How Do You Use Amazon as a Sales Channel…Even When You Don’t Want To?

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John Merris is the President and CEO of Solo Stove, a company that specializes in ultra-efficient wood-burning camp stoves, fire pits, and grills. John and his team at Solo Stove design simple, ingenious outdoor products to help customers create good moments that become lasting memories.

Prior to Solo Stove, John worked at a number of product companies in senior financial, operational, and business development roles. He is an expert in sales, revenue acceleration, change management, and product development.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • John Merris shares how the idea for Solo Stove first came about and the company’s unique ability to bring people together
  • The difference between selling through e-commerce versus physical retail stores
  • John explains how Solo Stove positions itself on Amazon using branded search, rich content, and more 
  • John’s process for creating a positive unboxing experience for Solo Stove customers
  • The unexpected lessons John has learned while selling on the Amazon marketplace
  • How to maintain consistent brand messaging across different channels and retailers
  • John’s strategies for ensuring that customers feel safe and comfortable when buying through an e-commerce platform
  • John shares his thoughts on the recent interest in acquiring private label brands on Amazon

In this episode…

One of the reasons many e-commerce brand owners refuse to join Amazon is to avoid hurting their brand. However, according to John Merris, there are some tried-and-true strategies for selling on the marketplace that will protect your brand both on and off of Amazon.

As John says, one of these methods is providing a great—and consistent—experience to both Amazon and non-Amazon customers. This means that important elements of your brand, such as pricing, messaging, and unboxing, should remain the same on every channel. By putting the customer experience first every time, you can successfully boost the credibility, revenue, and reach of your brand. 

In this week’s episode of the Buy Box Experts podcast, John Merris, the President and CEO of Solo Stove, joins James Thomson to talk about the strategies brands can use to protect themselves when selling both on and off of Amazon. John explains how his brand positions itself on the Amazon marketplace, what he does to ensure consistent messaging across different channels, and his future plans for Solo Stove. Stay tuned.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

Buy Box Experts applies decades of e-commerce experience to successfully manage their clients’ marketplace accounts. The Buy Box account managers specialize in combining an understanding of their clients’ business fundamentals and their in-depth expertise in the Amazon Marketplace. 

The team works with marketplace technicians using a system of processes, proprietary software, and extensive channel experience to ensure your Amazon presence captures the opportunity in the marketplace–not only producing greater revenue and profits but also reducing or eliminating your business’ workload. 

Buy Box Experts prides itself on being one of the few agencies with an SMB (small to medium-sized business) division and an Enterprise division. Buy Box does not commingle clients among divisions as each has unique needs and requirements for proper account management. 

Learn more about Buy Box Experts at BuyBoxExperts.com.

Podcast Episode Transcripts:

Disclaimer: Transcripts were generated automatically and may contain inaccuracies and errors.


Intro  0:09  

Welcome to the Buy Box Experts podcast we bring to light the unique opportunities brands face in today’s e commerce world.

James Thomson  0:18  

Hi, I’m James Thomson, one of the hosts of the Buy Box Experts podcast. I’m a partner with Buy Box Experts and the former business head of selling on the Amazon team at Amazon, as well as Amazon’s first account manager for the Fulfillment by Amazon program. I’m also also the co-author of a couple of books on Amazon, including the recent book, Controlling Your Brand in the Age of Amazon. Today’s episode is brought to you by Buy Box Experts. Buy Box Experts takes ambitious brands and makes them unbeatable. When you hire Buy Box Experts you receive the strategy optimization and marketing performance to succeed on Amazon. Go to buyboxexperts.com to learn more. Before I introduce our guests today, I want to send a big shout out to the team at Disruptive Advertising. For off Amazon advertising, Disruptive Advertising offers the highest level of service in the digital marketing industry, focusing on driving traffic, converting traffic, and enterprise analytics. Disruptive helps their clients increase their bottom line month after month. Check out disruptiveadvertising.com to learn more. Our guest today on the podcast is John Merris, President and CEO of Solo Stove, a company that specializes in ultra efficient wood burning stoves and fire pits. Prior to Solo Stove, John worked at a number of product companies in senior financial, operational and business development roles. John, welcome. And thank you for joining us today on the Buy Box Experts podcast. 

John Merris  1:43

Thanks, James, glad to be here. 

