Practical Ecommerce

Lessons Learned: 877MyJuicer.com Changes Platforms, and Evolves

“Lessons Learned” is an occasional series in which we ask ecommerce business owners to share their experiences, good and bad. For this installment, we visited with Andrew Casey, founder and CEO of 877MyJuicer.com, a Del Mar, Calif.-based seller of juicers and other health-related and kitchen products.

877myjuicer.com home page.

Casey is a serial entrepreneur. He started his first business in high school and sold it in college. Four years later, in 2004, he started selling juicers on eBay, and that business evolved into 877MyJuicer.com, with the goal of enabling healthy lifestyles. Fast forward to 2010 and the company records gross revenue of over $1 million, and sells products on its own ecommerce site, as well as on eBay and Amazon. The company carries inventory and, also, drop ships selected products.

Like most entrepreneurs, Casey has faced a few challenges and learned some valuable lessons along the way, including how to adapt to change. When he’s not running 877MyJuicer.com, he consults with other ecommerce merchants. He shares many of his ecommerce experiences with us below.

Platforms

Andrew Casey

Andrew Casey

“We have been through a total of four platform changes in the last six years. We started with osCommerce in the very beginning. It was a cheap [i.e., open source] and an easy way to get started. We quickly grew out of this, as we needed a good way to organize sales from all of our sales channels, such as eBay, Amazon and direct from the site. We then moved to Zoovy, a hosted platform that offered all of the goodies, which helped us tremendously, as our business doubled.

“We then realized that we needed to make customizations to the core code. Many hosted platforms aren’t able to be customized since it would change the way the system would work for the thousands of other clients. We went to a local developer who was able to get us closer to that dream; we were on that platform for a year. Finally, our fourth was Magento. Hopefully this is a solution that will grow with us for the next five years or so.

“After going through tons of different platforms and choices we finally chose Magento because of its highly flexible platform, which will allow us to do anything we can dream up. Another major factor in choosing this platform was that we knew if a developer we hired wasn’t living up to their commitments, there were plenty of others chomping at the bit to work with us. We are now never tied to one development team, which gives us a lot of power. There are definitely challenges with Magento, but I am bullish that fixes will continue to come out. I absolutely love the fact that it is open source and is being tweaked by thousands of passionate people.

“My suggestion to those who are considering a platform change is to really search out previous clients and ask them about how their development team did, including the good, bad and ugly. Don’t just take the referrals that they give you. Try and scout out others that have used them by doing a quick Google search. It will save you a lot of heartache.”

Order Management

“One of the biggest headaches of any platform is being able to tie all of your vendors together into an easily managed backend. If you are drop shipping, it’s crucial to get all the pieces of the order directed to the right vendors, all while letting customers have the visibility they want throughout the process. We were fortunate enough to stumble upon one of the best developers I have ever worked with, Boris Gurvich from Unirgy. He helped us with an incredibly robust extension that would handle our multiple vendors, allowing the vendor itself to manage each order within our system and use our central UPS account.

“At the end of the day, customers don’t care what is going on in the background or how complicated it is, they just want their tracking numbers in their email.”

ListenListen to Andrew Casey discuss his early interest in computers, and his launching of 877MyJuicer.com.

Marketing

“Many of our pay-per-click campaigns that once converted incredibly well were no longer making dollars and cents this year, and had to be cut out. We manage our pay-per-click campaigns in-house, and we’re now much more careful in the testing phase, pulling a keyword or an ad if it’s not performing. We keep tabs on it.

“We used to outsource our PPC management, but the quality just wasn’t there. Nobody knows your product better than you and your team. In niche specialty sites like ours, it’s more crucial that you have people (including customer service reps) that know exactly what they are talking about. I imagine that, for more general products, a third party, outsourced shop would work well, though.

“We stopped our email newsletter last year; shame on us. This is something that did work decently well for us. But our human bandwidth was tapped.

“We used to be heavy in the shopping networks, such as BizRate, Shopping.com, and NexTag. When we were competing solely on price (in the beginning), it worked very well for us. However, as we began to protect our margins, those avenues didn’t work nearly as well. We then began using Google AdWords.

“Our big investment is SEO right now. Our SEO management is a 50/50 split of in-house and outsourced. We use certain firms for some of the more mundane pieces that are involved in SEO.”

Social Media

“We are not currently active in social media. We were about four years ago in the MySpace days; but I think we were a little early. However, it is on our roadmap and I am quite bullish on its long term potential.”

