Have a customer-first mindset. Everything starts and ends with the customer. Rather than making decisions based on what’s best for the company, think about how to bring the most value to customers. At Edible, we got rid of our “next-day and beyond” delivery fee sometime in March when the pandemic hit, and we have continued offering next-day delivery at no additional cost ever since. Basically, if you order a gift or treat online today, it can be delivered for free tomorrow. This was a difficult decision for the brand to make because we have had a delivery fee since day one. But rather than thinking about the loss in revenue, the conversation shifted to how many more transactions and customers we would be able to gain by eliminating this fee, and we have done exactly that over the last few months!
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 Somia Farid Silber, Vice President of eCommerce for Edible Brands®, the parent company of Edible Arrangements. Silber is responsible for overseeing digital paid media as well as eCommerce operations for the brand.
Silber is the daughter of Edible founder Tariq Farid, who opened the chain’s first location when Silber was just six years old. She spent much of her childhood and teen years working at the store level before transitioning to an internship at the brand’s corporate headquarters, working with various teams to familiarize herself with all aspects of the business.
Upon graduating from Babson College in Massachusetts with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management with a concentration in strategic management and data analytics, Silber spent time in a media planning role with an agency. She returned to the family business in 2016 and has since filled roles including a cross-functional project manager implementing strategic initiatives across the company and leading Netsolace, the IT arm of Edible, overseeing product development across Edible’s technology applications.
In 2017, Silber moved from her home state of Connecticut to Atlanta, Georgia, to continue working in Edible’s relocated corporate headquarters. She lives in the Brookhaven neighborhood with her husband. In her free time, Somia enjoys traveling and spending time with her family.
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?
Thanks for having me! Edible is actually my family business. My dad opened the first store on the side of his flower shop when I was six, so I’ve literally grown up with the brand and been a part of it since day one. I think I started taking phone orders and working front-of-house when I was 11 or 12, mostly just for fun and because I loved telling customers about our offerings. During college, I interned with various Edible Brands teams when I was home for the summer. After I graduated, I spent some time working at a digital media agency in Boston, then transitioned back to Connecticut to work at Edible headquarters as a full-time employee. Since then, I’ve held various roles in the company and have gotten exposure to many areas of the business. My passion really lies with technology and just over a year ago, I was named vice president of our eCommerce business, which I have been leading since.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My dad, Tariq Farid, grew up in Pakistan and immigrated to the United States when he was 12 years old. Fruit was pretty much the standard snack and dessert when he was growing up, and same for me when I was a kid. There was always fresh fruit available in the house. Tariq had seen fruit arrangement concepts in the hospitality industry. Being a florist, he knew all about design and started experimenting with fruit arrangements. One day, he came home with the first edible arrangement, put it on the dining table, and my grandma said, “honey, this is going to be big!” Thus, Edible Arrangements was born! We started out with one store in East Haven, Connecticut, in 1999 and opened the first franchised location in Waltham, Massachusetts, in 2001. I’ve since watched firsthand as the organization has grown to more than 1,000 locations around the world.
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?
It’s not necessarily the funniest, but it is the most noteworthy and influential on my decision making as an eCommerce executive. In franchising — really in any business — it’s very easy to make decisions based on opinions and what a few people say. It could be something as simple as homepage creative or the color of a button. What I learned very quickly is that yes, sometimes there is a gut feeling that is necessary in the decision-making process, but what’s most important is data. Data-driven decisions are so important because they allow individuals, teams and brands to be consistent, to be confident in the work they put out, and to promote continuous growth.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Edible’s mission is to “WOW” you. That’s it, short and sweet. It’s a small yet powerful mission, and it applies across many areas of the business. Everything that we do must start and end with a “wow”, from the moment we try a new recipe created by our innovation team to every gift delivered by our delivery ambassadors. This idea of “wow” lets the whole team at Edible think big and understand that we will never create or launch something that is less than a wow-worthy experience. And the idea of “wow” started in the first Edible store when a customer called and said “melon isn’t in season so how do you know that it is good this time of year?” to which Tariq responded, “if you’re not wowed by your gift, I’ll give you your money back.” What started as a “wow guarantee” is now a principle within the business and greatly impacts the products and services we provide.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
One amazing thing about eCommerce is that it’s constantly evolving, and there’s always something new to learn. I’ve found that I feel stuck in a rut when I’m not learning or getting new ideas, so I try to read new books, listen to podcasts, and network with people both in and outside the industry, whether it’s with peers, vendor partners, or other executives in the area. Knowing what’s happening outside of Edible helps me ideate and continue to think big.