James Thomson  1:45 

A couple weeks ago, John, I had the experience of seeing your Solo Stove in action when a neighbor of mine bought one and filled it up with wood from a fallen tree. In no time many of my masked neighbors came out of their homes, and we’re all drawn to the Solo Stove. It’s quite unusual to be running a product company that inherently brings people together. Tell me more about why you decided the Solo Stove was a product that needed to be launched.

John Merris  2:11  

Yeah, to experience a Solo Stove is to really understand it. I the first time that I I really came to know the product I I remember hearing the I’m not one of the founders. So I was I was interacting with two of the founders and and they were telling me about this amazing fire and I’m going fires kind of been around for a long time guys like a long time. I don’t know how good this this could really be or how different this could really be. And then and then I took one home and experienced it and had, it sounds like a very similar experience to the one you had a couple of weeks ago. There’s just something quite beautiful about the engineering of the product. It was designed with really an over engine engineering mentality. The airflow technology in the stove is such that it actually collects oxygen and feeds the fire from the bottom instead of just the top, which creates a much more efficient burn. And it heats so well that the smoke combusts, and so you end up with a nearly smokeless flame. So instead of playing musical chairs and sitting around, or kind of figuring out which way the winds blowing, you can sit around for hours and then go inside and climb into bed and not smell like smoke or have your sheets smell like smoke. So kind of a cool experience. But it was really by happenstance, that Solo Stove really came to be in the beginning 10 years ago, when we launched the company, it was a small ultralight backpacking stove. Okay, and the goal was to boil water and under 10 minutes with with twigs and leaves. And so how do we create a really hot fire in a really small confined space with just fuel that you can find out in the wilderness, so you’re not having to pack fuel in with you, and do that consistently over and over and over again, in a product that’s not going to deteriorate? And so we launched the Solo Stove, which is what it was at the time? No, no, instead of having, you know, fire pits down the line and bigger versions of the camping stove. And and fast forward. And we started getting customer feedback. And we ended up launching a larger stove and then a larger one that eventually got into the backyard into the camping or the firepit space. And that’s kind of the product that you just described that you experienced. So it’s it’s grown and evolved over time. But it really started with that idea of an ultralight backpacking stove that would boil water in under 10 minutes. And

James Thomson  4:28  

that that makes a lot more sense. Because it’s not the sort of product the big version is not the sort of product that I would see someone just saying, Let’s build a company that does this. I can see this we actually realized that it was a

John Merris  4:39  

terrible idea. But our customers are telling us to make it so we did for their benefit.

James Thomson  4:45  

So on your company website, you call out your corporate mantra of create good. What does that ultimately mean and how does it play out in your organization today?

John Merris  4:55  

Yeah, we have this this this product, as you mentioned earlier, that allows people to gather And connect around around the fire around food, whether it’s the camping stove, or the fire pits. And for us, there’s something inherently good about making human connection. And we happen to live in a day and age where, you know, electronics and distractions have kind of overtaken our lives. And so we take a ton of pride and making a product that allows people to kind of set that stuff aside for a second. And whether it’s individually connecting with nature, or with a pet, or getting together with friends and family around the fire and making human connection. We think that there’s something just beautiful and inherently good about that, and, and about this idea of taking those good moments, as we like to call them, and lead them to lasting memories. So you hear a sale all the time, create good moments that lead to lasting memories. And that’s that’s kind of what self esteem is all about.

James Thomson  5:55  

So your product today is sold on Amazon, it’s sold on your own website, it’s sold in physical retail. What do you think about with regards to selling into retail stores versus ecommerce channels? How do you differentiate what that’s going to mean for your brand and the types of customers you’re going to pursue?

John Merris  6:19  

From the beginning, ecommerce was what we loved. In fact, we loved e commerce, before we even had the Solo Stove product, it was it was e commerce that our founders were drawn to. And then they went about the product development process to find a product that fit well into that channel. And they love the outdoors. And so naturally, they ended up kind of in the category that we’re in. But we were always from the beginning focused on e commerce. And that included, of course, even in the in the 2010 2011 timeframe included an Amazon strategy, because Amazon was online selling, or at least they were they were starting to pioneer that space. And so as we think about it moving forward, retail will always play a role with our business, brick and mortar and physical stores. But we are by far and large focused on e commerce. And the reason is because we love direct contact with our customers. And, and this will lead a little bit farther into into some of the later discussions that we’re going to have about Amazon. But because of this passion, that we have to interact with the customer to get immediate feedback from the customer to listen to the customer and let their voice steer the direction of our products and the direction of our company, we ultimately are drawn towards channels that allow us to have that interaction more. And so there are other channels like brick and mortar retail, where there’s a kind of a middleman between us and the customer or Amazon where there’s a middleman between us and the customer that we still find very strategic for our business overall. And we actually have found ways to make that work really well for us. But we’ll always steer towards that direct interaction with the customer. Because we love We love to hear what they have to say.

