Keep the main thing the main thing … in a world of accelerating execution, that gets harder and harder to do.
If you lead a high-growth online business, no doubt you rely on ecommerce partners — agencies, tools, apps, and platforms — all with the goal of not only selling more but also enabling you to focus on your business’ core competencies.
My team and I at Findify have worked with 1,103 Shopify merchants to help power roughly half a billion dollars in sales.
Today, we’re sharing eight lessons as guideposts for developing profitable ecommerce partnerships:
- Discover Their Unadvertised Capabilities
- Ensure Your Partners Work Together
- Augment Machine Learning with Human Touches
- Prioritize Ecommerce Data Hygiene
- Make Your Onsite Search Prominent
- Get Hands-On Partner Support
- Patience Pays off in Spades
- Priorities Make Competitive Advantages
1. Discover Their Unadvertised Capabilities
When you begin exploring new partners, the temptation is to start and end with a single pain point.
Instead, spend some time up front to understand their full capabilities. Ask them a lot of questions to uncover the information you need. Even if they don’t have a solution, they might be able to refer you to one of their allied companies that do.
These questions could sound like:
- How do you define and measure the success of your customers?
- What volumes can you handle?
- Do you offer custom coding support?
- What kind of ongoing support do you provide?
- What level of onboarding support do you provide?
- Do you offer any personalized analysis?
- What features do you have on the roadmap?
- Can you send me contact detail for a few of your best implementations?
On the enterprise level, you should consider:
- Are you GDPR compliant?
- Do you offer bespoke legal agreements?
- Do you have any SLA commitments?
We recently implemented a search solution for Rebecca Minkoff. In passing, their team mentioned having a problem with merchandising capabilities.
Realizing we had a product they could use, I gave them a call to explain how we could help. We went from being just their search provider to implementing product recommendations, working together on a bundling solution, and merchandising.
2. Ensure Your Partners Work Together
If you have dozens of providers, you’ll never have time to manage each one and know them in-depth. But if you have a handful of providers that talk to each other and work together, then you can really spend time working and understanding how they properly fit into your business, and how you can optimize each one.
These integrations could save you a ton of time, but more importantly provides an even better customer experience.
For example, a lot of our customers have reached out to Yotpo, and asked if they can add a new sort order, based on review ratings. In parallel, some people reached out to us and asked if we integrated with Yotpo, because they want to have a "star rating" filter, just like the one on Amazon. We connected with Yotpo, and worked together on a joint solution:
Findify integrates directly with Yotpo, which allows us to pull all review and rating data. We use the information they provide (e.g., review ratings and velocity) to display smarter product rankings. Essentially products receiving high reviews, quickly, are ranked higher — because it essentially means customers love them, and they are trending. In addition, customers can filter products based on ratings, and sort them to find what they are looking for faster, either through search, collections or recommendations.
Without this integration, reviews would only be available on the product page, filtering by rating wouldn't be available, and ranking wouldn't be affected by reviews. Can you imagine trying to code that all on your own?
3. Augment Machine Learning with Human Touches
“After I install it, I don’t ever want to touch it. I just want it to be useful by itself.”
Like a lot of merchants, you probably want your extensions to be simple, so you can set it and forget it. That’s understandable, considering that you’ve got to manage many moving pieces with an ecommerce store.
Most machine learning tools, including ours, work well out of the box … up to a point.
That point is when your machinery needs additional information from humans.
For example, a machine can’t be expected to know that a new version of a product will be released in two months. As such, the algorithm won’t know to promote the product and sell it when it launches.
But when someone on your team provides very simple tools to tell the system about these upcoming products, it will then know to promote them to interested customers — resulting in better sales. For example …
- If you have a product in high stock and you need to push inventory, you can arrange them to appear earlier
- Or, you have a high priced product that could anchor pricing and increase your AOV. (We have quite a few merchants who apply this tactic, based on behavioral economics — a great topic to read up on in general)
- There might be products that even though they don't sell well, but act as a "brand maker" or "image creator" for the store; merchandisers like to place these products on top to communicate a certain message
- And lastly, sometimes you have products that are very similar, but one of them has great margins; you can push those high margin products to the top, to optimize your bottom line
A huge benefit to machine learning is its ability to augment humans. That relationship is symbiotic, and in order for the machine to learn, it needs your team’s input, maintenance, and support.
So, you’ll need to invest a couple of hours a week, or a few hours a month, to properly calibrate the tools that you have at your disposal. This will really help maximize revenue and set up your perfect system.
4. Prioritize Ecommerce Data Hygiene
Garbage in, garbage out …
This adage rings true for anyone familiar with data analysis. If you don’t collect your data well, clean it, and ensure its integrity, it won’t reflect reality. All insights you draw from it will be invalid.
If you want to make the most of your machine learning software (and frankly any data-related application), data hygiene is essential. For example, ecommerce search recommendations can only be as good as your data. If it is corrupt or disorganized, you won’t be able to draw insights, and any changes you make won’t reflect a customers’ real-world experiences.
