Black-Owned Tech Companies to Help You Scale

Retailers have a range of tools at their disposal to ensure their growth, from suppliers to plug-ins and backend solutions to partners like Sandbox Commerce that help them grow their audience and strengthen relationships and loyalty. A recent example of how partners can help elevates small and medium businesses came last month when Shopify highlighted Black-owned businesses on Shop. The amplification of these Shopify partners gave them exposure to additional customers and showed Shopify’s commitment to diversity and inclusion for its customers.

We at Sandbox Commerce believe that Black-owned businesses deserve to be lifted up on both the B2C and B2B side. Over the years, I’ve connected with dozens of amazing tech leaders (who happen to be Black) who are building products that extend the reach of small and medium businesses. As they continue to help their customers find success, we want to highlight them, similarly to how Shopify did for their partners.

Saltbox

Saltbox provides highly functional and private micro-warehousing units ranging in size from 500 to 2,000 square feet complemented by traditional coworking areas featuring private offices, conference rooms, community spaces.

This company describes its customers as the Concrete Class – importers and exporters, distributors, makers and e-commerce operators. By combining the traditional office with warehousing needs of multiple sizes, Saltbox offers entrepreneurs ease of use and reduces friction between owners and team members operating in different functions within a commerce business. Founders Tyler Scriven and Maxwell Bonnie closed their $3.2 million seed round in September 2019 and continue to grow from their homebase of Atlanta, GA.

Upsie

Upsie is confronting the $40-billion extended warranty industry by challenging marketplace conventions and empowering consumers with information, access and convenience.Upsie’s website and mobile app provide users with dependable, transparent coverage and pricing options that can be easily navigated through our user friendly interface.

Though Upsie is B2C rather than B2C like Sandbox Commerce, the company’s founder Clarence Bethea has a similar story to Sterling Smith, Sandbox Commerce CEO. In a 2017 Fast Company story, Bethea talks about the challenges of venture capital funding. Though his numbers are strong, and he is offering a product that takes advantage of the gaps in an industry that has not modernized its practices, Bethea had only raised $1.5 in angel funding at that point.

Bandwagon FanClub Inc.

Bandwagon FanClub tracks qualitative customer data for ticketed events through a proprietary blockchain database that monitors each ticket transaction. Event owners can track the economics of each ticket and stay informed of the end user who ultimately attends the event.

Founder Harold Hughes acquired IdealSeat even as in-person events were being cancelled due to the pandemic. The company’s ability to shift quickly to virtual events and strategize for the way that organizations and companies needed to use events platforms shows that Bandwagon FanClub Inc. plans to be a partner for the long-term.

Resilia

Resilia is a fast-growing venture backed, mission-driven SaaS business based in New York and New Orleans. Resilia’s mission is to harness the power of generosity, technology, and human connection to make nonprofit leadership available for everyone. Resilia’s subscription-based platform helps existing non-profit organizations (SMB’s) increase capacity and enables Enterprises (cities, private foundations and corporations) scale impact. Resilia’s Formation product helps nonprofits by “turbo taxing” the process of incorporating and applying for tax exemption.

Resilia founder and CEO, Sevetri Wilson, is a serial entrepreneur whose work has been recognized by various publications and the Mayor of New Orleans and the U.S. Senate. Wilson describes her work as building “communities, brands, technology and people.” During the economic downturn caused by the pandemic and because of the generosity of people who want to support the causes they care about, donating to nonprofit organizations can be a lifeline for individuals and groups keeping people financially and physically healthy. Wilson and Resilia are providing the structure for nonprofits to meet their missions.

Founder Notes – July 2020

What an interesting time to be in the business of customer service. It appears as though our increased physical distancing as we shelter at home won’t be changing anytime soon, as reflected by restrictions and recommendations are being re-engaged in various states.

As I’m advising Sandbox Commerce users on trying to find a new normal while still attracting traffic to their business, states are adjusting to rising case numbers by encouraging essential travel only. Curbside pickup has risen in both popularity and necessity to keep buyers and sellers safe. There are still learning curves but I’m happy to see Sandbox Commerce customers use the platform in innovative ways.


You may not know this but my background is in coding. In order to keep the wheels greased and turning, I find new projects regularly. Most recently, I created a personal site: sterling.ooo. The creativity of building this micro-site gives me inspiration for new features on Sandbox Commerce.


