Test. Test. Test — Data is often something that scares a lot of brands, but in all honestly, it shouldn’t. Heatmapping tools like HotJar and LuckyOrange are easy to install and show brands exactly where and how users interact with an eCommerce store. By looking at this, brands are able to see what elements of their store is causing customers to not buy or navigate away. In using this data, being able to test new approaches on site (as well as with marketing) is made simpler. Every brand should always be testing — failing to do so will lead to you falling behind.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Pearce, Co-Founder and CEO of Blend Commerce, a Shopify Expert Agency. Adam comes from a varied background of Management Consultancy, Sales and Teaching and leads his global team from the UK office for Blend Commerce. Adam’s passion is for DTC brands who are looking to grow within the Shopify platform.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Being honest, I really ‘fell’ into the eCommerce world. Around 7 years ago, my brother in law had retrained as a developer, and was getting super excited about this new platform called ‘Shopify’. At the time, I blew it off as a ‘fad’, but soon realized that it was becoming a very big deal. At the time, I was leading a marketing team at an app company and was getting the itch to start a business. After a few months of making plans, we both quit our jobs and began our journey with Shopify.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
When we looked around the market, there were developers, strategists and marketers operating the standard agency setup. Having initially spoken to a number of Shopify merchants, we understood that they wanted to have all of the services they needed under one roof and also deal with a company that felt like they cared as much about their business as they did. We decided to this was the way forward and I believe this has lead to our significant growth.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
In the first few months, we tried to run before we could walk. We pitched to huge companies in the hope of landing bigger contracts, but we didn’t have the manpower to do this. We tried lots of different ways of attracting bigger clients, but it was hard to get much traction. Ultimately, we knew that what we were offering was what the market needed, so we reworked the way we approached clients which got us through.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Today, we work with some of the biggest brands in the world using Shopify, which includes Yamaha and Absolute Collagen. By keeping our focus on what we wanted to bring to the market, we’ve been able to land the clients we always dreamed of. At times it was tempting to follow our competitors but sticking to our principles has lead us to where we are now.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
We were introduced to a large eCommerce brand by a contact who we understood was looking to migrate to Shopify. We scheduled a call with their board and had a great initial conversation with the brand. At the end of the call, one of the representatives from the company asked me, ‘So how long have you been the CEO at Shopify?’. It soon dawned on me that the client believed they were talking with Shopify and not an agency. I then had to explain the situation which was a little embarrassing for both parties!
The lesson here was simple — we needed to make sure that we clearly introduced ourselves before launching into meetings with clients. This really works on both levels — sometimes we’re not a good fit for a client and vice-versa. We now have a very stringent fact finding procedure when we are introduced to a potential client and this helps us avoid those types of situations.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We recently asked our team to create some videos explaining more about their roles and how they felt about working at Blend. One of our team members sent me their video, and I remember hearing ‘Blend is more than just a job for me, its like a family.’ While I was touched at this, I also then viewed more videos from the team. All of the team mentioned that they fell supported and happy to be in company where they were truly valued and supported. For me, this was a huge achievement and something that our clients remark on. Our clients really love the fact that we enjoy the success that we bring to them — for us a client is also a Blend win.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Simple. Don’t try and be everything to everyone. Its something that we did in the early days of Blend and we made a horrible mess of it. Focusing on the type of projects and skills that you truly have expertise in is a much better way to grow a business without burning out.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
A few years back, I met the COO of a competitor agency. From initially meeting her, I saw passion, intelligence and focus — things that sometimes I lacked due to burnout. A year or so on, that COO setup her own consultancy business to help agencies like us. Rachel Jacobs, founder of Ecommerce Partnerships truly revolutionized our business. After 3 months of working with her, we’d completely changed the way we worked and this resulted in increasing our monthly revenue by 400%. While this might sound dramatic, without her help, I don’t know if we would still be running a business. I am deeply indebted to Rachel and eternally grateful.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this 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 a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
During the pandemic, research by Klaviyo showed that 54% of all traffic on ecommerce stores came from new customers. Essentially, the pandemic has brought many new customers online who have not previously shopped online, as well as increasing the spending level of existing online shoppers.
