The little known feature in Google Analytics that can help when eCommerce conversion rates drop

Oh eCommerce conversion rate, you fickle beast. Why have you suddenly dropped?!?!?!?

Identifying why your eCommerce conversion rate has tanked is never easy, and to be frank almost impossible to pick exactly why.

There is one approach that I’ve only ever seen really smart eCommerce stores do, and it can be a life saver. It’s a little known feature in Google Analytics. It’s called “Annotaions”.

Google Analytics annotations allow you to leave a note about a changed made on a specific day in Google Analytics. You can look back and see what went wrong.

For example, if you changed the layout of your site on Tuesday the 18th of October, you can leave a note in GA. Then look at a conversion rate report and match up your annoation to around the date that conversions drop.

In GA go to Acquisition > All Traffic >(Any report, i.e. Source/Medium) Then pick a date range you want to add an annotation to > Then click the tiny little down arrow in the middle of your screen (Told you it was hidden)

It will reveal “+Create new annotation”

Pick the date you made a change and add in a detailed note.

Learn a new discipline

You’re going to have to get in the habit of keeping this updated, everytime you make a change to your eCommerce store. Then you can look back when your conversion rate drops and get better insight into why it may of dropped.

Tomorrow you will thank you.

Warning eCommerce conversion rate issue are very hard to diagnose, for more info on averages and other ways to fix it read this.

Expanding eCommerce product range? Think customers, not products

Don’t make the fatal mistake of focusing on the products you sell instead of who you sell them to.

You’ll end up stuck with a loads of stock you can’t sell instead of cash in the bank.

Devo

Ecommerce is associated with selling products, like Akubra hats. That makes it easy to focus on the product not the customer. Think about Bruce who wants to keep the sun off his head, flies our of his eyes and pull off that classic Aussie look.

Existing customers are easier to sell to (mainly via email marketing, which you’re doing right? course you are, you ain’t a total drongo.)

When expanding your product range, think what the customers you have want, not what is easy to make, buy or import.

For example, if you sell high end dinning room tables, it’s easy to want to expand the range to low end tables because the thinking is…

“We’re known for tables”

Actually…

“You’re known for high end tables”

Your existing customers, who are easier to sell to, expect high end products from you, not a competitor to a $10 Ikea table!

The next obvious product expansion would be high end chairs.

However you expand the product range, your existing customers should think “Oh, that makes sense”, not “What is this all about!”

And for gods sake, don’t try and be everything to everyone.

You’ll end up meaning not a lot to a few people.

How to find your eCommerce competitors’ bestsellers

There is a catch though.

They need to be on Shopify.

Just copy and paste this into your browser…

https://www.competitorswebsite.com.au/collections/all?sort_by=best-selling

And replace “www.competitorswebsite.com.au” with, you guessed it, your competitors domain name (aka home page)

Boom! List of your competitors best sellers.

How do I know if my competitor is using Shopify?

Great question.

Go to a product collection page on their website. A collection page is where a group of products is listed, normally in a grid fashion. For example on a fashion website, the T Shirt page is often a collection page (but not always).

Once on that page, look at the address bar in the browser. In the URL it will have /collections/ (which looks like this)

If you see that, then it’s a Shopify site.

Also most the time they leave “Powered by Shopify” in the footer!

Does this work on every Shopify store?

Unfortunately not. The bigger the store the less likely it is to work. The web developer will have locked down this page. For example, it doesn’t work on Allbirds website, which is a well known Shopify store.

Also if the store is using Shopify for the checkout, but another software like WordPress for the product pages (the geeks call that “headless”), then it won’t work either.

However it does tend to work on lots of smaller stores.

How can I find other eCommerce best sellers?

If the above hack doesn’t work for you, there are other ways to find out what customers in Australia want. I’ve written about how to find the best selling brands and products in Australia.

Is your eCommerce store too reliant on one source of visitors?

Oooooooh that wrappt feeling when you work out how to make sales from one marketing channel, like Insta, Google or Facey Ads.

You’ve found the magic formula and keep cranking it up, and more sales keep coming in.

BUT, what if you weren’t able to use that advertising anymore?

It happens ALL the time and you should be prepared for it.

It’s common for Facebook and Instagram accounts to get disabled by Facebook for literally no reason (Sometimes because the onions are to sexy).

Google regularly updates it’s organic ranking (SEO stuff) algorithm, which can cause big drops in your rankings and subsequent visitors.

Now imagine if your main source of visitors gets cut off suddenly.

Bad times.

Why diversify where your visitors come from?

If the worse does happen, then you need to have a backup, while you fix the issue.

