Episode 07
December 21, 2022

Visions Episode 7: The Homogenization of Experiences

How can brands differentiate themselves while remaining intuitive and familiar to consumers? Are your car, phone, or shoes an outward sign of your personality? What is leading to the trend of odd-ball, zany web designs?

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this episode sponsored by

Different but familiar

  • When it comes to experiencing a brand, the desire for something more than utilitarian varies from person to person
  • “You're expecting certain types of content to be delivered in a specific way. And that's part of the attraction is for it to be this really intuitive, familiar experience. So I sort of put that to the side and think about DTC sites and retailer sites as having a lot more scope for variation and a different experience.” - Kiri Masters
  • “There needs to be a balance between solving the homogenization issue and solving the problem of differentiation or distinction, and still being able to be intuitive, still being able to get your consumer to do the flow {from discovery to checkout}.” - Roger Figeuiredo
  • “It's really tough to stand out but not stand out so far that you're doing something unintuitive.” - Ben Marks
  • “That discovery and awareness stage of the funnel is where there's a real opportunity to be different. And after that, you kind of want to bring it back to what's normal.” - Kiri Masters
  • Maybe visual design inspiration coming from some of the same places contributes to such boredom online because too many brands are overusing trends rather than being original
  • “You build your mood board, and you're going to go to other brands and you build your mood board off of other brands, and naturally is just going to lead to more of the same.” - Roger Figeuiredo
  • “When you're building your mood board for the look and feel, maybe don't go look at other brands. Look for analogies in design. Then build your mood board off of things that are maybe real life stuff instead of other websites.” - Roger Figeuiredo
  • “Don't do what your competitors, people in your category are doing, do things differently from the start. And you will be more likely to have a less boring, homogenized experience.” - Ben Marks
  • Has Shopify both helped and harmed the growth of eCommerce? Helped by democritizing, removing the barrier of entry, but also harmed by too many template based sites, and also flooding the market with more competitors

Guests

  • Kiri Masters, Head of Retail Marketplace Strategy at Acadia
  • Roger Figueiredo, VP of Marketing at #paid
  • Ben Marks, Director of Global Market Development at Shopware

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Announcer: [00:00:02] Today on Visions.

Kiri Masters: [00:00:04] I would imagine the best opportunity to have a unique, non-homogeneous experience would be at the top of the funnel. Awareness and discovery. That stage. Because once you get to a checkout experience, a fulfillment experience, or a returns experience, you want that to be seamless and familiar and follow a path that I'm used to. So I think that that discovery and awareness stage of the funnel is where there's a real opportunity to be different.

Announcer: [00:00:46] Welcome to Visions. Visions is an annual audiovisual trends report that covers the changes in culture and commerce. This series is meant to be a companion guide to a 100 page report. Download and follow along at Visions.Report. Episode 7: The Homogenization of Experiences.

Phillip Jackson: [00:01:15] Hi, I'm Phillip. Why has the web become so boring and homogenous? That is the question that we ask as we go live today to the Visions Summit in West Palm Beach, Florida, with commerce, brand, and retail leaders to find out why the Web has become so boring and how brands are becoming much more experimental in an effort to stand out from the crowd. We are joined by Kiri Masters, and Kiri is no stranger to creating shoppable experiences online. Kiri is the author of Amazon for CMOs and Instacart for CMOs. She is the co-host of the Infinite Shelf Podcast and a vaunted ad age 40 under 40 honoree. Kiri Masters has built and managed marketplace strategy for some of the world's most recognizable brands. Today, Kiri leads a discussion at the Visions Summit asking why the Web has become much more homogeneous and how forward-thinking brands can break the mold.

Kiri Masters: [00:02:29] Hello. Welcome to Visions by Future Commerce. So the first question is, do you believe your car, phone, or shoes are an outward sign of your personality?

Roger Figueiredo: [00:02:42] I think to some extent, yes. And it's conscious.

Announcer: [00:02:45] Roger Figueiredo, VP of Marketing for #paid.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:02:49] I think when we purchase products, we have the... Some of it happens subconsciously, and we purchase products that we have an affinity towards or that we want to become. They're aspirational. And I think that's not new to anyone. So I think the answer is yes. And I think at some level it happens subconsciously. We desire and aspire to be someone. And we believe the message that marketers tell us that that'll help us become that person. And so we purchase those products. Sometimes we do it, I think, it's done a little bit more overtly and I think there's more processing that goes into it, mental processing, where we consciously and we're intentional about that product because it's going to send a particular message. And so I would say yes.

