Just as fast as the seasons can change from summer to fall, so can changes in the markets of an online merchant. It's because of these changes that everyday we are learning and growing to help you stay on the latest trends and information. Empowering merchants.
Benchmade: a story of real digital transformation
This is a story of how to modernize in an industry that hasn’t embraced digital.It isn’t enough to “be different”. You must explain how you are different (even if it is subtly through pictures or ideas).Leverage those things that can make a difference. For Benchmade, this meant a 3D customization tool. But, they still support their loyal network of dealers.
Digital Marketing and Sales Manager at Benchmade.Benchmade makes high-quality knives. They have been in business over 30 years. Their knives are seen as some of the best in the industry. They are made in the United States, and have maintained their competitiveness through the waves of outsourcing that the United States has witnessed over the past 30 years.Benchmade was nominated as a finalist for the Adobe Experience Maker ‘Mastermind’ Award, much of which goes to Emily’s leadership. Benchmade was one of over 350 websites that was reviewed.Emily gave a fascinating talk for Adobe Experience Makers live.
Benchmade was started by Les de Asis in California in 1988. It was then moved to Clackamas, Oregon. Les worked to utilize the finest technology to make the highest-quality cutlery. Benchmade has continued to grow over the years—yet its mission and quality stays the same. Benchmade maintains complete control over their quality and this has allowed them to retain their incredible brand reputation.
All Benchmade knives are “Made in USA”. Making a knife is a competitive business (there are plenty of YouTube videos on how to make a knife). If there are videos on this, certainly people from all over the world can do it. As such, differentiation is a massive part of success for Benchmade: and they do that exceptionally well.
They highlight relatable people who love the Benchmade brand.They share their history (with photos).They share pictures of the folks who work at Benchmade.Not only are their knives “Made in USA”, they are “Made in Oregon”. Many of us have driven through the beautiful state of Oregon, and this makes it all the more personal.
You will quickly see that the personal touch augments Benchmade’s claim to quality. Oh, and what happens to knives that are used? They get dull and they might not open/close as easily. Benchmade services their knives for life.
I might start sounding like a “pro-Benchmade” apologist… this conversation was extremely impressive.
However, Benchmade had a problem: they had an impressive dealer network, but everyone else was going digital. How would they keep up? On the other hand, what Benchmade had was working, so maybe it wasn’t necessary to change?
If you know the knife industry or the shooting sports industry, we’re a little bit behind on trends. So kudos to the Benchmade ownership to say we have to invest in digital.Emily Sloan
Benchmade sat down and did a digital audit:
Where are we at on this digital maturity scale?How do we compare to our competitors?What about our dealers?How do we bring our channels (social, blog, direct-to-consumer, business-to-business) through a transition?How can we leverage personalization?
Ultimately, purchasing a knife is often a tactile experience. I, Joseph, remember when I purchased a Benchmade for my brother (as a knife layperson, I was told by a young man that “Benchmade is the best.”). Even thought I was a genuine ignoramus, I felt the knife. I checked to see if the blade was sharp—it was. I made sure it opened/closed smoothly. I checked how it felt in my hand.
How can this be replicated online? Emily made this point clear: “The person can’t hold this in their hand, but it should still feel it’s going to cut them.” Bingo, and they did.
Benchmade underwent a digital transformation.
What’s that? “Digital transformation closes the gap between what digital customers already expec
Chubbies—a brand that connects
Add-to-cart rate is an excellent means of tracking product effectiveness.An easy way to connect with customers is through live content.Consider a live content strategy to better connect with your customers.
Ecommerce product manager at… Chubbies!If you haven’t heard of Chubbies, and you live in the US, you are in for a treat. This company is a different take on clothing. They started with men’s shorts and have branched out. But it’s how that makes the difference. And that’s what we are talking about today.Devon takes responsibility for much of Chubbies presentation on their website.
Another clothing company? What’s the difference?
The number of fashion brands online today is staggering. Everyone from Walmart to Amazon Basics to Levi’s to American Eagle to Neiman Marcus to Gucci sells apparel. If you’re in the market for men’s shorts, most of the above still applies (check out this pair of Gucci shorts for $950USD).
The first question I posed to Devon was: what sets Chubbies apart from all others in the category?
They are trendsetters. They brought back short shorts. As a result, they have become widely known and almost a household name. Even better, men’s “short shorts” are fairly synonymous with Chubbies. That’s a great place to be.They connect with their customers. Chubbies is social. Chubbies is visual. Chubbies is audible. Remember, people love to connect with online brands, and Chubbies has nailed it. This is part of Chubbies DNA, and it shows.
What’s Chubbies thoughts on product line expansion?
They started with men’s short shorts (including swim trunks and casual wear). They have expanded into outerwear, pull-overs, Hawaiian shirts (love it!), and even packable windbreakers that turn into fannypacks! All over Chubbies website is the idea of Friday at 5:00pm and weekend vibes.
