The Art of Trading Attention: Your Path to eCommerce Gloryby@walo
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1,609 reads

The Art of Trading Attention: Your Path to eCommerce Glory

by walo, the underscore.April 14th, 2023
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The reason products sell on the internet is social. I describe how to embed social as the foundation for your eCommerce business.

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You’re being watched. Whether you like it or not.

You’ve been marked by information technology. Cell towers know where you are. Your calls can be monitored. Your online presence can be hijacked. As if that’s not enough, companies even know your hobbies. They know your likes and dislikes. The profiles you stalk.

The school you went to. Where you search on incognito tabs. Welcome to the planet.

Panik! Or not, to be honest.

Embrasser le chaos, mon ami.

You see, as we journey along the internet, once in a while we stumble upon a promise that matches our expectations.

Someone on the internet claims they can solve a problem of ours if we pay them money. They seem trustworthy, so we’re curious.

But wait a minute, how did they find us?

Chance? Nope. That’s just a good product. And Instagram Ads. And Twitter ads. And Google Ads.

Ah, ads!

The bane of the internet. Have you ever come across an ad and felt only disgust? You know, the hiss and the quick scroll. Wetin be this one abeg? Mtchew.

Well, even if you’ve made it your life’s work to avoid all ads in existence, you’ve definitely met some in person.

Maybe one day we'll meet the meat Gala at the Met Gala.

In fact, in a danfo in Lagos right now, a questionable person is advertising their beliefs or concoctions to everyone on the bus. In the market, sellers call to you with different tactics…

“Pssssst! Sisteh, check here.” (Made you look! 😝)

(Fun fact, I was always referred to as a woman when my hair was in cornrows. Got me past a lot of police checkpoints quickly. God might just be a woman.)

What do these advertisers want from you? Trade.

But first, your attention. 👀

As we know, money doesn’t really exist in the sense that food does. Money is an existential tool that works like an exponential function specifically for humans. When used intelligently, it can multiply effort maximally. On its own, it’s useless. We can’t eat the paper or the digits.

But if you can design an outcome, money will make it happen—if—its components are available to trade.

So trade is as old as humanity’s ability to measure. It’s a brilliant collaborative technique to optimize effort and maximize results. Even children trade. I used to swap my homemade meals (dumbass) for junk food in year 1 of primary/grade school.

There was NOTHING you could tell me. I was RICH.

We realized early that we could—in a sense—optimize our life experiences by distributing value amongst ourselves. In plain English, instead of doing everything individually, we leaned on other people to share a collectively desired outcome.

That means I don’t have to grow my own rice, harvest it, parboil it, bag it, wash it, and then cook it to get a meal. I can just trade a meal/uncooked grains for money with someone who’s able to handle it. That way, I spend less effort getting a meal and more time doing other stuff. They get money to save their effort too.

What were we talking about again? Ads. Yes, ads. Yet, as we evolved trade to make life easier for ourselves collectively, a problem evolved with it; convenience.

Not everybody needs every product at every point in time. Even if people will always buy food, they won’t always buy YOUR food. So, the problem merchants faced was turning a random person into a buyer.

Here, people resorted to juju, and other human forms of data collection.

Rest assured.

So when they call you, “Sisteh, check here”, they just need your attention for a split-second.

They’re watching your eyes, your posture, your outfit, your demeanor, trying to create a profile on you to know how to trade with you. If they’re skilled salespeople and you’re buying what they’re selling, they make sales.

Meanwhile on the internet (oyinbo juju), someone got the idea to sell ads on Facebook & Google. Instead of people watching you and calling out to you in the market, you get a targeted ad as you’re scrolling through the web.

Same issue, different technology. Different, but now converging, as you’ll soon see.

The main issue with ads is poor targeting. How do we know who’d be interested in [x value proposition]? The juju no go work for everybody. But by collecting data anonymously from users of the internet, everyone, in general, can get much better ads about products truly beneficial to us. It’ll also cost businesses less to find our target market.

A utopian dream.

Wakey-wakey, sunshine. There's no escape.

Back on this planet, your data could be used to target & then deceive you, bringing you a horrible experience on our internet.

