Keeping Ahead of Copycats Drives Creativity at DigitalSoaps
When I logged into my Etsy account in 2009, shortly after I began selling my newly invented NES controller soaps, I never expected to see competition.
But there it was. A bright green speckled NES controller soap. Made by someone other than me.
In the product description, the seller gave me a shout-out by saying that they thought of the idea, but another person got to making it first. They concluded with a congratulatory, "Kudos to the actual first!"
I should have been flattered. Instead, I became defensive.
It made sense that I felt like protecting the niche I'd created. I had found a passion for soap artistry, I was getting media attention for it, and how dare others take my ideas and sell them.
What I've learned from competitors is that I don't like my soaps to look exactly like anyone else's. When I introduced my dice soaps, I was using an ice-cube mold like all the other geeky soap sellers. Even though I had dice rattling around inside, which as far as I could tell no one else did, I still felt uncomfortable with the lack of ingenuity.
The solution was to make my own molds, same as I'd been doing for years.
It wasn't enough to make a new d20 soap, though. I wanted to bring customers d8s and d10s, each large enough to hold a capsule and dice inside.
Our 3D designer, Mark Whitney, created the designs. I printed them up. And here we are today, offering dice soaps that are exclusive to DigitalSoaps.
To be clear, my drive today is about more than competition. It's really about challenging myself, and about impressing customers.
At conventions, customers mistake our cartridges for real games. We make accidental sales on our website based on the product photos.
As you may have gathered, though, it's never perfect enough.
Our products are continually evolving. I am lucky to have encouraging fans along for the ride.
Spend a few seconds browsing our Wall of Shame, and you'll notice a common theme - Cancellations and returns on orders of our beautiful game cartridge soaps.
The reason is almost always the same. Despite our detailed product titles and descriptions, buyers often do not realize they are buying soap until they've completed the checkout process.
The soaps do look admittedly realistic. I designed them that way.
But because the soaps look like functional controllers and cartridges, it's extra important that my product descriptions are clear. On some listings, I even have a check box for customers to indicate their understanding that they are purchasing soap. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't have a way to add these types of boxes, and so I have started putting up a warning image. The image was created by a customer who wanted to help us reduce the number of returns.
Customers often find these unintentional sales entertaining. In some ways I do, too. It means that I've achieved a goal of ultimate realism with my products.
Along with the flattery, though, comes frustration. Every time a customer requests a return on Amazon, I am obligated under Amazon policies to accept the return no matter what.
The worst part is that the product is usually opened when it comes back to me. The soap can't be reused. Even more, though, I spent time on realism and detailing in anticipation of giving customers the greatest experiences possible.
Instead, I'll get "This is not what I wanted." Or, in what amounts to belittling the work that I do, "I wasted money on this thing you made."
Look, I only want sales from people who want my soaps. But I can't always control where the eye is drawn and how fast customers click through the checkout process.
Ultimately, I've decided that the realism is worth the hassle.
I'll be over here updating the Wall of Shame proudly.