How to survive the Q4 shopping spree and sell a lot of stuff according to a CTO of a successful online business? Let us introduce you to someone who does that for a living and on a significant scale. Houtan Fanisalek is the CTO of Felix Gray, a successful ecommerce eyewear company that is growing exponentially. The brand sells proprietary Blue Light glasses that mitigate the negative effects of looking at your screen. Those glasses are worn in the offices of companies like Apple, Spotify, and Google. Felix Gray uses Spree for its custom ecommerce platform that even handles orders for prescription glasses. Check out Felix Gray’s success story. We have asked Houtan about his ideas and tips on tackling the Holidays and the related shopping madness.
Houtan, tell us more about Felix Gray
If you’re staring at a screen all day, you’re getting dry eye fatigue or tiredness. Our glasses help mitigate that risk because we developed a proprietary lens that filters 2.5-15x more Blue Light where it matters most. This is different than other products, which use ineffective coats or dyes. And the filter is actually pretty much clear. So you don’t see that ugly yellow glare that happens with a lot of other glasses. Felix Gray has become the number one brand in the States right now, and we’re trying to grow exponentially.
Can you tell us how your business is usually getting ready for Q4? Is there any special preparation in place?
There’s a lot of preparation. Q4 is our biggest quarter every year, and by biggest, I mean multi-million dollar big.
As far as the preparations are concerned, we take care of many different aspects, such as marketing, technology, and different channels of distribution.
When it comes to marketing, we’re always at least a month in advance preparing the emails that we send out on Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Trying to figure out what messaging makes sense, we start by sending an initial set of emails way before. We A/B test the messaging on a smaller scale of customers to see what works. And then we use whatever wins in the actual Black Friday to Cyber Monday sales communication.
From a tech-wise side, since we’re not really a Shopify site – all of our stuff is custom-built (using Spree Commerce), we spin up more servers in preparation for the traffic that’s about to come. Although we have an auto-scaling system in place, sometimes you have to just put some servers in ahead of time just to make sure that your site doesn’t go down and there are redundancies in place. If something crashes or goes, it goes down on Black Friday.
Other than that, we also prepare from the shipping perspective. A lot of customers want their packages before Christmas. So figuring out what the optimal drop-dead deadline is for customers to order makes a huge difference. You don’t want it to be too soon. If it’s too early in the month, then you’re not going to get that much revenue, but if it’s too late and customers don’t get their orders on time, they’re going to be super pissed at you.
At Felix Gray, we have a procedure based on location and the shipping service. So that the last people that order on that last day, have automatically upgraded shipping at no charge just so they get that package way ahead of Christmas. This provides a better customer experience, and we’ve had maybe five customer service issues throughout the thousands of orders that we shipped out over the last year for that quarter. But that being said, we are not a 3PL (third-party logistics) company, and I’ve heard horror stories about a lot of 3PLs that start to slow down as the holiday season progresses.
Why is it important not to deliver too early? Why is it degrading your revenue?
I’m not saying not to deliver too early, just don’t have the drop-dead deadline too early. Because if you’re setting a cut-off date on December 8th, then you’re going to miss revenue from the 9th to 10th.
People are not going to order because they’ll be like, “oh, it’s not going to get here before Christmas”. So you want them to continue buying till the last moment but also have a back-up plan if your order doesn’t get there on time.
In such cases, we offer store credit or gift cards to customers that don’t get their orders on time or provide some kind of compensation where we still make some money at least. But some customers just want their package, and if they don’t get it, they want their money back. Then I would say just give them their money back. Every customer that has a bunch of issues, can easily go to Twitter or Facebook and start writing messages. It kind of ruins your brand. We try to reduce that as much as possible.
Like I said last year we had about five issues, none of those customers actually posted anything negative. They were just like, “Hey, our orders aren’t here. What you’re going to do about it?” and we were like “Oh, we will give you store credit” or “we will give you a gift card” and everyone was perfectly fine with it.
So that being said just keep customer service in mind. It’s really important for your business and for your brand. The thing is everyone thinks that your business is like Amazon. So you have to kind of be like Amazon even though you don’t make as much money as Amazon. It makes a big difference to keep one customer happy because they might tell their friends and family members. They’re like, “Wow, they resolved our issue, they know what they’re doing, you should buy from them and not go to Warby Parker”.