Conversion

“We have been working with buySAFE [the provider of safe-shopping products] for around five years. We were beta testers of the buySAFE bonding program. It has helped our conversions.”

Operating in Tough Economic Times

“These economic times have been a blessing in disguise. It has made us look more closely at the more frivolous things that we were spending money on and also look for new ways of cutting costs or just finding more affordable alternatives for services like phone, data backup, and feed management. Once America starts kicking into gear, we will have already improved the bottom line. If you use a third party logistics center, ask if you can use its UPS/FedEx account and take advantage of its bulk rates.”

Customer Service

“From day one, customer service was one of my biggest concerns and one of our biggest selling points. On day one, we had 24/7 telephone ordering available. We have had to change companies that provide this service several times to manage our expenses. Making those test calls consistently is an important step in making sure your partners are doing their job. Providing proper training of call center staffs is something many companies will overlook.

“We have always made a point of responding to customer inquiries or problems with an average resolution time of 12 hours. At the end of the day, some type of verbiage about ‘excelling in customer service’ should be in your mission statement. It makes a difference and can turn a customer into a free advertisement to their friends. If an order involves a drop shipper and an error occurs, we act first and let the customer know we will take care of it, and work out a solution with the drop shipper afterwards. There’s no lag time allowed.”

Biggest Mistakes

“One of the biggest mistakes involved platform changes. Going ‘the cheapest’ route is definitely not always the right way and can end up costing you a lot more in the long run. We used a few different vendors (from data entry to overseas developers) to handle our platform changes and my ‘nickel and dime’ mentality ultimately did not serve us well. Research your vendors and developers thoroughly. Don’t spend frivolously; but also don’t be a cheapskate.

“Our second biggest mistake was adding too many products. Yes, more is not always better. We are still working to take down products that just confuse the customer instead of presenting them with a few solid choices We started with a handful of niche products and expanded quickly to over 1,200 products.”

“Our third mistake was resting on our laurels. We experienced some serious growth from 2004 to 2009 and began to take some of it for granted. We figured ‘Hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ That’s the wrong attitude. It’s easy to say you will never think that way (I never thought I would), but it can happen. In ecommerce, things change daily and you have to keep up with it daily and continue to adapt.”

Willingness to Change

“Some of the best decisions are the hardest decisions. One of the most painful things, in my opinion, that an ecommerce owner goes through is a platform change, and we have done it many times. That being said, when you know you have outgrown your existing platform, or the one you moved to isn’t the right fit or wasn’t what you were expecting, you have to bite the bullet. Pay the expense, prepare for problems and many sleepless nights. It’s well worth it in the end to find the right fit, because it will lead to a better experience to the customer, and to your bottom line.”

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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Comments ( 6 )

  1. frb August 4, 2010 Reply

    I was quite concerned as I was reading about the frequent platform changes, thinking "Where did they end up." I can see my concerns are not unfounded. I can understand why Magento looks, feels, and smells great, but as a developer who has spent time dealing with Magento, all I can say is that I truly hope it pans out for you. The problem is that Magento’s inner workings are horribly bloated, the community edition alone has over 449,000 lines of code in it. It’s not that the development aren’t capable of what they do – its that they had too many cooks in the kitchen and ended up with a bloated mess. From a developer’s standpoint it simply is not feasible to extend for client needs. From a designer standpoint, it harbors probably the most complex templating engine in existence – using layers upon layers to segment and emulate some sort of layout functionality. Now, your development provider probably won’t let on to any issues, but I can safely say when the next uprgrade goes through, that provider will be putting a TON of time into keeping things running smoothly. Hopefully your provider has the resource and operating capital to support the package, but if they are a smaller provider, I would be seriously concerned about their ability to support you over time for reasonable cost. It all goes back to the complexity issues.

    Consider for a second point that Varien took funding in March. I know – not uncommon for companies to take investment for projects, but if Magento is so hugely popular, and an enterprise-level package is over $13,000 PER YEAR, why are they in need of funding? Shouldn’t support and premium package revenue leave them with a healthy bottom line? They took a staggering $22.5 million in investment money to go and find themselves. I like to think of it as a junket to solvency-land, or some other land they’ll never get to without a fundamental shift in philosophy. If the package was truly doing well, the pricing and client list they boast would be enough to propel them into market stardom. As it stands, they’re bailing water slower than its sinking the barge.

