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.

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

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.

 

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. 

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.


Follow me on Twitter or on the Sandbox Commerce blog, for more topical content!

There will never be a perfect time, don’t wait to engage with your customers!

During the pandemic, the latest way to connect with your customers…is to not contact them. Physically, that is. Many businesses are still providing top-notch service, even as we are physically distancing ourselves to lower the risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19.

Restaurants and bars, along with clothing and goods storefronts, are instituting new methods of getting their food and products to their customers through inventive and creative methods. Rather than allowing new rules to diminish the experience, owners and operators are thinking of ways to provide a positive buying experience and increase long-term loyalty. What does that mean for you and your company as you face the same challenges?

Bundle goods and services in new ways

Across the United States, most restaurants are being labeled as essential service companies but with the rules limiting the number of people allowed to gather in one building, dine-in service is out of the question. I’ve been impressed to see how thoughtful the dining teams have been about packaging whole meals, along with beverages, to still give their customers the appetizer-entrée-desert components in takeaway.

Here in Texas, where I’m based, the governor has relaxed the rules about alcohol delivery and take-way and many places are selling their signature drinks as an add-on. If you sell products, what combinations can you offer customers to help them imagine the experience they can have from a line of haircare or facial goods they may not have imagined? Curating their purchase not only gives them more exposure to your lineup, it helps you understand what combinations can sell in the future.

Invest in packaging

Unboxing videos are a popular way that customers have been sharing their purchases for some years. We use our eyes as part of our enjoyment and investing in new and unique packaging is a low-cost way to surprise your customers.

If you can make the packaging sustainable, that adds a valuable element to why they should be buying from you. Upgrade the bags, boxes and enclosures as well as small touch-points like tags, packaging materials like tissue paper and thank you notes.

Make use of social media to share customer stories

What good is a customer purchase if no one knows they bought it, right? Make a wave by asking your audience to share what they’re buying with their own followers along with their review. You can request this through email marketing or in-app messaging and incentivize it by offering future credit or discounts.

There is a risk that you may have an unhappy customer who isn’t pleased by the change in the buying and delivery process and they decide to share that. However, I’ve found that most people, especially your most loyal customers, are understanding of the ways that commerce is changing and want to support you staying in business.

Keep updated inventory to ensure expectations are met

Almost all of us have experienced that moment of intense disappointment when we’ve added a purchase to cart and are set to check out only to find out that the site had an error and what we want isn’t in stock. You don’t want to be the brand that is letting people down because your inventory wasn’t correct.

Make it a priority to ensure your numbers are correct and updated regularly as customers check out to avoid not being able to fulfill someone’s need for the best work-from-home outfit or self-care product.

Surprise and delight

The brands that go above and beyond in bringing an unexpected smile to their customers’ faces will be rewarded when the travel and gathering restrictions are lifted. The surprise and delight tip doesn’t have to equal a massive spend on your part.

What small ways can you provide an unexpected but welcome moment in the lives of others? The note included in their order thanking them for supporting an independent business, the email that shares a picture of your work from home set up, complete with dogs, cats and kids, or a video dropped on your social media channel that authentically talks about your gratitude. If you can afford, include a freebie that elevates their experience in their orders as well. Be the kindness you wish to see, and it multiplies.


What ways have you seen businesses uniquely providing delivery and carry-out wins from online or in-app purchases?

How can brands increase engagement in the age of social distancing

The unexpected impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the required social distancing for public safety is hitting brick and mortar stores right in the heart of their business: in-person sales and engagement. With fewer people coming through their doors, sales are declining, and many owners are having to make hard decisions. How do you determine trends and provide necessary touchpoints with buyers when they can’t leave their homes?

The current realities facing many companies is a sobering look at the realities of 21st century life. Unexpected and disruptive events are part of the business landscape and planning is crucial to make sure that interruptions have as little impact as possible. The ways stores usually do business – face-to-face – can’t stand alone as strategy for growth and retention of customers, and diversifying into a digital solution can be daunting.