Ben Marks: [00:03:29] Well, for me it's I think personally it's not such a thing.

Announcer: [00:03:34] Ben Marks, Director of Global Market Development at Shopware.

Ben Marks: [00:03:38] I mean, that's really more about the utility of the thing. Now I'll see something like my best friend has admittedly better taste than I do in clothes and things. And so I might see what he's wearing and kind of take a cue from it. But mostly I just want things to be functional.

Kiri Masters: [00:03:53] My car, phone, and shoes... I'm probably more on the utility side there. There are other ways that I would display my personality, I think, besides those things. More clothing.

Ben Marks: [00:04:10] Although I will say the new Cadillac Escalade. I mean, I don't have a need. I don't have a car myself. But man, that does look pretty good. I might actually...

Kiri Masters: [00:04:18] So you don't have a car?

Ben Marks: [00:04:19] I don't have a car personally. My wife and I split use of the car. But mostly it's hers to drive around.

Kiri Masters: [00:04:25] Okay.

Ben Marks: [00:04:26] The new styling actually I really appreciate the styling. But I also recognize, like, you roll up in a Caddy. I mean, this was like a whole Jerry Seinfeld episode of he bought his dad a Caddy, and it ruined his dad's reputation in the neighborhood because everyone thought, "Oh, he's a big shot and rich and everything now." So I actually kind of actively would want to avoid putting that off. Kind of weird. I don't really think about this.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:04:48] Here's a question riffing off of this one, because both of you, I think, lean toward utility. Do you think that... I think your answers were very personal and in your personal experience. Would you say that the consumers in general or more broadly would look at utility as the primary reason for a purchase, or do you think they would maybe have other motivations?

Ben Marks: [00:05:12] I use Amazon because I know like, "Hey, I just want something. I don't care about the relationship, I don't want to get to know it." But my swim trunks I have because I love the beach, they're very specific and they got me on Facebook and they got me in part because, well, I knew they had some functional aspects that were nice, but also their whole brand is like, "Hey, we take plastic bottles out of the sea and we make these great shorts out of them." So it really depends on the customer's journey. And if it's the kind of product that a customer might have a relationship with.

Kiri Masters: [00:05:48] That sounds like a really personal purchase for you as opposed to some of these utility items that you'd be buying on Amazon that are replenishing household supplies and things like that. So there are some items and maybe it's different person to person what that category of items are. But something that really reflects what you find is a personal choice for you, for some people, it might be the food that they eat. They're vegan, they're keto, and that's a reflection of a lifestyle choice, but also a big part of their personhood.

Ben Marks: [00:06:25] I think it's about standing out, it's about attention footprint, distraction... And in this industry we've watched, we've gone from like literally grown up from no broad way for one person to connect to so many people so arbitrarily. And of course now we have that and brands have figured it out. The communication, the social media platforms, have figured it out. So brands are trying to be big and bold. Attention is a finite resource, but then in general, in society, it's probably not that good if the only way to be heard is to scream and yell. We've seen this approach in the US political scene, I think, here recently. So we have to figure that out. But I would say that's the reason.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:07:07] People are trying to stand out. They're trying to be different and I think that's the reason. On my end, I would say there are very few of them. I find a lot of the websites I go to, tend to be more homogeneous than I find.

Ben Marks: [00:07:17] Yup.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:07:17] I find they don't stand out. I think they're trying to solve that problem, the homogenization problem. They're trying to avoid sort of falling in line with all the other brands.

Ben Marks: [00:07:25] Yeah, I think that's probably like the rise of headless and everything, but I'm kind of curious because you've owned an agency and you specialize in marketplaces. What have you seen in this space?