You likely know someone who’s been scammed online. It was probably you, wasn’t it? 🤣 [me too, lol] Being gullible is a human trait. It just means you have desires you’re willing to sacrifice for. The very basis of economics is desire and how it affects our behavior.

Doing business on an intangible internet definitely has loopholes. But hey, there are just as many potential benefits as there are risks to eCommerce. With cybersecurity, we’re doing something about it, so shush.

Now, what does it take for eCommerce to happen? Targeting, sure. Without the people to buy, what you’re selling is worthless. Yada yada. You know the drill.

But by taking a systemic approach to eCommerce, we can understand more about what moves people to whip out their cards and complete a transaction on the internet. It’s no story that a billion things could go wrong on the way to a sale online.


You’re practically taming a dragon through the buyer’s journey. But now, thanks to data, we have access to clearer answers to make this journey more vivid.

As a result, two questions arise:

  • First, how does stuff sell on the internet?
  • And, how do we make eCommerce more tangible?

Table of Contents

  • How does stuff sell on the internet?

  • Gaps between consideration, decision & trade: Easing commitment

    • Convenience of payment

    • Third-party animals

  • How do we make eCommerce more tangible?

    • Social capital
    • Integrations
    • Market testing

How does stuff sell on the internet? 🛒

Google released a report some time ago about buyer behavior on the internet, and I’ll just summarise that.

Basically, the convenience of information and options on the internet allows people to take their time and explore their options before making a purchase decision.

Convenience, again. Take note.

In digital marketing, we’ve established a core sequence critical to get to a sale:

  1. Awareness, next
  2. Consideration, then
  3. Decision

Targeting gets your foot in the door, where they become aware of your solution’s existence.

Your market could be a parent of a fast-growing 10-year-old looking for good clothes for their kid at a decent price. Let’s say it’s a woman who’s looking, and she’s an executive in a unicorn. If you’re the seller, once she sees an ad, she knows your business exists now. She’s aware. ✅

The distance between her awareness and her deciding that she wants to purchase from you is infinite, but tameable with the right moves.

On the internet, we have the ability to map out infinity - if we can collect the data. Archimides would be proud.

What’s right depends on people like her, so you’ll have to find out. Pay attention. Run surveys. Observe user behavior. Google’s Pixel 3a flooded the internet because it’s a phone built literally from feedback. Dey play.

As they say, the customer is always right. Yet, at the point of the decision is where systems can fail you in astonishing ways, regardless of the customer’s level of interest.

Pay attention.

Mindless Behaviour vs. Decision-Making

Because of the convenience of the interwebs, buyer behavior is different online. It’s more researched, and often slower.

In fact, scammers often include a sense of urgency in their plots to force your hand because they know that more information means they’re more likely to slip up and lose your attention vis-a-vis your trust and then your “trade”.

After a couple of ads/pieces of content, people know your product already. But when they’re online, they’re likely in zombie mode, looking to be entertained and not make serious decisions. The opposite of intention. Idleness.

It’s not necessarily that your product isn’t good. After talking to potential customers, you’ll figure that out quickly. And if your ad is well-targeted, they have to make a decision in that first interaction. They’ll likely be open to it, closed off from it, or on guard/curious.

Well, now they’re aware. That doesn’t mean shit. As I said, it’s just a foot in the door.

For a transaction to be completed online, your buyer must make a commitment to seeing it through. Let me tell you a story.

"Don't mind if I Marge right in, hyuk"

I got my first practical lesson in digital marketing & eCommerce in 2019.

As part of the curriculum, we’re often challenged in my alma mater to solve problems people would pay for.

Now, from my first year, my grades got worse about 4 semesters in a row.

I was mostly interested in music, but I was pressured by my parents to take my grades seriously. And so after hitting my lowest CGPA & GPA ever, I decided to find a system I could use to balance school with everything else.

The result of that undertaking was a boost from a GPA of 3.16 out of 5 to 4.3 after just 1 semester. Everyone was shocked. My parents left me in peace. My classmates and friends began coming to me for help with their studies. I became one of the smart kids. Happily ever after. ✨

Alma mater with all my maters in 2018.

The truth is, I’d done it before in high school. The same trend, I was performing on/below average, then I suddenly boosted my performance notably. I ended up representing my high school in a Chemistry competition and becoming a senior prefect because of it.

