We’ve all heard of “Collect, Connect and Convert” - the three strategies of customer acquisition. But how can a brand build a customer relationship beyond that of a transaction? Al Lalani, Co-Founder of Annex Cloud talks and Ryan Bartley, Co-Founder & CRO of Fabric discuss the topic. Plus, tips for investing in the right ecommerce technology and nailing the basics of the online customer experience.
Welcome to another episode of Annex Cloud Market Movers. Today with me is Ryan Bartley. He's the co-founder and CRO of Fabric. Fabric is a new eCommerce platform. Welcome to the show, Ryan.
Hi, it's great to be here.
Ryan, we are going through some turbulent times. We've been talking with many experts like yourselves and helping our common customers or our customers as well as other people that are going through this sea of change to deal with this. My first point of discussion I want to sort of talk a little bit with you about is an interesting graphitene that we all saw this week on LinkedIn. I think all of us got through it somewhere, which is the growth of visual commerce in the last sort of eight weeks. And the trend was from 2009 to 2019, we grew from about 5% or 5.6% to about 15% of sales, overall sales, coming from commerce.
In eight weeks after that, we've gone from about 15 to 27%. So we've accomplished what we would have accomplished normally in the next decade in eight weeks. That's a major, major rise. And so my question to you is, obviously we know why that's happening, but what impact does that have on customers or the retailers or the brands that are running these commerce engines and what does that have on you as a technology provider yourself?
Yeah, great question. My career has been in the commerce industry. I've been an executive at three separate companies that did over $10 billion eCommerce. And so, we've been seeing that rise, that relentless rise of eCommerce over the past decade. I think, obviously, COVID-19 has been a huge additional tailwind to eCommerce simply because it's forced people to socially distance and stay at home, which the only store now open is your eCommerce store in many cases.
As a brand, and we've had many conversations over the past several weeks, talking to brands and retailers and companies of all sizes from a few stores to major companies. And what we've heard from them is they obviously are impacted by what the customer is telling them. And what the customer is telling them is simple, is they now expect a new convenience. There's many new people that are coming into eCommerce for the very first time and their expectations are very high. And the great thing about customers as you know, is expectations for customers never go down. They always go up over time.
And so companies have had to react pretty quickly to this. You're seeing projects that may have taken two years in the past are now shrunk to a few weeks, which is great to see that companies are waking up to this new normal or new expectation. But what it requires is a different set of services and capabilities that just weren't there yesterday. And so us at Fabric building out eCommerce products and services, we've also had to react very quickly and make sure that we bring in the best of the breed in our ecosystem to solve for the new kind of experiences that are expected.
Wonderful. And I think from a perspective of digital transformation, which is where digital commerce applies in, and so we all live in this fast world of technology advancements, what are some specific things you can point us to that from a technology perspective to your point, that you're thinking about building, for example, that will help enable a better transition to the world.
For example, one of the big things that we all saw everyone started doing is a curbside pickup. That's important because now people can't go to the store as much anymore. Maybe technology can enable that to become a little bit better. But I'm sure there's other things that you're thinking about either you've built or you're trying to think about building or supporting your customers for, or maybe even customers are asking you for, in terms of what needs to be advanced specifically to make that happen.
Yeah, absolutely. So Fabric is a modular eCommerce platform and the way we work is we can deploy any part of our system to a customer. So if there's a new need or a challenge or an opportunity that they may have, we can deploy that module and get them up and running quickly. So, I think the number one thing that I'm seeing is the need and ability to, and digital transformation to adapt very quickly. We didn't expect this to happen several weeks ago and it did. And so, adaptation and speed is the most important thing for a company right now in terms of their technology stack.
Just to give you a sense of what we're hearing from our customers, especially customers with physical locations is they are now considering how to reopen the store in a safe way. What we're seeing is now the customer journey is truly starting from digital-first.
So when that customer journey starts from digital-first, there are a few key things that you need to consider. One is you have to consider how you show your brand presence and talk about your company and what you stand for within your eCommerce business. So it's not just about transactional eCommerce but it's also about sharing your brand. So content and commerce melding together is a key topic that we talk to every day.
Then when we start to think that journey, the customer journey, going forward, what customers want is a view into their store and to be able to interact at a distance with who is in the store and what is within the store. So you need to be able to see your inventory online, whatever's in your store. And you also need to start to interact with your customers that are in the store, with your customers that want to talk to your store associates.
