Is your ecommerce website heart-stoppingly beautiful, or merely functional?
If you’re like most marketers, you likely have a long list of site improvements to make, A/B tests to run, and designs to update to make your site the best it can be.
That’s exactly where Ross Beyeler comes in. He is the founder of Growth Spark, a Shopify Plus agency that provides strategy, design, and development services to help ecommerce businesses make more money. He’s worked with startups, retailers and global companies including Bose, Johnny Cupcakes, and Newbury Comics.
In this exclusive interview, Beyeler shares:
- Why you should invest in high quality creative for your site
- The importance of pricing vs. discounting
- How customer acquisition strategies shift based on your products
- …and much more.
Listen to Episode 2: The Empowered Marketer
1. How did you decide to start Growth Spark? How has the company evolved over time?
I actually started Growth Spark back when I was still in college. Like many college students, I was just looking for a way to earn a little extra cash and get ahead on my student loans. I dabbled a little bit in design and technology and started doing freelance work — anything someone would pay me for that I could get done on my computer. I was setting up domains, starting up blogs, installing WordPress, and doing anything that they needed.
Very quickly it really turned into a WordPress-focused service offering. In 2010 I went full time with it. I had kind of enough clientele to pull in some outside resources and built a team of 5 people. But then around 2013, we saw the WordPress market really shifting quite a bit, and we made the decision to transition over to ecommerce and specifically work with Shopify. Since then, we have been exclusively focused on Shopify-based websites and have continued to build our team accordingly.
2. What types of ecommerce companies do you usually work with? What is the most common challenge facing your clients? Why do you think this is such a common problem?
We have a lot of experience in apparel, food and beverage, home goods, consumer product technology, etc. We find that clients fall into one or two buckets depending on their product catalog. We’ve got a lot of clients that have a single product or very low SKU count, and then those that are the exact opposite with thousands and thousands of products. The strategy we take with each of those is quite different.
For a single product company, we have an approach we called Narrative Driven Design, where the work we do is very focused on the storytelling aspect of their site and their brand with a lot of interactivity, custom home pages, and product pages. On the flip side, when someone has thousands of products, we’re very focused on filtering, search, merchandising, categorization, cross-selling, upselling, and anything that gets people deeper into that catalog, making multiple purchases, and increasing the average order size. Obviously, the end goal is still the same. We’re still trying to get them to get customers to buy more, but it’s a little different approach with each one of those two types of companies.
3. What technology stack do you implement for your ecommerce clients?
One of the things that we really like about Shopify is that it has such robust ecosystem of apps and other products that integrate with the platform. Especially within the last 2 years, it’s blown up incredibly. For us, we are always going to take into consideration any existing platforms our clients use, and most often integrations already exist, which makes our lives easier. But, there are a number common platforms we really like. For email marketing, it might be MailChimp. For pop up management it might be Privy or Justuno. For shipping management, it might be ShipStation. For inventory, it might be Stitch Labs. We have kind of a handful of platforms that we’ve had enough experience with that we usually feel quite confident in recommending to our clients.
4. Do you help your customers at all with pricing strategies? How tough is it to figure out the right price for an ecommerce product? How do you balance discounting products without lowering the perceived value of a brand?
Pricing strategy is isolated a bit from the promotion strategy, but they go hand in hand. Obviously your price is impacted by your promotions. We’ve figured out a very solid toolset to handle promotions through Shopify — be it discount codes, free shipping, BOGO’s, product bundles. When it comes to actual pricing strategy, I think that tends to come more from our merchants. We’re happy to chime in on recommendations, such as explaining the need to think about not just the cost of the product, but the cost of customer acquisition as well.
For a lot of our clients, we help them look at true profitability and get beyond: “Hey, we sold a t-shirt for $20, it cost us $10 to make, so we made $10.” Well no. It actually cost you $10 to acquire that customer, so unless you sell a second t-shirt, you’re actually not making any money. Having those conversations is absolutely critical.
It also has to do with the positioning they have as a brand. If you’re a commodity product and you’re already in a price competitive market, promotions are just part of the business. It’s especially true with furniture, with a lot of consumables, and with some apparel. I think inherently, there’s a baked-in margin that’s expected to be given away, to a certain degree. With more premium brands, especially those that are single product companies, it’s extremely important to be sensitive to how much you’re willing to discount. Often times, we’ll encourage our clients to consider throwing in freebies like stickers, free shipping, or another offer. Find other ways to incentivize a sale rather than lowering the value of the product itself.
5. What is the most common mistake people make when it comes to their ecommerce sites? How important is site design and photography for your ecommerce clients?