With the advent of faster Internet connectivity, WiFi networks through most public places and the rollout of 5G, people are engaged with their mobile tools throughout the day. They are searching for content that meets their needs for entertainment and education on social media and downloading apps and tools to do the same.

Influencer Marketing

Celebrity isn’t limited to movie stars anymore. Influencers are taking over, and their impact can move numbers when it comes to products from clothing and shoes to books and movies.

Connecting with an influencer gives you access to their platform on social media and through email and it lends your brand cache as the must-have product of a customer’s favorite person.

I would recommend that you have your goals clearly outlined before engaging with an influencer to ensure you get the return on your investment. If you are sending your brand’s clothing to a person, where do you want them to wear it? Do they post to social media once and include in their weekly newsletter as well? The more you want them to promote your brand, the costlier the relationship can become, so be intentional about the elements of your contract.

And yes, you will need a contract. After all, influencers are a business themselves and they need to protect their brand as much as you want to protect yours.

Once they do post, share pictures and videos far and wide so your audience sees and engages with the content. It’s a smart move that exposes you to the influencer’s loyal followers and shows that you know what’s happening to your audience.

Social Selling

The social media platforms Instagram and Pinterest have emerged as powerhouses of e-commerce. We all know that scrolling, pinning and double-tapping takes up hours of people’s time across demographics. Why not make social selling of your latest line a priority when your customers aren’t able to make it into the stores?

To give some perspective: 37 percent of Americans use Instagram and 89 percent of Instagram’s users are from outside of the United States. 73 percent of teens say the platform is the best way for brands to reach them about new products or promotions and 130 million Instagram users tap on a shopping product to learn more every month. And that’s just Instagram.

When Pinterest surveyed their users, the results were just as supportive of why you need to be moving toward social selling: 72 percent said the social site inspires them to shop even when they aren’t actually looking for anything. You can’t buy results like this: 90 percent said Pinterest helps them decide what to buy and 66 percent buy something after seeing a brand’s Pins.

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It’s an easy win to set up your shoppable Instagram or Pinterest account; you already know the purchase power is there and with limited in-person engagement, social media is the new storefront.

Mobile Tools

Most businesses have a mobile version of their site where customers can also purchase; after all, it is 2020. The user experience for apps differs from online stores. An online store is standard but the reality is that only 12 percent of consumers find shopping on mobile sites convenient. Having an app allows for personalization that buying in-store or via website isn’t built to deliver.

Customers are looking for a shopping experience that speaks to their specific needs, be it based on their location, previous purchases, web history or other data, without it being obvious that the brand has this information at their fingertips. Apps natively capture this information and deliver content personalized to individuals, leading to increased sales.

The time it takes to build an app is fairly short, thanks to drag and drop technology. The best no code app builders allow you to make your app in a day. In your brand’s app, make sure you prioritize offering a full range of inventory, add captivating descriptions and photos, and categorize it all in a way that makes sense to your customer.

From there, you can consider what your marketing will look like through push notifications and other ways to engage with app users. Finally, you can get the big picture view by regularly studying your analytics that show who is using the app, their demographics and buying habits and a sales report.

The New Normal: Sell from Everywhere and Leverage Networks

As the manager of your brand, you likely didn’t anticipate that you would be facing this challenging period. Grow stronger from the current challenge and come out smarter by connecting with new audiences through influencers, leveraging social media purchasing and developing an app as the digital solutions your audience needs to stay connected with you. When customers see your brand throughout their day, it becomes more likely they will make purchases, their loyalty increases, and you gain a brand advocate.

