This is a place for thinking out loud, reflecting, and sharing ideas. Notes are a window into my process, thoughts, inspiration, and experiments. Explore visual gallery.
This is a place for thinking out loud, reflecting, and sharing ideas. Notes are a window into my process, thoughts, inspiration, and experiments. Explore visual gallery.
Here are some e-commerce trends we're seeing with our clients at Barrel and are working with them to improve on:
If you truly understand who your customer is, you can create personalized experiences for them, which will make them more loyal to your company.
For personalization to work, you have to consider what questions you’re asking the customer and what channels you’re using to learn about them:
• Product finders
This will help you tell the difference between someone buying a ring for their partner and someone buying a ring for themselves.
These are two different customer types. And they’ll need different personalized experiences.
Everyone wants things quickly. People are impatient.
If your website is crawling along, they’ll move on. And your conversion rate and AOV will fall.
At Barrel, we test our clients’ websites and analyze how they load scripts, handle third-party apps, etc. to make sure they’re snappy.
It’s amazing how many websites are difficult to navigate or have buttons that are hard to find.
This isn’t just a matter of compliance and following guidelines. Designing your websites to be more accessible makes the buying process easier for your customers.
Customers care (or want to care) about the environment — and companies are listening.
Offering customers a discount when they send old products back for recycling is a good example.
Another one is offering a re-sale program where customers can buy and sell used merchandise. Treet makes this pretty turnkey.
Overall, I think these are all good places for businesses to focus their e-commerce efforts — and Barrel is investing in helping our clients do so daily.
No matter how well a product works, there will always be some dissatisfied customers. But understanding what's causing the dissatisfaction can be illuminating. Sometimes, the very qualities that make a product unique might not resonate with specific customers. In such cases, it's less about refining the product; and more about focusing on the right customers.
I've been a Naked Nutrition customer on and off for several years. What I love about their protein powders is their low-to-no sugar, minimal ingredient labels. Sure, there are better-tasting protein powders out there, but you buy Naked Nutrition because it's well... naked.
I appreciated this email newsletter they sent the other day, leaning into what many probably see as poor customer feedback:
Shopify is back with its 2023 Summer Edition, full of new features, announcements, and long-awaited developments (did someone say Bundles?). I shared some thoughts on LinkedIn last week, but here's a more comprehensive look at the release.
With 100s of product updates that range from helping SMBs launch e-commerce to amplifying enterprise businesses' growth, Shopify's focus on empowering merchants of all sizes comes through in this edition.
Shopify is investing in AI in a big way. They announced Shopify Magic in Winter Editions, but now, it represents a suite of AI products geared at helping merchants work smarter and faster. Some highlights were the AI-generated FAQs and long-form blog content. These will be game-changers for businesses looking to get up and running quickly or looking for opportunities to optimize.
Founder/CEO Tobi Lutke's announcement of their new AI-enabled e-commerce assistant, Sidekick, also made a big splash this month. Sidekick will make everyone's lives easier, allowing for more efficient workflows and easier access to data.
In a study shared earlier this year, Shopify was named the highest-converting checkout in the world, performing 15% better on average than other platforms, like Salesforce, Magento, and BigCommerce. It's no surprise checkout is a highlight again in this Summer's edition, building on the release of Checkout Extensibility with features like subscription up-sells and the cart transform function, making it easy to merge and expand line items in checkout.
One-page checkout will finally be possible within Shopify without any apps or custom solutions. According to Shopify, beta merchants have increased conversion by up to 7% with a one-page checkout. To be considered for early rollout, merchants:
Shopify continues to evolve into a total commerce solution for omnichannel growth. Within the last year, B2B functionality became accessible within the DTC admin. Now, Shopify is taking lessons from DTC and applying them to B2B with features like localized B2B storefronts with Shopify Markets, volume pricing, Shopify flow automation, and vaulted payments.
Shopify Marketplace Connect is a new offering allowing merchants to simplify product listing management across top marketplaces like Amazon and eBay all within their Shopify admin.
POS is also a focus for Shopify that doesn't seem to be going away any time soon, continuing to close the gap between online and in-store functionality. Customers can now take advantage of Shop Pay Installments even when shopping in-store. They've also rolled out other enhanced management tools to improve POS for the retail setting.
Compared to competitors, Shopify is uniquely positioned as a network offering merchants value beyond the platform, especially for customer acquisition.
