How lucky are we to be alive at the same time as the internet? Sure, you may have to deal with someone being a jerk in the comments section, but you also get to buy everything you need without ever having to leave your couch. But on the flip side: Ecommerce business owners have to go out of their way to make their brands sparkle and stand out.
At the recent Girlboss Rally in LA, a group of about 60 women attended an ecommerce session of Startup Studio, presented in partnership with Google Chromebook.They heard from three leaders in the ecommerce space on what works and doesn’t work—because the innovative founders of tomorrow need education like they need versatile tech products and capable tools that fit seamlessly into their worlds.
They heard advice on everything from influencer marketing to strategic planning and forecasting to how to set up a supply chain and were able to start to formulate plans for growing their own businesses once they got home. Here’s a taste of what was covered.
First up was Ivka Adam, the founder and CEO of Iconery, a company she describes as “a supply chain as a service” meaning they look like a jewelry shopping website, but they’re actually working with influencers to design, develop and distribute their fine jewelry collections.
“It is so cool that we don’t have to open retail brick and mortar stores anymore…”
“It is so cool that we don’t have to open retail brick and mortar stores anymore and then fill it with shelves and inventory and then try to figure out how to get people to come in and buy,” she said. “And it’s even easier now to create your own ecommerce shop.”
Citing Honest Company as an example, Adam explained that seven years ago starting an ecommerce brand meant sinking millions of dollars into building out a clunky tech platform, but today it’s much simpler. “Thanks to Shopify and ecommerce plugins on WordPress and Squarespace, you can basically launch a product or your business in a couple days.”
And, after you launch, Adam said an ecommerce business actually gives you a better opportunity to get to know your customer than you ever could in the brick and mortar retail space.
”You can put Google and Facebook tracking pixels up and be able to remarket to your customer and you can also gather their email, their social addresses and get to know them really well.” She said that kind of relationship with your customer can actually help in the design phase as well explaining that it’s possible to use social media and platforms like Survey Monkey to find out what people like.
“A lot of big influencers do this now,” said Adam. “You’ve probably seen on Instagram stories they’ll do polls.”
“A lot of big influencers do this now,” said Adam. “You’ve probably seen on Instagram stories they’ll do polls. Should I make this or that, this color or that color? That’s a really great way so that you are not fundamentally tied to making a bet on your inventory and then hoping you’ll sell later.”
Because the customer and their input is so important, Adam advised to make sure that customer experience is King by investing in great branding, packaging and photography and mapping out your customer journeys and make sure they have consistency.
“Let’s say a couple weeks ago Heidi Klum posted [an Iconery bracelet] on Instagram,” Adam posed to the audience. “I then went to our social channel, made sure that the link in our bio went to that exact bracelet and there was something about her that we posted, a recent picture, so that when people came to our Instagram, they were getting a unified, qualified experience. What I would recommend doing is taking screenshots of every part of your customer journey and pasting them on a board or a wall and making sure that you have unified voice and imagery and language, so that the customer is getting a really, really smooth experience throughout the customer journey.”
And of course, it has to work as a mobile experience. In fact, it should be a priority. “Everything is happening on mobile,” she said. “I think 65 percent of our new visits are on mobile to our site, 45 percent of transactions are on mobile. Do not design an ecommerce experience on the desktop. Always design thinking mobile first and then thinking about what the desktop experience is.”
Other highlights of Adam’s overview were the companies doing the best job of driving FOMO for their launches (“The Kardashians do this better than anyone”), simple ways of thinking outside the box when it comes to customer service: “You can signup for Google Voice for texting and for voice calls. The fact that we give our customers the ability for them to text us at any point is awesome and Google Voice is free.”
“Layer in a plan and then figure out how to actually achieve that plan.”
During her workshop, “Strategic Planning and Forecasting”, Leah Borgeson Stigile, president and COO of custom, on-demand clothing company Fame and Partners took us through how to take the vision for a business, “layer in a plan and then figure out how to actually achieve that plan.”
“Everybody sets lots of goals, makes lots of plans,” Stigile explained. “Things like planning your three-year-old’s birthday party or some major program initiative. But, when you talk about it in the context of an overall strategic plan, people get scared. But, it’s really no different than the planning that we do every day, day in and day out.”