What’s the common thread that binds these together? It’s what their customers want. Chubbies deeply integrates customer feedback into their product development process. This sounds cliche, of course. But, it is made easier because they are their own audience. They live similar to their customers, so this is a very authentic brand.
Devon said that while innovation is part of the budget, the important part is measuring to understand its effectiveness. And then, being willing to cut your losses if something doesn’t stand up to the test of time (and sales).
Measuring product effectiveness
I asked Devon what are his favorite metrics to determine how well a product is received by the Chubbies audience.
Sell-through rate. How fast are you moving through product? This is especially helpful when segmenting by channel—which platform is resulting in the majority of sales?
Add-to-cart rate. Many merchants track conversion rate, but few that I have seen track the add-to-cart rate. Here’s the fascinating point: tracking the add-to-cart rate means you trust your checkout process. In other words, the product’s performance is not muddied or enhanced based on what people think of the checkout. Instead, the add-to-cart rate indicates immediate impact of a product on a person. Does this resonate? If they add to the cart, and then don’t finalize the order, you could be looking at process improvements on the checkout page.
If you take one thing away from this podcast, consider monitoring your add-to-cart rate.
A different take on website navigation
Note: I always recommend embracing the process behind optimization. Don’t take this section as what YOU need to do to improve your navigation. Rather, listen to how Devon and Chubbies arrived at this idea.
The Chubbies online experience is quite similar to other websites, but with one exception—navigation.
Notice that there is no mega-menu. Instead, Chubbies has embraced the “F” browsing pattern.
This sofa is different. Find out why.
Industry West sells furniture—online. Few furniture companies are digitally native, let alone bootstrapped.Photography is a critical tool to helping the customer understand what they are getting.Product descriptions are written by someone who lives and breathes furniture—and that’s obvious. Actually, the entire company is comprised of this type of person.
Meet Ian Leslie
CMO at Industry West (connect on LinkedIn and Twitter).Industry West is now 10 years old. However, they run the business like a startup.Ian does pretty much everything when it comes to marketing: digital marketing, owned media, working with the PR team (and the website fits in there too).You know what’s inspiring? It’s seeing your furniture in public. Industry West’s furniture is everywhere. Oh, and he gets to work with some really cool people every day.He’s guided the marketing arm of a company through a global pandemic (COVID-19, as we are all-to-familiar with). He did a great post about this on Medium. At the time of recording, Industry West was working with a group in Buffalo to make masks.
What sets Industry West apart?
In the furniture vertical, there are a literal bazillion brands. From manufacturers like Thomasville to retailers like Nebraska Furniture Mart all the way to the small-town furniture dealers, finding furniture is not a difficult task.
Industry West is different. Yes, it sounds cliche to say. Most of the participants in this category are focused on brick and mortar. Industry West is digitally native and just recently opened a store in SoHo. They are one of the first (if not the first) in this category to start online.
We are so meticulous about how pieces are presented to the customer.Ian Leslie
Online furniture retailing is unique in that you have pay close attention to how products are presented. Photography takes center stage. Industry West has been meticulous showing products in a way that resonate with their customers.
Industry West also carries a large selection of inventory. This means that they can fulfill rush orders faster. If a restaurant needs new chairs quickly—they won’t have to wait for weeks. Yet, this carries the problem that inventory is money (but not in the bank). This is possible because Industry West is bootstrapped. Those that take venture capital are beholden to the investors and investors usually want quick profitable turn-arounds. Inventory on the shelf is not liquidity.
Industry West lives out a long-term vision for their company—and that is one reason they continue to see steady growth after 10 years in business.
The founders, Jordan and Anne, curate the Industry West catalog. Each piece has an incredible story.
It’s safe to agree that Industry West is different, so we are able to get an inside look as to how they approach marketing, their website and content development in a different way.
May I introduce to you… the furniture:
This furniture is for a specific segment of the market (we talked about this in Episode #10, regarding who is this product for?). Oftentimes, a number of furniture brands will co-exist under the same roof. Industry West has fortified their position with how the product is presented. They also describe the product in intricate detail: type of wood, finish, fabric, etc.
It’s hard to understate how important the photography is.Ian Leslie
They also work to get the pieces into their applicable context. This represents more money as locations need to be scouted, product shipped, photographers scheduled, etc. One thing that Industry West has been successful with is crowdsourcing pictures. This allows them to make use of the value that others are generating.
This is why they launched a store in SoHo so that customers can come and touch and feel the product.
How COVID-19 is affecting the furniture market.
Ian quotes an influencer: “a successful startup in 2019 is all about
Putting data behind your gut instinct's voice.