One of the biggest changes has been brands focusing on personalizing the approach online. For example, using quizzes with tools like Octane AI onsite to gather much more detailed information about an email subscriber has meant that ecommerce brands can give shoppers the personal experience they would expect in a brick and mortar store. By doing this, its been possible to get customers to spend more and increase the Average Order Value (AOV) for many of our clients.
Another big change has been the switch to thinking about Customer Service (CS) as a revenue stream, opposed to a cost. Helpdesk solutions like Gorgias have been absolutely critical to help Shopify stores talk, discuss and ultimately sell through online chat and having customer data at the fingertips of CS agents. For me, this will only become more important as we seen an even heavier switch from brick and mortar to online shopping.
Amazon, and even Walmart are 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 retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
The important thing to note right now is that customers are not shopping as much based on price, they’re shopping on experience. The key formula here is to be able to offer the speed of delivery that Amazon can provide, with the personal feel of shopping at a local brick and mortar store. With so many great shipping solutions available on Shopify, this is something that can be achieved when combining the approach with heavily personalised Shopify stores and email marketing with tools like Klaviyo.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Buiding the ‘perfect’ Shopfiy store. Period. When launching an eCommerce business, the only real information that brands have is what they know about competitors and what they want to sell. Building an extremely customized Shopify store from day one is expensive and totally unnecessary. The key focus when setting up a Shopify store should be to build a clear and easy to use store that gets the potential customer to the product. Once a store has been running for at least 3 months, its then time to really analyse the data. How are people shopping? Where do they go onsite? Which channels do they arrive from? By then having the answers to these questions, the more advanced features of a Shopify store can be brought in, which is also at a point when cash is coming through the door. It’s a common mistake that’s made, but one that can be avoided.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
For me, the understanding that one traffic source alone is never enough. We once worked with a brand that generated 92% of all of their traffic from Facebook ads. While the returns were good on ads initially, the rising cost of Facebook Ads soon began to squeeze their margins. Because the brand had completely neglected to drive organic traffic, making the transition to other forms of traffic was hard. For me, this is something that needs to be thought about from day one — spread out your traffic so you are not at the mercy of one source that could disappear overnight.
Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Octane AI and Klaviyo are two must have tools. Octane AI have a Shop quiz feature that allows Shopify stores to get detailed information from email and SMS subscribers when signing up. So for example, if a beauty brand uses the software, they can simply ask the customer about their skin type, lifestyle and skin issues onsite. What’s more, they’ll also be able to instantly recommend more relevant products to the potential customer, as well as storing this information for future marketing purposes.
By then integrating Octane AI with Klaviyo, Klaviyo will then enable brands to create specific and personalised email flows and campaigns to those users. So for example, if we know that a customer is a busy stay at home mum with dry skin, we can create email campaigns that speak directly to her needs.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
While this tends to vary from brand to brand, here are 3 core strategies.
- Navigation — When a customer visits a home page or landing page, they need to have signposting that quickly gets them to a product that they may consider purchasing. The top level navigation for a lot of brands doesn’t always provide this direction, especially when brands use navigation such as ‘Shop All’. For example, if a clothing brand sells coats, use the top navigation to get them to the options available. For example, ‘Shop Winter Coats’, ‘Shop Rain Macs’ etc. By doing this, customers will more easily get to a range of products that they’re looking for and much more likely to purchase.
- Product page trust indicators — Many brands using trust indicators such as ‘Free Shipping’ or ‘Made in the USA’ on their home page. While this is good practice, adding these trust indicators to a product page is often missed. By also including these trust indicators below your main Cal to Action (CTA) on a product page this reminds the potential customer of why they should be shopping with you when they are about to make their purchase decision. This small, but effective strategy is a must have for any brands looking to increase conversion.
