Ecommerce Marketing / Success Stories

Products That Matter: Blending Art, Science and Pricing for a Winning Ecommerce Strategy

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Four years ago, I started my online store because I knew a professional potter who sold $82 coffee mugs. Add about $18 to pack and ship fragile ceramics across the country, and you’ve just spent $100 to sip your morning coffee.

These mugs sound expensive, but they are much cheaper than a professional painting or sculpture. And indeed, this potter’s artwork has won awards globally, so purchasing her art is akin to making an investment. Unlike most products, great art appreciates in value over time. I collect art and would gladly buy a mug if I could. Unfortunately for me, and quite fortunately for her, I have not been able to buy one because her pottery sells out almost instantly.

Her name is Ayumi Horie. Her mugs currently sell for $125-$160 each, almost exclusively through her online store. She posts a few dozen pots every other month or so and they sell out within a day or two.

For the last five years, I myself have made a living as a potter, selling mugs at $25. My own mugs sold very well at all of the usual places where artists sell: local galleries, coffee shops, art festivals, private commissions, bulk wholesale orders and online. Business was good, but I had this nagging feeling that my art and business were missing something.

I needed to create a stunning piece of art that would take my business to the next level. I looked everywhere for inspiration, and found it in one of my favorite celebrities/scientists, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. With almost 4 million Twitter followers, he inspires the masses with powerful ideas.

“The more of us that feel the universe, the better off we will be in this world,” Tyson once said, and I took these words to heart by creating pottery inspired by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.


Producing Value Over Volume

We drink from mugs everyday, but we rarely drink from handmade art. I’m trying to change that by showing the beauty of the cosmos in a small, useful object. I believe that handmade pottery enriches people’s lives. The word “cosmic” describes outer space, but the “cosmos” describes what is all around us. Cosmic mugs remind us that the elements from the stars are the exact same elements that make up objects in our daily lives.

Each pot starts as a lump of Stoneware clay, formed with my hands on a pottery wheel.

After attaching a handle, I brush and drip glazes onto the pot. Then, the mugs are fired in a kiln to over 2400 degrees to create 100% non-toxic, dishwasher-safe surfaces.

I’ve spent ten years studying ceramic art and glaze chemistry, which has taught me that no two ceramic surfaces glaze identically. The finished glazes are photographed and paired side-by-side with images captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. My goal is to create glazes that look like abstract paintings of galaxies and nebulae.

When I first priced the cosmic mugs three times higher than other mugs, I was terrified. What would my customers think? I knew these mugs were special, but were they worth the risk of possibly losing five years spent building a solid customer foundation?

Last Christmas, I brought home some mugs to show friends and family. They agreed that these mugs were special. They wanted to see me succeed and encouraged me not to sacrifice their worth. I decided to hold this art to higher standards. Bigcommerce tools allowed me to raise my prices in a controlled, respectful way. Priced at $45, they sold out. We made a big jump to $85 and they still sold out.

I decided to settle on this retail price, and to periodically give away just a few mugs to help spark more interest in this new type of art. Our ecommerce strategy aim to build bridges between artists and scientists, and this year, to honor the upcoming anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, we are giving away two cosmic mugs to the Bigcommerce Blog audience –– totally free.

Sign Up For a Chance to Win a Pair of Free Cosmic Mugs


The winner will receive an email Monday, July 27.

In all, a successful ecommerce strategy allows merchants to test out new products, price competitively and scale their online businesses to create a legacy brand, and legacy products, that outlive the merchants themselves. After all, business should be about creativity and value –– which these mugs perfectly represent.

Do you have an interesting startup story, a product you’d like to feature or something inspirational you’d like to share with the Bigcommerce audience? Leave a comment below and a member of our editorial staff will be in touch.

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