Test big. But expect small successes.Verify all gut instincts with data.If you are asked to do a “dumb” test, do it. You might be wrong (or right). Either way, the company wins.
Guido is a cognitive psychologist (please read the wiki article—you might want to become one yourself, it’s pretty neat!).He has spent years learning how people work with environments (ecom is an environment) and how environments affect people. With ecommerce, we need to ensure that our buyers know whey they are getting and they don’t get lost in the purchase process—this is a valuable set of skills.He has spent years applying this research to many merchant experiences.And he comes here today to share a few of his findings with you.
“My gut says that we should…”
I’m sure we’ve all worked with “that CEO” who runs his business according to his gut. Gut instinct isn’t all bad. But it’s demoralizing when this is the only means of decision making.
Dilbert on March 30, 2014
We all know that gut instinct is just that—it’s rooted somewhere deep in our being but often has little basis in reality (sometime it does, though!). When making a big decision, like a job change, this might be our only source of guidance. But, in online selling, we regularly have more sources of data.
Gut instinct can provide the hypothesis for A/B tests. By just making decisions on this “source of truth from who-knows-where”, we can fall majorly short. We then see the data that proves our instinct wrong, but then have to massage it to ensure that it supports our beliefs.
Guido makes a case that this idea you have should be the foundation for better understanding your customer’s behavior. As you are able to accommodate, the goal is that you become more profitable.
He also suggests that A/B testing should not be simple color or textual changes. Why? There is nothing learned or gained that isn’t already known. A red “add to cart” button draws more attention, but if a customer is already looking to purchase, they will find the button. That goes without saying that the add to cart button must be readily visible (if it’s hidden or hard to find, then please fix that).
The smallest, hardest to find checkout button.
A cart button that is smaller than the Customer Account login (in the upper right corner) should be immediately fixed. No A/B test is needed here. I am working to preserve the privacy of this company, otherwise, I’d show the entire header so you can get a perspective of just how small this is.
A/B test research
Whether or not have a gut instinct directive, your next step is research (Guido mentions that this is quite boring).
Google Analytics: hopefully you have enhanced ecommerce enabled. Are there products that have a higher bounce rate? What is the drop-off in your cart? In the checkout? What are people searching for? Where is the audience dropping off?HotJar/FullStory: what do people click on? How do they browse the website? Are they getting stuck in a particular part of the website? does it seem like they can’t find a product?User interviews: what is your moment of inspiration? What are your pain points on the website?Better yet, ask to talk with people in-person, and watch them use your website. You’ll quickly find where they get stuck.There are also agencies that will perform user studies.
With this research, you should now have a list of improvements. Prioritize them. Go for the biggest fish first. But, don’t just run to an A/B test!
Try to figure out several different ways to improve it.”Guido Jansen
Don’t just stick with your first idea and run with this. Exercise yourself to come to multiple solutions.
Expand beyond your customers.
Be creative in locating those who have never purchased from you. For example, you coul
Back up and push
You’ll make it through this.Be creative.Be willing to make tough decisions.Focus on what is most important.Keep connecting with your customers.
Meet Alida Sholl:
Connect with Alida on LinkedIn.
She is the director of operations at Rep Fitness. She is responsible for sales, customer service, account management and the entire tech stack. This covers pretty much all customer touchpoints, so this is a very important role for making happy customers at Rep Fitness.She has an incredibly diverse background: industrial engineering, process improvement and animal welfare. All of this has prepared her to take on the excitements and challenges of her current role.
Meet Rep Fitness:
Rep Fitness is NOT like Gold’s Gym equipment (the latter might break if you use it, the former won’t).Rep Fitness focuses on the home/garage gyms. The goal is to make functional fitness accessible for all. While not at the top of the price point, the product they offer is very durable.Rep Fitness strives to have excellent customer service. They want happy customers. As such, they support the customer through the entire sales cycle, including set up after the purchase. It is admirable that they help customers find the right product instead of the most profitable product.Alida points out that equipping a home gym is never complete. Very true, indeed. Keeping your customers happy through this process will ensure they keep coming back.Rep Fitness was started by two brothers—they bought a container of barbell weight plates, and everything went from there.
Setting the stage.
Rep Fitness is high growth. They are used to new challenges (maybe even enjoy the adrenaline dump from growing fast—just a little bit?).
This episode will focus on adapting to challenges. Through this COVID-19 pandemic, many merchants have faced the challenge of less sales. Rep Fitness has had the opposite challenge—”too many” sales. As we look into this, you will see that the techniques for dealing with too many or too few sales are similar. It comes back to adapting and being willing to make really difficult decisions.
For most online retailers, Black Friday is the big day of the year. If a sales record is to be set, it’s going to be on Black Friday.
We as a team, are very scrappy and willing to just get in and make those quick decisions to keep us moving forward.Alida Sholl
Rep Fitness has blown their Black Friday sales records for days and days through the lockdowns associated with COVID-19.
