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Customer Spotlight - Jerky.com

Posted on January 10, 2013 by Lynne Brehmer

Today’s customer spotlight is Doug Iske, owner of Jerky.com. Jerky.com is an e-commerce site built on the Spree platform that you guessed it, sells jerky products online. Read below for Doug’s story, his tips for how to grow your business and how to make the most of the Spree platform.

Tell us about Jerky.com and why you started the company?

I have a long background working on niche focused ecommerce projects. I enjoy figuring out how to develop a successful business model for selling very targeted products online. Four years ago, my team and I were looking for a new project to work on. After looking closely at a handful of categories to go into, it was decided that Jerky seemed to be a no-brainer. We like jerky, it looks to be a fun category…so why not? Plus, we already had the domain Jerky.com, and it would make the perfect brand for the business. We then started our market research including what the competitive landscape looked like to determine who the players are in the space and what we thought they were doing well and what we could improve upon. Ultimately, we determined that we could really add value to people shopping online for Jerky and Meat Snacks and not just be another me-too site. We could make improvements in several areas including product selection and user experience. From that point on…we dove in head first.

What have you learned about how to successfully sell niche products online?

My experience has taught me that it is very important to be customer focused and analytics driven. We reviewed the Jerky.com sales data over a period of time and identified which products sold the most and were most profitable. This information helped us to determine how to expand into specific areas and where we needed improvements. We think its important to “keep a pulse” on these sorts of things and adapt appropriately. One important result from the first year led to us developing our own brand of jerky in the best selling and most profitable product categories. Now those products are our best selling products.

What marketing techniques have you found to be most effective?

We use a lot of the traditional marketing techniques such as PPC and SEO to find traffic. Identifying which keywords perform the best has helped us learn a lot about our customers and how to customize our marketing efforts. Another interesting source for generating new customers has been our beef jerky recipe blog. We turned the beef jerky recipes into a free eBook which we make available at four different jerky recipe sites. We send follow up emails to our eBook readers with information about how to make jerky. While most of these people are primarily interested in making their own jerky, we’ve found that over time they end up buying jerky products from us to supplement their supply. We’ve been using this technique for about a year and have found that it has been an effective way to build our customer base.

What is your most popular jerky product?

We try to continually add products to our selection that you won’t find at all of the usual places that sell Jerky. Our customers are looking for high quality products with unique flavors and jerky types. Specifically, Turkey jerky and all of the exotics are really popular. Where else can you get alligator, ostrich even kangaroo and bacon jerky?! Gift giving holidays are always very busy. We actually hand build all of our gift baskets from scratch and they present very well. We understand that gift givers really want to make an impression to their recipients and a hand built gift box conveys to our customers that “we spared no effort in making this gift for you.” We are pretty proud of that.

How did you find out about Spree?

In one of my previous business ventures we built our own e-commerce platform. We learned a lot about what worked, what didn’t, and what we would do different the next time. When it came time to put Jerky.com on a new platform, I didn’t want to spend a ton of time and money re-inventing the wheel. I wanted an e-commerce platform that had a very solid core that could be easily customized for my needs. Spree is exactly that. The basic functions of the cart are done very well without being unnecessarily complex while also allowing customization to be easy and clean. I have also become partial towards the Ruby on Rails framework, so it really ended up being a good fit. In my experience, the Ruby on Rails community is filled with some of the sharpest minds in the industry and they are very willing to help and share each other. Having the support of that community is a very valuable asset that can not be understated. All of this together made Spree an obvious choice.

What do you like most about the Spree platform?

The core shopping cart is really solid. My engineering team didn’t have to do a lot of customization work on the Jerky.com site to get it up and running. This allowed me to start making sales and profits fairly quickly. There are a lot of existing extensions and resources available to us which really helped streamline our development process.

What’s next on your Spree development road map?

We want to keep expanding our ecommerce business. One of our biggest projects is a multi-store platform. Our goal is to develop a platform where we can run unlimited storefronts from one backend. We’re leveraging our e-commerce experience and the flexibility of Spree to make sure we do this right. We’re also working on personalizing the merchandising experience for Jerky.com in order to customize the content to each of our customers interests. I hope to have more to share with you soon.

Shop the Jerky.com website and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Why don’t online retailers collect sales tax?

Posted on January 09, 2013 by Erin Granville

Sales tax is already due on online purchases within the U.S. — but as you probably know, most online retailers don’t collect it. Why not?

It all comes back to location, location, location.

Sales tax is levied by the state, paid by state residents, and — usually — collected by the retailer at the point of purchase. The retailer then sends the sales tax collected to the state.

For most purchases, this system has worked well for over sixty years. But it becomes more complicated when the customer and the retailer are not located in the same state.

No matter what, sales tax must be remitted to the state where the customer lives. Otherwise — if, say, a retailer sends it instead to his or her own state — it’s taxation without representation. Customers are the ones who pay sales tax, and if that tax were sent outside their home states, they’d be paying taxes to support a state where they cannot vote and have no say in how those tax dollars are spent.

So a retailer who collects sales tax must be able to calculate the sales tax due for the customer’s home state and remit the tax collected to that state. No big deal when the retailer and customer are located in the same state, but it becomes more complicated for online and catalog retailers, who can sell to anywhere in the country. To collect sales tax on each purchase, these retailers need to know sales tax rates outside their own states.