Kiri Masters: [00:07:34] With marketplaces, it's template driven. And so there are pretty specific rails that you have to build on with marketplaces, certain types of content. You can't use keywords like you can't sell CBD products on Amazon. So if you've got that in your product description, it's going to get suspended. So that if anything, when you go to Amazon, you're expecting a homogenous experience, you're expecting certain types of content to be delivered in a specific way, and that's part of the attraction is for it to be this really intuitive, familiar experience. So I just sort of put that to the side and think about DTC sites and retailer sites as having a lot more scope for variation and a different experience. I'm going to cheat a little bit and refer to The Visions Report, which shares an anecdote from their consumer study. They swapped out and got rid of the brand from two DTC sites and asked the consumers to tell which brand is this and they couldn't tell. Which one is more premium, which ones are a more premium brand, and which one is not? And the point was no one could tell the difference. They just looked kind of the same, felt kind of the same. And that's really what we're talking about here is this, like you said, Ben, brands wanting to elevate themselves from this same-same kind of experience that we're seeing.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:09:08] When you go to a real store and you walk in...

Kiri Masters: [00:09:12] What's that? {laughter}

Roger Figueiredo: [00:09:12] {laughter} You expect it to function, you expect it to work and function in a certain way. And so you expect to go in and choose your stuff and eventually pay. There's a flow that you're expecting. And so some of the issues that I'm seeing with some of the websites are that they are difficult to navigate. And so if I have to burn calories, if I have to get my brain thinking about how do I get something into the cart, how do I find the product I'm looking for? How do I check out? That makes it very, very difficult. So my encouragement to any brands who are listening is there needs to be a balance between solving the homogenization issue and solving the problem of differentiation or distinction and still being able to be intuitive, still being able to get your consumer to do the flow while burning the least amount of calories possible, I would say. So just a side comment maybe on the topic of crazy websites.

Kiri Masters: [00:10:00] Different but familiar.

Ben Marks: [00:10:12] It's tough because if you're having to shout, shouting is inherently sort of not inviting. So it's tough to stand out but not stand out so far that you're doing something unintuitive. I mean, I think it's really interesting in this business and from the platforms perspective because I've been working for platforms companies for 12 years, this whole idea that we've just taken the model of a physical store and this is what basically every platform does... You have categories that resemble aisles. You put the product on display, but then you add things to a cart and then you check out I mean, this is a very like physical model. The mind model of the online experience is very similar to walking around a store. Now, what we're seeing right now is a little bit of an insidious change because I don't make all of my purchases through a website. I make my purchases, and a lot of the purchases that I have now where I at least have some kind of brand experience, actually, like those boardshorts I mentioned, they caught me right in my Facebook feed. And if I remember correctly, like the whole checkout experience, it was like right in there. So you are starting to see brands reaching out, finding the consumer where they are, and then we're getting entirely away from the website experience. And then I think we're going to see the rise of a more hybrid model where you decide, okay, this is a product that we're going to use to attract this person, this potential customer, but we're going to actually sometimes we're going to want them to check out right there in the flow. Sometimes we're going to want to actually want to upsell or cross-sell. And so we'll get them over to our site. And I think you're going to start to see a blend of some of that capability coming into social media streams. And you're going to see platforms start to accommodate the understanding that sometimes they're going to enter a customer into a checkout flow. But that checkout flow won't have begun in the actual store. They didn't enter via the store. They came in via social channel and then clicked over through it. So we'll see that blend continue to happen. As brands expand their voices in different channels, do you believe that eCommerce experiences should follow suit?

Roger Figueiredo: [00:12:33] Again, you just talked about your boardshorts and how you checked out on Facebook, which is a platform that is to a certain extent out of the control of that brand. And so that just feeds into the homogenization of brands because now my checkout process, it's nearly impossible for me to differentiate in that flow. And so should your experience, should you try to provide any unique experiences on every channel that you're present? Absolutely. But we need to be conscious that you can only do that to a certain extent. Some things are out of our control.

Kiri Masters: [00:13:19] Let's zoom out from just the checkout experience. That experience you checked out on Facebook, but beyond that, there's also the fulfillment experience, the unboxing experience, the try on the returns, and things like that. So that sounds less homogenized.

Ben Marks: [00:13:39] That was well, that was I mean, I would say probably honestly, I don't think I've ever really excitedly unboxed anything but I mean but that's just me. I know there's basically a whole space in this industry and people have made very, very successful careers doing this.

Kiri Masters: [00:13:56] Why were you excited?

