Tracey Wallace is the Editor-in-Chief at BigCommerce, where she covers all things ecommerce: marketing, design, development, strategy, plus emerging trends, including omnichannel and cloud replatforming. She is often featured in publications, such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, Mashable, and ELLE, along with leading BigCommerce partners like HubSpot and Square. She launched her career in ecommerce with Y-Combinator backed Shoptiques.
From this interview you will learn:
- How to improve customer experience with gamification and technology
- Why the biggest opportunity for companies is after the sale
- Success Cases of ecommerce companies that have built a strong brand loyalty
- The best tips to build and maintain an email list
KELLY: Hi everyone, I’m Kelly the VP of Business Development at Social&Loyal. We are here with Tracey Wallace, from BigCommerce.
TRACEY: Hi everyone, I am the senior content marketing manager, over at BigCommerce. I’ve been over here at BigCommerce for about 2 and a half years now, prior to that I was busy at the intersection of retail and tech. I have been writing about that before a little bit over at Elle, which is insane because today when you think about retail, tech is just part of it, there is no convergence they have converged, so it’s really interesting to think about. A lot of those articles that I used to write and a lot of the research that I used to do, where we were covering how new retailers were using technology to grow sales, and today technology is just how you grow sales. I’ve been in retail for a while, I’ve also worked for a startup, that went through Y combinator, the first fashion startup that went through there, it’s called Shoptiques if anybody has heard of that or uses it, and then ultimately got my start over at a company called Naturally Curly, which was a platform for curly hair. I have curly hair, and I wrote content for them, and I ended up growing their base to about one million monthly readers, which was great. They also sell products and use BigCommerce, which is fun since I still get to talk to them and work with them.
KELLY: So you mentioned a lot about retail and e-commerce. What are some trends and changes that you’re seeing happen in terms of technology and these industries, and where do you see room for improvement?
TRACEY: One really big shift that we see – well lets just get it out of the room, Amazon is the elephant in the room, in e-commerce. They just acquired Whole Foods here in BigCommerce’s hometown of Austin, Texas, so it has the whole city wondering what that’s going to be like. But as brands are needing to compete more and more with Amazon just in general, both in terms of getting traffic as well as sales, you see brands in general needing to reduce costs, so that they can maintain profit margins and ensuring that they’re profitable.
One of the main ways that they’re doing that is cutting tech debt. Now tech debt can be seen in a lot of ways, particularly in retailers, that means cutting the costs of their e-commerce platform. That is why you see the rise of the Shopify’s and BigCommerce’s of the world. The price points for those platforms are relatively low especially in comparison to platforms like Magento, and you get 80-90% of functionality of what you would’ve gotten for literally hundreds of thousands of dollars less. Which is really a major point for those brands that really want to compete. Those platforms also allow people to be much more flexible and innovative in a much quicker way. So there’s a lot more testing to really see and to try and see what really works for your business. So that’s one area that’s really growing, now with e-commerce as well, people are really talking about AI and chatbots and all of that jazz. We haven’t seen that take off at all yet. Some businesses are doing it though, the businesses that I’m talking to that are doing it, aren’t seeing that big of a conversion from it. I was talking to a guy the other day using a chatbot to try and push and sell products, and he said nobody on Facebook messenger wants to buy anything. That’s just not the spot. That and voice buying through Alexa and Siri I’m sure will have it soon if she doesn’t already. So all that is up and coming, but in terms of the actual technology that’s really changing the industry, people are looking at where they can save the most money and simply get the biggest bang for their buck which at the end of the day is what consumers are trying to do too.
KELLY: So you talk about how people are really trying to get lean, and make their costs as low as possible, and one of the statistics on the top of our minds is that to acquire a new customer costs five time to acquire a new customer than retain existing customers. What kind of trends are you seeing in terms of after the purchase?
TRACEY: Yeah actually customer retention is one of the topics that we talk about most often on the BigCommerce blog. I do a lot of research on this for the reason you just mentioned. It costs a heck of a lot more to acquire new customers than it does to essentially make your existing customers so happy that they buy from you again and again, then tell friends to buy from you, and then you don’t have to spend any money on getting more customers, essentially your customers do it for you, and that’s how you build a brand not just a profitable business, and brands are the most profitable businesses. There are many different ways to do this.
One way is email marketing, I talked about chatbots, and people trying them and how those aren’t really working. Instead what people are investing quite a bit of money into is email marketing. BigCommerce offers something out of the box, which just comes with your plan, something called customer groups. That allows you to put existing customers into groups based on their buying habits, which is what I recommend, so you say you know this cohort of customers always buy at full price, and dropping them a customer group and essentially making them your VIP customer group, letting them know when you have new collections that nobody else can see yet, letting them get in there and you can use customer groups to segment that out. Then social ads, Facebook marketing, and taking them on a journey with your brand.
