Ronny Sage of ShoppingGives: “BOPIS — Buy online, pick-up in-store”

BOPIS — Buy online, pick-up in-store. With the increase of online shopping, there are multiple factors at play driving the consumer to use BOPIS. Consumers want their products — instant gratification and with shipping times being massively impacted creating delivery delays, consumers are looking to buy and pick it up. Additionally, consumers are looking to shop local, which is […]

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BOPIS — Buy online, pick-up in-store. With the increase of online shopping, there are multiple factors at play driving the consumer to use BOPIS. Consumers want their products — instant gratification and with shipping times being massively impacted creating delivery delays, consumers are looking to buy and pick it up. Additionally, consumers are looking to shop local, which is being adapted by more mid-market retailers, which is putting pressure on larger retailers to adapt.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ronny Sage, Founder and CEO of ShoppingGives, a certified B Corp and award-winning commerce platform, focused on building the giving economy. ShoppingGives enables conscious brands to connect and build authentic relationships with customers, aligning with their customer’s individual values.

Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago IL, Ronny studied music business and received a BA in management from Columbia College Chicago. Holding executive roles in brand marketing and other high growth startups he found parallels between music and the creative aspects of technology, where he developed his career.

Prior to ShoppingGives, he served as a digital strategy leader at a top national digital agency, Rise Interactive, where he worked with Fortune 500 retailers such as David Yurman, Gap, Ulta Beauty, Atkins, and Nikon.

During his time at ShoppingGives, with his team, they have created the leading eCommerce solution for frictionless charitable giving. Today they are working with thousands of top DTC brands to create a massive impact for charities across the US and internationally. They have been selected as an essential app for “launching your store” on the Shopify App marketplace and recognized as the #2 Top Startup to work for in Chicago by Tech In Motion.

Through his 13 years of experience building loyalty and incentive programs for retail brands, he launched global viral campaigns as well as several of his own web and mobile applications. Ronny is also a featured guest speaker and contributor on Forbes, Technori WGN Radio, CBS Small Business Pulse, and Innovation & Tech Today.

He believes that micro-actions lead to macro-effects and recognizes the potential to harness the power of consumption for positive impact.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset, selling baseball or pokemon cards, cutting friends hair or a promotional company in college — always loved the hustle and process of learning something new.

Post college, my first job was at an affiliate website called where I ran Social Media, this is where I got my first taste of digital marketing, and fell in love with customer acquisition — understanding what drives the psychology of a buyer. I was then recruited by CouponTrade which became the first P2P gift card marketplace — the team was 8 people total at this time, this is where I fell in love with product, and got to play intrapreneur. I led business development, and played a hybrid-role of marketing, sales, and product development working with developers, designers, and the business team to create direct connections with retailers to sell gift cards directly at a discounted price as customer acquisition strategy. During one of our first rounds of funding I went to meet with a potential investor, who ended up recruiting me in that meeting to become Executive Vice President, of K12 Teachers Alliance — I was 23 and had a team of 25 — brought on to build an educators network, providing classroom and professional development resources — which was a means to acquisition for recommending secondary education to educators. At my time here, I was exposed to the immense needs for classroom funding and resources, and thought “what if we could use Affiliate and Gift Cards to fund the classroom” this is what became the early catalyst for (though it went beyond education and expanded to all Nonprofits).

After K12, I went agency side managing digital P&L, sales, and development teams for a branding agency — and then eventually landed at Rise Interactive, where I lead Digital Strategy for IR 500 brands having the opportunity work with brands like Gap, David Yurman, Nikon, Sears, and many more. Before starting at Rise, I told them I was going to build ShoppingGives, and they agreed to sign a non-non compete — on my second year anniversary, I had three full time employees working for me, and when they offered me a new role, I passed and went head first into ShoppingGives.

At this time, ShoppingGives was an affiliate marketplace where we enabled nonprofits and schools to create fundraisers through our website, providing back 50–80% of the commission we received as a fundraising dollar to the cause. In Fall 2018 we pivoted to our current model, as an integrated merchant technology, offering a Social Impact Commerce platform, which was the catalyst for our ongoing growth, success, and social impact — everything is a progression of learnings and failures.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Covid — that is by a long shot the most interesting story I will most-likely have in my lifetime. One of our core values at ShoppingGives is We Invest in Tomorrow, Today. No entrepreneur can plan for a pandemic. When we saw it coming, we had no idea what to expect, and we did what most smart leadership did — looked at budgets, looked at pipelines, and made really hard decisions. Then when we got word everything was shutting down — what we have created became that much more clear how powerful it truly was, and how much retailers and the world needed it — our investment in tomorrow, became today. In a matter of a month, we grew over 100%, and it led to us expediting our finance round to support our growth.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