At some point your eCommerce store will experience an issue that will stop some visitors coming to your site.

That means, your sales are very likely to drop off. Therefore you need to make sure you’re getting visitors from multiple marketing channels.

Ideally you want a mix of the following sources of visitors

  • Google Ads
  • Facey/Insta Ads
  • Google Organic (SEO)
  • Email Marketing
  • Industry specific channel (Award sites etc)
  • Affiliates

The percentage is different for each business and there is no magic formula.

However if your traffic is diversified then your eCommerce store will be more resilient to when an issue does arise (because an issue will happen at some point).

I’ve seen to many good eCommerce business go under by relying too heavily on one source of visitors. Don’t be one of those!

Can you buy an existing eCommerce business?

Yes!

I’m not talking about just an eCommerce website, but a trading business.

It’s by far the quickest way to get up and running if you don’t have a site or want to expand your business.

Setting up a new eCommerce business is risky. Finding a product, buying stock (don’t get me started on what a farse drop shipping is), setting up a website and finding customers.

You can reduce the risk by buying an existing eCommerce business.

Where do you buy existing eCommerce businesses?

The two main sites are…

1) Exchange by Shopify

Exchange is Shopify’s official marketplace for buying and selling Shopify stores.

The main advantage is all the visitors and revenue is verified by Shopify, meaning you have less chance of some drongo scamming you.

2) Flippa

A marketplace for all types of eCommerce (and none eCommerce) websites.

The advantage is there is greater access to more eCommerce businesses, but all results (sales etc) aren’t verified.

Should I offer Afterpay on my eCommerce store?

It’s all over the place, every site seems to offer Afterpay and us Aussies love using it.

However, there is a catch, a big catch.

Afterpay customers don’t pay interest (just late fees).

That means us, the eCommerce business, has to pay (Afterpay isn’t doing this out of the goodness of their heart!)

The fee varies, but it’s normally around 6% of the transaction.

Now 6% doesn’t seem massive. But that is 6% directly off your profit.

If your site is turning over $1,000,000AUD and your Net Profit (money left over after everything is paid for, but you still have to pay tax) is $150,000, then you add Afterpay, take 6% off that $150,000 profit to use Afterpay, which is $9,000.

That is $9,000 straight out of your pocket.

You can by a half decent car for $9,000!

You’d have to see a pretty good lift in sales to offset that cost.

When to use Afterpay

If your customers are very price sensitive, say looking for discount furniture, and money is tight, it makes sense to use Afterpay. It will most likely lift sales and justify the cost.

When not to use Afterpay

If you sell items at a low price, say $20 slaps.

Firstly it would look weird saying “4 easy payments of $5”.

Secondly if your products are all sub $30 then it’s likely your Gross Margins are low and taking 6% off that will smash your profit, leaving you feeling devo!

If you sell high end products.

Selling high end handbags for $1,000? Most people who can afford these won’t only buy from you if you have Afterpay. They might use it, but you’re giving away 6% of the profit on that transaction.

But all my competitors use it!

At the risk of sounding like your Mum…

“Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should”.

If you have a good justification to use Afterpay, then do.

Just be aware of the cost to you.

Is eCommerce profitable in Australia?

Oath!

(For the non Aussies, yes.)

However, as with any business it depends how you run it.

Remember an eCommerce store isn’t just a website. Your business needs to be set up in a way that allows you to make a profit.

(You know taking more money than it costs to sell stuff)

What profit margins can you make?

The term profit gets thrown around a lot. It has many different meanings, and can be before or after taxes and include other costs etc.

So lets define what profit is for an Australian based eCommerce business.

Our geeky accountant friends call it “Net Profit”. That is the money left after everything is paid for except for income or corporation tax.

I say income or corporation tax, because this depends on your businesses setup (sole trader, limited company, partnership etc).

Just to hammer home the point, Net Profit is profit left on paper (not cash in the bank, which is different) after all expenses are paid for.

In an eCommerce business, the main expenses are…

  • Paying for the product (Cost of Goods Sold COGS)
  • Getting the product to your warehouse
  • Advertising
  • Website fees
  • Staff
  • Delivery
  • Office/warehouse rent
  • Accountants and other “professional” fees

To name a few, but there are others, depending on your business.

Yeah, yeah, yeah we get it, what percentage can you make?

I’ve seen good eCommerce businesses consistently make a net profit of between 5% – 25% (And lots of badly run ones lose money).

For example, if the eCommerce business sells $1,000,000 AUD a year (It’s always AUD because Boom Ecommerce is about helping Aussie eCommerce businesses), then they are making a Net Profit of between $50,000 and $300,000 a year.

