Why I decided to build an e-commerce affiliate store while maintaining my values?
At the end of November 2020, I decided to open an e-commerce store for Myrth. In addition to the MyMoai app, the tech and wellness blog, the Myrth Protocol (and my impending book release) and the social media campaigns, I wanted to offer something tangible-and begin a revenue stream for the company.
If you have been following Myrth’s journey you will know that so far everything we offer is free, experiential and non-material. This is aligned with my values as a die-hard minimalist, a supporter of women-owned and small businesses and not a big fan of our consumerist culture - from my days as a nomad and traveler. Selling goods and opening a store was definitely not top of mind when founding Myrth over a year ago. However, I soon realized that building better habits, mental fitness, resisting bad screen time, practical self-care and improving social relationships required stuff - even if not a lot of stuff.
For my own Myrth Protocol -my version of mental fitness and self-care – I use a Kindle with e-books, a journal, a yoga mat, coffee alternative drinks (like Green Matcha and decaf tea), a water bottle, comfy pants and tops, practical and fun headphones, a Fitbit tracker and of course my phone - wow that’s a lot of stuff! And so why not curate a store to fit my customers’ digital wellness needs as well? And so Shop Myrth was born.
I had some decisions to make as I built: How was I going to sell, who was I going to source from, what was I going to sell, how was I going to stay aligned with my values and do it mindfully and how was I going to grow and innovate. Challenge accepted, and thus the experiment began.
1st Challenge: Choosing a business model for an e-commerce store.
Solution: Opening an online store was a no brainer during the pandemic. I, as a startup entrepreneur, also wanted to get something into the market as fast as possible to find out if the market existed and to learn whether this was a good idea or not. Low or no startup costs was the goal for this. Have you ever started something completely new and tried to do it the hard way? Me too, but when it came to Shop Myrth, I decided to take baby steps instead of giant leaps. I settled on partnering with other companies as an affiliate earning commission if visitors to my store bought goods from the links I provided. This is nothing new, as many of you have either bought from affiliates (knowingly or unknowingly) or maybe sell goods as an affiliate yourselves. There are definitely mixed feelings about the model online – it tends to get a bit of a shmarmy reputation, similar to influencer marketing. But if I was going to open a store, sell relevant products without setting up shipping, warehouses or manufacturing this was the way to go. So I Googled, and YouTubed and read blogs finally settling on Shopify with an app that allows you to change the buy now button to a unique link. Next: who was I going to support by selling their wares and how was I going to do this without depending exclusively on Amazon?
2nd Challenge: Not putting more money into Jeff Bezos’ pocket.
Solution: Amazon has one of the easiest affiliate programs and of course, as we all know, one of the greatest diversity of products. It would be easy to just open an affiliate store and use Amazon – like so many do. But that is not aligned with Myrth values or my values. What I was convinced, as with almost everything, there are good and bad ways of doing things. And I promised myself and my team that we are going to do our shop the good way through transparency, social responsibility and supporting what I have now started calling “not Amazon”. I don’t know if you have noticed, like me, but there are a lot of commitments or statements that are then caveated with “especially now” (referencing to the pandemic or the election or something else apocalyptic from 2020). So while I have had the values of shopping local or small or woman-owned for a very long time, it seems particularly important “especially now.” Using alternative affiliate programs like ShareaSale, Webgains, and SendOwl, I went hunting for “not Amazon” sources and vendors. Vendors that were women-owned or small, vendors that had similar values to us, vendors that we knew would potentially do a happy dance when they made a sale. When I launched the store on November 22 we had 9 vendors (including Amazon) and 80% of our products came from “not Amazon.” 51% came from small businesses and 33% came from women owned businesses. For some of the products this was easier, but some I had to go the extra mile.
Here’s an example of that extra mile and also how Shop Myrth is committed to constantly evolving and improving our “not Amazon” numbers. I drink Green Matcha Latte on the regular, one of my favorite ways of supporting local Santa Cruz establishments like The Abbey and 11th Hour, but I realized as the pandemic hit that supporting this habit financially was going to prove challenging – especially when I couldn’t sit in the cafés to work. So I figured out a brand of Matcha that I liked, after a couple of tries, and perfected my Green Matcha Latte with Oat Milk at home. Coffee alternatives is one of our product lines at Shop Myrth so I wanted to put the brand I discovered, Pure Chimp, in the store. It is a lovely small business out of the UK. They’ve got a great range, it is affordable – important for the store – and great quality. I had ordered this product myself off of Amazon, no one is perfect, but if I was committed to supporting small businesses I had to go the extra mile. As I mentioned, Amazon has a really easy affiliate program – it’s Amazon’s way to make things easy for its customers. That cannot be said for some of these other Affiliate Programs and at first we sold the product through Amazon as I work through the long process of “not Amazon.” The one used by PureChimp, Webgains, is a particular pain in the ass process and is taking forever to set up. At each roadblock or bug or glitch I thought “why the hell am I doing this,” but of course I always remind myself of the bigger picture. Amazon, as we all know, does make life easier there is no doubt, but in the long term will it make the world better? I am still negotiating with Webgains and figuring out it’s silly system, but I will plow on.