James Thomson  8:08  

So when you’re building a product, online, this aspect of how do you build a brand? And how do you get people to engage with the brand, not just the product, but with the brand? How do you think about that? Certainly is a you know, as a middleman on Amazon, on your own website, there is not that middleman. What can you do to build a brand in different types of channels?

John Merris  8:31  

Yeah, so I think the first thing is, is honestly just taking a step back and deciding what do you really do too often, when I interact with somebody and I asked them, you know, what do you guys do as a brand, they immediately say something like, if I were Solo Stove, I still firepits or I sell camping stoves, when in reality, what we sell our experiences, we sell the ability for people to create good moments that lead to lasting memories. And I think that turning that dial on, it seems like such a cliche thing to say, and I think it seems like something so obvious. And yet most people don’t get there. They might even say it in a podcast setting like this when they’re interviewed because it sounds really flowery. But then when they go to executing in their business, their mentality is sell more fire pits or sell more gadgets or gadgets or whatever it is that they’re doing. When in reality if you just take a step back and don’t just kind of talk the talk, but really walk the walk around what your mission is. That’s how you build true brand loyalty and brand equity in the marketplace for Solo. So that’s exactly been our focus. When we’re doing our day in and day out meetings when we’re having our marketing strategy meetings and we’re talking about what promotions we’re going to run we’re not talking about selling product, we’re talking about selling experiences, how do we get more people creating good moments around a fire and then that ultimately leads to growth and it leads to brand equity, but it’s not It’s not by sitting around talking about selling product. And I think that’s a big mistake a lot of brands make.

James Thomson  10:05  

And when we talk about the Amazon channel, that’s really a transactional marketplace where consumers come and they do unbranded search. They look at a bunch of products. And they say that one looks good. Okay, I’m going to buy that after I click on the product listing. And I say, Yeah, that looks reasonable. And obviously, that that type of transactional nature changes the way in which you have to position your brand on an Amazon versus, say, your own shopping cart. How do you think about what is good enough for an Amazon? versus what is the enriched experience that you can create on your own website?

John Merris  10:42  

Yeah, so for Solo Stove, about 60% of our business is, is word of mouth. So I can believe it’s apparently legally around fires together, right? So there’s something kind of cool about that. Yeah, we don’t normally do it by yourself. I mean, generally, every now and then there’s a loner that grabs the beer by himself throughout the fire, but it’s not common. And even if they start that way, as you mentioned, the neighbors start coming out and the family starts coming out and going, Hey, there’s a fire, it seems right to just sit around this thing. So we have that going for our brand, which is which has been pretty exciting. For us, Amazon, we treat for better or worse, a little bit differently than than, than the way you kind of thought about it in your head. We actually don’t do unbranded search and Amazon, we’ve stayed away from it, when somebody is looking for a firepit, we don’t go for that customer. That’s not somebody that we’re looking for. But when somebody has experienced Solo Stove with a neighbor, or with a friend or with a family member, but they prefer to shop on Amazon, because they’re just conditioned to go to Amazon to search, and they look for Solo Stove, we want to make sure that they come away from Amazon with a Solo Stove. So our mentality and strategy around Amazon is actually more focused around branded search. And and making sure that customers that prefer that channel are able to find us and transact, it goes back to our brand, which is focused around giving people time back as well. So we talked about creating good and doing good. And part of good for us internally is that time is a precious commodity, we can’t buy it, no matter how much money you have the one commodity in life you cannot buy is time. So if we can give back to our customer, that’s the greatest good that we can do as a customer or as a brand. And so customer service, unpacking our product, using our product, making it as stress free and as easy as possible. Those are all the things we think about because they give time back to the customer. And then the same applies from that from that mentality to Amazon for us. If we can make it super fast and easy for you to get a Solo Stove through Amazon as you could through salesforce.com or Rei or one of our brick and mortar partners. We’re going to do that. So that’s kind of our mentality. Again, for better or worse. We certainly could probably sell more on Amazon. But our strategy has been more to deliver the product where the customer wants it.