Supreme Court Rulings

States have tried in the past to require these retailers to collect sales tax from their residents. Two cases ended up before the Supreme Court, both long before online shopping was a reality: National Bellas Hess v. Illinois Department of Revenue (1967) and Quill v. North Dakota (1992). In both, the Supreme Court said that a state cannot require an out-of-state retailer to collect sales tax unless the retailer has a physical presence in the state, because it would be too difficult.

Fast forward to today: Online retailers, like catalog retailers, are selling to residents of states where they have no physical presence. So the Supreme Court decisions apply to online retailers as well. If they don’t have a physical presence in a state, they don’t have to collect sales tax for that state.

Interestingly, though, the Supreme Court said in its Quill decision that Congress should really be the one to say whether states can require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax.

Congress has declined to take up the issue until now, but most observers agree that that will soon change. In the next post in this series, we’ll look at some of the ways Congress may choose to address online sales tax and how that could transform the sales tax landscape.

About the Author

Erin Granville is Communications Editor at FedTax, the proud creators of Tax Cloud.

TaxCloud is a free, easy-to-use sales tax management service for retailers. It handles every aspect of sales tax, from calculation to collection to filing—all at no cost for retailers.

TaxCloud can be easily integrated into most accounting, order management, and shopping cart systems. It has been evaluated by states and an independent review board and has been designated one of only six Certified Service Providers in the nation.

Check out the Spree Tax Cloud extension written by Spree Community member Jerrold Thompson to integrate TaxCloud with your Spree store.

  • Join the discussion: How have you dealt with sales tax issues for your e-commerce store?

Year in Review - 2012

Posted on January 09, 2013 by Sean Schofield

Each year we like to summarize what we’ve accomplished together as a community. It’s also become a bit of an annual tradition to do this recap in January since we’re always too busy at the end of the calendar year to do it then.

There were many highlights during the year and we’ve selected a few of the major ones that we’re especially proud of. So let’s take a quick moment to recap some of the awesomeness!

The Highlights

Spree Analytics

At beginning of 2012 we announced a plan to work with our friends at Jirafe to provide a live e-commerce anlaytics dashboard integrated within Spree. We were able to make significant improvements based on all of the great feedback and we announced a new and improved version later on in the year.

New Base Theme

We also announced a new base theme for the standard Spree install. We drastically simplified the HTML used in the standard theme with the expressed intention of making it easier to customize. Since the theme was also fully “responsive”, it makes it easier to use the same Spree views for mobile devices.

First Ever SpreeConf

We had our first ever SpreeConf in February of this year. The conference was a complete sellout and we had an awesome lineup of speakers and spent a lot of time meeting with existing and perspective users.

Spree 1.0.0 Release

We also released the long awaited Spree 1.0.0. This release was performed in typical team fashion and represented over 1,500 commits by 35 different contributors. We also committed to faster release times and released Spree 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 later in the year.

Improved Multi Currency

The Spree project continued to make improvements in the area of i18n. We received an excellent contribution from one of our community members that significantly improved multi currency support.

SpreeConf Europe (Dublin)

Our first conference was such a success that we decided to have another, this time in Europe! We decided to continue our theme of hosting in unique venues and chose the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin Ireland. Once again the conference was well-attended and we had an exellent blend of technical as well as business-oriented talks.

Admin Redesign

We hired a full time designer and then put him to work straight away. One of the first things we did was a complete redesign of the Spree Admin UI.

API Improvements

We also made major improvements to the Spree API and significantly improved the API documentation, launching a dedicated API site. This work will continue into 2013 as we make Spree completely “API driven.”

Spree Fancy Theme

We finished the year by releasing Spree 1.3 and announcing the brand new fancy theme. The theme serves as a simple demonstration of a responsive web design that is a little more interesting than the intentionally plain base theme. We made the theme completely open source so you could use it as a starting point for your own sites.

The Road Ahead

Each year we somehow top the accomplishments of last year. We expect continue this trend in 2013. We’re especially looking forward to the “split core” project that Ryan has been working on as well as the planned i18n improvements. We’ll post more about both of these efforts shortly.

Spree 1.3.1 and 1.2.3 Released

Posted on January 07, 2013 by Sean Schofield

Last week the Rails team announced a new release which addresses an important security vulnerability. This is a Rails security problem, but since Spree relies on these insecure versions of Rails, all Spree users are advised to upgrade to a more secure version immediately.

Spree 1.3.1

Existing Spree 1.3.0 users should upgrade to the new Spree 1.3.1 release. This release uses the more secure Rails 3.2.10 version and also includes some minor bug fixes unrelated to the security issue. You can review the Github compare for a complete list of changes.

Spree 1.2.3

Existing Spree 1.2.x users should upgrade to the new Spree 1.2.3 release. This release uses the more secure Rails 3.2.10 version and also includes some minor bug fixes unrelated to the security issue. You can review the Github compare for a complete list of changes.

Other Versions of Spree

If you are using Spree versions 1.1.x and older you should consider upgrading to Spree version 1.2.3 or higher. Our current policy is to only maintain the latest two versions of Spree along with the current master.

Upgrading Rails Without Updating Spree

If you’re not ready to update your version of Spree, you may want to consider updating just the version of Rails you’re using. Spree gems will not allow you to use arbitrary versions of Rails (we like to test them first) so you’ll have to do a little hacking if you want to go it alone. To accomplish this you need to work with the source code and checkout from Git using the exact tag of your version of Spree. You can then modify the gemspec to allow a newer version of Rails. Finally, you’ll need to push this change to a fork and modify the Gemfile in your project to point to the fork.