Between March and April 2020, ecommerce sales rose 25 percent – and the numbers continue to rise. Shopify increased their year-over-year first quarter revenue in 2020 by 47 percent. Americans may be cautious about going outdoors but they’re still shopping for essentials and some nice-to-have items, especially to support small and medium businesses.

I enjoy having conversations about the state of ecommerce, and I shared some thoughts on ecommerce and native apps in recent interviews with Commerce Tea and Silicon Hills News. Hard work pays off, and I appreciate Forbes for including me in “Rising Startups to Watch with Diverse Founders.”

In July, I’ll be focused connecting with the companies who are implementing strategic solutions like curbside pick up and creatively driving loyalty for their brands. If you are one of those business owners, be sure to drop me a line or connect on social media: Twitter or LinkedIn.

The New Economy: How Sandbox Commerce Helps Customers Provide Unique Solutions

Over the last 90 days our team has seen innovative brands and retail entrepreneurs leverage our no-code platform in ways that we would have never imagined. Here are a few examples.

You may know that Sandbox Commerce is the smartest way for brands and retailers to launch mobile apps that both increase engagement and increase long-term value with their best customers. This relationship has served retailers well, deepening the loyalty between brand and shoppers (and vice versa).

Two companies caught our attention for the ways they’re using Sandbox Commerce: Go360 (Northern California) and League of Rebels (Austin, Texas).

League of Rebels is a purveyor of fine tailoring, a boutique that offers a full line of tailored men’s clothing, with ready to wear, made-to-measure and bespoke tailoring. With such a hands-on experience, from measurements to fit, the coronavirus could have derailed the personalized touch the team at League of Rebels provides. Instead, League of Rebels pivoted to include curbside commerce as an option for receiving wares. It not only allowed team members to continue to engage with shoppers but it kept shoppers safe and physically distanced without having to give up their style.

On the west coast, Go360 offers contactless grocery delivery and first/last mile transportation for daily commuters (think Instacart). The company realized that not only did they need an interface that met the needs of shoppers, they had to be able to use the same platform to hire and deploy drivers. A solution from a larger provider would cost over $100K, require a much longer timeline to go-to-market, and struggle to break even on cost of development. Using Sandbox Commerce, it took only a few weeks to build and roll out the solution, and the investment was reasonable for the startup as they scale and grow.

These are only two examples, and we know the possibilities are endless with entrepreneurs who are determined to make things happen in new ways. If you’re ready to explore curbside commerce or figure out how to make a native mobile app shock and delight your audience, let’s talk.

LISTEN: Sandbox Commerce Founder Talks E-Commerce Mobile Apps with Commerce Tea

Sterling Smith, Sandbox Commerce founder and CEO, spoke with the hosts of Commerce Tea about how a native mobile app can help Shopify sellers create a deeper relationship with existing customers.

Commerce Tea hosts Kelly Vaughn and Rhian Beutler are Shopify Partners: one Plus partner, and one app developer join forces and share the tea every week on what they know best: how to succeed selling online.

LISTEN NOW: Mobile Apps for Shopify Stores

Introducing Sandbox Social – Integrating Instagram with Your E-Commerce

Sandbox Social – shop straight from your brand’s beautiful Instagram feed.

“Doing it for the ‘gram” now has one more meaning with the introduction of Sandbox Social on the Sandbox Commerce platform.

This is a feature that the team has been perfecting for the last few weeks, focusing on the importance of visual stimulation in the purchasing process as shoppers interact and engage with brand- and user-generated content. I previously shared my thoughts about the importance of multiple ways to engage customers online, and integrating shoppable content is now on this list.

What is Sandbox Social aka Shoppable Instagram?

If your’e coming to this post and wondering what “shoppable Instagram” is and what it could mean for your brand and sales, I’m glad you’re here. You may already be familiar with Sandbox Commerce for our no-code app solution, which is designed to increase the lifetime value of customers by helping brands engage with customers who have already bought in by encouraging them to download the app for special offers and the latest news.

Sandbox Social is different; we are targeting people who shop with their eyes first. You know: the scrollers, the double-tap and leave a comment, and share-in-Stories buyers. Instagram as a social channel has a specific aesthetic that makes content really pop: clear, colorful imagery laid out thoughtfully not only within the individual image but as a whole grid of pictures. Brands like Revolve and XX not only invest in their own product images but also integrate content from their most loyal followers whose style mirrors the brand. Shoppers are able to see not only the most idealized snaps but also the real life ways that buyers style the products.