There’s this one brand that I talk about a lot and write about a lot, mostly because their Facebook marketing is really smart. The brand’s called Spearmint Love, and what they do, the guy who runs the Facebook ad program over there. He spent a year trying to figure this out, but essentially they break the customers into cohorts based on when they made their first purchase. And because they sell baby clothes, they typically get their new customers or followers when a woman is beginning to want to start a family or has become pregnant. They kind of break it into a three month period, but over the course of her pregnancy, and as well into her child’s life, both her, her friends and her family just kind of receive these cohorts of ads that just moves people along the path of least resistance to make new purchases or really just falling in love with their brand. These guys have 60% of their Facebook audience talking about them much less going to their site and actually buying from them. They’re doing really well, probably going to surpass around 10 million this year, and they’ve only been open 2-3 years. A vast majority of the advertising they do is on Facebook and Instagram but it’s really about using your advertising dollars not just to find those new customers, but to build a brand with your customers at the exact moment that they need it, throughout periods or certain trials and tribulations throughout their life. Especially if you have products like baby products that might work really well with, those kinds of cohorts and moving people naturally through seems to work really well.
KELLY: Have you seen any brands that do any kind of social media contests or these kinds of things where they offer rewards through social media, kind of matching rewards with the social element?
TRACEY: Yeah for sure, Spearmint Love definitely does that, a bunch of the brands that we work with do it, it definitely drives traffic and sales, but I think the hard part of it is what happens after the sale, what happens after they go onto your page. People are driven to you by a contest, by discounts, they are not driven to you because they like your brand. So what are you going to do now, how are you going to nurture that person to become a brand loyal person, knowing how you got them in, and how you’re going to get them to, ideally, that full price VIP customer over time.
KELLY: That’s a great piece of advice, because you get them through the door and then it’s like what now? Brands need to ensure they don’t have a leaky bucket situation.
TRACEY: And that’s where upselling comes in, that’s where bundling comes in, but it’s also where just being honest to your customers, talking to them like your equal comes in. I see people say that across the web all the time, it’s like ‘talk to your customers like they’re human’. It seems like the simplest thing but truly so many people don’t do it. Brands need to create connection, give them a reason to come back. Surprise them, in a way that makes them tell their partner back home, hey I bought from this weird brand today, they sent me this weird video, check it out. Stuff like that works, it impresses people, there’s a connection aspect to it.
KELLY: I completely agree, everything nowadays is so saturated, you go online and you’re just hit with ads, and this and that, and it’s so hard to stand out. And you need to almost dumb it down, as a normal person who makes mistakes. Make it funny give yourself a personality, and I feel like all of this just boils down to customer experience, when I think of your brand, how do I feel, what’s the experience that I’ve had with you, and especially with e-commerce it can be challenging because you don’t have that one on one customer interaction. What are some ways you see e-commerce companies create that customer experience, going beyond that sale?
TRACEY: I’m going to go back to email marketing, first and foremost because it is one of the most important ways that you build a relationship with your customer. The more engaged the list that you build is, the more valuable your company is. Having a really big list is valuable but if those people don’t click on those emails, they don’t engage and reply, it’s worth nothing. You might as well just be selling your products on Amazon. So from the get go, making sure that your list is as engaged as possible, and one of the ways that you can do that is literally to ask them questions. Send them real emails about how hard it was to source this product, why did you got this specific product, send them customer stories, ask them if they have any questions, then respond right back to them. Keep up the conversation.
It really does all go back to being human, and I know this sounds hard, especially for ecommerce entrepreneurs who have very little time in a day to devote to stuff like that. But at the end of the day that is the most important thing, that your customers are talking to you and interacting with you, and that you’re able to turn a one time buyer into a multiple time buyer. Also, receipt emails work really well, where you say here’s a loyalty program that you can join, if you buy XYZ more of whatever thing, you’re going to get free shipping, and that kind of stuff works, and again it seems so intuitive, and I’m sure there’s people listening who are like ugh why am I not doing that already, it’s the kind of stuff that works. People like to feel special, people like to feel like you care and are listening, it’s true with family and friends and it’s true with your customers as well.
KELLY: I agree completely. There are a lot of ways to automate while still personalizing. Our platforms allows you to create segmentations based on things such as survey responses. So you have the ability to send a communication to all the users who chose one specific answer of a survey and address their response.
TRACEY: Right and it probably shouldn’t just be manual responses all the time, honestly that should be the least amount of your time. Now I would recommend putting at the end of your email, encourage people to respond and ask questions and all that jazz, and if they do respond back to your email, respond back to whatever it was that they said. By and large, setting up your email automation is going to take the most time but save you the most time down the line. The vast majority of the emails that you are sending should be automated.