Another tip — and something I continue to work on myself — is balance. This is even more relevant now with so many people working from home, because we’re working in the same place we live. I find myself working much longer when I am home, because there is no way to identify the end of the day such as a commute home. Having an event to signal the beginning and end of a workday is helpful with managing your time. And when I find myself working late in the evenings or even just cleaning out my email inbox, I ask myself, “Can this wait until tomorrow, or do I really have to do it right this second?” The answer is usually the latter, and I’m then able to call it a day earlier than planned.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Definitely. My dad has been influential in my growth and success as a leader. He opened the first Edible store when I was a kid, so I spent a ton of time with him in those first few stores and visiting Edible franchisees. Those early days were instrumental in building my customer service and business acumen skills. It was tidbits as simple as “Always smile when talking on the phone with customers because they can hear it” that really stuck with me. As I got older, there were a lot of coaching moments with my dad , and those still occur to this day. A very vivid coaching moment I can recall took place during my college days, on a night when my dad was in town for work and took me out for dinner. We were talking about classes, and I told him “I hate accounting.” He responded, “Well, Somia… you learn from what you hate.” I did not know what to say back to that at the time, but it really changed my outlook on how I approached my schoolwork and now on how I approach professional and career development.
Having a mentor who is also both your dad and your boss isn’t always a walk in the park, but it makes for such an honest relationship with two-way dialogue. My father and I are able to have tough conversations, provide feedback and move on. I’m grateful that I’ve had him as my role model both in business and in life literally since day one.
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?
The pandemic has changed shopping behaviors across generations and there are a few examples of what eCommerce businesses are doing in light of the new realities.
- Seamless curbside pickup — We saw many brands, ranging from Whole Foods to Home Depot to Best Buy, start offering curbside pickup very early in the pandemic. Having a quick and easy-to-use curbside pickup solution is key now more than ever, because customers are looking for the most convenient and safest ways to shop.
- Personalization — There are so many brands offering the same products and services at similar price points. Competition is fiercer now than ever before. Brands need to find ways to cut through the clutter in order to stand out, and one way to do so is with personalization. Whether it’s through your messaging or even your loyalty program. For example, I get most of my groceries at Whole Foods and, since April, I’ve been doing Whole Foods pickup. By scanning the QR code in the Whole Foods app when I’ve been in-store, my shopping history was saved in the Amazon app to make building my shopping cart online a very quick and easy process. Because of how easy it is, my husband and I found ourselves shopping at Whole Foods more regularly now because of the seamless, personalized experience and consistency.
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?
Like I said, marketplace competition is fiercer now than ever before. First think about how you can turn your customers into long-term, loyal guests of your brand, whether it’s with a seamless user experience, excellent post-purchase processes, or a rewards program. Find ways to create that one-on-one connection with your customer so that they come to expect the experience you give them when they’re shopping for your product. Second, invest in SEO early. Given how many product/service searches start on search engines like Google, take time to learn the impact SEO can have on your business and invest in tools that will help you build domain authority and show up on the first search results page.
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?
When starting out, teams will look at their website so much that it’s easy to get fatigued by the messaging, which pushes them to change it too frequently and too soon. Take time to understand how frequently customers are visiting your website and purchasing your product or service. Lean on data prior to changing creative or messaging and always take note of the changes being made. Every week, my team gets together to talk about what was featured on edible.com the prior year and what we’re doing this year to comp over LY sales. It’s helpful to have detailed notes on traffic, conversion, revenue and visuals as we discuss the plans for the current year.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
eCommerce isn’t as simple as putting up a bunch of SKUs and waiting for the sales to roll in. Brands need to take time to understand their target audience. Who is the ideal shopper for their products or services? Some brands will have multiple core audiences, and that’s totally okay. Knowing who they are and why they’re drawn to you is critical, because it will inform price points, advertising efforts, other key marketing decisions, and so much more. At Edible, we have three audiences: the millennial hostess, mister gifter and the experienced gifter. As we do our seasonal campaign planning, we’re always thinking about how our messaging is going to impact each audience, tailoring creative as needed for targeted ads. For example, the core audience for Valentine’s Day is mister gifter, but we don’t want to forget about the millennial hostess who might be having a Galentine’s Day party. It is absolutely key to know who your brand is selling to and what that audience’s core attributes are in order to effectively move them through the funnel.
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?
Since data is key, having a great analytics tool is necessary to understand web performance. Google Analytics is a free and easy-to-use tool that will provide insight into factors like traffic by channel, conversion rates, product performance, most-visited pages, and so much more. Also, like I mentioned already, investing in SEO early is very important to build domain authority with various search engines. There are tools like Moz and SEMRush that can help with this when you’re starting out.