With Summer Edition, enterprise retailers not on Shopify will have access to Shop Pay, further growing Shopify's reach. With over 100 million Shop Pay customers, this move is said to give merchants a 5% lift in conversion.
Shopify Collective is a new way for Shopify brands to sell complementary products from like-minded Shopify brands without the hassle of managing, storing, and shipping inventory. Consider a coffee brand that wants to offer customers accessories or a mattress brand looking to provide bedding. Shopify Collective is a great, simple way to increase AOV and drive retention. See how Drake used Shopify Collective to collab with other brands.
The Shop app isn't top of mind for most merchants, but Shopify hasn't stopped investing here. What started as a tool for order tracking has become a destination for shopping and discovery. If you ask me, leveraging it is a no-brainer for customer acquisition. The latest updates include more customized storefronts, AI personalized shopping, post-purchase upsells, and Shop Cash.
Beyond all the innovation and new features, Shopify continues to evolve its core product. Here are a few of the exciting advances coming out of the Summer edition:
We couldn't possibly touch on all of the Summer Edition updates, so feel free to explore the full experience here. Fun fact: The website was built on Shopify leveraging Hydrogen and meta-objects, showing just how flexible Shopify can be.
Lastly, make sure to check out the "Search" button at the bottom right to explore Shopify's AI chatbot.
I hate to say it but Black Friday will be here before we know it and for brands, now is the time to start planning. Here's a tip I've been excited about lately and can be powerful during the holidays:
Amidst the frenzy of Black Friday/Cyber Monday, when many shoppers are in gift-giving mode, brands have a unique chance to connect with both customers and their gift recipients through post-purchase gift cards. Yes, gift cards. Gift cards can be more than just a gift during the holidays.
The post-purchase phase is a critical part of the customer journey. One of my favorite tactics is to offer a discounted gift card immediately after checkout, accompanied by a timer to create a sense of urgency. A strategy we often see and love in our local restaurants.
By presenting customers with this exclusive time-sensitive offer, brands can tap into customer FOMO, prompting them to take action swiftly and add the discounted gift card to their cart.
This strategy not only boosts the average order value (AOV) during the initial purchase but also plants the seed for a subsequent visit. Customers feel a sense of exclusivity, knowing they have access to this limited-time offer, while the brand can plan for future sales beyond the height of BFCM.
I'm always surprised by how often I talk to brands who haven't explored the power of landing pages. In this context, I'm referring to the page a customer lands on after clicking an ad. These brands are focused on acquiring new customers, but they're banking on their homepage or product pages connecting with everyone and their unique needs.
For brands already spending money on marketing, chances are they have a good idea of their audience and what type of message/imagery resonates with these groups. The key is leveraging these insights to create dedicated landing pages, serving as targeted entry points designed to align with audience expectations and guide them toward conversions.
Here are some common types of landing pages we've seen be effective for brands:
Last week, we launched a new website for the vegan cookie brand Sweet Loren's. We helped them re-platform from Magento to Shopify with a fresh look and feel meant to capture the brand's essence while educating customers on what makes their cookies unique.
I'm especially excited about this launch for a few reasons.
I remember early talks with Sweet Loren's SVP of Marketing, Robyn, about the potential for the new Sweet Loren's website. It feels great to see it live. I look forward to continuing our work with the brand, helping them better connect with their customers from web to retail.
You can check out the new website at sweetlorens.com.
I have to assume that no one ever wants to make a return. Customers appreciate the option, especially when it's free, but besides the old buy two sizes trick, they don't buy a product with the plan to return it. Even when it is free, it requires effort. Effort we'd rather not have to take.
So... that's good news because I've yet to meet a merchant who loves returns. But unfortunately, they're inevitable.
There are two sides to analyzing returns: the impetus for the return and the return experience.
If you aren't collecting feedback from customers to understand why they're making a return, start doing that now. The only way to prevent returns is to know why customers aren't satisfied enough to keep your product.
To take it a step further, spend time every month getting on the phone (remember these?) with customers who made a return to understand their thought process and how you can make it right. I don't have a study to quote, but we all know how costly it is to acquire new customers while winning them back can generate more profit and turn them into brand advocates.
In your quest to understand customer returns, here are some thought starters to consider when reviewing your website. The goal is to ensure your website is doing everything possible to set expectations with the customer before they click Complete Checkout.
If a customer chooses to return your product, it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. Rather than making the situation worse for the customer by charging them to send the product back or requiring them to jump through hoops, invest in a seamless return experience. Remember, they don't want to return the product either!
