Simple Stories Are The Thing

We liked the advice, tone and tenor of a Shopify post about e-commerce stories and how to tell them so much we’ve copied it here and wrote comments to amplify their easy to understand “climb the storytelling ladder” approach.

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Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?

The inspiration for our initial product came out of nowhere. We were on a boat, and my mom, and her friend commented that a fish we saw moving through the water looked like a sneaker. When we got to shore, she hand-painted a few white canvas shoes to mimic the colors of the fish. Those first shoes looked cool, but we didn’t really envision pursuing a whole business around them until we looked around and noticed that nearly everyone on the beach was wearing black or brown flip-flops. We saw an opportunity to interject some color and fun into the vacation shoe market.

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Creation stories are CSFs (Critical Success Factors). Creation stories, like Shopify’s example of being on a boat noticing a flip-flop revolution, was happening, create authenticity, romance, and charm. We suggest our customers read two books to help with their “About page” copy – Simon Sinek’s Start with Why and the Heath Brothers’ Made To Stick.

Sinek’s WHY helps define a site. company and brand Unique Brad Proposition (sometimes called a Unique Selling Proposition). The Heath brothers explain how to write for the web and how to introduce NEW memes, ideas, and products, so it is easy to share, stick and support.

We had this prototype of a hand-painted shoe, and we took it around to everyone we knew until we started getting introduced to suppliers. Our first real samples were made with a cobbler here in San Francisco. Having those samples helped us get in the door with an overseas factory who was able to produce enough shoes for us to start selling online.

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The “prototype” story begins the transition from romantic beginnings to a practical product. We like to be OVERLY precise. Being particular about details such as who that first cobbler was, how many samples they created and the name of the manufacturer builds legitimacy and trust. Your NEW brand is also sloughing off the support other brands may have earned. When you transition from the romance of the lightening bolt moment into prototype development you can’t be too specific.

The more intimate and “secret” details you share the better and if your share helps the cobbler more the better. Sharing is the web’s currency and so arguably the currency powering the “sharing economy”, so share and show. We would have included a picture of the cobbler shop, first prototypes and the logo of the first major manufacturer.

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How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?

Our first sales came via word of mouth. Since we had been working on the concept for a while, there was some demand for the products right when we launched. From there we started building out our blog and Facebook presence, which started to get us momentum. But, over the long-term, our biggest sales successes have been almost entirely due to press and bloggers. Our product is unique in the way it looks and we’ve always been willing to send out free samples to writers/bloggers/influencers. That has made a big difference. Getting covered in both online and offline media outlets really drives traffic and ultimately sales.

We opened a pop-up shop this summer which has been our best sales outlet this summer. Our wholesale business has steadily grown since we started, but right now our best channels are online and our pop-up.

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We like how Shopify is taking web teams through a ladder of simple questions. If you aren’t comfortable writing following Shopify’s ladder will help you write a meaningful “About” page. Here again, we would tell our clients to be more accurate in places such as:

  • “working on the concept” share how long you worked on the concept
  • “some demand” we prefer 100 friends and friends of friends tried our prototypes and loved them providing valuable feedback instead of the more general open ended statement
  • “Press” and “bloggers” here again BE SPECIFIC and, if the list is too long to share here use a few leaders as examples with a link to where a reader can find ALL mentions since NEW brands need to use legitimacy gained by mentions from established brands or bloggers with following
  • Same is true fo the “always sending to influencers” statement, but here I would have a form so other new influencers could apply to receive samples
  • “big difference” I like to quantify words like “big” with numbers, you don’t need to share secret sauce or your P&L but saying influencers increased sales 10x is more accurate without sharing anything you don’t want to be shared
  • Same is true for “online and offline” media – use archetypes and a link to see all
  • Same goes for the pop-up shop paragraph – where was it opened, where is the picture (great place to use a customer’s Instagram picture of the shop), and what does “best” mean
  • The “best” modifier added to all that offline / online information is confusing because “best” wasn’t clearly defined with % – so saying something like the pop-up shop’s sales were 15% on the web during the summer is more precise and so less confusing

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Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?