So one of the capabilities that we see rising very quickly is chat phone, and then also video chat. So, the ability to talk to a store associate while you're shopping online and have an interactive experience, that's something that we see growing very quickly.
Then the last one is how do I schedule a customer to be able to come into the store either in a curbside pickup or schedule an appointment so I can set an appointment with the retail associates in the store, so I can have a safe shopping trip. So, it's really about starting with who we are as a brand and telling that brand story, connecting both your online and offline together in a very seamless manner at the start of the customer journey. And then through the mid and final funnel of that customer journey.
Wonderful. That's great. Those are all very, very good examples. Thank you, Ryan. You mentioned early on that there's a lot of new customers being acquired, new consumers that hadn't primarily bought online. They might have bought online but they weren't all primarily online customers. And now that's the new normal. And we all hope that that will stick, but at the same time, one of the things we started talking about is the reason it will stick is you have to retain them. You have to retain them not only to buy from that channel but you have to retain them as a customer in the first place.
A lot of consumers were buying out of necessity during this time also. And so, if you as a brand acquired a new customer that could be because, my favorite example, Campbell soup is out of distribution, I bought a new brand of soup. That's awesome. But am I going to buy that when Campbell is back in there? I don't know. Will the brand do a good job of retaining me? That's an important part.
And so my next conversation is about retention and loyalty. Loyalty and retention in the online world was always, we call it it's very fickle. There's always a new brand or a new something that's available and not something new that they will try. In your opinion, for retaining these customers, these newfound customers that these brands have gotten, especially online, are there any things that you can sort of talk about around loyalty and retention that will help those brands retain those new-found customers?
Sure. The first and foremost thing I think is an existing customer is your best costumer. And to acquire customers we know is very expensive and it takes brand building. It takes marketing, it takes a lot of outreach. So, as you think about where you prioritize your time and efforts, we believe that you should really think about how do I serve my existing customers in the best and most meaningful way. So I can continue to build a relationship with them, continue to add a share of wallet to that, and making sure that they become truly lifelong customers of yours because, at the end of the day, it's a relationship between the brand and the customer. That's what you're aiming for.
So, as you start to think about tactics around customer retention, but first and foremost is you've got to nail the basics, and I think a lot of the companies kind of overlook that and try to go to the new bright, shiny objects. As we think about commerce and especially digital commerce, your storefront has to be up, it has to be online 24 hours a day. So it has to be stable without errors, and it has to be fast. Customers will not wait for your page loads to load for 10 seconds, they just won't. You have to have the basics of your product and simple transactional flows to quickly make a purchase and repurchase. Those are the basics and you should nail those. If you haven't nailed those stop and go back and do that because those are going to be your biggest retention efforts.
Then once you have the basics in place, then you have to start thinking about how do you truly have a more than a transactional relationship with that customer. So it can't just about, I have a product you can buy it simply. There's too many alternatives to that. You have to be able to relate to your customer and your brand story. And so they have to feel as strongly as you feel about who your brand is and what it stands for. And then, you have to start to think about all of the services and capabilities that continue to up level that customer out of the transactional experience into a relationship experience.
So thinking about how you bring them along in several different ways. This could be subscription services, this could be loyalty programs, this could be just the way that you market to a person. Instead of always selling, start to think about this as a long term relationship that you want to nurture and grow.
Yeah. And here we talk a lot about collect, connect, and then convert, and then make them loyal. And I say that only because in a lot of brands' cases, specifically, I talk a lot about emerging brands, in some cases that are getting new customers or even existing brands that are gone very much digital that are getting a lot of customers, that sometimes they forget to connect with them and build a relationship. Then they forget to collect the right data that's necessary for us to enhance that relationship. We then have to figure out how we sort of nurture that relationship to convert. And then we sort of have to take it from sort of a transactional loyalty to an experiential loyalty experience, as you mentioned. And then you're building a true brand.
And so, if we don't do that for now, the biggest challenge is you might see a spike and we saw it to go to 27%. From a commerce perspective, it'll drop back down. Or worse still, the experience will continue to stay the same, which is not what we all want because the necessity will go away, but the consumer behavior should not follow the necessity, it should follow the new normal ideally. So, those are all great insights.
