Founder Notes – August 2020

In the hottest part of the year, it’s more than just the mercury rising. Online sales across platforms are at their highest numbers yet: Amazon online sales jumped 40% in the second quarter year-over-year and Shopify second quarter revenue grew 97% from a year earlier. As uncertainty lingers, and consumers continue to adjust their shopping habits to include more e-commerce, I’m having more conversations with retailers wanting to meet customers where they’re at: online.

Running Sandbox Commerce is more than providing a no-code solution for building loyalty; the platform itself has to create an engaging experience for both the retailer and their customers. This creates a desire to return to the app, buy additional products and interact with the brand. The design team and I spent the last two months upgrading the back-end of Sandbox Commerce to expedite the process from a retailer signing on to build their app to actually launching the product in the app store. It’s now more intuitive and self-guided, reducing the friction of design and development and providing the seamlessness that makes no-code, low-tech the best way to launch an app.

We are proud of the updates, and if you’re in the process of developing a no-code app and want to see for yourself how it works, now with improved experience, hit me up.

What I’m reading: the new-ish Retail Brew newsletter, No Code is Eating the World by Frederik Bussler at Hacker Noon; subscribed to Catalin Pit’s newsletter

What I’m watching: Beyonce “Black is King” (wasn’t a huge fan, don’t send The Hive after me), basketball from the Bubble

That’s all for now, glad to be “catching up” with everyone. What’s on your list – reading, watching, happening in your world? Tweet it to me: @sterlingssmith on Twitter.

Service from a Distance: Contactless Experiences Are The Future of Retail

Life and business are moving fast, and with uncertainty high due to the ongoing pandemic, it’s safe to say that providing options like curbside commerce and contactless pickup is a wise choice for business owners.

As mentioned in the July Founder Notes, the way we purchase everything, from our groceries and daily goods to shopping, is shifting as states continue to urge residents to follow stay-at-home procedures and wearing masks is mandated or strongly suggested. Limiting exposure to only the necessary trips and keeping distance are among the ways we can keep each other safe and flatten the curve. In the place of in-person shopping, contactless experiences and curbside commerce have taken over as best practice.

The news podcast Marketplace called it the “low-touch” economy, noting that this shift will be changing many industries. AdAge stated that curbside pickup and delivery, alongside e-commerce, will define retail’s next chapter [subscriber content]. Sandbox Commerce has a dedicated section explaining how the platform can be used to facilitate curbside pickup, and our customers have become innovators in solving for the need to safely deliver products and services.

League of Rebels, a menswear boutique based in Austin, Texas, was mentioned as a Sandbox Commerce customer who adopted curbside pickup. As a retailer, when the initial shutdown happened, the store felt the impact immediately. Customers who would typically come in to browse, buy and be measured for the bespoke jackets, shirts, pants and other clothing were absent, and the hands-on experience that set League of Rebels apart couldn’t be delivered virtually. The store’s owner, Muso Alto, had to make an immediate shift to how he and the rest of the team worked in order to maintain relationships and survive during COVID-19.

Building a digital solution can take months of planning, from the search for a coding team to the design and finally launching and iterating based on customer feedback. Unfortunately, Muso didn’t have months, or even weeks, to go this route. When he engaged with Sandbox Commerce, we knew an immediate solution was needed to save his business. Fortunately, he was able to go from initial contact to launch in just a few weeks. Once the app was launched, customers were able to peruse the latest products, purchase what they need and schedule a contactless experience for curbside pickup. All without leaving the League of Rebels app.

Life and business are moving fast, and with uncertainty high due to the ongoing pandemic, it’s safe to say that providing options like curbside commerce and contactless pickup is a wise choice for business owners. No-code development means you don’t have to be a programming genius or spend tens of thousands of dollars to make it happen. If you’re ready to increase loyalty with your customers and provide the safest engagement, contact the Sandbox Commerce team for your demo.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

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