Unfortunately, I’m not special. I got a diploma in Educational Psychology to confirm that humans have the ability to increase their learning rate when faced with problems, depending on a few things. They call it the zone of proximal development. Yorubas call it Aase. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (wow) & Jeanne Nakamura called it flow state. People call it resilience. Toughness. Thick skin. Whatever.

So in 2019, I wrote and published a book, Ewa Agoyin & Dodo: The Recipe for The Happier Student to teach students the core habits that improve their learning rate and improve their performance at practically anything. [Check out the lovely book here.]

How did it sell? Social media. Particularly Twitter. Social carries the most weight on the internet.

With a $0 ad budget, I ran a campaign (with the help of my friends) that took the book viral and eventually pirated on campus [nothing bad ever gets pirated]. I don’t know how they found me, but South Africans loved it. I sent it to the Dean of Student Affairs and even he loved it.

We reached 200% ROI in the first week of sales. My two investors then got their money back with a warm 20% profit. I used some of my profits to pay for my first house rent.

On the impact side, the reviews we got from customers were humbling. I realized that I could actually help people and make a living off it.

I cried so hard bro.

I decided to create a business out of it with friends, and it called Recess.

Then I put out another digital product and it went viral again in two sister universities each semester for 2 years. From the feedback, I realized I had struck water. Not gold. Water is renewable, even though its volume on the planet is constant.

I paused Recess in 2019. I didn’t know anything about business or leading a remote team. I also had a thesis to prepare for and I wanted no distractions.

I took a part-time job as a Copywriter the next year, saved up, bought myself music gear, and debuted an EP with 30k streams from 92 countries in 7 months. At work, I learned how to lead a team remotely, did amazing stuff, and then moved to restart Recess in 2022.

You can stop clapping now.

Recess is an Educational Research Centre working to improve the quality of education in Africa using technology. Currently, 61% of youth in Africa are unemployed & undereducated.

For reference, 70% of Africa is under 30 years of age. So we sell information products, aka knowledge, to students & schools to ensure their ability to solve problems they can make a living on.

In March, we ran an awareness campaign for 2 weeks to see how the internet would respond to our offering. 54 countries in basically every continent said yes.

$0.0018 Cost-Per-Click on our ads. Heavy love from world powers too. It seems they all see the need for the “water”.

I actually only targeted Africa, but allowed the algorithm test other locations.

Google Analytics also recorded multiple anomalies in traffic to our landing page with a 1086.4% spike in predicted active users. That’s thanks to another $0 Twitter campaign I ran in the same period. Even after 3 years of silence, demand remained.

Spike Lee ma pa mi neowwwwww.

Why do people buy Recess’ information products?

We found a big problem with a big impact that we could solve.

Even during the COVID-19 lockdowns, schools were very much in session thanks to the internet. The happiest countries in the world have their education systems to thank for the state their society is in.

Yet, no matter how great your product is and how much people want it, it can’t sell if your buyer’s journey sucks.

This guy really ignored his shrooms. I thought it was all about the journey?

Gaps between Consideration, Decision & Trade: Easing Commitment

Convenience of Payment

Payments should happen in 3 gestures or less for best results.

I stayed on a call with a friend who wanted to buy some of my products recently. The total transaction time (on the payment page) took 19 minutes.

Offline, cash moves in an instant. 💸

Online, security & convenience of payment interacts almost inversely, with some improvements. It doesn’t help that your customer will have to bring out their card and follow through long verification prompts just to pay.

And funnily enough, the encryption and orisirisi done to protect people from fraud tend to contribute considerably to abandoned carts. Bank error. Card error. Error error.

Why should worthy payments fail after all that effort?

However, NFC tech is proven. Biometrics is another great way to authenticate online. If you’re developing fintech, go biometric or NFC.

Today, smartphones can read NFC chips and collect face & fingerprints. Can’t I just pay through that?

WHY IS THIS NOT EVERYWHERE????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

With subscription business models, churn and payment issues happen more commonly and chaotically. People will only stay with a product or service they believe suits their goals. If they stop believing, they stop paying. You’ll have to constantly innovate to match their expectations.

