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

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. 

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?

Social Selling on the Rise

Social selling, also referred to as social commerce A BizRate Insights survey revealed that (34%) of adults (18+)  said they purchased something via social media. This is up from 29% a year ago. The survey showed an additional 27% of adults surveyed were interested in social commerce.

Shoppers in the range of 18 to 34 years-old are the most likely to shop through social media, with over half that demographic saying they had purchased through a social channel. To break that down even further, 42% of those shoppers were women. 

It’s arguable that the “newness” factor of social commerce is responsible for a portion of the interest. But don’t dismiss it as a passing fad. Facebook, Pinterest and Snapchat have invested considerable time, money, and effort to ignite direct-to-consumer sales on their respective platforms. Instagram (owned by Facebook), now gives brands and retailers the ability to tag ‘shoppable’ content directly on their Instagram feeds. Customers can buy directly from the retailer without ever leaving the Instagram app. It’s part of the evolution of omni-channel shopping.

Snapchat added a shopping channel called “Shop and Cop.” Pinterest also expanded their partner program to support more shopping experiences. Social media companies are in a race to expand their shopping features to compete with e-commerce juggernaut Amazon, which has emerged as a big-time competitor in digital advertising.

While technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are certainly cool, they don’t appear ready to take off on a large scale, and thus the traction isn’t there. Given the immense popularity and usage of social media, it only made sense for it to become a new sales channel for brands and retailers to capitalize on.

The way we shop has evolved, and as usual, consumer behavior and expectations dictate the direction that businesses take. Modern shoppers expect brands to have apps, and they expect to a seamless shopping experience across multiple devices. Throw social media into that mix and brands now have an essential component of omni-channel shopping that should not be ignored.

Targeting Your Promotions

Raise your hand if you like paying full retail price. Wait, you don’t? Obviously I can’t see you right now, but I’m willing to take a chance and assume that you do not, in fact, like paying full retail price. 

As modern shoppers, we’re conditioned to be on the lookout for discounts. A quick Google search allows us to compare prices to find great deals. If we’re subscribed to marketing materials for a particular brand, we may see a mailer, or an e-mail with a discount code or promotional offer. 

And let’s not forget the undisputed champ of great deal days…Black Friday. Black Friday may as well be a national holiday by itself. 

Many customers won’t make a purchase unless they have a coupon in hand, or a discount code to enter at checkout.

If you’re a retailer trying to attract new customers, and cater to your loyal customers, you’ve no doubt offered plenty of discounts and promotions over time. It’s a necessary and effective tool to bring in business. You take a small profit hit from the coupon, but ideally pull in enough revenue from additional purchases to cover the cost and then some. 

Discount-savvy customers are trained to wait for your coupon before they make a move. Knowing that your customers are waiting for and expecting discounts, your promotions but be strategically-delivered. 

One problem you may run into is flooding potential customers with TOO MANY discounts. Sounds strange, right? A customer turned off by getting too many discounts. You may have a customer who only shops periodically, and s massive amounts of e-mails may usher them towards the ‘Unsubscribe’ button. 

Another problem is that your effort to reach a large amount of customers may reach the wrong people. I don’t mean people who aren’t interested in purchasing. I mean people who WOULD HAVE purchased WITHOUT a discount. 

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To avoid this, try to send promotions only to shoppers that you believe need them in order to convert, and select the most relevant promotion for each person. 

Try testing different promotions for your high-value customers and your new e-mail subscribers. For example, send a general discount to your new subscribers to encourage immediate action, but send each high-value shopper an email that promotes new items in their favorite category. You may find that many of those loyal customers will be willing to purchase new items without a discount.

Then you can start segmenting further. Create a segment of shoppers who have purchased in the last 90 days and run a promotion to encourage them to make a repeat purchase. Segmented push notifications are a great way to execute this strategy. Combine the high open rate of push notifications vs e-mail, and a strategic set of targeted customers, and you could see considerably more success than your broad approach promoting everything to everyone. This is another key reason mobile commerce should be part of your omni-channel strategy

Key Features of Great Retail Apps

If you’re familiar with e-commerce, and/or have read our other blogs, you know that e-commerce is being re-shaped and overtaken by mobile commerce. For brands and retailers who haven’t come aboard and launched a mobile app, there’s no better time than the present to get started.


With that in mind, let’s take a look at some things to consider about your app, that will attract your loyal customers, and more importantly, keep your app on their mobile device.

 

 

Good User-Experience (UX)

This is a pretty obvious element, but it bears mentioning. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Better yet, think of apps you have on your own mobile devices. Are they difficult to use and navigate? Probably not. Screen space is valuable real estate, and nobody is going to keep an app on their device that isn’t simple to use.

 

Some Elements of a Good UX

  • Make things easy to find
  • Clearly identify and provide detailed descriptions of your items
  • Fast, secure, checkout
  • No hidden costs

Personalized Offers

 

Just because you’re using technology, and aren’t face-to-face with your customers, doesn’t mean you can’t add a personal touch to their interaction with your app. 

This is a prime example of why capturing rich customer data is important for understanding your customers interests and buying tendencies.

One example to take note of, is personalized push notifications. Amazon Prime does an excellent job with this. They will make personalized recommendations based on past purchases or related to items you may have left in your cart. 

 

Flash Sales and Discounts

 

F.O.M.O…An acronym that stand for ‘Fear of missing out’. It’s that gut-wrenching feeling that everyone else is taking part in something, or getting something, and you’re on the outside looking in.

Flash sales are a business model in which a company offers a single or limited product selection for a discounted price over a short period of time. Sales typically last anywhere between a few hours to 24-36 hours.

You may not even need/want what’s being sold, but the idea of scarcity, and losing out on great deals is too hard for many customers to pass up.

 

Discounts are obvious. Why would anyone NOT want to save money? This is likely THE reason your customer downloaded your app. Make sure they’re seeing the benefits of having your app on their device. Also consider offering certain items as ‘app-only’ purchases. 

 

Alternative Payment Options

Aside from secure payment options, digital customers demand a variety of payment options.

The reason is two-fold: Simplicity, and security.

Popular modern payment options include:

  • Paypal
  • Venmo
  • Amazon Pay
  • Google Pay
  • Apple Pay

Simple check-out with minimal steps, and protected personal information. That’s what your customers expect.

Even cryptocurrency options like Bitcoin are gradually becoming payment options with retailers.

 

This was not by any means an exhaustive list. Consider these a solid foundation to build upon if you want to launch and maintain a successful retail app.