James Thomson  13:09  

Our agency works with brands primarily to help them sell more on Amazon. And when I was saying this unbranded search, it’s not that we want to play in the unbranded search space. But about 70% of all product search on Amazon is unbranded and so inherently, if you don’t have a particularly strong brand name, then you need to play in the unbranded space or to get any level of visibility. And quite frankly, you also have an rather differentiated product. If you’re selling vitamins, there’s 5000 guys that sell vitamin C in a bottle. That’s not the same thing in your category. But I do want to talk about the experience of as a consumer when I go on your Amazon product listings. There’s a very, very rich experience there. There’s high quality content, high quality video, there’s bullet points that are very rich with detail. You’ve got enhanced brand content that spells out all sorts of experiential aspects. And there’s a lot that went into building that experience and helping customers answer their questions. And tell me more about that journey of getting to the point where you’ve got something that you think works when it comes to providing content and answers to questions that consumers inherently are going to have when they shop on Amazon.

John Merris  14:25  

Yeah, it’s kind of twofold. That the two two points that I’ll make around the way that we approach Amazon and why and why you’ve experienced or see what you see when you go to the Solo store on Amazon. The first one is just related in general to this kind of unbranded search or unbranded content that that’s happening on Amazon. Right. So to your point 70% of the traffic or the searches happening on Amazon are not branded search. It’s like a search engine like Google, right? Just never through a marketplace and We wanted to create it’s not that we don’t want to earn any unbranded content or unbranded search or unbranded customers that are that don’t really know about Solo Stove yet. There’s a lot of people that are on the fringe, they might put in something like smokeless fire pit or a fire pit or something more generic like that. When I talked about our strategy, just a few minutes ago, I was more talking about our paid strategy on Amazon. From an organic standpoint, we’ve put tremendous effort into taking people that are maybe on the fringe that aren’t familiar with the Solo Stove brand yet, or maybe they’ve experienced telesto, but they don’t know the name. Okay, that happens. Often they sit around the stove, and they go, what’s that? Oh, yeah, I sat around this beautiful stainless steel, smokeless fire pit. Yeah. And they go into Amazon, and they type in beautiful stainless steel, smokeless firepit. Well, you know, we’re not the only game in town. And there’s, there’s other products out there. And so then how do you get your brand to be the one that they end up finding. And the way you do that is through really rich content. And so this goes back to, you know, having good keywords in your descriptors, your good bullet points, good videos, so that people can educate themselves, as you mentioned, and really find themselves tying what it is that they were looking for to your brand. And that’s that’s kind of point number one with our content. Point. Number two is, I mentioned this earlier, it’s way more important to us, that people understand that we’re selling experiences, the ability to get out, I feel like I compete more against theme parks than I do other firepit companies I’m trying to buy, I’m trying to get dollars from you for what you might spend to go to Disney or to go to Six Flags and have a great experience with your family, then I am another fire pit company. And so this rich content that you talked about that almost feels like it’s sucking you into the experience. And it’s really intended to do that. So that you can almost feel like you’re having that experience or your your desire that experience enough to go ahead and transact. So those are really the two strategies around our Amazon store and our Amazon content that have gone into why we’ve invested so much in the content and so much time into both visual and textual content on Amazon. What can

James Thomson  17:14  

you do on your own website that you can’t otherwise do on Amazon

John Merris  17:21  

we can talk to the customer directly with more intentionally. So there’s ways now with Amazon, they’re getting a little bit better at kind of letting you find ways to interact, especially post purchase. But on the on the website versus Amazon, what we find is the ability to interact with the customer so we can capture information from the customer faster, even pre purchase so we can get phone numbers, we can get emails, we can throw them into the flows. And then that ultimately allows us to create that experience either better enhance the experience, or do it faster than we can through Amazon. That’s probably the main thing that that we think about as we think about the differentiation between the two.