Ben Marks: [00:13:56] Well, I was excited because it was the first pair of not $6 Walmart swimsuit trunks that I've ever had in my life. They dry fast. They're super, super comfy and they actually look pretty good. So I was pretty happy to have this slightly more premium experience while I'm out rolling around in the sand and the surf at home. And I think, I did get the shipping notification. So I think there was a standard commerce experience that I think is important and that people come to expect. So all of that was normal. And then I think I maybe bought one thing like a tool off of Instagram, and that was a little bit more rough around the edges. It was actually clear that this product itself was being handmade by someone who is just trying to ramp up. So this was a pretty aspirational merchant, I think. And then the fulfillment, everything was sort of like shows up with like in the USPS. And I don't think I ever got like a tracking notification or anything.

Kiri Masters: [00:14:59] I'll share one example. It's actually more on the retailer side and it's about Instacart. So now Instacart has become the intermediary between retailers and shoppers. There was a study by Barclays that there were only two grocers that a shopper would leave the Instacart app for, and that was Sprouts and Wegmans, I think. No Sprouts and Costco, I think it was.

Ben Marks: [00:15:28] Interesting.

Kiri Masters: [00:15:28] So now Instacart is sort of like the platform and certainly during the pandemic was a go-to platform and shoppers have an affiliation and loyalty to Instacart rather than a retailer. And I think that that's what retailers, the traditional especially grocery retailers are struggling with is mega homogenization because people for a period of time weren't really even going into the stores anymore. And so how do you actually separate out your grocery retail brand from anyone else?

Ben Marks: [00:16:09] Well, look at the value. There's a lot more value in them having sort of first-party access to the customers and those customers' data. I mean, that's why these loyalty programs exist. I mean, I don't know how much that makes up their bottom line, but also just informing them of how they merchandise and store and what products they should be getting. Yeah, that's a really good point.

Phillip Jackson: [00:16:33] From the Visions Report 2022. "But for all of its power, eCommerce has become boring and homogenous. Samey Samey. Decision fatigue begets a sort of prefixed menu for buying things online that has led to everything looking and feeling identical. Brands have now done to consumers what they have done to themselves. By eliminating the paradox of choice they have replaced it with utterly no choice at all. Rather than the Wild, Wild West of the early aughts, the Web today has become the Mild, Mild West." From the Visions Report.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:17:21] So we've talked a lot about the checkout flow and you brought up that there are other channels and that you can differentiate across the flow. If I'm a brand and I'm starting off and I have limited resources, what channels have you seen to be the most effective or what channels should I be prioritizing in terms of my differentiation? Where should I be putting the most effort, concentrating my focus if I have limited resources?

Ben Marks: [00:17:46] It has to be a different brand to brand. I mean, some brands have been built entirely on social, and so honestly, they're their own brand web property is probably much less important or maybe only important for like the follow-up experience, to your point you were making earlier. And then some brands are out there and there are going to be more... If they're engaging in content commerce. I mean there's going to be a social component, but very probably that's going to lead to the customer having an experience, possibly in-store. It could be an omnichannel experience. They know the brand, and what it's like to walk into the store. They know what it's like to work with the brand in an online context. And you have to, you absolutely have to, get to know your customer there and know exactly who they are, what they need, what they don't, and really kind of understand yourself as a business and make sure that you're not pretending to be anything other than what you are. So I would say there the balance kind of tips more into making sure that that web property is really, really well built out and distinct and easy to use, which, I think there's also not necessarily a universal definition around that.

Kiri Masters: [00:18:57] Yeah, I would agree. I would imagine the best opportunity to have a unique non-homogeneous experience would be at the top of the funnel. Awareness and discovery. That stage. Because once you get to a checkout experience, a fulfillment experience, or a returns experience, you want that to be seamless and familiar and follow a path that I'm used to. So I think that that discovery and awareness stage of the funnel is where there's a real opportunity to be different. And after that, you kind of want to bring it back to what's normal. What are people used to doing?

Roger Figueiredo: [00:19:38] Yeah, great responses, guys. Thanks. Kind of leads us into the next question because you had mentioned website and that you should put your focus there. React to this statement here. The Web has become boring and dull and the mobile-responsive Web is partially to blame.