Stigile explained that a strategic plan is really just the defining of several aspects of your business. So, she suggested one start here:
- Define key strategic focuses for the company over a period of time (usually 2-3 years)
- Define key operational milestones needed to support the strategic focuses by quarter
- Define what impact the operational milestones will have on the business (branding, sales, cost savings, operational efficiency, etc.) Give a couple examples of what the impact might be
- Define what resources (people and financial) required to support the operational milestones
“In the startup world, there’s a lot of shiny objects so focus is really important,” said Stigile explaining that trying to do too much can be the kiss of death for a company. “One of the biggest things as it relates to both managing a team and managing stakeholders or investors is being realistic. One of the worst things you can do is actually overpromise and then under deliver. Making sure you’re managing people’s expectations, whether they’re the people that gave you money or the people that you’re managing, it’s really important.”
Once you have your plan, how do you know if it’s successful?
“A KPI, key performance indicator, is basically something that helps you measure the success of what you’re doing,” Stigile explained adding that the KPI’s that are the most important measures will vary from business to business and stage in the company’s life-cycle, but the KPIs she tends to focus on in early stage growth are:
- Financial Health (Revenue Growth, Cash Burn)
- Gross Margin
- Profitable Customers (Customer Acquisition Cost, Repeat Rate)
- Operational Efficiency (Net Promoter Score, Return Rate, Quality Control Pass Rate, Employee Turnover)
“When it comes to actually tracking them, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of magic here,” Stigile said explaining that using data from your site and financial platforms as well as Google Analytics or other analytics tools are great resources to get the information that you need.
“In addition to analytics tracking, you’re also going to want to make sure you have some sort of product or project management tool to manage your overall strategy at the individual operational milestones,” she added. She recommended using Google Sheets and Google Docs because “it’s important to point out you don’t need to invest in fancy tools from day one,” as well as tools like Asana, Trello, Jira, Excel and Confluence.
She then asked those in attendance to turn their attention to the Google Chromebooks in front of them and walked them through strategic plan data in Google Sheets and explained how to interpret it to make actionable changes in a business.
After the group activity, Stigile moved into what she calls her, “favorite part of strat planning,” building a forecast.
“Building a forecast is just attaching a numerical plan to the underlying strategic part of the plan of the company,” Stigile explained. “The goal is to basically create a plan that strikes the right balance, allowing you enough funds to support the strategic initiatives that you want to do but also keeps you from getting to far ahead of the curve.”
Once you have your plan and your forecast, there’s nothing left to do but just do it.
“Having the greatest plan in the world is worthless if you can’t properly communicate it and get buy-in from all your stakeholders,” she said. “Make sure you’re flexible and honest with yourself. Your plan will change over time. Know your data and what’s important.”
“Create a plan that strikes the right balance, allowing you enough funds to support the strategic initiatives that you want to do but also keeps you from getting to far ahead of the curve.”
Jodie Fox, co-founder and chief creative officer of Shoes of Prey started working out of her one-bedroom apartment in Sydney with a team of eight. Since then, the custom shoe design platform has grown exponentially, even building their own 43,000 square-foot factory in China, which is why Fox is the perfect person to talk about supply chain.
“When you click buy on our website, it literally prints out in my factory,” Fox explained about their on-demand business model. “Someone picks up that form and goes and makes your pair of shoes and has it at your door in under two weeks.” Another reason she decided to do on-demand manufacturing is to rid herself of inventory issues that plague so many retail businesses.
Because of Shoes of Prey’s unique business model of making shoes one at a time, they couldn’t find a mass manufacturer that could grow with their business. Which is why they decided to build their own factory, a decision that has allowed them to grow from simply a direct to consumer business to a manufacturer with a business to business arm that produce shoes for other companies as well.
Fox explained that a well oiled supply chain starts with sourcing. She asked those in the room to think about their businesses and ask themselves some questions to help them zero in on the best sourcing channel.
Am I sourcing something that:
From there, she discussed how you know if a supplier is any good offering sampling, talking to your clients, and actually showing up for an unannounced visit. But at those visits, Fox says she was better able to understand how that factory was really performing, beyond what the manufacturer told her. From there, the next stop on the supply chain is getting your product out there.
When it comes to distribution, Fox said it’s important to think about speed of delivery, tracking, and import taxes as well as merchandising, marketing and creative on both a local and global scale.
Because your customer is waiting on their couch for your product, you’d better deliver fast.