The need for data integrity applies to the rest of your store’s operations as well. It may seem obvious, but it’s still crucial. Do the common things uncommonly well:
- Keep your inventory and product information up to date
- Make sure that your product descriptions and details are current and accurate
Once you can trust your data, you can leverage the more advanced capabilities in your solutions. With Findify, for example, you can create hierarchical category nesting, or categories, based on any type of variable that you choose: skin type, material, length, delivery time, etc.
Considering how 84% of ecommerce sites in this Baymard survey had a mediocre or poor filtering experience, this will put your store far ahead of the curve.
5. Make Your Onsite Search Prominent
Many companies opt for expensive design and development solutions. And then, they mistakenly tuck away their search box into the top left corner. But if you take a look at Freshpair’s site today, what do you see?
The huge search box stands out on the site, with a white on dark background for further visibility.
Is your own search box this easy to find? Your customers won’t carry around a tiny magnifying glass to view a hidden search box. And as Michelle Seges from Nextopia wrote, if a consumer can’t find what they’re looking for in 8 seconds or less, they will go elsewhere.
From our experience, customers who search are 3x–5x more likely to convert than customers who don’t. So why not make it smoother for them?
An average of 10%–15% of an ecommerce site’s total traffic uses the search, but those visitors generate between 30%–50% of your total revenue. You can’t beat that ROI.
Here are some of our key recommendations for optimization:
- Make your search box visible and accessible
- When formulating autocomplete suggestions, make sure they continue to adapt as your website continues to advance
- Finally, make sure your customers get to the results page and give them the relevant results they’re seeking
6. Get Hands-On Partner Support
After implementing our solutions, many merchants want to improve and customize but they often didn't have time. This leads to what a technical person might call “suboptimal implementation.” They aren’t getting the full benefits of the product.
To support them with this challenge, we’ve created our hands-on customer success team which offers customization to merchants at a subsidized rate. We don’t directly make money on how these customers perform, but our goal is to ensure the best solution possible (which keeps them working with us!). This initiative has grown to be vital to customer success.
Ask your partners to see if they offer similar customer success solutions. If they do, take them up on it. If not, ask if they can anyway. Even investing just three hours in professionally-aided customization can make a world of difference for your store.
EchoSign co-founder and CEO Jason Lemkin, says, “For every dollar that sales brings in, you get about 6x on the back end on average from customer success.” He adds that over 80% of growth comes from existing customers.
We have a special package for Shopify Plus customers that includes three hours of professional services for free. A dedicated customer success person will analyze your site, create an action plan and a project plan of possible customization options, and handle the implementation.
Working with Findify, Shopify merchant Pet n’GO saw a 35% increase in conversion rate through search traffic, and SLEEFS saw an 18% increased revenue per user with a real-time personalized shopping experience.
7. Patience Pays off in Spades
“How long will the machine learning take?” people often ask me.
The answer depends on the purchase volume and the number of products a merchant has. If you have 100,000 products, each at five purchases a day, it’ll take a fair amount of time for the machine to properly assign scores to products.
Unlike the big, visible, changes most people are used to seeing, our complex algorithms work as an agile process behind the scenes to continuously improve, little by little. It can be hard to conceptualize, and customers compare things that are immediately visible with cheaper solutions, ignoring the subtle improvements.
Don’t get me wrong — sometimes the easiest solution is the best one. But even easy solutions will have some difficult moments, and I recommend being patient and toughing it out!
For example, a meaningful discovery might not come easy. It could take a few A/B tests to reach statistical significance but would be worth the time and effort invested.
8. Priorities Make Competitive Advantages
Most businesses share common elements.
They might all have similar team structures, functional needs, and even processes. Culture, values, and roadmaps might have more variation.
But it’s important to remain focused and prioritize what’s most important to your individual business needs.
Anyone can come up with more product features. This tendency, known as “feature creep” or “scope creep,” has poisoned many companies. They don’t keep the main thing the main thing.
When Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was turning around the company during his second run as CEO, he was well-known for relentlessly enabling Apple to focus its resources. Author Malcolm Gladwell has written of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs that his “sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him—the tablet with stylus—and ruthlessly refining it.”
Jobs himself said to Fortune:
“The clearest example was when we were pressured for years to do a PDA, and I realized one day that 90% of the people who use a PDA only take information out of it on the road. They don't put information into it. Pretty soon cellphones are going to do that, so the PDA market's going to get reduced to a fraction of its current size, and it won't really be sustainable.
“So we decided not to get into it. If we had gotten into it, we wouldn't have had the resources to do the iPod. We probably wouldn't have seen it coming.”
“Ecommerce is competitive, and if you’re a merchant, you face a need for rapid growth.
Even with all the available tools, you’ve got limited engineering and marketing resources. You need to pick the right partners and tools. That means prioritizing well but also finding people you can trust, work well with, and rely upon.
Collaboration and allies are more important now than ever in this competitive ecommerce landscape. Don’t try to fight your battles alone.
Enlist the help of machine learning, external partners, and customer success teams to propel your company forward. Invest the time it takes to manage all of these operations and keep your business a well-oiled machine. Keep your ecommerce store’s ecosystem healthy, focused and robust, and you’ll be prepared for anything that comes your way.