How Sandbox Social Works

Now that you’re sold on the concept of using your best Instagram pictures to capture the attention – and buying power- of the scrolling window shoppers, let’s talk about Sandbox Social in action.

How do I integrate Sandbox Social?

Like the Sandbox Commerce app builder, Sandbox Social integrates with the leading e-commerce platforms: Shopify, BigCommerce and 3D Cart for ease of use. Once you sign up for Sandbox Social, the platform makes it simple to tag the content you want to become shoppable. As you post and tag content to your Instagram, Sandbox Social syncs to your e-commerce partner to tag each image as available for purchase.

Not only are you able to feature your best Instagram content on your mobile or desktop website, you can also spotlight the same or different pics for your newsletter or mobile app (which you’ve already built with Sandbox Commerce, right?).

How do I track use of Sandbox Social?

Data is key to understanding how the work you do is bringing in and keeping customers active and engaged. Sandbox Social delivers usage stats to your account’s home page, giving you the ability to see in real-time how shoppers are engaging with both Sandbox Social and your Sandbox Commerce native mobile app.

Get Started with Sandbox Social

Now is as good a time as any to launch your shoppable social feature for e-commerce. Log in if you are an existing Sandbox Commerce customer or create an account to get started on integrating Sandbox Social with your e-commerce platform. Want to see Sandbox Social in action: Book a demo.

Rise of No-Code and Low-Code Solutions for Work-From-Anywhere Life

As the business world continues to deal with the fallout of a global pandemic and millions of workers are either adjusting to work from home or are being laid off or furloughed, we are proving to be as scrappy as founders of years past with one distinct advantage: coding is no longer required to quickly put together the solutions we need.

Scrappy is a word used most often to describe founders of previous eras, whose empires were built in basements and garages, based on coding and programming written from years of education and practice.

Today, as the business world continues to deal with the fallout of a global pandemic and millions of workers are either adjusting to work from home or are being laid off or furloughed, we are proving to be as scrappy as founders of years past with one distinct advantage: coding is no longer required to quickly put together the solutions we need. As entrepreneurs or as leaders within an established company, we are solving for the issues at hand with the help of low-code or no-code platforms that allow us to address employee, client and/or contractor needs easily without the on-ramp of writing original programming.

Examples of Low-Code and No-Code Solutions

Articles in Wired and The Wall Street Journal illustrate beautifully how the get-it-done spirit is being buoyed by online tools.

In Wired, a copywriter-turned-marketing startup founder with no background in coding took it upon herself to automate systems and create tools for both herself and her team as well as potential clients through a handful of programs like Webflow, Airtable, Zapier and Slack. Dani, the startup founder, admits that the system isn’t perfect but it’s working for her as she scales her services.

The Journal article explores how larger businesses are helping their employees function as they continue to work separately from the central office, especially as some industries codify their work-from-anywhere policies to keep employees safe and help them manage households. Whereas meetings, business trips and other in-person activities typically made workflow smooth, companies are having to solve for the mishmash of regulations as some states continue stay-at-home orders and others begin to “reopen for business.”

One supply chain company was able to launch a system to track their company equipment for out-of-office workers within two days; a biotech firm is using a rapidly developed app to track employees’ location and health status since many of the company’s research and development department was still coming into the office and the leadership was concerned with tracing any illness should it occur. Both companies cited the need to get their solutions launched as the reason why they chose to go with low-code and no-code solutions as opposed to outsourcing to developers or purchasing more advanced, pre-coded options.

#NoCode Solutions Here to Stay

I’m excited to read these articles and others as the  corporate world embraces the simplicity and ease of low-code and no-code tools. When I launched Sandbox Commerce, it was precisely for the reasons that many of these companies are creating solutions: working to make the complicated simple, be it providing ease of use for a retailer or helping keep employees and customers safe by tracing the health of workers.

I’ll wrap up with a quote from the Wired story:

The success of no-code startups may thus be a useful corrective to the cult of the Brilliant Tech Dude. If nearly anyone can do this, some of the magic dies. And some new magic, possibly, is born.

 

The Digital User Data Retailers Need to Track for Success

Almost two months into the shift that is seeing retailers invest more than ever into their digital tools,  now is a great time to start talking about how to assess the customer insights these tools are giving you. Customer data can not only help you understand how your customers are finding and engaging with your products, but also improve how you interact and engage with them once they’re on your platforms. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information available to you, so let’s break this down to the must-know details.

