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For the past decade, Mike Jackness has been busy building something special. With an ever-expanding group of amazing ecommerce companies under his belt, many would be quick to call him ecommerce obsessed.
This, we quickly found upon talking to him, was in fact the case. More so, as he openly admitted with a laugh that yes, it was fair to call him obsessed.
With his laser focus on accruing ecommerce companies, Mike is one of the best voices in the industry about ecommerce brands.
As a Co-Founder of a blog & podcast dedicated to ecommerce brands, Mike was more than happy to indulge us with questions about the best, and worst, brand practices seen with modern ecommerce companies.
Discussing ecommerce brands
Mike, what made you decide to launch these different sites?
Mike Jackness: Since getting into ecommerce in 2012 when we purchased treadmill.com as a parked domain and developed it as an ecommerce property, I just can’t get enough. Since then we’ve purchased or started six other ecommerce sites. We’ve also sold a couple of them at this point and the exits have been for a life-changing sum.
EcomCrew is a blog & podcast for other ecommerce brands. Can you tell us a bit more about the work you do with the podcast, and its goals for brands? How has the scope of the show changed over the years?
Mike Jackness: I started EcomCrew in 2015 after joining another ecommerce community called eCommerceFuel. People in the community were really impressed with what I was up to, and I realized that there was an opportunity to spread the message of what we were up to via a blog & podcast about ecommerce.
The premise was to launch a podcast that was raw and unfiltered—most other podcasts only talked about the rosy stuff and made it sound like ecommerce was super easy. They also didn’t talk about their brands or individual products that they sold, which made them come off as full of hot air. We’re over 400 episodes into this project now and the scope really hasn’t changed, believe it or not. We just keep doing what “we” do.
Common ecommerce mistakes & what to learn from them
With experience, comes the luxury of hindsight. Established businesses and veteran merchants will often look back to their early years and understand where they went wrong and what they could have done better.
However, there are universal mistakes a commerce merchant can make—whether a business is just starting up or they’re trying to adapt to new trends.
With so much diverse experience, we questioned Mike about the most common ecommerce mistakes, what he suggests as resolutions, and what any new ecommerce merchant would be wise to remember.
If you could go back to when you started in retail and ecommerce and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be? Is that advice different from what you’d give to someone just starting out in the industry today?
Mike Jackness: Yeah, for sure. I learned the hard way that selling big, heavy pieces of equipment via drop shipping sucks. You are competing against all sorts of other retailers, including big box stores and the manufacturers themselves. They hold you to MAP pricing, while others continuously ignore that.
You also have to deal with other issues, like them not actually having the product in stock after you’ve taken a $2,000 order, or all sorts of other delivery nightmares. Starting your own brand, with your own products is the way to go. It took me three years to learn this lesson, and I wish I could go back and get those three years back!
What is one mistake that you see a lot of ecommerce brands making? On the flip side, what’s one best practice you wish more brands were doing?
Mike Jackness: One of the biggest mistakes I see ecommerce companies making all the time is not knowing their numbers. Listen, accounting sucks. None of us like it. But, you have to do it. You have to do it right, and you should be doing it right from day one. Not knowing your numbers can cost you thousands of dollars, or more—way more.
You could also find yourself in a situation at the end of a long road where you thought you were making money, but actually losing money. Bottom line, go find a bookkeeper and make sure you have clear numbers within 15 days of closing a month.
How COVID-19 and iOS 15 impact ecommerce
No discussion with ecommerce experts can avoid the topic of COVID-19 for long. The worldwide pandemic provoked essentially the same reaction from companies—both large and small. Smaller merchants rushed to get online, while larger merchants focused on growing their digital channels.
As we brought this topic up with Mike, he illuminated us with some unique insight. As someone who handles both an array of companies as well as an ecommerce blog & podcast, Mike found himself impacted by COVID in a variety of different ways.
How did COVID affect your different sites at Terran? Did it impact the content on EcomCrew?
Mike Jackness: COVID has been a train wreck for every ecommerce company. Most companies fell into one of two buckets. Either customers didn’t need their products anymore during Covid—think travel brands or a brand selling signs for conventions. Or, their sales went up so quickly they simply couldn’t keep up—think home gyms or other stay-at-home hobbies. Terran’s brands were a mixed bag. We had two big winners and two big losers. Luckily for us, it pretty much evened out and as a result, we ended up in a better spot than most.
EcomCrew on the other hand has been a big beneficiary of this mess. Everyone is thinking about ecommerce now and there are a lot of people who lost their jobs who have jumped into the Amazon FBA space.
On a different note, over the past few years, there have been quite a few changes to digital channels in the name of privacy. At Omnisend, we’re focused on iOS 15 at the moment, which will remove open rate tracking for Apple Mail clients. What are your thoughts on the iOS 15 update and the impact on open rates? Are there any other metrics you think might be at-risk in the future?
Mike Jackness: I agree with some of these privacy changes and other parts of it are really frustrating. Removing open rate tracking just seems dumb to me. As a seasoned email marketer, I feel like I create a better experience for people on my list by knowing if they opened or not. If I see open rates dropping, I make better content. If I see them increase, I send more of that type of content. If I see someone not opening 20 of my emails in a row, I stop emailing them all together to just leave them alone.
One thing is for sure. I think every data point is on the table at this point in the name of privacy. The good news is that every marketer will be on the same level playing field, and we will adapt to this, just like every other curveball in the past.
Future-proofing your marketing strategy
Finally, we looked towards the future. Current problems like COVID and the iOS 15 will naturally take up most of our attention, but it’s vital to think about how to future-proof marketing strategies.
To get Mike’s take on the topic, we looked at the pros and cons of remaining reactive to changes, as well as alternatives for staying ahead of the curve.
What would you advise merchants to do to future-proof their marketing strategies?
Mike Jackness: To me, there are a couple of pretty solid strategies right now. First, develop relationships with influencers. These relationships are direct and trump all the big data companies like Facebook, Apple, or Google pulling a fast one on you. We’ve had great luck developing relationships with hundreds of influencers, and I’m glad we put in the hard work to do that.
Second, I think you have to be nimble. One of my favorite books is called “Who Moved My Cheese?” It talks about how people get complacent and just keep going back to the same well—or block of cheese. The cheese is moving, or rather, the cheese has moved. Those who adapt the quickest will be the biggest winners.
One of the greatest takeaways from Mike’s insights is the importance of adaptability. Whether your industry is beset by challenges like COVID or your business is trying to stand out from the competition, it’s vital to know when you need to make a change.
Adapting to changes in the industry, the market, or even your own company can save you time, money, and potentially from closing your business entirely. With this in mind, it’s clear that any business, from large to small, can benefit from thinking about how they can change from time to time. After all, you don’t need to wait for something as earth-shaking as the iOS 15 update to change things up.