When customers feel some sense of delight in an otherwise frustrating situation, you're already on the path to winning them back. Sure, sending them a free shipping label is nice of you, but it's a bit like receiving an unwrapped gift at Christmas—you don't feel the magic.
Instead, create an experience that allows customers to share what went wrong. Then, guide them to finding a solution, whether that's a discount on another purchase, a replacement item, or some other perk—it will leave them feeling satisfied (and you more whole). After all, a return for the customer probably means they'll have to continue shopping for a replacement with a similar brand. Again, more effort they don't want to take.
We've all been in that situation: you're on the checkout page, excited to finalize your order, only to be confronted with a discount code field. The search for a discount begins, and you find yourself scouring the internet for a valid code. You eventually give up and decide to postpone your purchase.
For brands that avoid discounts, don't dangle the possibility of one over your customer's heads. Instead, eliminate the discount code field altogether. Doing so prevents decision paralysis, promotes conversion, and gives customers more confidence in their purchases.
For brands that offer occasional discounts, include some text in checkout letting customers know they're rare. Save them the hunt!
SMS marketing has emerged as a powerful tool for brands, but with its growing effectiveness comes more guidelines. Brands that aren't up to speed on SMS compliance run the risk of paying for messages that get blocked by carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, and never delivered.
Guidelines around SMS marketing are ever-changing, but some common reasons a carrier may block a brand's text messages include lacking consent, opt-out instructions, or exceeding frequency limits.
Beyond compliance, there are other guidelines to keep in mind developing an SMS marketing strategy, such as quiet hours. Quiet hours are times during the day to avoid sending text messages. While there are no federal laws for quiet hours, the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991) and FCC guidance suggest sending messages between 8 am and 9 pm in the recipient's local time zone. Some states, like Florida, Oklahoma, and Washington, are more strict, shortening the time to 8 pm. The safest bet for brands? Stick to the 8 am to 8 pm.
SMS marketing guidelines and compliance can feel like a lot to understand and manage, but platforms like Postscript are building these guidelines into their product. For instance, if a subscriber triggers automation or a campaign is sent during quiet hours, Postscript will hold sending until waking hours begin in the subscriber's time zone.
Here are some easy tips for managing an effective SMS program:
Post-purchase surveys go beyond gathering feedback—they are a powerful tool for understanding customers and making strategic decisions that drive business success.
Here are example questions a brand might ask and why they matter:
"What other products do you wish you could purchase?"
By exploring customers' desired products, you uncover untapped market opportunities. This valuable insight can help expand your offerings to better suit their needs. For example, a coffee brand could consider adding creamer options to enhance the overall coffee experience.
"Which brands did you consider before choosing ours?"
Understanding customers' alternatives sheds light on your competitors' strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge allows you to align your brand's unique value proposition, refine your positioning, and stand out from the competition.
"How do you plan to use our product?"
Customers often find innovative ways to use products that may surprise you. By asking this question, you uncover popular or unknown use cases, providing opportunities to enhance your product offerings and stay ahead of evolving customer needs.
While there are more intricate tactics for gathering customer insights, post-purchase surveys capture customers when they're engaged and excited about their recent purchase. Seizing this moment ensures higher response rates and more authentic feedback.
At Barrel, we're fans of Fairing and how they help our clients get to know their customers.
Customer segmentation and personalization may seem daunting, especially for emerging e-commerce brands, but they present valuable opportunities that many can achieve with less effort than they think.
A great starting point for brands is to focus on their email and SMS strategies and redefine their perception of a mailing list, which should live in Klaviyo. Rather than viewing it as a repository for capturing names and emails, brands should treat their mailing list as a robust database with valuable customer information, ranging from birthdates to personal preferences. For instance, beauty and skincare brands can collect data on customers' skincare concerns, while athletic apparel brands can gather information on their favorite ways to stay active.
There are several straightforward ways to begin building customer profiles:
While more advanced techniques exist, these steps serve as an excellent starting point. By leveraging these simple approaches, brands can create more personalized communication that resonates with their customers.
Personalized communication can take various forms depending on the brand. Brands offering a wide range of products can tailor email and SMS to showcase different products and categories. Meanwhile, brands with a smaller product offering can still achieve personalization by adjusting imagery. For example, featuring lifestyle imagery that reflects the customer's familiar environment can foster a sense of closeness and connection.