How do you advertise your business, strictly online?
Strictly online, yes. I think the hardest part for any sort of online business is trying to figure out where attribution is. We use a tool called Segment that funnels all the data into our analytics platform, which we then analyze and try to figure out where our traffic comes from.
Do you use any email marketing tools?
For the email we use Klaviyo. It integrates easily with Spree Commerce.
And I think I like Klaviyo because it has a bunch of flows where you could say “hey, if this person has abandoned the cart within three hours sent this email, within 10 hours send this and so on. We don’t provide discounts but a company that I know does that.
What if a company cannot afford discounts?
We don’t provide any discounts generally throughout the year. The only time we do that is Black Friday to Cyber Monday. A lot of companies use poorer quality materials to lower the cost of goods or increase their price to allow for discounts. We don’t want to play those games. We’d rather give you the best, most trusted, and effective pair of Blue Light glasses you can get for an affordable price. We want you to have a beautiful pair of frames with a pair of lenses that work up to 15x better than if you bought elsewhere. We actually have studies that have tested our lenses against competitors. So it’s really about getting the customer knowledgeable to say “hey, I’m paying this extra dollar for a reason, not just that it’s an extra dollar that I have to spend but because this product is worth it”.
So it’s really about your communication and creating a funnel where they can figure out that this is the brand that they’re going to purchase with.
What about SEO and content marketing? Do you have a blog?
SEO and content marketing go hand in hand. It’s important we rank for important keywords. At the same time, we view ourselves as the most trusted brand in the space. We want to provide customers with information that is both compelling and consumable so they can make an informed decision. Content marketing is really key to that, whether it’s through social media, blog posts, or something else.
What about PR?
We’re often quoted in articles surrounding Blue Light given that people look to us for that information. We also have PR when it comes to launches of different frames or lenses. For instance, when we launched kids’ frames, our low bridge collection, our BCRF pink frame (10% of sales goes to charity), or our sleep lenses oriented around helping you sleep better at night.
Do you use influencer marketing?
Yes, we do use influencers, but not like most other companies do. We don’t really pay them necessarily. We did try that. It didn’t work out too well. Generally, influencers reach out to us and they are like “oh, hey, I like your glasses”. They either buy themselves or they’re like “oh, can you send us a pair?” and we’re like “sure, here you go”.
What I found is that influencers within the lower tier of follower range do better than the ones that have a lot of followers because they have communities that are very dedicated to them. They know them, they’re very personal, they’re real followers. We had a person (I’m not going to say the name) who had some 20 million followers. She did two posts about us and didn’t do much, not really. The person who had like ten to fifteen thousand did as much as her thing did. It’s really about the quality of what you are doing and the content of that person.
However, if you do get an influencer, that is a celebrity or someone with a bunch of clout, it’s a different story. We did have a thing in Oprah’s publication earlier this year. We actually have a specific purple frame that we launched with Oprah. It sold out within the first two weeks.
The other thing is, partnerships with charities do really well for us as well. For example, we’re doing a partnership for breast cancer awareness month. Our dedicated frame last year sold out within the first four days. This year, we’ve actually ordered way more so we don’t sell out immediately, but it’s definitely been doing really well.
Do you advertise a particular design for the breast awareness month?
Houtan: It’s just a specific design. It’s pink and it has their logo on the frame so it’s very customized to them.
From what you’re saying it looks like you’re using email marketing a lot. Wouldn’t it be easier to use Facebook ads that bring traffic to your website and then just do a retargeting campaign?
Yes, but Facebook costs money. Email is free.
From abandoned carts to sending another email out after like 90 days saying “hey, do you want to buy another pair?” Things like that. And that’s very cheap for us because it’s not spending money on ads and paying someone to figure out how to retarget all those people. Because retargeting isn’t just clicking two buttons, it’s also figuring out what groups of people you want to reach. It’s easy to place more ads and then just retarget after the ads, what’s hard is to place them right.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. And the same applies to executing any good marketing and sales strategy. Once you survive Q4, you should already be planning for the next one. Why? Because an overnight success of Black Friday or any of the sales holidays comes from all year’s work and preparation. It takes months to get every aspect of your online business ready for these big days. But the reward is worth it. Check out these 12 key steps to ensure this year’s Q4 will be the best time of the year for your ecommerce business.