James Thomson  18:03  

Take me through the planning and skill and data that goes into creating an open box experience for your product. As you talked about, when a consumer first interacts with that physical product arriving on their doorstep. There’s a lot going on when you open that box and take take me through that and how did you get to the point that you were find that

John Merris  18:26  

Yeah, so we had this this this internal mission statement related to to the packaging side of the business that was a box to burn in five minutes. So we we would we had this meant this idea like didn’t know if it was possible maybe it was far fetched, but it was like that box arrives on the doorstep the customer sees it box to burn and five minutes, like how do we deliver that and, you know, a lot of it had to do with how assembled as the product when it comes out of the box. And so we you know, one of our first rules was like no bolts, like no bolts, no screws, no washers, like no parts, okay, you got to pull the thing out and it’s got to be ready to go. And so fully assembled was a big deal for us. And so and even the manual itself, you’ll notice when you unbox our, our our product, it’s a one pager, it’s a PDF, single sided PDF. And so there’s literally four steps and it’s like remove from box take out of the plastic flip over the flame ring put in your starters and wood and light and you’re done. Like that’s it.

James Thomson  19:35  

There’s this little line that says burn the packaging. So if you have to return it you don’t have any packaging to return with.

John Merris  19:43  

Although we have no problem sending people to new people new new packaging, but no I’m of course

James Thomson  19:48  

I’m joking. It’s unlike most most products from that perspective. It this concept of Let me start enjoying this as fast as I can versus sometime this weekend when I have time. I’ll get the wrench out. And I’ll get myself to a point where maybe I can be enjoying this with my family, you’ve cut all that out, as you say, Get to the point where you can enjoy things very, very quickly.

John Merris  20:09  

We love like people will wait, I just was reading a review yesterday where a guy I mean, it was Thursday yesterday, right? And a guy’s like, you know, I was, I knew it was coming, I had the tracking email, and it arrived, and I was fully thinking, like, this weekend, we’re gonna crack it open, right, and I just couldn’t help myself. And I found myself out three hours, you know, having to go to work the next morning. And that’s exactly the type of experience that we hope our customers are having with the product.

James Thomson  20:38  

Let’s go back to Amazon. I want to hear from you. Over the years that you’ve been selling on Amazon, what have you learned that was unexpected? About the amazon customer about the experience of selling on Amazon? When you think of Amazon relative to your own website? What What good, bad ugly Have you had to deal with with the Amazon channel?

John Merris  21:00  

Oh, gosh, there’s been so many learnings. The founders, A long time ago, early on, in, in our, in the evolution of our brand, we’re approached by Amazon probably by you and your former role. And we’re offered an a tremendous amount of money to, to buy a huge stock of Solo Stove product. And, and have it sold, you know, 1P versus 3p on Amazon. It was like five times what they had sold total in the company at the time was what they were offered. And they could have taken it and made a lot of money in the moment short term. Yep. And one of the brothers really wanted to. And one of the brothers, there are two founders, there were brothers, one of them was adamant that it would destroy their business. And fortunately, the one brother that was adamant it would destroy their business one out and they declined the the offer. And they they proceeded to continue to sell on Amazon as they had been as a three piece seller and continued to grow their brand organically on their own website. That was in 2013, when the company was just a few years old. That was a big learning, I think that if I were to give advice to brands out there that are that are kind of thinking about their approach. If you have any long term aspirations for your brand, or your product, you can’t sell out early. If you do you see I won’t say that it’s impossible to rebound. But I’ll say that you’re making it 10 times harder for yourself because you lose control. And Amazon’s going to sell your product for whatever they can in order to maximize the output of the platform. And that’s not necessarily going to be what’s best for your brand, it’s going to be best for the consumer, which is ultimately what Amazon believes is best for Amazon is what’s best for the consumer. And so the brands kind of get left by the wayside often. That was a big learning for us. On the positive side of Amazon, I think that that coming out of that experience, as well, Amazon, for us has always been a necessary evil. One thing that we are still learning and I think we’re getting better and better at is not being afraid of great growth on the Amazon platform as the rest of our business grows. So there is really healthy growth to be had on Amazon. And it can be done the right way without diminishing or hurting your brand. And there are just some key what I would say key principles to follow when selling on Amazon, that allow you to to protect your brand outside of Amazon, but still grow substantially within the Amazon platform. And some of those include things like making sure that you’re delivering the same customer experience to your Amazon customers as you are to the rest of your customers. That’s one that I think brands sometimes are like, it’s Amazon, like Amazon will handle it or, you know, it’s Amazon and I really just care about the customers on my site because that’s just gonna hurt the Amazon brand. The reality is, is that people start associating the product, the brand that’s on the product to their experience. And so it doesn’t matter if they bought it on Amazon or in a retail store on your on your site. They’re expecting to have a great experience. And we we started especially about a year and a half or two years ago to making sure that we were just as good to our customers on Amazon and other channels as we are to customers on our site. Pricing is also a really key factor pricing strategy on the way that you think about selling on Amazon. You obviously still need to be profitable, or try to be as profitable selling through the Amazon platform as you do through other channels. But thinking about how you’re pricing when you’re pricing, how the pricing on Amazon relates to when you’re running certain promotions off site, so that things are not super discombobulated in your brand. Yeah. Because again, customers know now that you’re controlling, or at least in most instances, you’re controlling for Solo Stove. We’re controlling what’s happening on Amazon. And we’re, and we’re controlling what’s happening on our store. So when things don’t sync up very well, customers are calling Solo Stove’s customer service line saying like, why is it this price on Amazon, and is this price on your store, or whatever. And so we’ve tried to create a consistent experience for customers.