Joseph wonders if this is like Black Friday on steroids (pun intended, possibly). Alida said its the “best steroids ever”.
Getting into the challenging weeds.
Rep Fitness has had to deal with unprecedented order volume. On the surface, this sounds like a dream—tons of orders coming in, all while lockdowns are forcing many other businesses into closure.
However, Rep Fitness has had to come to grips with how this affects them:
24-hour fast shipments—no longer possible.Order fulfillment process—completely rebuilt.Customer expectations—must be reset.
Rep Fitness’s fulfillment team takes pride in getting all orders shipped on the same day. They go home knowing that they got their orders out quickly—and the customer will be all the happier.
What are the goals we can set for today?Alida Sholl
Alida’s team had to focus in on the here and now. They adapted from long-term to the short-term. While this sounds counter-intuitive, you do what you have to do. When a tsunami hits, you don’t focus on long-term business goals. You focus on today.
If your business has lost the majority of its revenue, your adaptation is still the same. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Look at today. What can be cut? What can be promoted?
Customers have quickly adapted to realizing that delays are inevitable. They are giving extra slack to brands. For the record, Amazon themselves are facing major del
Your homepage is irrelevant.
Roughly 20-30% of website visitors first visit your home page. Have you forgotten about the other 70-80% of landing pages?Establish a pipeline from your customer service department. Find out how people find your products and what they have to say about your offering.Take advantage of multiplying your content: written, video, images. This 3x’s the opportunity that someone will come across your brand.
Meet Keenan Davis:
Connect with him on LinkedIn.
He has been in the digital marketing space for over 20 years. That’s back in the days of Yahoo! being “the star” search engine. And, you could use meta keywords to get to the top of that search engine (it was a big deal).Then, banner ads were all the rage… but Keenan got past that hype pretty quickly.
The internet today is a young adult’s age.
Especially when you compare it to newspapers (since 1690). Or when compared to the radio (since 1895). As such, it’s natural to see things come and go.
Side note: my (Joseph’s) daughter and son have gone through a phase where they love to push a stroller on walks.
Yes, there used to be Altavista, Lycos, MSN Search, Ask Jeeves(!), etc. Now, it’s pretty much Google. The rules of business hold true, and the one big market player is here. Bing is a distant second.
What is actually a visitors first impression?
If you look at your website’s analytics, you will probably see that the home page is the biggest entry point for traffic (often 20-30% of landing page traffic). But is that a visitor or potential prospect’s first impression of your brand?
Keenan suggest that we dig a layer deeper. Instead of looking at the 20% as being the biggest landing page (and in need of the most optimization), we should instead work on the other 80% of pages.
Your listing on Google, Bing or Yahoo is probably a more accurate representation of what the first impression really is.Keenan Davis
If we marketers think of our entry point being a search engine, with the actual entry point to our website NOT being our homepage, we will see that our homepage is almost irrelevant. People are most likely to see our brand on Google, and then on a product page or an article.
They are least likely to type in our website directly into the URL bar and proceed there. They only do that if they know our brand.
Amazon is also key. If you are on Amazon, make sure your product pages have good, rich content. Make sure you use Amazon A+. Do your best to leverage reviews (see the end of this episode for a great idea).
The second largest search engine is YouTube. That was news to me. Are you taking advantage of search traffic here? For example, you must have a solid video strategy. Share your story through videos. Validate your expert status on YouTube. Make that personal connection.
The key is that they represent points of interaction before a visitor or prospects even lands on your website! When they do, it is likely not to be your home page.
Take advantage of the rest of your website.
Sadly, many corporations forget that they sell to consumers. They think they sell to themselves (if I, Joseph, could be so bold, many CEO’s are the most guilty here).
Keenan recommends putting yourself in your customers shoes. How do you find your products? What are the keywords you search for? Where do you search for it? What results come up first?
Talk to the customer service department. What questions do they field on a daily basis (we have talked about this in a number of episodes)?
Also, utilize paid search. If you are listed in the top 10 on the first page of search results, you are doing very well organically. But, if you pay for ads, you will now have two listings on that first page of Google. In your ad, make sure you list your phone number and your value proposition: free shipping, great return policy, 45 day free trial, etc.
Remember that people should see
Informative and Engaging
Joseph’s passion for making YOU a better merchant shines through in each podcast. The information that he has learned and talks about is priceless. The real life examples that Joseph includes help me to relate to my own circumstances and glean from someone else’s success and failures. This podcast is worth your time. Thank you, Joseph, for the time you put into making each of us more equipped for our role as merchants! I’m always looking forward to the next podcast!
The title says it all. Fantastic content from a great guy!
Good stuff. It’s not pie in the sky wishful thinking but rather real stuff I can apply and use. Thanks.