The (Net) Profit margin depends on your eCommerce setup.

Successful eCommerce businesses with high volume sales often make lower margins. For example, Amazon is all about growth and its net profit margin in 2019 was 3.6%.

But lets face it most people reading this aren’t Amazon (If you’re reading this, Hi Jeff).

Lower volume business can achieve high profit margins, this is where you see the 15% + profit margin businesses.

More on those types of businesses later in the post.

Ecommerce business types

Not all eCommerce business are the same. The profit and longevity of them often depends on the business model.

What is the point of making 40% profit margin for 2 months, when you can make 25% for 5 years!

If you’re all about the get rich quick scheme dream, you might as well stop reading now. We’re dealing with reality here, not Insta ads selling you the dream of a no work lots of cash business.

With that out of the way, lets look at some different eCommerce business models and the profit they can make.

Dropshipping – Bad

It sounds simple, all you do is find a product someone else has made (normally on Alibaba). Set up a website, run some ads, cross your fingers and hope you sell loads.

You’re aiming at high volume sales (if it’s high margin, everyone and their dog copies you. Then you end up competing on price which ends up in a race to the bottom on price).

If you’re lucky, after all your costs (mainly advertising) there is some money left. In most cases not because you’re dealing with 1%-9% profit margins.

Then you’ll have to deal with all the angry customers who have been waiting a month or more for the product they fell in love with on Insta because dropshipping delivery times are REALLY slow.

You may be sensing I’m not a fan of this type of eCommerce business? You’d be right, it’s not a sustainable business model, it’s get a rich quick scheme that works for less than 1% of people.

That in my humble opinion isn’t a business.

Great article here by Wired UK from a drop shipper on the reality of it.

Reselling – Better

You buy products from brands and resell it. For example, Footlocker is a reseller (mainly). They buy Nike and sell them.

The amount they make from each sale is less because Nike has to make a profit too. Foot Locker doesn’t have to to pay for all the advertising, Nike does that and creates the demand.

Although this eCommerce business model is vastly better than drop shipping and very common, you’re competing with other eCommerce businesses that sell the same product.

The challenge here is eCommerce businesses often resort to discounting to sell, which reduces your profit margins and profits.

Add to that, it’s easy for the product manufacturers to sell direct. Nike announced in Aug 2020 it was starting to shut down wholesale accounts. This shows a clear intention to cut out the resellers.

Not ideal, but all being well you can get 10% – 15% net profit margins.

$1,000,000 in sales $150,000 profit on top of what you have paid yourself (depending how you structure your business, there is always a “depends” with accounting!)

Direct To Consumer (DTC aka making and selling directly) – Best

Get it made, sell it directly online.

An example of this is All Birds. If you haven’t heard of them they make stylish, comfy and environmentally friendly shoes.

Then sell them gloably through their site.

Because they cut out the middle men, manufacturing brands (i.e. a Nike) and the retailer (i.e. a Foot Locker) they get their product for cheaper and control the price (very few other sell them, so less competing on price).

They do have to deal with the manufacturing, but that has become much easier these days.

These Direct To Consumer brands, if run well and aren’t spending everything on growing, can get sustainable profit margins of 15% – 25%.

Another poster child DTC eCommerce business is Gym Shark, which is a well built profitable business.

If you want to know more about Gym Shark there is a great review by Jason Andrews from SBO (Specialist eCommerce accountant in Brisbane).

Hello to you Direct To Consumer eCommerce business model!

Why is DTC (making and selling directly) the best eCommerce business model?

In summary of above…
(You read all of the above right?)

Better more sustainable Gross Margins which allow you to pay your other bills like staff rent and marketing and still have money left for profit.

Is Australia a good place to run an eCommerce business?

Yes, but it does have some challenges compared to other English speaking countries.

On the plus side

  • Less competition
    The population of Australian in 2020 is 26 million, which is significantly less than other English speaking countries, so the basic economics means there is less competition, lowering advertising costs and choice of products for customers.
  • Less savvy competitors compared to the US and UK
    When I first arrived in Australia in 2011 I was amazed at how little eCommerce activity was happening, especially from big retailers.

    Things have changed since then, but the competition here in Australia generally isn’t as savvy (don’t take that as slur, I love being an Aussie citizen). This means you can take inspiration from overseas and be one of the first people to do it here.