One of the most common reasons customers cancel subscriptions for products like skincare and food is that they have too many products. A cool feature of ARPU is they make it easy for customers to delay their subscription via the "shipping soon notification" email. Even if the customer ultimately cancels, the brand is able to keep the customer engaged for another month or two. This revenue adds up!
I'm excited about a call I had today with a company called Treet. They've created a turnkey resale platform for brands to offer their customers. I love the focus on sustainability and the unique opportunity for brands to strengthen customer loyalty by offering a new way to engage (with the brand and their community). Treet claims that brands can expect an incremental revenue increase of between 3-10%. They support every type of resale model, from peer-to-peer to trade-in, and even have paths for brands to liquidate unsellable or returned inventory. I'm excited to find opportunities to collaborate with them.
Today, I had a conversation with a prospective client at a baby brand. What's intriguing about customers in this space is that a significant proportion of them are first-time parents. Although they conduct extensive research, they typically put their top products on a registry and may never interact with the brand of choice.
The challenge for baby brands is to establish a connection with these customers and remain relevant for future child-related purchases or family gifts. I see a major opportunity for these brands to invest in educational content via email and other channels, such as guidance on product evaluation and what to consider regarding certifications and safety measures, to position themselves as experts and build trust with potential customers (and of course, grab their contact info).
When a prospective project doesn't work out, we make a point to ask the client for feedback about our proposal and what led to their decision. Sometimes, clients provide input but, more often than not, they're vague or don't respond.
We're naturally more eager to hear where we fell short than why we succeeded, but I'm noticing how insightful it is to gather feedback regardless of the outcome. I've made a note to myself to do this more often. Fortunately, clients have been more receptive lately, giving us helpful feedback even when they choose to work with us.
In addition to client feedback, I've occasionally shared our proposals with tech partners for their thoughts. Agency partner managers get exposure to how other agencies work and what challenges are top of mind for merchants. I'm always interested in what they have to say.
With that in mind, the client feedback we've received, plus takeaways from chatting with tech partners, has been fruitful. As we prepare each new proposal, I've enjoyed applying these insights to how we position ourselves and propose work.
Below are some of the ways we've evolved our recent proposals:
We've been experimenting with how we touch on our history as an agency in our decks and proposals. For instance, highlighting that we've been in business for nearly 17 years can help build trust with clients from day one. Similarly, noting we've been working with Shopify since 2009 and in the Plus partner program since 2017 can alleviate any client concerns about our expertise and comfort level with Shopify.
In addition to our background, a few clients have raised the same questions about our experience and thoughts on key topics, such as accessibility and site performance. We have a strong POV but haven't been great about sharing it. Our proposals now include slides outlining our perspective, protocol, and recommendations.
We're limiting the number of case studies we share with clients to three or four. At the same time, we're going deeper within each to focus on what makes each project unique.
For a while now, our case studies were one-page, but we've expanded them to three at a minimum and feature:
Our new case studies leverage assets we've created for social to reduce the effort needed to create them. We're also building a reference list of the most common features/highlights for brainstorming what to include.
In early 2020, we sent out our fair share of 3-option proposals after going through Blair Enns's Win Without Pitching workshop but eventually lost momentum. Flash forward, and we're back at it. For now, multi-proposal options are standard for most potential projects and have helped avoid losses solely due to pricing.
In addition to receiving positive feedback from clients, creating multi-option proposals has inspired us to get creative about adding value for the client vs. designing one approach to accomplish their goals. Looking ahead, we see an opportunity to level up by exploring ROI for each option based on the client's current business performance and goals.
Until now, our proposals included retainer pricing and a suggested plan for clients to consider after launch (for new websites or redesigns). Now, we're going a step further and taking the time to brainstorm what initiatives might be valuable for the client. From creating a bundle builder to designing a post-purchase experience, it's been nice to go beyond the initial project and help the clients think long-term.
Earlier this year, I wrote about narrowing our e-commerce tech stack and strengthening our relationship with tech partners. Since then, it's been amazing to see what's possible, whether bringing them in on projects or getting their advice on handling unique client requests.
We're now highlighting our recommended tech partners in our proposals, touching on how we collaborate, and even showing how they can drive ROI for our clients. Sometimes this comes from brainstorming with tech partners during the sales process.
It's too soon to see whether these updates are making a difference yet, and there are so many variables that we may never know what sticks for a client. However, we'll continue improving through tracking activitiy and requesting feedback.