James Thomson  25:46  

When we talk about this consistent experience, we have worked with far too many brands who wake up one day and discover that they’re Amazon catalogue is ultimately being managed by random third party sellers, branding looks terrible. Consumers come along and end up with a very different experience learning about the brand on Amazon versus learning about it anywhere else. And that lack of consistency definitely creates wealth challenges and maintaining brand promises. And so getting brands to take that that task seriously. And create consistent, accurate up to date, messaging on all sites, that that’s that’s hard for brands to get their head around. And yet, for many products, the consumer is going to end up going all over the web before they finally make their purchase. And they want to see the same messages everywhere. How have you thought about controlling messages, when it when you’re dealing with some of your physical retailers who, you know, may also have online presences and selling your products? How do you manage that?

John Merris  26:50  

Yeah, two pieces to that. So the first one is the pop ups of other third party sellers with your product. So that’s one that we have fought really hard against. We have reseller agreements with all of our retailers that restrict their ability to sell on Amazon. Yep. It doesn’t mean it never happens. But we do a pretty good job, I’d say we do one of the better jobs of any brand I’m aware of, at making sure that Solo Stove is the one selling its product on Amazon and not some other random brand that also has a physical store. That’s that’s one way within the Amazon platform to make sure that the the messaging is consistent, you don’t have people hijacking listings and you know, winning the buy box from you and all that kind of stuff, kind of competing against yourself, if you will. And then the other component of it are the resellers, the retailers that also have calm, I mean, you can take big brands like Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Rei for Solo Stove, who are also selling the sell stuff product on their websites. And then you can also take you know, kind of your your random kind of smaller boutique type retailers that are trying to move the product in a digital way, you know, some way online and how they’re describing the product. What we’ve done is created some materials, some brand materials that we think actually make it easier for our resale product partners to market our product. And we’ve made those materials available and then given them guidelines around how to use those materials so that if a customer is going on, and they go to Lowes.com or they go to rei.com, or they go to you know, Joe Blow garden center.com, that when they see a product description of our Solo Stove bonfire, which is our top selling fire pit, that that product description is going to be identical across all of those sites. And now the customer is just deciding what platform do I prefer. And it goes back to what I mentioned earlier about making sure that we’re giving customers time back by making it easiest for them to get the product where they want to get it. And that’s all we really care about. Of course we’re fighting to make it so that solostove.com is the primary place that customers trust that they can go get Solo Stove products, but at the end of the day, if you love Rei.com or you love Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Amazon or whatever platform or channel, we want to make sure that it’s fast and easy for you to get it and that you’re getting the same experience and education on that product on that site as you would on sell us.com.

James Thomson  29:28  

If I’m going to be buying something that costs a couple $100 several $100 typically, there’s going to be a segment of customers that want to touch and feel that product and figure out what this is all about. When so much of your sales go through an e commerce channel. How do you deliver enough safety to the consumer that they feel comfortable being able to buy something without having necessarily directly experienced the product firsthand?