On the negative side

  • Population is smaller
    The pool of people we get to sell to is smaller, so if you just sell in Australia your growth will be limited. Not a bad thing but if you have a low margin product that you need to sell high volume of, you’ll need to expand overseas.
  • Delivery is difficult
    S’traya, she is a big old place. In fact, it’s roughly the size of Europe. This makes it difficult to delivery quickly and cheaply, which is key for eCommerce success.
  • Less people shop online
    The COVID pandemic in 2020 has changed this, but the percentage of online shoppers in Australia is still behind the UK and US.

Do I need a big eCommerce business to be profitable?

To the contrary, big eCommerce business can be very unprofitable.

Large eCommerce businesses have this strange fascination with growing really quickly (I think they get jealous of software businesses that can scale quickly).

To grow quickly they spend a lot on advertising which often means they lose money.

They justify this with saying we’re worth $X.XXX,XXX because someone bought 10% of our business that is losing money for $XXX,XXX.

Koala mattresses in 2018 was a very good example of that, they were losing money on revenue of $40m (AUD) See this AFR article.

How can I make sure my Aussie eCommerce business is profitable?

5 main areas you need to get right…

  1. Have a product that people want (Duh)
  2. Use the right technology for your needs (Your nephew can’t or won’t build it for free)
  3. Have a healthy gross profit margin
  4. Make sure target customers see it (promote it)
  5. Hold stock in Australia so you can deliver quickly (Customers don’t like waiting)

If you want to learn more about these 5 areas, sign up for the Boom No BS Ecommerce Tips.

Who you need on your eCommerce team

You can’t build a great Aussie eCommerce business without a little help.

But what type of team do you need?

Choose people who get your brand/product

Anyone who uses or has a genuine interest in your product will understand what customers want, because they are customers! This will help your eCommerce business serve customers better.

“Serving customers better” is often said, but rarely done. This will become your competitive advantage as eCommerce gets more and more competitive.

Ecommerce really clicked for me when I started working for Billabong. As a skateboarder and snowboarder, I was the target customer. This helped me apply my technical eCommerce knowledge to a brand I understood.

They can be based anywhere

Long gone are the days you could only work with people driving distance from the office. With remote working becoming the norm, you have the whole of Australia or wider to choose from.

Aren’t “Experts” expensive?

“Experts” tend to be technical experts, i.e. Facebook marketers. Too much importance is put on this.

You need experts on your customers who are good at solving problems.

They can learn Facebook marketing (plenty of good free courses out there) or good customer service.

What about overseas?

Like most things in life, it’s all how you do it.

We’ve all heard the horror stories, but it can work really well.

Need a specific technical skill like website coding and know exactly what you want? Someone overseas who is cheaper can be a good way to go.

However, you can’t expect a Philippino who has only lived in Manila to write a useful guide on where to walk a dog in Perth.

It’d be like me writing about the best dog walking locations in Russia. I’ve never been and don’t have a dog!

Do I need full time employees?

No, not for every position. You can have contractors for things like advertising, web development and quality assurance in the factories.

How do you expand eCommerce sales from S’traya to the US?

Ah the old good US of A. The home of fast food and over confidence.

They speak the same language as us Aussies, so surely we just turn on some Google Ads in the US and off we go?

Wrong.

Successfully expanding sales to the US is a big job.

You’re smart, so you’re selling products you stock meaning you can deliver quickly (because drop shipping is only for galahs who think they can get rich because someone on a Facey ad they said you could, and why would they lie?). Delivering quickly keeps customers happy and coming back.

Therefore to sell in the US you need stock there. Which means splitting the stock you hold here in Australia, which will limit your sale here.

Selling to 50 countries

Selling to US is like selling to 50 different countries. Each state has different import and tax rules. There is this really painful thing called Nexus, which basically means you collect the US equivalent of GST for each 50 states you sell in.

If you’re massive fan of paper work and bureaucracy then it’s right up you street. Otherwise, avoid untill you can.

Also there is 328,000,000 (thats million) people in the US. If you decide to launch Facey ads with a $1,000 budget for the month “to see how it goes” you’re going to be very disappointed.

That adspend isn’t going to go far, it will be spread too thin.

It will be about as effective as trying to put out a bush fire by pissing on it!

Are you ready to start selling in the US?

This is the real question you want to ask.

Have you maxed out all sales in Australia first? Has this generated a large pot of cash to buy more stock and run some big ad campaigns there to test if yanks want to buy from you?

If the answer is no, then I highly recommend you don’t start focusing on the US until you have done the above.

I’ve seen a lot of eCommerce businesses (very well known brands here) try and fail, because they under estimated the scale of the challenge.

Is your store suited to the US?

I often joke on Boom Ecommerce that yanks just want to teach Aussies to sell thigh masters via drop shipping.

