Last month, I attended the Montreal Jewish Chamber of Commerce’s “Add to Cart” event where they hosted a networking cocktail, and a panel discussion from 3 established eCommerce folks in Canada. Harley Finkelstein, Chief Platform Officer at Shopify, Isaac Souweine, Head of Product Management at Frank & Oak, and last but certainly not least, Noah Goldberg, eCommerce Manager of one of Demac Media’s partners – Ardene. I have to say I’m usually skeptical about these panels because I find you have the same guys having the same discussions, a lot of high level gibber gabber and nothing actually said. But in this case, because I work with Harley and Noah regularly as well as have tremendous respect for the team at Frank & Oak, I was excited to see what would come of it and the boys did not disappoint.
Platform, Products and Commerce
It helped that you had 3 knowledgable guys who know their industry, but are hitting it from 3 different perspectives. Harley representing one of the leading eCommerce softwares on the market, Isaac representing one of Canada’s most innovative and exciting pure play eCommerce companies, and Noah representing one of Canada’s strongest and leading brick and mortar retailers with a strong eCommerce presence. The panel was moderated by Adam Saskin, partner at Spiegel Sohmer law firm who has experience in dealing with online business and who I can say I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for a long time. I couldn’t imagine a better person to moderate just about anything, especially a discussion like this.
I took notes on questions asked, answers given, and conversations had, but I’ll share with you the few I felt were the most interesting ones. With less than an hour, some of the points they brought up, and trends they spoke of are really worth noting. Not to mention, the first question below that sparked the most conversation was given in advance by yours truly 😉 Please keep in mind that the below is based off my notes, and not a verbatim script from the event.
Q: How do you keep consistent when you have a brick and mortar presence as well as an online/digital presence?
A: Noah – The thing to remember about Ardene is that we are unique in our pricing. As opposed to sale pricing, all items are part of a promotion. For example a pair of sandals can be $12.50, but 2/@20. So any other item in the entire store (not necessarily part of the same category) that is also 2/$20 can be combined. This is consistent and needs to be across all channels in the brand. It’s also important to have the product merchandise feel similar. Ardene works hard to establish a brand feel in the store, and we try and emulate that same feeling online. Alternatively, promotions, beyond product specific, are a challenge. eCommerce and in-store shoppers can be different, and shop differently so this is an area where promotions might need to be different to accommodate.
Harley – It’s on a case by case basis. It’s important to recognize the habit of “show rooming” (This is when people look at products in store, but don’t buy until they get home, price compare online, and buy online). Some of Shopify’s clients are happy to use their brick and mortar as a show room, others it’s the other way around. There’s so much to be had if all channels, stores/online/mobile work together and give the customer a seamless experience.
Isaac – Making it work depends on what making it work means for your business. I work on the IT side of things, so it’s great to have amazing ideas and want to implement them all, for example seamless inventory management across all channels, but you need to recognize the cost and implementation of this kind of project, and the overall impact it’ll have on your business. Saying no to cool stuff is as important as delivering on stuff you want to do.
Harley – I think we’re heading towards a world where no matter what channel you’re dealing with, it’ll all be “retail” and feed back into one system.
Noah – Everything from a data point will be synced. Omni Channel is the most common buzzword heard these days and it’s the start of exactly that.
Isaac – What’s important to understand as well, is that technology is growing and changing so quickly, that the longer you’re in business, the more you’re at a disadvantage. When Frank & Oak started 2 years ago, we chose the best at that time. But 2 years later we have systems in place, and process we’re comfortable with and now there’s new stuff out there, so newcomers grab that up while we need to decide do we stay with what works or change.
Q: What are the next big developments in e-commerce? Technologies?
-This question was directed at Harley
A:Harley – It’s important to realize that in Canada, less than 5% of our retail sales are done online. eCommerce in Canada is in it’s infancy. However, it’s growing exponentially year over year (14% in the US, Canada is a little more). In the future, retail is everywhere. Seamless across all channels. Also the consumer will define how they buy. Because of this seamless experience, they won’t be forced to go in store or online or buy from an APP or through a mobile browser. It’ll be their choice of channel. Don’t forget we’re in the early days.
Q. What are the most effective ways to break through the clutter of sites and be noticed (in terms of advertising and promotion)? SEO – How to optimize?
A: Noah – In Ardene’s case we’re 400 stores across Canada, so we’re a brand people know. We’re a destination and therefore a lot of our traffic is organic. We do have Search Engine Marketing initiatives that do help drive traffic. We leverage Affiliate Marketing, and Dynamic Retargeting. Key thing is we test it all. Keep what works and adjust what doesn’t.
Isaac – We suck at SEO. We’re a gated site and constantly changing our catalog. We do get traffic from our social following, but I don’t put much stock in it. We spend money on advertising: Facebook, Yahoo, Google Search, etc. The key thing is to keep consistent quality traffic to your site. We’ve brought in outside experts to help us in the online marketing area because it’s important to make sure you watch your spend so your paid acquisition makes sense. Google and Yahoo are not looking to make advertising cheaper for you, so you need to watch it closely.
There were a handful of questions from the audience, but here’s 2 I thought were worth sharing:
Q: I would use online shopping for things I can get from the states – I prefer to buy online. Duties and shipping make it not worth it. With globalization is it becoming easier?
A: Noah – It’s a real issue. Canadian eCommerce is small, but growing (faster than in the US currently) and US companies are starting to see it. For example, US software companies are knocking on my door all the time because they clearly see the potential in the Canadian market. By doing so, US companies are starting to understand the Canadian market better, and I believe they are going to need to start making it easier for us to buy.
Harley – Zappos became a powerhouse in the US, and when they started to ship to Canada it was a matter of months before they shut the Canadian site down, they just couldn’t make it work. So Shoeme started up soon after in Canada, and became a Canadian powerhouse! What can happen here is that the complexity the US is having will open the door for great Canadian business to start, grow, and replace the need for those US ones.
Q: There’s a great book called “Why we buy” and it talks about the human element, instinct is to touch items to buy them. How do you bridge the human element when talking online?
A: Harley – You should have both if you want. If you want to go into a store you should, and if you want to buy online, you should. Retailers need to recognize that these needs exist mutually. It’s a personal preference and you need to understand the buying habits of your customers.
Noah – I agree, these habits are hard to change but as retailers become more seamless, these habits can adjust. If you want to touch the item, you can and then even if the store doesn’t have the colour you’re looking for, you should still be able to order it then and there and just have it shipped to your home or office or wherever. The seamless integration of your channels will help bring those different shopping habits closer together. It’s an exciting time.
Isaac – It’s a matter of who it is. What one guy will buy online, others will not. I’d rather buy from Walmart online than go into their store, but other items I want to go in and see it. There are existing ways to try and offer the in-store experience online like we have a chat that comes up after 5 minutes of being on the site with someone offering to help you.
All in all I thought it was interesting to hear 3 guys with 3 different perspectives talk to some of these points. All of them are well respected (deservedly so) in our industry so their opinions are worth listening to,
What would you ask these 3 if you had the chance to? Any thoughts about the answers they gave?