- Reviews — Reviews can be the lifeblood of conversion when used correctly. One of the biggest mistakes made by Shopify merchants is not displaying reviews correctly on a site. Having a text based review is great, but with tools like Reviews.io, brands are able to request video based reviews. We’ve seen how using these video based reviews in the product gallery on a product page can have a significant impact on conversion by showing a ‘real life’ usage of the product.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Focusing on the after-sale process is key here. When we work with brands, we use Klaviyo to build out highly personalised post-sales flows that include customer check ins, review requests and loyalty programs. Given that it costs 5X more to sell to a new customer than it does to an existing one, this is incredibly important to the bottom line of a business, but also helps brands get the ‘hero’ status that so many aims for but fail to achieve.
One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
As I mentioned previously, we truly believe in the power of reviews when used correctly. If a negative review has been published on google reviews, firstly its important to respond on google to explain that you’re aware and that you’ll be in contact. If possible, then contacting the customer directly either by email or phone. Sometimes, negative reviews can be due to misunderstanding about a product or service, so this may help to resolve the issue.
If it materializes that you as a brand are at fault, an apology and refund/partial refund/gift is a must. This must also then be reflected on the response on google reviews. By doing this, you’re showing your customer that you’re doing the right thing, as well as other customers.
The absolute critical step now is to reflect and review. What processes failed here for the customer? Was it the information on site? Was it your shipping service? Finding this out and addressing it is key, but often a step that many brands forget.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
Great question! Here are my 5 top tips:
- Spend big on photography from day 1 — If you take a look at some of the worlds most successful Shopify brands, photography is always a key focus. Given that Shopify provides some excellent themes that require minimal coding, spending on photography is an absolute must. We’ve seen a number of brands focus heavily on technical customisations for features on site, only to then provide us with inconsistent and badly lit photography that lets the site down. My guide here is to spend as much as you can on photography, and wait until the data shows you need more technical features on your store.
- Build a community — We’ve worked with a number of brands to build Facebook groups prior to site launch. By establishing yourself as a thought leader or source of support and information, this makes the ‘sell’ part of the business easier. Facebook groups are also a great way to conduct market research without it feeling like this to a customer, but its something that many brands overlook, even though it can be a great source of information and traffic.
- Build hype for product launches — When creating a new product, there’s always a tendency to want to keep it under wraps until launch day. The issue with this is that it comes as a surprise to many customers, and you don’t have the psychological buy in that is needed in the purchase process. When launching a new product, its critical to have a hype phase -usually 1–2 weeks. In this period, sharing sneak peek shots, running competitions and interviews with the product creator can not only generate the hype for a product launch day, but also act as a way to forecast demand.
- Integrate apps and technology providers — With literally thousands of Shopify apps available, choosing the right apps is tricky. But when a brand has chosen, we always see that brands don’t integrate these apps together to get the best results. For example, if you run a loyalty program and using email marketing, automatically including the rewards point balance at the top of each email you send is an easy and sale inducing tactic you can deploy. Here at Blend, this is a big focus for us, and should be for all ecommerce brands.
- Test. Test. Test — Data is often something that scares a lot of brands, but in all honestly, it shouldn’t. Heatmapping tools like HotJar and LuckyOrange are easy to install and show brands exactly where and how users interact with an eCommerce store. By looking at this, brands are able to see what elements of their store is causing customers to not buy or navigate away. In using this data, being able to test new approaches on site (as well as with marketing) is made simpler. Every brand should always be testing — failing to do so will lead to you falling behind.
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. 🙂
One of the biggest failures in the world for me is homelessness. Ecommerce is an industry that generate jobs and roles for people of all walks of life and skills. I would like to be part of a global movement where homelessness can be significantly reduced by training people to be part of the ecommerce industry.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!