Tips and Insights from Chris Brogan to Help You With Your eCommerce Site

Chris Brogan, CEO of Owner Media Group, is a sought-after public speaker, and a New York Times bestselling author of nine books— and working on his tenth. You can find him hanging out over at

In this conversation, I had the chance to hit him up with five random questions around eCommerce. I wanted to pick his brain a bit on some stuff he has been talking about on social as well as on his blog:

  • How Chris believes authenticity is not as tricky as it appears, even for online store owners.
  • How Chris would approach selling his new (fictional) product, the Brogan Ice Tray via video blogging.
  • What it means to up your game on YouTube and how online retailers can do the same.
  • Which of his books he would recommend to the eCommerce startup and why.

What would you say to the eCommerce retailer who says, “Authenticity can be tricky online”?

Bob: That’s cool because a lot of these questions are around that. I’m going to dive in because I was watching you—well not actually sitting and watching you— but I happened to come across a tweet the other day. You said, “Why is authenticity so tricky? Hint, it’s not.” I thought, interesting. I did read the article, but what I wanted to ask you is, since the online retail is a unique animal when it comes to authenticity, how would you respond to them regarding that tweet if somebody’s saying, “Hey, I’m a online retailer. How can I be authentic? It is tricky.”

Chris: You know, I think one of the things that people don’t realize is that you can do the same things you do as a human even if you’re doing something like e-commerce. A lot of people when they setup their e-commerce shop, one, a lot of them just follow the Amazon model, which is not a bad thing to do. They’re doing really well. They have multi billion of dollars, you probably should. But then the other is, you’re not Amazon, and so people are going to want to know, “Who is this shmo? Why should I trust them with my money and all that?”

Beyond optimization and all the technical stuff that has to happen to make the world better for e-commerce, there’s got to be a little more trust earned in this case. I think that there should be an about page. I think there should be human heads on that about page, real people who are responsible for the business. I think that there should always be some way to drop a human email somewhere, because that’s a way that you can beat someone like an Amazon. With their several gazillion employees and huge customer service system in place and all that, you could go the opposite route and be like, “If you have a problem with any of our projects or any of the things we’re selling, you just hit reply and I’ll get to you,” or whatever.

I think that that’s some of it. I think the other thing is, with regards to authenticity, if a product is so-so, don’t make it five-star, if a product has negative reviews don’t take away the negative reviews. There was a survey done, I did this work way back in 2009 for “Trust Agents.” There was a survey done that said that when shown a web page full of reviews, if a site had only positive reviews, people would get a strange or negative impression of that site without knowing why. They wouldn’t say, “That’s weird, there’s no negative reviews.” They would just say, “I don’t think I like this site. I don’t know what it is, there’s something fishy.” It was because they were 100% positive reviews.

I think a lot of times with e-commerce one of the things we try to do is, “This product is perfect. It’s perfect for everyone.” I think that one way to really earn some authenticity is say, “This is totally not a product for an amateur,” or, “This is the kind of thing that if you’re starting out you’re going to love it, but you’re going to hate it in about a year. So decide if you just want to do this for economy purposes,” or whatever. I think that that’s a way that e-commerce people could do the kind of stuff I think people could be doing.

Bob: Yeah. The review stuff, that’s a perfect example. Also, I’m so with you on the about pages. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone somewhere to buy something for the very first time and I thought, who are these people? They want to sell me, it kind of looks good, but there’s nothing about the company, no pictures of anyone. It drives me nuts. It gives me that creepy feeling, like, “Are you trying to hide something?”

Chris: Right, exactly.

If you created the world’s best ice cube tray, how would you video blog about it?

Bob: Now, this one’s kind of a different question, because I know you’re really into video blogging now. I’m going to set up a scenario. You’ve created this new retail product., I’m just using this as an example. What you created is the broken ice tray. I know that you’ve never bought an ice tray and according to one of your videos, you’ve never felt the need. Anyway, you’ve created one and you’ve made it with your own special features. You have this broken ice tray. Now you have a product. How would you start video blogging about this new product?

Chris: You know, right off the bat you go into the story, super fast. Speaking of YouTube and things like that, my kids love watching videos from, which is an online retailer. They sell lots of weird stuff. They make videos for all their products. You can get them on YouTube as well. It will be like the world’s biggest gummy bear, or beer-flavored gummy bears, all this kind of weird stuff. They always have strange stuff, and, for one reason or another, lots of gummy bears.