    My advice to you as a Magento refugee… Take the time to read this article and the resulting onslaught of comments supporting the arguments. Andrew, YOU NEED to do this as painful as it might be. It gives you probably the most honest account of how flawed it is. http://bit.ly/7q91Tj

    If you need further information, let me know. I hope that your bottom line somehow remains in-tact in the meantime.

    Fred

  2. Andrew August 5, 2010 Reply

    Hey Fred,

    Andrew here – I can definitely appreciate the feedback regarding Magento. I would have to agree with you that the code is, in fact, bloated and quite a bear to work with. I know a decent amount of coding myself and had some issues figuring out basic tweaks.

    That being said, it has been a very good solution for us so far. It is most definitely not the right solution for everyone though. Larger shops that expect a ton of concurrent user-sessions or massive order volumes should be aware that they may run into problems with performance.

    Overall – I am bullish on Magento pulling it together and coming out with a much more lean product, and it would appear the VC’s are as well.

    We did have to go through some hard times finding the right hosting environment since Magento is such a resource hog, and also time leaning up our own code (as you said, the template structure is pretty hairy).

    Of course, we had maaaannnnnyyy other problems with other platforms (as you can tell from the article!) :-) So in my opinion the grass can always be greener somewhere else. I have resolved to the fact that there is no one ‘perfect’ platform for us, or anybody for that matter. It is about what can get you through the next handful of years based on your companies goals, budget, and current requirements.

    Totally agree with you on most of your points though! Everyone really needs to do their homework on all the platforms out there before choosing one….for sure.

    There is actually a really good thread on LinkedIn about people’s issues/solutions on Magento…however, this was started 7 months ago and much has changed…but for those who are deciding on pursuing Magento [this is a great resource for how to handle hosting environments as well.](http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&discussionID=11067190&gid=146360&commentID=12554680&trk=view_disc)

    -Andrew

  3. frb August 6, 2010 Reply

    Hi Andrew,

    Great to have a response from you directly! Your candor is refreshing… Usually the other side of the coin in this discussion is "Its the best ever" or something else that glosses over the true reality. You may be right that they will make great strides towards something that works better, though there is no talk of it yet. My biggest gripe with Magento really comes from the lack of participation from Varien in the community they wanted to build. They seemed to think of the beta test community as something of a one-way resource where they could save tons of time on debugging issues with little or no reciprocation and support for all of the people like me who spent so much time trying to participate and help. I was one of their most fervent supporters back then, and spent a good amount of time talking directly with Roy & Moshe (lead dev) about various issues, even getting into a bit of a foray with Roy at one point about the lack of support. Sadly, it fell on dead ears.

    Obviously we share a passion about ecommerce, I like that, and I like that you didn’t read into my comments as personal attacks on your business, they certainly weren’t intended to be. One thing I think we could easily discuss more is this one point you state:

    >"I have resolved to the fact that there is no one ‘perfect’ platform for us, or anybody for that matter."

    The one thing I’ll say about that is you are right -but only because you are a victim of circumstance – the packages have always been designed as implementations, not frameworks, and because of that, they always present limitations in terms of usage. If you have some time to talk, skype me – fred.bliss because I have a few further things that I don’t have time to tell you here regarding that particular issue.

    All the best,

    Fred

  4. Mr127500 August 25, 2010 Reply

    Hey Andrew thanks for the insight.

    I am actually new to ecommerce specifically and oddly enough experienced a lot of the same problems you did and only recently ended up on Magento which although it has been "interesting" getting it all together I am confident it will be scalable to the point i need so its good to hear you feel the same way. Still have a lot to learn for sure.

    Some strange similarities here, also a San Diego boy and also in health and nutritional field, we should get out and surf sometime.

    Thanks again,

    Mat

  5. Patrick Sullivan Jr. August 26, 2010 Reply

    Andrew, I really appreciate your insights and the candid exchange between you and FRB.

    I’ve been wondering this: Where is the MailChimp of eCommerce & Order Management / Fulfillment? Does anyone know? Because I sure can’t find it!

  6. Andrew August 30, 2010 Reply

    @Mat – most definitely! I just emailed you back…

    @Patrick – If you are on Magento check out the reference to Boris at Unirgy in the article. He has been an incredible asset! There is always Stone Edge (www.stoneedge.com) that can integrate with many different platforms should you be on something else. Check it out!

    @frb – Fred – have been out of town for some time now but would love to chat! I’ll get on Skype in the next few days and find you.