There is also the issue of selling books online. It is a well-known secret at Myrth that I am a very keen nonfiction, self-help book reader. This year was a bit slower- 30 books- but last year I read 85 books about building a business, improving my wellbeing and learning about digital wellness. There was no doubt in my mind that there was going to be a book aspect to the shop. But as I was building the initial store I was hesitant because the only place to sell books as an affiliate is through Amazon…or so I thought. In February of this year, before we were all so keen on supporting small local businesses, bookshop.org launched.
Bookshop.org “is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. We believe that bookstores are essential to a healthy culture. They’re where authors can connect with readers, where we discover new writers, where children get hooked on the thrill of reading that can last a lifetime. They’re also anchors for our downtowns and communities. As more and more people buy their books online, we wanted to create an easy, convenient way for you to get your books and support bookstores at the same time.”
This topic may strike a chord with many in my community as, in my humble opinion, we have one of the best bookshops in the world, Bookshop Santa Cruz. Discovering Bookshop.org changed my life and also the trajectory of Shop Myrth. I now had a solution to selling books online while supporting “not Amazon.” We have an overall store, but we also have 5 curated lists that include: books to help better understand life in a digital age, self-help straight up and simple, books by women, for women and largely about women, all the books I have read and put into the shop thus far and building a business the right way. 99% of the books in the store, at the time of writing, are books I have read, not necessarily books I recommend (that I do separately in blog posts), but books I have read and gathered at least some nugget of wisdom. The slogan for the Myrth Bookstore is: Where Tech and Wellness Meet on a Page. The Shop and the Bookstore are separate entities but closely linked. And now you know.
3rd Challenge: What to sell in a digital wellness store?
Solution: You’ve now heard how we sell at Shop Myrth and who we source from, but I haven’t really told you what we sell. That was my next challenge. What is a digital wellness store and where do Tech and Wellness meet exactly? What is this concept I am trying to put out in the world. Digital Wellness is a relatively new concept and most people just think about it as their screen time (Toby I am looking at you J). To me and to Myrth it is more than that, it is our relationship with screens of all sorts, our relationships with ourselves and others as influenced by our screens and other technology. Digital wellness is also how we use tech for good and get to know ourselves better and in my favorite ironic twist, what we do away from the screen to both improve our experience when using our phones and to reduce all that screen time – although again, it often isn’t the quantity of screen time rather the quality of screen time that matters more, but not always (you know what I mean). So I suppose this is where tech and wellness meet for me, how you take care of your body, mind and soul and integrate tech into some of those practices, but not all.
I also looked at my own life and my own practice of digital wellness and as mentioned in the intro to this much-longer-than-expected article, I use a number of material possessions to help me with my relationship with tech and wellness. We sell yoga and meditation products, we sell journals, we sell e-readers, we sell wearables, we sell comfy stretchy pants, we sell white noise machines and gravity blankets. We don’t sell coffee because more than 70% of the team doesn’t drink coffee, so we sell tea. We sell what we use and what we would use if we needed an extra thing in our house. And as my head writer pointed out – we try to bring a bit of whimsy and quirky into the often serious digital wellness space. So we sell a boob tea towel and will begin to sell more sloth paraphernalia as an homage to Daly our mascot. But it is an evolving idea and just like Myrth, will have its own path as it grows.
4th Challenge: How to grow and where to go next?
Solution: My good friend Seth Godin – who has guided much of my business life – would be proud that I launched Shop Myrth so quickly and got it out into the world. “Just Ship” he would have repeatedly told me. But now that it is out in the world, the hard work begins. How do we grow and innovate and still stay true to our original mission based on our values? Well to being with, we build using my knowledge of procurement. Did you know that I used to work in the sustainability world. That’s right, many people don’t know but I was a sustainable seafood consultant for almost a decade. My familiarity with supply chains, procurement, suppliers and corporate social responsibility policies goes deep. This will lay a groundwork for all expansions. I can see us exploring drop-shipping, another hybrid e-commerce model sometimes wrought with controversy. Or even having our own products. I am committed to sourcing from vendors who share our values of eco-friendly, locally sourced, fair trade and supporting small businesses, regardless of our procurement strategy.
I can also see us expanding further into the “tech” direction. Creating a marketplace for digital wellness apps, like the MyMoai app we are building. And we have just added our first course from the Digital Wellness Institute (which I do highly recommend). I can see Shop Myrth as a destination for this type of offering too. I suppose time, market indicators and resource availability, will tell.
Opening a store and entering the world of commerce and consumption was not my initial strategy with Myrth, actually far from it. I am not a shopper or a big consumer, but I have the skills to build this product and the values to do it the right way. I am not the first entrepreneur to apply a minimalist and social enterprise lens to building a store. I look to Patagonia and REI as examples. Buy less, explore more. Build community while selling goods. Be a leader, be the change and pave the way to a better future. All ideas I keep in the back of my mind at all times.
We would welcome any advice or counsel or help in building this future and building out Shop Myrth and Shop Myrth the Bookstore. I have largely done all this on my own thus far, but that’s typical behavior for this nomad-in-residence. Also, if you own a small business with similar values and an aligning mission or sell a product that is where tech and wellness meet and have an affiliate program, please contact us.
This post contains affiliate links with the majority of the “not Amazon” variety, which means we may earn a small percentage of any purchases, at no additional cost to you. We worked very hard to ensure our values aligned with our e-commerce strategy.