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?
Great question! First, the checkout flow is one of the most critical parts of the user experience. Require as little information and as few clicks as possible from the customer for them to complete the purchase. Attention-grabbing headlines and CTAs on your homepage are also necessary because the goal is to have the customer see something that they want to click on and explore right away. Offer multiple payment methods — everything from credit card to PayPal and Apple Pay — so that there are ample options for all types of customers. Lastly, use data from tools like Google Analytics to merchandise your products according to what’s selling, but also provide a mix of price points and options if possible. Essentially, make it easy for all types of customers to find what they’re looking for and to quickly make their purchases.
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?
Inject personality into the brand and create a stellar post-purchase experience. It goes way beyond getting the sale. Once you have the sale, think about how this new customer can become a repeat purchaser. Provide updates on their order, think about the packaging they’ll receive their products in and have an awesome customer service team who is there to take care of every customer and every order.
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?
One of the best and most challenging things about reviews is that you’re not just responding to the person who wrote it, but to potential future customers of the brand. First and foremost, respond to poor reviews right away and apologize from the get-go. Acknowledge that the brand didn’t meet the customer’s expectations and that you’re going to do everything you can to make it right. Provide a way for the customer to get in touch with you directly, whether it’s a phone number to call or via private message if the negative review is on a social media platform (take the conversation offline as quickly as possible). This is a one-time opportunity to win back the customer and to possibly acquire new customers in the process.
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.
- The brand should have a core purpose and passion. At Edible, we are all about providing a “wow-worthy” experience and celebrating what’s good in life. There should always be a reason why customers want to shop with brands, and it’s important to know what that is in order to effectively communicate to them what you’re all about.
- Have a customer-first mindset. Everything starts and ends with the customer. Rather than making decisions based on what’s best for the company, think about how to bring the most value to customers. At Edible, we got rid of our “next-day and beyond” delivery fee sometime in March when the pandemic hit, and we have continued offering next-day delivery at no additional cost ever since. Basically, if you order a gift or treat online today, it can be delivered for free tomorrow. This was a difficult decision for the brand to make because we have had a delivery fee since day one. But rather than thinking about the loss in revenue, the conversation shifted to how many more transactions and customers we would be able to gain by eliminating this fee, and we have done exactly that over the last few months!
- Find ways to build loyalty and frequency among your customers. This goes hand-in-hand with having a customer-first mindset. It’s expensive to constantly have to acquire new customers, so think about ways to retain existing customers and turn them into frequent shoppers. Edible has historically been seen as an expensive and premium brand. Over the last year, the eCommerce team has started to push “gifts under 50 dollars” messaging. The brand has always offered gifts under 50 dollars, but we never communicated this to our customers. Now, by introducing more affordable options, we’re able to talk about all the ways customers can use beyond just birthdays, anniversaries, and Mother’s Day. Since launching this new messaging, we’ve seen an increase in “Just Because” gifting, and we’ve also seen an increase in new Gen Z purchasers, which is really exciting.
- Have a strong SEO strategy. With so many product searches starting on Google, it’s necessary that brands show up on the first results page in order to gain traction. Invest in tools that will help boost SEO and turn it into a revenue-driving channel. The eCommerce team at Edible works with an agency on all things SEO — from naming our new products to creating valuable content for our blog. All of this impacts where our brand shows up on the search results page.
- Be relevant and continue to evolve based on trends and customer needs. We have all seen shopping behaviors shift so dramatically over the last few months. The beauty of eCommerce is that it’s so easy to pivot offerings and messaging. Having a strong eCommerce presence has been instrumental for our success during these challenging times. On March 13th when stay-at-home orders went into place, the Edible team was thinking about how we could keep our 1,000 store locations open and deemed as essential. We decided to pivot our services to focus on what customers needed in the early stages of the pandemic: access to fresh produce, which wasn’t readily available in grocery stores. In a matter of hours, we created a whole fruit box offering for 19.99 dollars that was available for free delivery. This effectively launched Edible’s entry into the grocery space, creating a new product category for our brand that has since continued to grow with the introductions of boxes and bundles featuring vegetables and other snack foods. But the biggest win of all was that we were giving our customers exactly what they needed in the midst of so much uncertainty, which enhanced that customer connection we’re always looking to foster.
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. 🙂
There are so many great organizations across the nation bringing awareness to and actively impacting food insecurity, and one that I’ve volunteered with pretty much everywhere I’ve lived is Feeding America. I would love to see some large brands donate their efficiencies to help causes like this — whether its efficiencies with manufacturing, transportation, logistics, or even marketing.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!