Us Aussie are more genuine. After living in the US I saw first hand how different the culture is there and what buyers respond to.

For example, in most cases people in the US won’t care that it’s Aussie made, although that can work well here. You’re sales pitch often has to be over confident and loud.

Unless you have a uniquely Aussie product that yanks want, it’s basically like starting all over again.

Remember how hard that was setting up and find the sweet spot to grow you business here?

I’m not saying don’t do, but just realise what a huge undertaking it is selling in the US from Australia.

How to start selling in the US

Firstly you’ll need a US version of your site. Because the good old US have come up with their own version of English, it’s called English US.

In S’tray we use Commonwealth English or English UK.

Side note, when I lived in the US someone asked me where my accent was from, I said England (I grew up there), they then asked me where I learnt English!!!!!

If your website says your product “colour” is X, they will think you have typos. They spell it “color”.

US dates are month/day/year, not day/month/year.

Another side note, my birth is on the 16th of the month. I went to a bar, they ID’d me and said you have a fake ID, there is no 16th month!

As I said, the US is different to S’traya.

So you have a dedicated US site, with…

  • English US
  • US Dollars
  • Stock in the US
  • US brand propositions that appeal to them
  • Customer support that works US hours

Now you need to start running ads to get traffic. Pick a state that you have already made sales in organically (they just found you and somehow managed to order from you paying more for shipping than the actual product, you know the ones).

Limit your ad targeting to that state or city.

Make sure you do loads of remarketing as most people won’t of heard of you and will need some convincing.

Run it for 2 months and see what lands.

If you make sales, scale ad spend and expand other marketing.

If you don’t make significant sales you’ll need to find out why US consumers don’t want to buy from you. Which is literally the million dollar question, and never easy to answer.

How to forecast startup DTC eCommerce sales and costs?

You know what to sell, the site is being setup or you’re already trading.

But how much revenue will your Direct To Consumer (DTC) eCommerce brand do and what will your expenses be?

Excel is demanding answers, and your pulling more figures out of the air than Trump!

Sound familiar?

You’re not a lone. To make things worse it’s the most important thing you’ll do in your eCommerce business.

However, to create an accurate forecast you need previous sales data.

If you’re a start up, you don’t have that.

Bugger.

Start up DTC brands need to take a different approach to forecasting

Ideally you’d know your eCommerce conversion rate and how many visitors you can get with all your marketing activity (you have a marketing plan right, course you do).

However, until you start selling you won’t know these figures, and averages, in this case, are about as useful as a drunk bogan at an economics convention. Entertaining but ultimately a distraction.

Every site performs very differently.

You’ve told me all the things I can’t do, what is the answer?

All smart DTC eCommerce sites buy and hold stock so they have higher margins and quick delivery times.

If you’re drop shipping I suggest you pay an online guru who works from a hammock far to much money to help you and find out it doesn’t work. See you in 6 months.

Anyway, you have or need to commit to certain amount of stock. The more stock you buy the greater the opportunity for sales.

Buuuuuut the more stock you buy the greater the risk.

Time to put on the big girl/boy pants and commit some cash. Otherwise this thing will never work.

Take your stock cost amount (what you paid for it), lets just says it’s $10,000AUD (At Boom Ecommerce it’s always AUD, because we’re about helping Aussie Ecommerce stores).

Work out how much you plan to sell that stock for. Lets say your gross margin is 50% your retail value is $20,000AUD.

You can only sell the stock you have, so until you order more, your revenue will be $20,000AUD.

Now split that into months.

The amount of months will be depend on how aggressive your marketing is.

If your approach is “I’ll build my site and they will come”, then forecast those sales to be over 120 months or 10 years. Because unless you get so lucky that you should buy a lottery ticket, you won’t be selling much anytime soon.

Not sure where to advertise? Watch this Youtube video on “Where to advertise your eCommerce business in Australia” (That’s me in the video, hi Mum!).

Back to the forecasting.

You should now have sales by month for the stock you have, but what are your other major costs?

  • Advertising
  • Technology fees (Shopify, Xero etc)
  • Staff or warehouse fees
  • GST and other super fun taxes
  • Usual business costs

These will vary on your setup.

How much you spend on advertising will depend on your Gross Margin and how aggressive you want to be.

After 3 months of trading you’ll have some data to work with that will make for better forecasts.

If you’re not sure of any of the figures (start-up eCommerce costs or % of marketing spend to revenue) or terminology i.e. Gross Margin, how much you’ll need to get your DTC eCommerce business started, signup for the Boom Ecommerce Training course. It has everything you need to know.