Demographics

Beyond the number of visitors, tracking the demographics of your site and app users reveals helpful info on who you’re reaching and serving. Your database of customer data should include demos like what country – in addition to regions and states – your buyers are coming from, as well as their gender and age range. Once you learn this info, it may help you diversify your offerings in new ways with additional seasonally-based merchandise or expanding into women’s or men’s clothing.

Referral Traffic

Driving people to your site through social media is meaningless if you’re not measuring the results of the campaigns. Your referral traffic helps you understand if you’re getting visitors to your online site through organic traffic (someone typed in your URL) or through outside sources like social media, affiliate traffic or through other marketing or public relations efforts.

Notifications

Notifications are helpful for your mobile app customers, who may download an app once for a purchase but forget about it. Since we want to avoid the app graveyard, make sure you are not only using notifications to bring customers back to the app but also tracking which messages lead to the most engagement. Notifications you should be using: abandoned cart, new items and flash sales.

Sales

One of the most exciting data points to track, in my opinion, is the link between sales and your digital tools. I specifically want to reference the success of Peet’s Coffee and how they used their mobile tools to drive sales. Based on their data, they knew that 40 percent of their customers were visiting the website from mobile devices. In order to take advantage of those on mobile, the Peet’s team used location data and individualized content to target sales for customers. Not only did they increase mobile traffic, they increased revenue by 142 percent.


 

As you grow your online presence, you will be able to use the data to make adjustments in your social media strategy as well as your product and service planning. What user data has proven most helpful for you? Let us know on social: @sandboxcommerce on Twitter.

Two Strategies to Reach Shoppers Online

Considering the options that exist for retailers, I think it’s best to approach the digital landscape as if you’re selecting the sharpest ax and most reliable power tool.

This is a big deal for retailers as Shopify, the ecommerce platform that enabled $135 billion in sales in 2019, just launched a new consumer app, Shop. Shop is a digital marketplace for customers to discover local businesses powered by Shopify through recommendations and location filters. 

Digital Marketplace vs. Native Mobile App

The benefits of a marketplace like Shop and the Shopify platform include alignment with a large, well-known brand with access to data points it has gathered from retailers like you, who give data in exchange for exposure. The challenge lies in your brand’s inability to fully control the user experience, and getting swamped in competition with the number of  retailers listed in the marketplace. 

The value of having a branded, native e-commerce app, is being able to  design the experience you want to deliver — the kind that builds loyalty and increases the lifetime value of your customers. Owning your mobile storefront means you get to control what products you want to sell, how you want to display them, the frequency of outreach to customers and what the messages say. And of course, your data is owned by you, accessible at any moment. 

A Well-Balanced E-commerce Strategy

My recommendation is that you think about a well-balanced e-commerce strategy. One the one hand, how can you maximize the features that come with a digital marketplace? What products can you offer there that will make the most of discovery and recommendation engines?

On the other hand, how can a native mobile app help you deliver a digital-first customer experience that uniquely yours? You will want to ensure that your offers there are designed for your most loyal customers. Also, keep in mind that you’ll need to wrap an engagement strategy around each purchase that reflects who you are and keeps customers coming back for more. 

The digital landscape is varied, and no one single tool will get the job done for every goal you as a retailer will have to grow your business and thrive in the way we do business now. Personally, I’m excited to see how businesses will make use of insights from Shop to strengthen their presence on web, social media and apps. The digital toolbox is only getting stronger, and that’s the only way growing retail will continue to thrive. 

Start Planning Now: How to Reopen Your Retail Business

Opinions may vary about how and when, but I, like most Americans, am thinking about what life and business looks like when stay-at-home restrictions are removed. In Texas, where I live, the governor has a task force that is working on the logistics of opening schools, places of worship and, for the benefit of the economy, businesses. The President also weighed in with a three-phase approach called Opening America Up Again.

Safety is the main concern for all when considering how to get commerce energized and people out of their houses and purchasing goods. How your business returns to operations impacts not only your customers but also your employees and your reputation. Planning will be essential to a smooth roll-out.