The video shows the features and the things you think are interesting. If I were making the world’s best ice cube tray, right at the beginning though, I’d go into, “Hey, I’m Chris Brogan. For some unknown reason I never really owned any ice cube trays. I thought, man, if I were to own an ice cube tray it would have to do these things a little bit better than the old stupid ice cube trays. Why are we still doing the same thing we did in the 60s? So I decided, can I make one that does this? And I made one that does that. And oh, by the way, I wanted it to have Batman shaped cubes.”

I’d go from there, and then I’d say, “Here’s why my product’s cool. Here’s the stuff that you probably should be looking out for. This thing isn’t going to replace an ice cube maker, this is for if you want to make novelty ice cubes, so don’t buy this thing if you have a big ice cube maker and you’re wondering why to buy a tray. Just don’t buy it.”

In the process, I want to disarm anyone’s feeling that I only want to sell to them and I just want their money. I want to disarm their feeling that I don’t have their best interest in mind. I want to equip them with the sense of why they’d want to purchase the thing I want to sell, and hopefully get them connected to the product that might make their life better.

Any tips for online retailers who want to start doing more on YouTube?

Bob: To follow that up with a question still on video, I saw you talking the other day about, you were saying, “I need to up my game on YouTube.” I think a lot of us think about that. There’s something that makes us stop for whatever reason, we don’t think we have the resources, time and all this stuff. Probably you’ve covered a little bit of this answer in the previous question, but when an online retailer gets to that point and they start thinking not just about creating videos but, “I’ve got start doing more on YouTube.” What tips would you give them?

Chris: First and foremost, I would try to point out that you don’t necessarily have to look like a buttoned-up grown up. But you don’t want it to look like trash because people aren’t going to trust your product if your production quality is so bad that it looks like a drunk monkey made it. You probably want to make it to the point where it feels like humans are involved. I’ll give you an example, Dollar Shave Club came out of nowhere.

The idea was really simple, the guy who stars in the video, Michael, who’s the CEO of the company, his buddy’s dad had a warehouse full of extra razorblades and he didn’t know what to do with them. He said, “I can help.” He started dollarshaveclubcom, they made a silly video for $4,500 and they sold the company a couple years later for over a billion dollar. When you watch that first ever Dollar Shave Club video, it helps that they have all kinds of background in standup and improv and all that.

You’re likely not going to make the most amazing viral video that ever happened, but what’s really key to the video is, it’s made like humans talking to humans and not like a big company pretending to advertise to you, the lesser human. I think that’s where we’re going. I think the big disruption in so many different industries is that moment.

That feeling that this is somebody I can trust because they talk like me, they act like me, they might be a little weird and funny but they’re the me I’d want to be if I didn’t have to have a regular grown-up job. I think that that’s my biggest piece of advice, is when you go to shoot these videos keep them brief, keep them simple, keep them honest. Even allow some mistakes into the video if you want, but at the end of it all make sure you’re delivering something that connects with someone that you hope to serve.

Ever think about making a Chris Brogan blooper video?

Bob: Have you ever thought of doing a Chris Brogan blooper video?

Chris: I don’t have a lot of bloopers stored. By the way, when I say that it is so important to stress right behind that, that does not mean I am infallible, I am absolutely full of flaws. However, most of my blooper videos would not be exactly funny, they’d be me stumbling over a word and cursing. I guess they’d make a good Tourette syndrome video but that would be about it.

Bob: Yeah, that’s it. I thought of actually collecting them at some point and I thought, “I don’t think people would really want to see these,” because that’s exactly what I’m doing, I’m just stumbling and saying something kind of stupid, I’m swearing then and that could get real old real fast.

Chris: Indeed.

Which of your published books would you recommend to help somebody starting an online retail shop?

Bob: Now, you’ve published a lot of books and we could spend quite a bit of time going through all those, but when you look back at your books and what you have out there, which one would you pick specifically that would help somebody starting an online retail shop? What book would that be and why would you recommend that one?

Chris: That’s a good question. There’s a couple of choices. I hate being that guy that’s like, “Buy all my books,” but there’s two that flash right to mind. Trust Agents,” which is my first good book, was about how to establish reputation and trust. Then the second book— these were both written with a friend of mine, Julien Smith,  who went on to make his own company— was called “The Impact Equation.”

