the world.Continue the conversation through the customer journey.

    About Andrew:

    Worked on the Muppets show (the one from space).Ran his own agency in the early 2000s, then focused on marketing.Maybe his orange glasses came from his Magento work (just a little).Has an outstanding YouTube channel, Loyalty Loop. Please watch and subscribe.

    The challenge of online

    Joseph has enjoyed watching Andrew’s journey of finding a new bank (spoiler alert: it’s not been an easy process). It has been particularly interesting because so much of banking is done online. So, we jump into online vs offline (brick/mortar store).

    Andrew says that you walk into a physical store and you immediately see/know who this person is. You can ask them questions and quickly learn what they are looking for (ie, qualify them).

    Yet, being online is “like you’re sitting in a closet.”Andrew Davis

    He then proceeds to say something that likely sounds scary to any online retailer: you want the buying process to be self-selective. You want people to come to the website and say “this is not for me”.

    But here’s the big challenge: doesn’t every merchant want EVERYONE to like their products? After all, the more that like your products means the more sales we will get.

    Andrew puts it bluntly: “when you are for everyone…you do not stand out.” Take, for example, LingsCars.com:


    We would all scream, “THAT IS A HORRID, UGLY, DESPICABLE WEBSITE. THEY WON’T SELL ANYTHING.” And, then, we run away from it. However, LingsCars.com is incredibly successful at leasing cars (they are the 3rd largest lessor of cars in the UK). Why?

    It looks different. It’s not like any other car leasing website.It communicates low budget—and for their target audience, this is exactly what they want to communicate. In other words, if they were to redesign with a fancy, clean design, their leasing agreements may fall as they no longer cater to their audience.

    “If you have an e-commerce platform and follow all the best practices, you are doing a great job of just blending in. You are like every like mall in America.”Andrew Davis

    Lean into your audience. Embrace them and their values. Make it an authentic part of you.

    How do I know what resonates with my customers?

    Pick up the phone, every. single. day. and call a customer.

    (as the CEO speaking here) “I wanted to call and thank you for ordering with XYZ Toilet Paper companies. I know this is in massive shortage right now. I know you have plenty of options, but you chose to buy through us. Could I ask what inspired you to purchase from us?“

    Or, you can learn more about them and their preferences by asking something like this: “As a side note, are you a fan of Post Malone? No? Who are your favorite artists?”

    What inspired you to purchase from us?

    Andrew feels that this is one of the most important questions you can ask a customer. It brings out the story of why they are now here. Why did they just purchase from you?

    Read the story of how a famous fan company came to their name (warning: possible language alert).

    You need to be ok with this possibly offending some people. Your “target audience” might shrink a little. But, your real, true core audience will become more loyal and love your brand, more.

    Empathic copy makes a difference

    FYI, that’s jargon for “put words on your website that resonate.” When you are coming up with product descriptions, share the story of how this will affect life once this is purchased.

    Andrew uses the example of goofy product catalogs he used to get 20 years ago (before Amazon made the catalog irrelevant… wait, quality catalogs are still very relevant). He compares the fa

    • 37 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
5 Ratings

5 Ratings

Luke S.P ,

Informative and Engaging

Joseph’s passion for making YOU a better merchant shines through in each podcast. The information that he has learned and talks about is priceless. The real life examples that Joseph includes help me to relate to my own circumstances and glean from someone else’s success and failures. This podcast is worth your time. Thank you, Joseph, for the time you put into making each of us more equipped for our role as merchants! I’m always looking forward to the next podcast!

mountain mover 17 ,


The title says it all. Fantastic content from a great guy!

Bob100565 ,


Good stuff. It’s not pie in the sky wishful thinking but rather real stuff I can apply and use. Thanks.

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