What Remains: Online and Digital Ordering

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To offset the months of lower foot traffic, continue to maintain a robust, streamlined process for purchase on your website or through an app. Give buyers the option for delivery or scheduling curbside pickup at your physical location. Many of your customers will appreciate the opportunity to see a friendly face and to rebuild their routines.

What Changes: Notifications and Email Alerts

If your business requires you to get up close and personal, like stylist or cosmetologist. Typical waiting areas are not an ideal place for customers who are concerned about their health. You can help people get past the worry with clear communication about what the experience will look like.

Enhancement: Gift Cards, Mobile Apps and Credit Toward Services

Even if you don’t have a hard timeline in place yet for reopening, encouraging customers to order gift cards for themselves or as gifts to others not only brings cash flow into your business but it also builds anticipation for redeeming the credit. Along with re-investing in your companies website, invest time and money in building a mobile app for your brand that allows your to notify them via push notifications and incorporate augmented reality (AR).

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Bottom Line: Start Small, Be Cautious

As we navigate the reopening of public life together, I want to give you a reminder to lead with empathy. Uncertainty makes it hard to anticipate customers’ reception to in-person experiences, so be sure you’re exceeding expectations with your digital presence. Allow the brick and mortar game plan to follow the guidelines and messaging of the online experience, a reversal of the way things used to be.

Fold in the opportunities for clients to connect with you face-to-face, ensure their and your safety by following guidelines from elected officials and healthcare professionals, and nurture your relationships by treating every engagement with kindness and a view on the long-term outcomes. We’re in this together.

A Timely Pivot to E-Commerce

There is a graphic circling social media that demands we all come out on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic with a skill or side hustle, or else we’ve wasted the time given to us through quarantine and shelter-in-place orders.

I tend to take viral posts like this with a grain of salt; what productivity looks like to someone who is an entrepreneur versus someone with a job that is deemed essential or to someone who is childfree versus a person who is balancing homeschooling and full-time work expectations will be vastly different right now. However, in every bombastic and boastful post, there remains a grain of truth. Now is a good time to make purposeful changes about your company and expand into new and strategic offerings.

As a previous article mentioned, restaurants and retailers are shifting in their delivery to maintain contactless or organize as few touches as possible between packaging and the customer. Let’s zoom out a bit about pivoting to the online and digital space in a meaningful, long-term way.

I recently had a conversation with a successful retailer in New York who has three stores in the city. They’d done well offering boutique services through their brick and mortar storefronts up until the pandemic. When they looked at online sales, they lagged in-person numbers. Now with the shut down in the largest city in the nation, they realize that they’d missed a prime opportunity to have their online store primed for the pivot to online buying. Working from the back foot makes it harder to earn dollars that established boutiques that give equal, if not more, attention to e-commerce have already taken.

 

Revamp Site Content

If your site and app is already up, you’re one step in the right direction. Say you’ve put that decision off; now is the best time to create your e-commerce solution. Not only are people looking to support small business, you can also link with an independent site or app developer looking to continue building their portfolio.

If you have experience in building online and digital, you may be able take what you would spend with a developer and find a self-service product or platform to help you build.

For existing sites that haven’t been touched since launching, invest in updating your content, from product photos and descriptions to your brand story. It might be that the logo you chose years ago no longer fits with the business you run today. Work with a graphic designer to drop a new logo and hire a content specialist to give your company description the update it needs.

Apply SEO Best Practice

You are familiar with the concept of SEO, right? It (search engine optimization) is what brings your brand up to the top in Google, Bing and other search engines when people search for key words and phrases related to your products and services. If you can’t go viral, you definitely want to be on the first page of the top search results for the words and phrases that matter to you.

Data from Pinterest Survey

One of the more interesting ways that SEO is changing is directly related to the way we engage with search engines. Rarely do we go in search of “blue t-shirts” when shopping. Instead, we ask our browsers “what’s the t-shirt [insert Celebrity X] wore on Jimmy Kimmel?” The specificity of our searches means that alt-text and descriptive content has to be on point.

Notice also I said “we ask” our browsers, meaning we are using voice over typing to search. Voice search, as compared to text search, tends to have longer, more descriptive phrases. Voice search is also tied to heavy spending; by 2022, voice-based shopping will be at $40 billion.

While you may not learn how to DJ or crochet during this shift, it doesn’t mean you should be okay with idleness. Enhancing your online and digital platforms is a no-brainer that will help you maintain your brand’s presence and earn new customers while satisfying your current customers desire to buy online.


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