Of the two, if you were only going to buy one I would buy “The Impact Equation,” which I show to stand out in a really noisy world. “Trust Agents” was published in 2009, and the advice all still holds up, but the landscape has changed a little bit. It’s a little noisier out there and we wrote Impact Equation just a couple years later, saying, “Wow, it’s noisy out here. Now what?” The two work nicely together but if you were going to buy just one, buy Impact Equation because it helps with a very straight forward formula on how you might look at driving better impact for your selection of business opportunities.

Can you expand a little on the blog post you wrote about, ‘Don’t be a robot’?

Bob: Yeah, that’s perfect for anybody in the retail space, because you’re basically competing with so many out there that it is extremely noisy. Excellent choice. Now, I was perusing your blog and this blog post caught my eyes, “Your customers don’t want you to act like a robot.” I read it but I’m not going to be a spoiler here. I thought it was interesting because we’re going into chat-bots and virtual reality and all this stuff. Can you give me a synopsis of what that post was all about?

Chris: In general the thing I most want people to realize is that in a land of chat-bots and AI and all that sort of thing, I just saw a study today from Marketing Land, from Forrester, saying that automation is grossly outpacing human interaction in the business space. We do want, and customers don’t mind terribly automation anymore, or rather we accept it, we’re kind of like a boiling frog at this point.

What’s also true about the whole circumstances, there’s business value that’s missed if you just automate everything. If you’re trying to set it and forget it and run away, the problem is you’re missing a lot of opportunity where humans can tell you what exactly they need or what exactly you might do to help them. Which then opens up more opportunities for sales and all that sort of thing. I like the way that IBM talks about this. They have a concept called Augmented Intelligence. Meaning, let’s not replace the human brain, let’s give it more power.

I think that, let’s make this is a really simple example for your eCommerce types of people, the better your CRM is at collecting more than just sales data, the better you’re going to have a relationship with that particular buyer. I’ll tell you one thing that Amazon still does very poorly, it is, I buy from that platform all the time and it still recommends things that I would never buy in a billion years. Sometimes I know it’s sponsored, I get it, but other times I feel sad, like, “You don’t know me,” you know?

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: I think if I were to invest money in algorithm, if I were to invest money in augmented and artificial intelligence for my platform, I would use it to make my CRM better. I’d go stalk my buyers and see if I can understand what other ways I could serve them so that I could do my best to deliver even more value to them.

Bob: It’s interesting, I was reading something and I’m sure you’ve read this, with the chat-bots. That there’s actually people that are going in and since they’re automated they’re actually manipulating the conversation, they’re almost trolling these chat bots to get the chat bot to say something really bizarre, the response, and then they’re going online and tweeting that, saying, “Hey, I was chatting with this company about their product and this is what they said.” Which is another whole level of it, but it’s interesting how people are finding ways to work it to go on do something negative.

Chris: Yeah. But you know, that’s the thing with any tool, right? We can use any tool for absolute evil, and we can use it for insane good. A knife can kill someone and a knife can cut out the bad part out of something. There’s always a way to automate your way into some kind of gimmick or scheme, but the thing is we humans are just getting better and better and better at perceiving these things. As we evolve and we don’t have to worry about predators jumping out of the bush to kill us, we are very aware of digital predators and we do not like them, and bad things come of it. I think that what comes after this is having people realize that they’ve got to use their powers for good and connect that better.

Bob: Okay. I have one quick question I want to ask you before we go, but any last thoughts we haven’t talked about that you would love to say to anybody that’s starting to get into online retail?

Chris: Sure. It’s good to have a really good platform for your online retail, none of us will disagree with that, but Bob’s done a lot of interviews with a lot people who are very bullish on very specific tools. I would say that one thing to always remember is that your job is to figure out which tool’s going to work best for you and not listen to all those weird gurus, myself included. Lance Armstrong wrote a book a long time ago called, It’s Not About The Bike, and I always believed that it’s not about the mic, it’s not which tool you use, it’s just how you drive business to serve client. That’s always the way I would look at it. So, be helpful, be helpful, be helpful.

What would Chris Brogan never buy online?

Bob: Exactly. Now, what would Chris Brogan never buy online?

Chris: You know what, I’ve bought so many weird things online. I bought my car online, so I think I’m already kind of weird. Probably not love.

Bob: Yeah.

Chris: I won’t order any online hookers any time soon. Beyond that, man, I’m an eCommerce fiend. If I can get it there and I don’t have to leave my house, I’m in. I just ordered my groceries online, they’ll be here tomorrow.

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