Lastly, from your experience, the shock period for brands is starting to wear off as things start to open over time. Even though the shock period is gone, there's still a freeze moment where we are still withering from what's happening or if you're a retailer, you're starting to think about what stores, how do I reopen them, so on and so forth.
While that happens and while the logistics of all of that needs to be worked on, no question about that, innovation may start taking a little bit of a backseat because the necessity for that innovation is starting to go away. But if people don't do that in the next six to 12 months, that presents its own challenges because some people will and some won't. What's your take on the impact of people just delay that inevitable to do some of these innovations that you talk about and don't think about in 2020 because I'm more concerned about getting my stores open first, which has to happen. But if I drop that other thing for 2021 or later, what's the impact?
I think now is truly the time to invest if you believe in your company and you believe in the value that it gives customers because things are dramatically changing and they'll continue to change. So if you adapt your company right now, I think it sets you up for success because if you continue to work in the same model and the same service level and the same experiences that you had before, those are gone.
COVID-19 is obviously changing just the way we interact and the way we work. It's going to be I think a pretty long road ahead of us to go back to some level of normal. Even when we do get back to normal, it's going to be an extremely different bar of expectations from our customers. Now that they've seen and felt the online experiences and they've been able to see the convenience of getting products delivered to your house or services delivered over your phone or your computer, that's going to be something that sticks.
I think if you are a purely offline retailer or offline brands, you have to start to think about connecting that in the customer journey. And if you do that in 2021 or 2022 and make those investments then, I think you're going to be very left behind. My expectation is you're going to see brands that really invest and differentiate right now while the rest of them, if they don't, they're going to be failing over the next couple of years.
So, some of those experiences that are being invested in around personalization and around loyalty are going to truly change the customer experience today. If I go to most brands sites today and I'm shopping, and you come to that same site and you shop, we have the same content, we have the same products, we have the same prices, we have the same everything.
Tomorrow, as companies invest, you'll start to see a pretty big delta between what you see and what I see because all the information that I'm collecting about you and all the development that I'm doing to personalize your experience, now we can start to have a one to one conversation. And people are going to get used to those one-to-one conversations happening between a brand and a company through digital means.
So if you don't invest in those kinds of capabilities and services today, you're going to look very left behind tomorrow.
Never let a good crisis go to waste, some people say. And if there's one thing to invest in that we've all seen that has seen a dramatic shift, that's on the digital commerce side and on the retention side.
So, we really appreciate you taking the time, Ryan, to share some insights. And for everyone else, Ryan, if they want to contact either you or Fabric, how do they reach you?
Sure. So a couple of ways, firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can go to our website, www.fabric.inc.
Wonderful. And if everyone else wants to catch up on other discussions like I had with Ryan, please go to annexcloud.com/marketmovers. Ryan, we really appreciate your time. Thanks for now. Bye.
Thanks for having me on.
Co-Founder, Annex Cloud
Co Founder & CRO, Fabric
Since 2010, Annex Cloud has provided industry leading loyalty solutions to more than 250 leading brands and retailers, including Jenni Kayne, Hewlett-Packard, Bed Bath & Beyond, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Olympus, Sugarfina, Mizuno, MacKenzie-Childs, VF Corp., with the ability to engage tens of millions of their customers one-to-one at scale.
The Annex Cloud platform provides fully integrated Customer Loyalty, Referral Marketing, and User Generated Content (UGC) solutions that seamlessly work together to optimize the customer journey and deliver a unified customer experience that is designed to accelerate revenue growth, retain valuable customers, increase average order values (AOV) and drive repeat order frequency.
Fabric provides the world’s most modular and scalable commerce platform to accelerate growth across all channels. Fabric’s open and scalable platform was developed to empower mid-market and established businesses to drive business growth without the cost, time and complexity of monolithic legacy solutions. Most of these legacy commerce platforms are fragile, insecure, hard to improve, and take months to years to implement. The Fabric platform combines a powerful commerce API engine with intuitive business applications, built on extensible, single-tenant SaaS. Companies can achieve fast time-to value, gain access to modern and intuitive tools teams will love, all on a zero-maintenance scalable and secure commerce platform.
To learn more about Fabric, visit fabric.inc