In March 2012, I decided it was time for Stupid Cancer, the nonprofit I co-founded, to move beyond CafePress and open our own online store. We had previously been offering a wide selection of t-shirts and other accessories, but the profits were small.
The store was launched on a wave of momentum from our corporate rebrand. Prior to 2011, Stupid Cancer was called I’m Too Young For This! Cancer Foundation. While it was a good name that served a purpose, it didn’t exactly pass the t-shirt test. After a year of dual branding, we were ready to embrace our new identity.
One of the initial challenges was deciding what, exactly, to sell. We didn’t have the budget to order a large assortment of items, nor did we have a clear grasp on which direction to head in first. We settled on a white t-shirt with simple design. We printed it on a Gildan 5000 (a heavy cotton t-shirt) and charged $20.
Prior to bringing the apparel creation in-house, we never really promoted it. The store was a button on our website and it produced a small monthly profit. Once we began rolling out new designs and expanding beyond t-shirts, we saw a trend of people buying multiple products in one checkout. We had decent traffic to the store along with a conversion rate of 6 percent, twice the industry standard.
The earliest validation that we were on to something came when we started seeing the shirts on Instagram. The watershed moment came when we noticed Instagram comments of “Where did you get that?”
As the months passed, we were able to look at buyer behavior, and reactions to promotions such as coupon codes or free shipping offers. We began to understand how to better serve our customers.
The business model of the Stupid Cancer store is that it exists to make profits. We need the money to help fund programs and overhead. On the customer side, we have a challenge and an opportunity.
The primary challenge is that the individuals who desire the apparel are often out of work or facing tough financial times linked to their cancer diagnosis. We see family and friends purchasing our apparel for their loved ones going through treatment. Oftentimes, when we post on social media, a survivor will tag someone and say, “Hey, I want this.” While that’s not necessarily unique to our space, it does influence our marketing strategy.
The biggest opportunity with the Stupid Cancer store — besides increasing the revenue — is the awareness component. Even if we break even or lose money on a sale, it’s still one more person walking around with our brand on.
The Stupid Cancer store has come a long way over the past three years. We’ve improved the quality of our products, migrated ecommerce platforms (from Volusion to Bigcommerce), and outsourced our fulfillment.
I look forward to sharing my ecommerce victories – and failures – here on Practical Ecommerce.