Ben Marks: [00:19:55] And my early days I would literally get a Photoshop comp, start slicing it up, hand code the HTML as much as I needed to, and get those assets in there. And so I was really familiar. Then all of a sudden responsive came around and because you do you have this realization like, "Oh, wow, more and more people are engaging from devices that are not literally a desktop machine." But now we've kind of it can be done well and it can be done poorly. But what annoys me is when people haven't gone to the effort and looked at, okay, let's pull up our site on a few devices here. Let's make sure we got the breakpoints set correctly. And then I go and I'm on my work, I take my laptop and plug it into my docking station and I've got two feet wide of monitor space. And boy, that'll really blow up some of these layouts. And you can see where they didn't test things. Now it's tough to solve. It has been tough to solve for because there are so many different form factors out there. And then if you are trying to work with a platform, so a platform like the company I work for, we build out basically everything for this interface. But then you have to go and take the design and bring that in. And make sure that your design concepts sort of are melded with basically our page structure. We give a lot of tools and pretty much every platform has to give a lot of capacity, and a lot of room to build what people need there. But this is one of the dark corners of the industry where it is amazing to me how frequently even experiences with large brands who I know have invested beaucoup bucks in their experience that you can find some instances where that experience really breaks down and it's like, "I'm on my basically my desktop and I want a desktop experience. I don't want the mobile interface."

Roger Figueiredo: [00:22:12] I remember in my early twenties, I was trying to make money to buy a house. And one of the things I learned was how to build a website. And what did I use? Squarespace. And a lot of the tools, a lot of the homogenization, I would put some of the blame on these tools like Squarespace and Wix and WordPress and Webflow, so on and so forth, because the barrier, they reduced the barrier to entry. Anybody can now create a website which is phenomenal. It's great. It's democratized the ability to create a website and launch an eCommerce store. But it's also the side effect that now a lot of the websites there build off of templates, so they just naturally have the same look and feel. And I would add to that because I do believe this is contributing to the homogenization problem. And I would add to that other tools like Fiverr and Upwork, for example, because if I'm launching a brand, I may not be able to afford research and development like Coke can on maybe one of their innovations. And so I'm going to go to Fiverr or I'm going to go to Upwork and those folks contribute to the problem as well because they're trying to optimize their workflow so that they can make as much money as possible so they can make a living.

Kiri Masters: [00:23:15] Do you go to a site that's like clearly a Squarespace template? Does that change your behavior as a consumer?

Roger Figueiredo: [00:23:26] Consciously, no. I don't have an issue. I don't think it minimizes my perception of the brand. I want to say I want to answer that way. Maybe it has subconsciously, but I will say that the effect is that it doesn't stand out or it doesn't help you stand out. And so back to the previous conversation that we had, you're going to have to look at maybe somewhere else to differentiate if you don't have the chops to put into R&D and develop something that's unique on your website. And so you're going to have to, you are going to have to maybe differentiate somewhere else in the funnel and on a different channel. So yeah, interesting question. I think it definitely contributes to the boredom that we experience online. A lot of these templates and mobile responsive tools, I think other tools and other websites like Fiverr and Upwork also contribute to that and I would say Dribbble as well, contributes to this Dribbble and Behance because all the designers are looking at the same place for inspiration.

Kiri Masters: [00:24:13] I was going to say something similar on visual design as well. Remember Millennial Pink? It's the shade of Peachy Pink. I think we're kind of getting over it now, but it was just everywhere. And then there was also that style of photography that was like really high flash, like lots of drop shadow on products as well. And it was just everywhere.

Ben Marks: [00:24:39] There's a woman in this industry who calls out a lot of these like overused trends. She's like, "Come on, let's be creative." She's actually, I think, a change agent in this whole business for like saying, "Hey, figure out how to be original and just build the packaging, build the experience that your consumers want.

Kiri Masters: [00:24:58] It tells me that whatever I'm buying from that website is overpriced.

Ben Marks: [00:25:03] {laughter}

Roger Figueiredo: [00:25:03] {laughter} I don't know who to attribute this quote to, but once something becomes popular, it loses its uniqueness.

Kiri Masters: [00:25:13] Yes.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:25:14] That's the challenge all the time, is you set out, you build your mood board and you're going to go to other brands and you build your mood board off of other brands. And naturally, it's just going to lead to more of the same.

Kiri Masters: [00:26:19] One of the conversations in our main session was about building in public. And so this especially happens with DTC brands building in public. And so then they're just they're doing really well. They just raised a lot of money. That's the style that I want to go after. And so it just becomes yeah, a pretty unoriginal frame of reference.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:26:42] Totally. And maybe for people who are listening, who are maybe looking for some solutions, not doom and gloom, but if you are building a mood board and you have to rely on a tool like Squarespace and you have to look at templates when you're building a Shopify template or whatever, when you're building your mood board for the look and feel, maybe don't go look at other brands, look for analogies in design. So rent a Verbo or an Airbnb like the one we're in today, walk around, look at the artwork and maybe take some pictures and then build your mood board off of things that are maybe real-life stuff instead of other websites. And then you're probably going to end up at somewhere where it's very extreme and very, very different and then work your way back until you're comfortable with it's distinctive enough, but it's also like familiar enough. That might be something that I would think through.