Photography is probably the number one mistake. People don’t spend enough time thinking about the creative that they’re adding to the site itself. Be it photography, videography, the written content, custom iconography, or banner design. If you put all those elements at a high degree of quality into a basic, minimal design, then you’re going to have a professional looking site. It’s not going to be the most optimized, and it’s certainly not gonna be specific to your brand as much as it could be, but it’s going to go a long way for a new company
There’s obviously a lot of value in doing something that’s entirely custom, but I think a lot of merchants tend to focus too much on features and too much on customizations, and not enough on the core content that they have. Our recommendation is always to get that core content down first. Let’s make sure that’s of the highest quality it can be. Let’s make sure that messaging is consistent, and once that’s in place, that’s when you can really optimize all the other areas around that.
6. How do you approach SEO for ecommerce? For a clothing brand, for instance, how can an ecommerce brand stand out from the crowd and actually win out on Google?
We think about SEO in 3 buckets. There are the on-site optimizations, there’s the content optimization, and then what we call PR optimization. With the on-site optimizations, luckily Shopify is quite good out of the box. But there’s always little improvements that you can make and we really like the app called JSON-LD. It helps your structured data with proper configuration. There are some apps out there that help with ALT tags, there are apps that help optimize image sizes, which impacts load speed, which is a huge factor in SEO. There’s always low hanging fruit that you can go after with additional optimization.
For the content strategy, we’re not content specialists. We understand the general best practices like the value of unique content, the frequency of content, etc. We really encourage our clients, if they don’t have an in-house SEO specialist, to get one when it comes to optimizing their content. Then with PR optimization, there is still tremendous value in getting a high-quality publications covering you and social media influencers covering you. I think there’s still a lot of value in a link building strategy. It just has to be approached more from a PR perspective, rather than from a bulk quantity perspective like it used to be.
7. How do you balance customer acquisition and customer loyalty for your clients? Where do you focus your marketing efforts?
It really comes down to what the product is and who the company is. If you have someone that is a single product company, your customers are probably only going to buy one instance of this particular product. It’s a very different strategy than if it’s an apparel brand that’s constantly coming out with new collections, and constantly diversifying the product catalog. Naturally, people want new clothing.
Part of it is just understanding that. If you’re a single product company, and it’s really a one-and-done sale, then obviously the acquisition focus is going to be a bit heavier. If it’s a product with a deeper catalog and a lot of cross-sell and upsell opportunity, that’s where customer loyalty, product bundling, and all those sorts of strategies become more and more effective.
8. What is a recent project that you worked on for one of your clients and are proud of? Why was it so great and what did it achieve?
One client that we’ve worked with for a while is a company called BottleKeeper. It’s a very interesting, but very basic product. It’s a device that allows you to store your bottle in a metal container and will keep it cold, keep it safe from breaking, and it also seals the top so you can keep it fresh.
When they came to us a few years ago, they were using video as a means of telling their story. What we did was actually rethink their entire web experience to be focused around physically demonstrating what the product looks like as you interact with the site. If you go to it, as you scrolling down you actually see the BottleKeeper dismantle, and you can see how you add the bottle to it, how it seals, and all that. It was a really neat opportunity to apply some of these ideas of storytelling and Narrative-Driven Design to a single product company, in a way that very clearly outlines the features and benefits of the product. It’s worked really well for them.
9. What do you think will be the biggest challenge for ecommerce businesses next year? How can ecommerce leaders better prepare for the future?
What’s really on my mind right now is the balance of personalization and automation. As more and more platforms come out that allow you to use data to personalize your approach to communication with clients, it’s amazing the results you can get. We’re talking about very, very targeting messaging at the right time, for the right medium. I think that’s a very exciting proposition for merchants. We’re talking about personalization at scale, driven through these automated tools. What’s challenging is that a lot of merchants just aren’t aware of the tools that are available because there are so many new technologies coming to market for ecommerce.
The second challenge is understanding the specific roles that each of these platforms play, and how they interrelate. For us with Shopify, it’s built this hub and spoke model, with Shopify at the center and different apps that extend functionality and integrations. I think it’s important for folks to take a step back and map that out, really thinking about the implications. So if I’m going to add a tool that helps me automate the review collection process, is that adding more email that’s conflicting with my already set up marketing automation tool? Is my messaging consistent? Are my lists in sync? There’s a lot of considerations that need to be made as you start to expand your war chest of tools available.
I think next year we’re going to see more personalization, more automation, and I just hope folks take the time to really understand all the options, weigh the pros and cons of them all, and then think through how to create a consistent, cohesive message from one platform to the next. I think that’s critical.