The best part about what we do is that everyday is we get to change the world, a single transaction at a time — micro-actions, macro-impact. Something we are seeing more of is the expanded use of what we have built outside of retail, for example, we just launched a new partner called OfficeHours. They are using our payments network to enable advisors to allocate their fees as a donation when someone books time — these unique and innovative use cases get us excited for what’s possible.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Hobbies. With COVID, it’s even harder to separate yourself from work as it’s more accessible, and the line blends between when the day starts and ends. My wife calls me an extreme hobbyist. I’m not great at any of them, though I love woodworking for example — and I go deep into my hobbies, researching, youtubing, books, podcasts, wasting a bit of money on things I probably do not need, but they make me happy — try making the hoppy something outside or with movement. Prioritize a time each week for yourself, put it on the calendar, and treat it like a meeting that you cannot miss.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Absolutely — one thing I am okay gloating about is my ability to take feedback and ask for help. I have an incredible team of advisors, each who have their own specialty and focus, helping me check blindspots.

Andrew Blickstein — Andrew and I met at a halloween party in 2014, introduced through a mutual friend who said “You two need to connect”. Andrew at the current time was CEO of a OTT advertising agency and he became a client while I was at the branding agency, but we quickly became close friends. Fast forward, I go full time with ShoppingGives, Andrew has now exited his business and is a full time business coach for other entrepreneurs focusing on operational efficiencies, and overall growth. Note, Andrew was also President of the Chicago EO chapter and highly respected by the business community.

Within the first month of leaving Rise, I called Andrew and asked him to formally be my advisor. To this day, every other Friday morning at 8am, we have a call discussing personal struggles, business opportunities, how to navigate various challenging situations — generally he is asking lots of questions, but at the end of each discussion, I have a clear list of action items he holds me accountable for. This accountability, and knowing that he is willing to give his time to me, shows his belief in me — I am forever grateful.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

I have 3 for you, top of mind!

BOPIS — Buy online, pick-up in-store. With the increase of online shopping, there are multiple factors at play driving the consumer to use BOPIS. Consumers want their products — instant gratification and with shipping times being massively impacted creating delivery delays, consumers are looking to buy and pick it up. Additionally, consumers are looking to shop local, which is being adapted by more mid-market retailers, which is putting pressure on larger retailers to adapt.

Social Commerce — Social marketplaces e.g Instagram. We have seen marketplaces takeoff over the last year, starting with Facebook, now Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat and Tik Tok all key players. They say to be where your customers are — well during a pandemic, they are on social media. The other side of this is the use of social media as currency.

Social Impact — With the scale of eCommerce growth, growing 30% YoY, with that came the demands of the consumer. Multiple studies post pandemic have stated consumers expect retailers to contribute to a cause and act more responsibly in the long-term. Generation Impact (what we call Millennials & Gen Z at ShoppingGives) are looking deeper into the brand values and how it aligns with their own, voting with their wallets. For a retailer to be successful post COVID, social impact is table stakes.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

I think retail stores are here to stay, consumers want experiences. Does every Shopping experience need to be a physical one — no, but a great example of this is curated physical stores. For example, Beta8 or Neighborhood Goods. Both are very different, but they are blending DTC, storytelling and human designed experience.

Do I think malls are going to continue to exist? Yes, I do, but with a radical different experience — more BOPIS — order, set appointments, try-on, take home, or leave. Use of malls as fulfilment centers. I am also waiting for Shopify to buy Westfield or someone of the liking… Offer top performers physical space and fulfillment. Walk in with your Shop App, which essentially would work like Amazon Go, enabling you to take anything from any store, walk in, try on, walk out.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Consumers are looking to connect — build meaningful relationships. What is coming from Amazon and China are commodities — products with no brand, no personality, no story. Perhaps you lose to them on PLA or they are driving up your instagram paid CPM, but there is no longtail for these players… Each time, they have to rebuy the same customer.

Stand out by standing up — share the why, then share why you. Customers will become loyal if you offer an equal or better product, but also have a brand story and values they resonate with.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m doing it everyday. ShoppingGives or and whatever it becomes will be at the center of every transaction, every purchase… think mortgage, bills, gas, banking, etc. Every moment should have a moment of impact, giving the consumer the power of choice, and the seller “merchant” the ability to do so, without question of “how” but rather “how much” — shifting subsidies, tax credits, write-offs, marketing budgets, and various other expenses that aim to maximize bottom-line, to create world changing impact.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Thanks for having me! You can follow me personally and ShoppingGives at @Rdsage and @ShoppingGives both Twitter & Instagram.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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