Ben Marks: [00:27:28] Actually, I think what you're getting really the implicit advice you're giving here is like, don't do what your competitors, the people in your category are doing. Do things differently from the start. And you will be more likely to have a less boring, homogenized experience.

Kiri Masters: [00:27:43] Do you think also part of the reason why we're seeing homogeneity is because there's so much data from A/B testing and CRO best practices? Are we just kind of like just going with CRO at the expense of anything interesting and new?

Ben Marks: [00:28:01] That R is pretty important, isn't it? So anything that people can tie to like, oh, we moved this needle, we changed this color, we pushed this button here, we changed this text, and look, average order value went up, conversions went up or the other direction. But yeah, I mean, I've been talking about this trend in our industry for years because like when well, it was Urchin Analytics and then it eventually became Google Analytics... I remember the early days of first A/B testing and then multivariate testing, and it's really, really cool. But what the trend I noticed was that, okay, so some brands, especially coming from the open source space, that's actually where a lot of people just do, they can throw spaghetti at the wall because you can iterate really quickly. You can just try the strangest ideas and like 19 out of 20 completed ones don't make a difference or actually contribute negatively to your bottom line. But then there's like one thing that's like, "Wow, that really made it." And so that's really cool. You are now an innovative brand for about three months and then because as that experience gets out more and more brands and platforms will build that experience up and throw that. And then and so you have this ever-tightening spiral of test, optimize, test, optimize, test, optimize. And that's got us as an industry to where we are. But it has made things a bit consistent because we know what these best practices are.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:29:45] I'd love to ask you a question because you're an Amazon expert. That is probably one of the uglier sites on the Internet, but it's worked so well for them. What do you think keeps them so restrained from adopting maybe other conversion rate optimization techniques that maybe have more to do with visual identity and changing the layout of the page that would maybe appease some of the designers who crap on them all the time. But how do you think they have so much restraint to keep it ugly and functional?

Kiri Masters: [00:30:15] Yeah. Well, it's a really interesting question. I think it's what we're talking about is form versus function. And Amazon is all function. And so it's not really in their DNA to think about innovative design or creating a non-homogenous experience. It's really moving people through the stages of the funnel and providing a great shopping experience that's seamless and delivers what people want and to be the world's most customer-friendly company. So if we talk about a scale here of innovative, non-homogenous, groundbreaking, we've got Amazon on the other end of the scale and that's who they are and that's what they're there for. We don't go to Amazon to be inspired and what's quite interesting is they're trying to do more of that. They're trying to do a bit more discovery, and that's why they're bringing in capabilities like live stream video and they're doing more with influencers, actually. They're bringing influencers in that will have a shop-in-shop and they're part of the affiliate program. And so they're actually creating content for Amazon, but it's still very early days with that and they're experimenting with that top of funnel. But what Amazon is there for is the mid-bottom of funnel. They patented the one-click checkout. Those are all things that are just so many ones and zeros and not really focused on a non-homogenous experience at all.

Ben Marks: [00:32:09] On my previous platform, literally, the day that patent expired, one of our partner agencies literally hit our main repository with a pull request that basically added one-click checkout to the platform. Would you say that they're learning from platforms maybe over in China, like looking at Alibaba at Tmall and looking at how live shopping and social shopping is?

Kiri Masters: [00:32:30] Yeah. Well, that certainly came from China and was hugely successful there. So I think so. But what I can also say is the point about A/B testing and CRO that constant tests and changes that we see moving the add to cart button slightly over here, changing the order of the content, and giving brands more or less image slots, adding video and so we're seeing that has evolved over time and I think it's pretty singularly focused on the customer experience with the lens of purchases.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:33:07] I think some marketers and some founders, when they set out to build their brand, they look at the visual identity of other brands and they think that's a conversion rate optimization technique. I think I said that right. But they all look this way. So that must work. Let me copy their visual identity. And I'm not sure. And again, if they're marketers listening, I'm not sure that that's the right technique to copy. I would copy their other techniques, maybe the placement of stuff. But your visual identity is one way in a world where all brands look the same and they feel the same when you go on the website, try and stand out like you said at the top of the funnel. That might not be the technique to copy to improve your conversion rate. You may want to use your visual identity as a differentiation to help your brand.