We’ve been using ShipStation since we launched to handle all of our shipments – wholesale, online, samples, international. We also use Shopify’s QuickBooks Online integration, which makes running the accounting side painless and easy. The other app we really like is Delighted; it automates the process for collecting customer feedback and knowing your Net Promoter Score. It takes almost zero work to set up and manage and it is a great way to understand what customers are thinking and saying about your products.

We still handle all fulfillment and shipping internally. Early on I think it’s important to do some of that in-house since it gives you a sense of what you’re going to be asking for down the line. Also, handling fulfillment allows us to talk to our customers whenever they have an issue or need to exchange for a different size. Being able to communicate directly with the people who are buying and interested in your product is really invaluable.

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There are parts of YOUR story you want OTHERS to tell. I would have a quote from ShiipStation here to support the, “growing like a weed” subtext. “Yeah, we love to see come in since they keep our team busy, and Susan made sure everyone in the company had flip-flops last summer,” with attribution, Tom Jones, COO ShipStation and a picture.We like sharing resources, but I don’t like confusing About copy. One quote from the main provider tells a

We like sharing resources, but I don’t like confusing About copy. One quote from the main supplier shows a story, a list of “apps” feels more like a “Resources” page. In About copy, we would suggest using an archetype such as ShipStation with a link out to a Resources page to share the others mentioned by Shopify.

Your About copy tells MORE than your story. Your About page tells the story of YOU and does so in OVERT and COVERT ways. We think this copy violates Shopify’s own “keep it simple” rule, but we do agree sharing resources adds to legitimacy and so trustworthiness. We would move the list of things off the page onto another and tell one story here to teast the link.

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What are your top recommendations for new store owners?

One of the main things we’ve learned is to keep things as simple as possible. In the beginning it’s better to do one or two things really well than many things poorly. Part of that is finding places where you can leverage tools and software to free up time to focus on growing the business.


“Simple” is often used to mean “less”. A site’s About copy should be infused with romance, joy, and truth. Details provide the measuring stick between rookies and pros. Shares separate pros from those destined to make millions online. Sharing details, links and love produce more things to share and so on to infinity.

We love Shopify’s “climb the ladder, tell a story” formula since anyone can understand it. We would augment with points we made about details, sharing and those two books (Start with Why and Made To Stick).

We promise to write another post on how to use your About copy throughout your website because About copy is like money – you can never use it enough, and every use helps make money by increasing trust, legitimacy and the “like me” relationship any online merchant wants to create with visitors and customers.


One tool Shopify’s team should be using and a tool we won’t publish online without is Grammarly. When we fired Grammarly at this post it had a number of great suggestions to tighten up Shopify’s writing. We left their content as we found it, but you should be using this great, inexpensive and helpful writing tool.

Postscript #2
As we shared this post on G+ another thought came along. We write about 1,000 words a day because we know how hard it is to tell great stories when we don’t practice, practice and practice some more. We publish a lot too seemingly violating our 90% curate and 10% create recommendation for content marketing. Our ratio is probably more like 60% curation to 40% creation.

We violate our own recommendation for two reasons. First we know the strange lightning in a bottle serendipity of viral content. You never know when it will hit or what post will trigger. We’ve had several “off the cuff” posts go “mega-viral”. We define “mega-viral” as shares with audiences above 300,000 (give or take). Planning viral pickup is impossible no matter what someone tries to sell you.

The other reason we transgress our rule is the need to practice, practice and practice some more. We want to write a book one day. Writing a book is on our “Bucket List”, and so was riding a bicycle across America. Martin’s Ride To Cure Cancer in the summer of 2010 removed the bicycle ride from our list and we are aiming at the “write a book” list item now.

As we shared, we do like Shopify’s simple process. Ask questions, answer then and before you know it a coherent story is on your About page. Our nit picking doesn’t mean Shopify’s post won’t be a huge help to many “new to online commerce” merchants and that readership is their stock in trade. So read their post, use their process and be sure to add more details.

Rock on! Marty

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