John Merris  29:53  

I think two things are key to that one is a really great return policy. I think, you know, the idea of a 30 day, you know, no questions asked, we operate a lot like Nordstroms. That Solo Stove, we make it super easy and we want customers. And the thing is, is, it’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another thing in practice, right, it’s always stings a little bit to take that product back at, you know, 29 days after somebody used it every day for 29 days, that’s been burned a heck, you know, yeah, like, that kind of stings, I kind of feel like I’m getting taken advantage of. And yet, you do that once or twice, and then in practice, you end up doing it hundreds of times is that as your brand grows, and the word starts getting out, like these guys really do stand behind their promises, you know. And the reality is, is less than point 3% of our customers do anything with regards to returns or damages or replacements. And so it’s a small fraction, but in the early days, especially as of the brand, as you’re growing, you’re almost tempted to make it harder for customers, and you just can’t, you just have to make it easy to for them to return the product. So that’s number one. And then number two, I think free shipping, both directions, is really critical. So if somebody does return, they’re not like, Oh, yeah, but I got to pay the $20 shipping to get that fire pit back to your facility. Right? Again, you bite the bullet, you kind of have to work in the economic side of that into your business model. But once you do, it pays dividends as customers talk to each other and say, yeah, you can trust these guys. Yep,

James Thomson  31:25  

yep. So I want to change gears here a little bit. A lot of e commerce brands recently have received attention from investors, as guys are rushing in saying I want to buy these digitally native brands. As a CEO of a brand that has grown successfully on Amazon, what do you make of all this new investor activity, companies looking to buy private label brands?

John Merris  31:50  

Yeah, it’s interesting. There’s, there’s two sides to this as well, it seems like I’m keep saying there’s two sides to things, there’s two sides to lots and lots of things, there’s included, it’s not just on the investor side, it’s other brands, it’s big brands. There’s a lot of activity right now and the deal market, from big brands, established brands, brands that we all know the names of that have been sitting on the shelves and stores for the last 50 years, that are realizing that they’re behind the curve when it comes to selling digitally online on Amazon, anywhere that’s not in a physical store. And they’re trying to partner or find ecom brands that really know how to do that well, partly because maybe they believe in the product, but more so because they believe in the team that really understands how to do that, and are looking to acquire some skill sets within their larger conglomerate that can help them transform their businesses to more of a digital company versus a brick and mortar company. So I am seeing that as a trend quite, quite frequently right now. And then the other side are the financial investment investors that just see ecommerce as, as the next growth opportunity, no different than, you know what tech was, you know, five or seven or 810 years ago, and even kind of post early 2000s. where, you know, that’s where all of the financial dollars were flocking, we’re tech, tech companies, software companies and so forth. E comm is now now starting to kind of be in that in that realm for for these financial buyers. And there’s a ton of interest, they you know, there’s a lot of money floating around in the market from, you know, investors, pension funds, from universities, and they need to invest those dollars somewhere and they’re seeing e commerce as kind of the place to invest dollars for the future.

James Thomson  33:50  

So let me ask you a final question. What what’s next for Solo Stove that consumers can look forward to? What can you share with us?

John Merris  34:00  

Yeah so we love what we’ve been able to accomplish up to now it’s been phenomenal. We’ve we’ve had some pretty serious milestones in terms of the number of families that we’ve been able to help gather around the fire. And we think that we have have gained a good enough reputation in terms of over engineering of our products, the quality, the longevity, the return policy, the customer experience when you deal with our brand, unrelated to the product, that there are opportunities now for us to expand farther into that backyard category, the outside category into products that will make it easier and better for people to have good moments that lead to lasting memories. So you’re going to save yourself a stove and expansion on our product lines. Great. More and more that.

James Thomson  34:46  

That’s great. John, I want to thank you for joining us today on the Buy Box Experts podcast. For those of you interested in learning more about the Solo Stove, I encourage you to check out solostove.com. Now to finish today’s podcast, I’d like to share some fun thoughts for third party sellers to be successful on Amazon a critical lever will be soliciting feedback from customers. We at Buy Box Experts are really big fans of the team at eComEngine, and it’s tools that help Amazon sellers to simplify the process of messaging customers of Amazon orders. To learn more, go to ecomengine.com. And with that, I want to thank you for listening today and I look forward to joining you next time on the Buy Box Experts podcast.

Outro  35:28  Thanks for listening to the Buy Box Experts podcast, be sure to click subscribe, check us out on the web, and we’ll see you next time.

Meet the Speakers

John Merris

John Merris

President and CEO of Solo Stove

John Merris

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