Ben Marks: [00:33:54] Yes, I can agree with that. Assume that the success of Shopify has both helped and harmed the growth of eCommerce. Can you give some supporting examples of both? I'll throw it to you first, because I'm kind of curious given your focus, how you see Shopify sort as in a way, it's a marketplace for brands to build their commerce experiences.

Kiri Masters: [00:34:28] Well, certainly democratized access to creating a home for a brand. That's brought up the same challenges that you mentioned, Roger, around the Squarespace sites looking the same because they're template driven. I don't think it's a fair comparison to say, are we better off with a lot of options and more democratized access to building something like that, or would we be better off with less accessibility? I don't really think it's a fair comparison because the cream will rise to the top. If it's a great product or if it's a great brand or if it's great design, you can compete on all of those things. But opening up access to more... Democratizing access, I think, allows everyone to compete.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:35:23] Anytime you lower the barrier you flood now with new competitors. And it's not even just direct competitors. If I'm a watch company, I'm not just competing against your watch company. Now I'm competing against that person's new shoe brand and that person's boardshorts and that person's necklace. Because you have so many dollars to spend and you're going to spend it on one of these products. You may not be purchasing a watch. You may be purchasing an outfit, and you're going to decide between the watch and the bracelet. And now I got to compete with the bracelet. And because it's so easy for you to set up your bracelet shop now, I got a whole new set of competitors that I have to worry about. And again, any time you lower the barrier to entry, it just floods the competition and you just have more to think about now, more alternatives for those dollars that were going to be spent on your brand.

Ben Marks: [00:36:18] So for me, there's a bit of an ideological battle that happens between sort of on-prem fully customizable platforms like Shopware. And then there are a couple of things I like about Shopify because of their outsize effect that they have when they do things like, for their partner ecosystem where they basically said, hey, that rev share on your integration you have the first million dollars is yours, that actually resets the expectation across the whole platform industry. So that I think they have the power to do really, really interesting things. I can hear merchant requirements and usually, within about 30 seconds I'm already like, "Nope, you should use Shopify." If you don't have the resources for the care and feeding and you don't have the imperative to have these really custom experiences because you're just starting out, you don't really know yourself yet and you certainly don't know your customer yet, start safe and then grow from there. Step up to the next ship as you become more sophisticated.

Kiri Masters: [00:38:31] That DTC brand, Native deodorant, this was how they were extremely successful, was to do an upsell at the very end stage of checkout. So you would just get an upsell. And they were extremely successful with that. And that doesn't come out of the box with Shopify. They used a third-party app for that. That was a huge driver of their growth. Just using the Shopify checkout solution that wasn't offered natively. And so you kind of end up with this, like you said, the familiar experience. You've got your credit card details saved in there. It's good, it feels safe, but there's not really any room for imagination in there.

Ben Marks: [00:39:09] The whole industry has kind of converged on the balance between like convenience and customization. In their case, they've recently, within the last several months, released a lot more capability for developers and agencies to customize the front end of the customer experience that actually puts them a bit far away from their, I think, original mission of like, hey, let's make it pretty easy and bulletproof because once you start building these custom interfaces that are completely disconnected from the back end, well all of a sudden you're now getting kind of bound in context to the agency doing the implementation and everything else. But I think it's very telling that they went to the effort to release this capability. I also think it's important for brands to be able to differentiate, not just even the front-end experience. It's also what's happening in the back office.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:39:58] We're pointing out a lot of the problem, but there was a solution that you just gave to differentiation, and that's if you are using Shopify or if you're using another tool that's templated, you can differentiate on the plugins that you use. That is an opportunity for you to differentiate. Look at the plugins, look at the add-ons that you can throw into your website. That may be an opportunity for you to provide something different.

Announcer: [00:40:38] The Visions podcast is brought to you by Future Commerce. You can find more episodes of this podcast and all Future Commerce properties at FutureCommerce.fm. Download our 100 page Companion Guide on cultural and consumer trends by visiting Visions.Report.

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