There’s a great example called So Suzie’s Stamps, which sells stamps as you might imagine. And in her receipt emails, again this is all automated, she’ll send an email off to the customer saying hey, thank you for buying this product, and then you can make it automated so it’s a very personalized thing. She also has a video in there, it’s going to take about two weeks to ship, that’s because we’re making it completely unique for you. In the meantime, check out this other product, and how it goes through the building process and all of that jazz. She has this video of how she sourced it, how it gets made, and then people using it. And for that product in particular, one it’s one of the best products on her site, but 20% of people who buy something will email her back and be like actually can I add that butterfly stamp in too, thank you so much, it was so great hearing from you, I can’t wait to get the product. So those things, she’ll respond back. But they are looking at an email and it feels so personalized for them that one now I want to buy that additional product and two thank you for reaching out, thanks for talking to me. And Suzie, she’s sitting at home, probably not eating a sandwich because she’s a very busy woman but she’s off doing something else.
KELLY: That’s a great example, I love these success cases but I also appreciate the examples where things went wrong somehow. What are some examples of ecommerce businesses that had to pivot their strategies after trying out one method?
TRACEY: I don’t know if I have any particular examples, but I do have a decent list of things that you definitely should not do. One of those is lie. Do not put that something is free in the headline if it is not going to be free, do not lead people on, transparency and honesty work best, and again talk to these people like they are a friend, like they are family, like they matter, and that is going to be your best bet. I also would not lead with discounts and coupons, ever. That’s going to cut into your margin, first and foremost, second it’s going to set up this expectation of a discount environment when in reality, you want to build an actual relationship with somebody not a relationship that is driven by a carrot you’re hanging right in front of them. I would work on that, definitely use discounts and coupons but you need to be very strategic about how, what, why and when you use them.
When people respond to you, respond back to them, a lot of people don’t do that. Even if it’s a bad or rude email, respond back to them. You can change somebody’s opinion of your brand, heck, you might even be able to make their day, which is fabulous as well. They’re truly just responding and you have no idea what’s going on with other people’s lives, I listen to the Tim Barrett’s podcast every so often and I cannot remember who said this, but he was interviewing somebody, an expert as Tim Barrett’s does, and he said that he has an email list of about one to two hundred thousand people and he does all the things that I’m currently talking about right, he writes a very specific, personalized email about his week and at the end he always asks for a question for people to respond, and it’s going to be a small amount of people that ever do respond, and a smaller amount of people who often who are responding with something negative. He says, he always gets at least ten emails back that are like I hate you so much and that’s all that they say. He said that his strategy is truly to focus on those emails, the people that really love you are happy that’s great, you want to keep them there, but the people who are writing these out of nowhere hateful emails, something’s going on with them. And they definitely don’t expect anybody to respond, much less the person the person who actually sent that email. He gets into it, so he’s like hey tell me about this email that you didn’t like, did I offend you in some way, and again a lot of people aren’t going to respond, but a lot of people will, and they’ll either let him know what he did wrong, which is almost always nothing, or they’ll be like oh my god I’m really sorry I was just having a really bad day I didn’t realize that anybody would respond to this email, thank you so much for getting back to me and so on. Again it all goes back to being human, you are trying to build a real relationship with these people that makes them like you, not your brand but you personally. And the way you do that is again, not lying, not holding a carrot in front them, but providing value in a relationship, not value necessarily based on price or things like that.
KELLY: That’s a great point as well, so one thing that we focus on at Social&Loyal is this element of gamification, which may sound completely irrelevant, but the idea is that it really taps into that experience. So instead of just saying, do this for me and whatnot, you provide them an actual whole sort of platform that appears as if it’s a fun engaging game, and it creates more of that experience with the moving of levels and the challenges and the playing against their friends and the competition and contests and all these kinds of things. Are any of these gamification elements something that you’ve seen applied in your clients to drive behaviors?
TRACEY: Yeah, it makes me think of a company called Man Crates, so they sell gift boxes online, gift boxes that are literally like beef jerky. But they’re going to surpass a hundred million in online sales this year, and one of the big ways that they do that is that after somebody makes a purchase, they kind of take them through this back end stream, because they are a gift company they essentially ask, hey would you like to be reminded a month before Father’s Day, would you like to be reminded a month before your father’s birthday – it’s gifts for men specifically, they give you all of these different options, you can input birthdays, you can sync everything up with your calendar. It’s just a way for them to one, help you seem like you remember everything really well and purchase more gifts, but truly they’re building a relationship with you. And the whole process of filling it all out is very game-like, they have engaging graphics everywhere, it works really well for them.
KELLY: Wonderful, I’d like to wrap up here, if anyone listening wants to reach out to maybe you personally, or check into BigCommerce, do you want to just let them know where they can go, where they can find you and more information on BigCommerce as well.
KELLY: Thank you so much for your time and expertise, it’s been a great experience and so much things to learn from!
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