It could also be a currency issue. People get cold feet when it comes to mixing currencies and paying into unknown gateways, for good reason.

Customers are more likely to pick the cheapest payment option, as well as the easiest.

Third-Party Animals

Often in technology, innovators ignore how critical the social plane is to business success. Isaac Newton was a recluse.

But for your product to be adopted, you need a community backing it up. Things go viral first in smaller communities and gain momentum before they break out on the internet.

We're going viral! Again!

  1. Maintain a strong, supporting personal or business brand.

    If people don’t trust you, I won’t. Your brand is the vibe people get from your work, for lack of a better word. Failing to declare your brand is leaving money on the table. You’ll also fail to gather support, and your business will not grow. Spread the word daily.

  2. Sales calls provide an authority your customer can rely on.

    Let customers see the people behind your business. It gives them the confidence that will nudge them further to a sale. Get your skin in the game if you want their commitment. If they have issues with their transaction, be a text message away.

  3. Escrow brings trust to payments because they’re a neutral party.

    Even if you have no escrow, working with a payment platform that gives your customers the ability to report fraud and get their money back gives them security in doing business with you. Do your part.

  4. Affiliates are tricky but sticky.

    In Nigeria, there’s a huge market of salespeople ready to help you sell your products anywhere attention is on the web, even on WhatsApp. But do they care about the product? And should it really matter to them? You tell me.

How do we make eCommerce more tangible?

Even if you’re anti-capitalism, you certainly can’t be anti-trade. Or can you spin cotton? I thought so. In Africa, trading existed before we had money (barter). I don’t want to imagine a world where I have to do everything myself. Money should exist. Period.

But because of the internet’s intangible nature, personalization & trust are lacking in E-commerce. We’ve seen the “What I ordered vs. What I Got” memes. They fill us with dread.

Finity & begone!

Even in drug deals on TV, buyers ask to check the merchandise. Deception is not a new skill we just developed, humans have been crafty for years. Art has been duplicated. Bread has been unaffordable. Love has been blind. Agbaya dey for head office.

Imagine trying clothes on with a 3D version of you.

Thankfully, with new developments in web3, fashion will see some upgrades by shopping with XR tech. Personalization meets convenience, you’ll be able to try clothes on virtually. Fashion businesses will also be able to manage their inventories better. Less waste.

Regardless, the internet offers us also a better chance at confirming the value of an item compared to just walking into a store and asking for a price. We’ve not built trust with the vendor, and we don’t know if we can get a better deal elsewhere.

So, the reason companies on the internet stay alive are social capital, integrations & market testing.

Social capital

Amazon & AliExpress are handling the bulk of the world’s commerce on the interwebs. The reason you can trust them is that other people tried them and left reviews. Reviews are a critical part of the internet. From restaurants to hotels to phones to pornography, reviews help people make buying decisions on the internet.

Build, build, build!

Early adopters are the smallest percentage of buyers in the world, so you’ll definitely struggle in the early stages of business to build your reputation. It’s also why people buy followers and doctor reviews on their websites.

And if you skip the building process, you lose two things: the knowledge necessary to expand your business (all innovation is created from a series of constrained attempts at problem-solving), and the confidence in the quality of your product (and low-key, yourself).

There’s also the dissatisfaction of your new customers as a result, reduced ability to survive against any competition—basically, you’d be fucking yourself over. We live in a world where people will pay the highest price for the strongest reputation.

Apple’s brand? Worth $297.51bn.

While they can’t print this brand value into currency, they can mint it into products, services, franchises, and even job esteem with their employees. The brand is critical if you plan to stay in business long-term.

Bro, to get from 0 to 1, be sure you’re selling what people want to buy by testing it out with them. Hear from the horse’s mouth. Don’t make decisions under assumptions. Ask the source(s).


The rise of platforms like Zapier & IFTTT allowed eCommerce to happen easier.

After a purchase, I send a customized email to each buyer and send in another one after 30 days to make sure they’re satisfied. Myself? Hell no. Zapier handles it for me. I reply to any responses myself, although I might see myself handing that over to a carefully-picked AI chatbot.

Plug, plug, plug!

