Let Me Tell You a Story
I was traveling and had a layover, so I headed toward the airport food court. I passed three or four restaurant kiosks – a hot dog place, Mexican food, an Arby’s. The employees looked bored. I stopped at the hot dog stand first and was informed that there was a ten-minute wait for hot dogs. It seems that they forgot to turn on the roller-wheel-hot-dog-cooker contraction.
How do you do that? Seems to me if you are in the sole business of selling hot dogs – “hot” being one of the operative words – that turning on the machine that makes them “hot” would be sort of automatic. But it was very clear that the employees were not overly concerned about the lack of sellable product.
The staff at the Mexican restaurant seemed equally disengaged. The front counter person at Arby’s was pre-occupied with the monitor that displays the orders and how long it took to get it in the customer’s hands. I noticed that this particular employee was apparently assigned the important task of “tap the button WAY before you give the meal to the customer.” Obviously, he was gaming the clock to achieve some automated metric passed down from corporate.
Then came the guy selling slices of pizza. He said hello as I walked up. He asked me what my favorite kind of pizza was. I asked him what was the best he had and he told me his favorites. I liked his attitude, so I ordered two slices. He warmed them up for me and served them with a smile.
This is not “just” a story of good customer service. This guy wasn’t faking. He liked pizza, he liked working, and he liked people. It’s that last part that really won me over. I can smell a faker a mile off. This guy was authentic.
What Authentic eCommerce Is
We live in an age where everything is marketed as “authentic.” Quite honestly, I’ve had my fill of “old-school artisan hand-crafted” marketing spin. Don’t get me wrong … I love a good sales pitch. But when you eventually discover that “Ye ‘Ol Grandad’s Antiquarian Purveyor of Organic non-GMO Bespoke Almond Company” is run by a Harvard MBA with a nut allergy, the idea starts to lose its luster.
Another True Story
I love coffee. Really … my passion for the perfect espresso shot borders on the obsessive. I walked into what looked like a quaint, mom-and-pop coffee shop and was presented with an array of cleverly-named and beautifully packaged beans. When I asked the clerk what her favorite blend was for making espresso, I was informed that she didn’t like coffee and she added – with the unpleasant air of pseudo-superiority – “I drink tea.”
At least she didn’t try to fake it.
Who Are You (as an online merchant)?
Several years ago, Saturday Night Live had a bit where David Spade played the part of a flight attendant who said nice things, but said them in a condescending and passive-aggressive way. After he had dealt nastily with a series of passengers, each would be dismissed with a terse “B’bye.”
That skit worked because if you had ever done any flying on commercial airlines, you had met a few of these surly flight attendants. You just can’t fake it. Either you’re a people-person or you’re not. If you’re not naturally kind and empathic, saying kind and empathetic things sounds snarky no matter how hard to try, and you’re probably building up some internal stresses to boot.
Here’s The Thing
Ever have a friend tell you all about how much they hate their job and want to quit? People have their reasons for staying jobs like that. Sometimes the reasons are good ones, but more often than not, the reasons are bad ones. A lot of us have started eCommerce stores to build a future where we can get away from jobs like that. But sometimes it seems like people build businesses for themselves that they don’t really like in order to get away from jobs they don’t like.
Running a business is hard enough. Whatever you’re selling, you are going to be around that product all the time. And you are (hopefully) going to be serving a lot of customers. You are going to be taking photos, writing product descriptions, and delivering customer service. If you are taking full advantage of the tools and opportunities that online retail offers, you are also going to be writing blog posts and using social media to showcase images and interact with interested folks.
So, just imagine how much harder all of that is if you are “faking” your way through it. You will have a much better life if you like the products you are selling and the people you are serving. It will allow you to take a little pleasure in your work even on the crappy days. You will like the process of work as much as – if not more than – any amount of financial “success” that comes along with it.
It’s just that simple.
A Bit Of Patience Is Probably The Key
Whatever you dreamed life would be like after you started your own eCommerce store, it’s probably a bit different in reality. That’s OK. General Dwight Eisenhauer famously said, “Plans are worthless, planning is everything.” He meant that the process of thinking and strategizing and organizing was vital, but that once a plan was implemented changes would ALWAYS need to be made. Your business is the same way.
But if your goal was to achieve an arbitrary definition of “wealth” by selling gourmet herbal teas, when that “wealth” doesn’t arrive as fast as you planned, it can be tempting to add coffees, smoothie mixes, and a bunch of other stuff to your product lines because you saw someone else making a buck in that market. But if you do not like coffee, how are you even going to understand what good coffee is, what makes it a good value, or why bean terroir (growing climate and soil) matter? And are you even going to be happy doing it, or will you feel a little bit of resentment every time you get a coffee order? And what will all those smoothie mix products do for your tea-themed company brand?
Brand Is As Brand Does
Here’s where I have to be a little careful because – as an entrepreneur – you NEED to be flexible and experimental. But you also need to focus. It’s the entrepreneurial enigma. Experimenting with new products and services can be a really good thing that helps your business grow. But if are running “MotherEarthEnviroProducts.com” but – during the holiday shopping season – you add a bunch of virgin plastic fidget spinners because they are hot sellers … well, you might get a few extra bucks in revenue on Cyber Monday, but your regular customers will feel a little betrayed in the process.
You’re going to hurt your brand in a meaningful way.
And if you are a micro-business – like 90% of the Shopify and BigCommerce stores out there – and you truly believe that folks should purchase environmentally aware products, then you are going to feel like a little bit of a sell-out at the same time. So really, in this situation, nobody wins.
But if you are in the business of selling Sci-Fi themed merchandise, then you can sell both the “Woven Hemp Vulcan Mind-Meld Bean-Bag” AND the “Methane-Powered Battlestar Galactica Plastic Bottle-Rocket.” Make sense?
By the way, I think that both of those products would totally sell.
I’m reminded of another Saturday Night Live skit starring Mike Meyers. The character ran a store called, “All Things Scottish” and their motto was, “If it’s not Scottish … IT’S CRAP!” Then one day he is joined by his son who wants to modernize and appeal to more customers, so they change the name of the business to, “All Things Scottish … And Pizza.”
Yes, as the entrepreneur you have the huge burden of finding great products that will sell to your client-base, negotiating a good price, getting inventory, posting it all to your online store, and then marketing like a crazy-person. All I am saying is that you can’t afford to lose yourself in the process. In the long run, it’s better keep your day-job a bit longer as you build a solid, authentic business brand with a loyal community of customers using consistency, great service, hard work, and patience.
Your customers will notice.
Thanks for reading!
Saturday Night Live images credit NBC and SNL.com - fair editorial use.