App-Based Mobile Commerce Explained: Why Retailers Should Embrace No-code

3 Benefits of App-Based mobile commerce and why coding shouldn’t keep you from considering it…

E-commerce is evolving. Shoppers #1 medium for product discovery and acquisition is their phone, and basic responsive mobile websites provided by platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, etc often feel dated and are sluggish on Google Chrome and Safari browsers. App-based mobile commerce allows businesses to create specialized customer-winning experiences that combine a frictionless journey to checkout with unique workflows that add value to consumers on the go.

As app-based mobile commerce has become more accessible and affordable due to no-code platforms like Sandbox Commerce. No-code platforms will transfer the power dynamic away from traditional software development shops to platforms that allow marketing directors, sales managers, and non-technical personnel to simply drag and drop their way to growth and efficiency for their organizations without writing a line of code.

How do you determine if launching an iPhone and Android app for your brand makes sense? and what can you expect to gain if you decide to add an app to your omni-channel strategy in the new year?

This guide will cover 3 rules to help you find success using an app-based mobile commerce strategy.

But first: What is no-code?

More and more software applications like Airtable, Trello and Salesforce have built software platforms based on no-code principles. Each of these businesses focus on solving traditional problems businesses encounter like project planning, data manipulation, and business development. In each of these use cases, no-code platforms usually excel in the following areas:

1. Allow drag-and-drop “blocks” of functionality that can be visually customized to build apps or create complex workflows.
2. Visual query datasources that allow blocks to display dynamic information instantly.
3. Utilize APIs to integrate data from existing enterprise applications or web services.
4. Broaden appeal to less technical users instead of leaving the creation of complex solutions up to traditional developers.
5. Expedite go-to-market of complex applications, usually at a fraction of the cost compared to traditional software deployments.

What are the advantages of a mobile app?

Better engagement:  According to Comscore, mobile websites see more visitors than mobile apps, but visitors spend 27 percent more time in apps. The data is clear. Retailers who provide shoppers with a native mobile user experience benefit from an increase in engagement over responsive websites.

Reduced cart abandonment: 70 percent of shoppers who add items to their cart within responsive websites leave without purchasing anything. In comparison, native mobile shopping carts that leverage Apple Pay and Google Pay at checkout and allow 1-click purchasing. reduce cart abandonment by 25 percent.

Increased discovery with push notifications:  Unique to native mobile apps are push notifications. According to Localytics, 52 percent of smartphone users have enabled these notifications on their smartphones. Marketers use push notifications to catch users’ attention by promoting products and reminding shoppers about their abandoned carts. Using data collected within their mobile app, retailers segment users to provide personalized recommendations that are both relevant and valuable to shoppers on the go.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot of buzz around no-code and mobile apps for retailers in e-commerce. By staying informed, you can determine if a mobile app will add value to your brand and proceed accordingly.

Want to learn more about the intersection between no-code and app-based mobile commerce? Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to Sandbox Commerce’s blog for more around these growing trends.

Sandbox Commerce Engage – Segmented Push Notifications

Why Does Segmentation Matter?


We’ve discussed the power of push notifications in previous blogs. The open rate is superior to e-mail and can be used strategically for very targeted messaging. While a mass blast to all your subscribers may be effective in terms of number of people reached, it can come back to bite you. 

One of the key features of mobile commerce that shoppers gravitate towards is the ability for brands and retailers to personalize the shopping experience for their customers.

Yes, your notification will reach a large number of customers, but you run the risk of customers opting out of notifications, if they feel they’re being spammed with irrelevant and/or too many messages.

Irrelevant notifications can lead to:

  • Customers unsubscribing
  • Fewer return visits to your app / e-commerce site
  • Lost revenue

This is where segmented push notifications come in. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Rather than a ‘shotgun’ approach where you send out a wide blast and hope to hit something, segmenting your messaging enables you to target more relevant promotions and communications to your intended audience.

The ability to selectively focus on groups of customers who share similar interests is a game-changer in terms of customer experience. When customers view content that’s relevant to them, it reinforces the perception that your company understands their needs, which in turn, strengthens customer loyalty.