The future of the web is one with more integrations, not less. I collect payments in Nigeria through Paystack & Coinbase. The technology to do this wasn’t available to me in 2019. I actually had a bunch of issues in 2019 trying to collect payments through Paystack & Flutterwave (payment competitors). Ended up taking bank transfers, ew.

I have a friend whose store is hosted on Shopify. She sells physical products from Nigeria and ships worldwide. She doesn’t handle the shipping herself. She’s integrated with a logistics company. Integrations, bro.

My website? Built and hosted on Google Sites myself. I believe changes to an E-commerce storefront should be shipped as quickly as possible for testing. Where you sell is your storefront, could be Twitter, Hala, WhatsApp, Mercardo Libre, AliExpress, Amazon, Jumia, doesn’t matter. Just be active and building trust for your work.

I had my storefront on Paystack, but I wanted more control over a few things and set out to look for another one. With ElasticPath, I’m seeing that they enable you carve out your own E-commerce path no matter the route your business needs. I like it, but like the rest of their customers, I’m also confused about their pricing.

I would suggest a more visual approach to explaining how it works. My storefront’s web will be wherever my customers are, can go to easily from their smartphones, or are ready to go to buy from me.

Your data allows businesses to integrate in ways they probably never imagined. And instead of giving multiple companies access, I’d prefer to just give one proprietor and control how other companies access that data from the hub. Hence, signing in with Google, Apple, or Twitter.

You also reserve the right to not be tracked. Newer smartphones request permission before they collect or allow anyone to access your data. Browsers like Brave & DuckDuckGo also help to keep trackers & ads off you. Yet Brave pays you in crypto to see ads from them.

Ads are inevitable. We just need to value our data more.

Market testing

I mentioned that I send an email to collect feedback from my clients. Products come with warranties & such to assure the customer. What such merchants are essentially saying is, your satisfaction matters most to my business; which is true, no business can survive without a good reputation.

In many cases, your business needs to see the perspective of your target audience, and that’s only possible when you’re collecting feedback from as many channels as possible.

Each way you collect feedback will show you things about your solution that will nudge more people to trust you and trade with you.

At a point, our products were all sold in the Nigerian Naira, thinking that only Nigerians would buy. After running ads in March, we found 54 countries interested, and half of them may have never heard of the Naira.

Now we sell in USD, the Americans won with that one, for now. We also provided a translate option with Google Translate so people could use our website in their native languages.

A successful business has people vying for their product even beyond the available supply. Once you’ve built recurring demand, you’re in Vinland.

Once you have trust, you then work to keep it. Vinurandu.

With every interaction you have with your target audience, you find yourself with untapped potential to test, learn & adjust the buyer journey on the internet.

Every piece of information you get tells you about them, the social climate that day, what was trending on the internet, their values, their internet connection, a problem with the integration, a cultural perspective, how they respond to upselling x product, whatever. But not all this data gets your target audience to the Decision stage, or completes the trade.

Their decision to make the trade with you is a miracle, in a sense.

At first, they’re bystanders, curious to see if you have any answers they can trust. Then they choose you for your answers to their questions. The road from doubt to trust varies depending on a few things, and you’ll only find them with your audience, so ask.

Because of that, eCommerce is nothing without analytics. If your business isn’t using analytics on your platforms, you’re operating on the internet with a handicap. In the same way, consumers also make businesses great by providing feedback, if you’ll listen.

The data chico, it never lies.

With these three: feedback, targeting & testing, you have infinite chances to sell a product people want on the internet. You cannot fail, as long as they’re your focus.

Here’s a story to close:

Wherever there’s traffic on the roads in Nigeria; could be speed bumps, traffic lights or poor infrastructure, you’ll likely find hawkers on the road, trying to get your attention, trust & trade.

They sell products they know you’ll buy; roasted corn, groundnuts, Gala, water, drinks, toys for your bored kid. Stuff you can carry in your car; mirrors, paintings, pets, belts, flip-flops, tissue paper, etc.

When your car is stationary, they try many things to get your attention, almost cat-calling you, running ads in real life. The moment they find you interested and on the road to desire or outrightly in desire (aka buying intent), they take up the moment with such gusto.

The moment to trade has come, the hot sun doesn’t matter. The competition doesn’t matter. It’s just me and you, exchanging value to make this life a little easier.