Last week I had a meeting with a business looking to build a new eCommerce site. In my role as Chief Commerce Officer at Something Digital, I have these kinds of conversations 2-3 times per week.
"We want to grow revenue 20% this year!" the client exclaimed.
Isn't this everyone's goal? Everyone in the history of business has the intention to grow revenue. I asked some very targeted questions:
- How much are you going to invest in traffic acquisition this year to grow?
- How much of your strategy depends on maintaining, or growing, your retention business?
- How dependent are you on social ad spend?
"We don't plan to spend more this year than last year," and "we aren't focused on retention at this time," and "very dependent" were their answers, respectively. Their response is pretty typical, too. I find this is the situation for most businesses who come to Something Digital looking for a magic bullet for growth that doesn't require any more attention from their team, additional investment, or a change in their current strategy.
This brand's goals wouldn't be considered lofty except that their direct channel sales have leveled off as they've found success in wholesale, marketplaces, and in brick-and-mortar. Their target customer has more choice today and she's exercising her choice. Their eCom strategy that worked 4 years ago doesn't work today but — at least in Q3 2019 when they set 2020 budgets — they aren't willing to change their funding or their overall strategy.
In my last Insiders essay, I talked about how I was saddened by the state of Epcot Center at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, and how our vision of a hopeful future for humanity is being replaced by Pixar and Marvel.
To Walt Disney, theme parks were never "done" — they were to be constantly invested in, improved, revised, and made better. He called this practice "plussing."
"The park means a lot to me in that it's something that will never be finished. Something that I can keep developing, keep plussing and adding to—it's alive. It will be a live, breathing thing that will need changes.
In eCommerce, your infrastructure is a lot like a theme park. It's a carefully designed experience with a number of attractions that can spark the imagination of a guest. Done well, eCommerce can be a series of joyful experiences, one after another, which can connect deeply with a customer and keep them coming back for more.
All-too-often, though, we finish a build and the brand goes into "maintenance" mode. The average eCom team at a retailer is tasked with growing catalog assortment, acquiring traffic, and implementing a promotional calendar. They're often not interested in "plussing" the experience, and only look to improve their capabilities once a year, maybe, in a large undertaking that requires considerable investment.
To this brand, their dot-com site is "done"... at least for now. Investment doesn't just come through allocated budget and capex, either. Building a site can be distracting for an operations team. The cost of attention and distraction alone can be taxing for any channel team in a retail business.
Plus the Plus
On the other hand, the businesses that I work with that have considerable growth and measurable brand equity are the ones who invest in "plussing" every single day. Brands like Industry West (whose CMO, Ian Leslie, was just featured on Episode 142 of Future Commerce) have found a way to balance this and continue to meet and exceed goals. It's because of this continual advancement that they find success and deeply connect with their customers — both in design trade and consumers alike. Industry West has found a way to keep "plussing" the experience. From their Crosby Street location in SoHo to their new brand Favor, they've found a way to keep one-upping themselves. And customers have noticed. Last year they won the B2B growth award at Adobe's annual Magento Imagine conference.
In his book, How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life, Pat Williams tells the story of a person visiting Walt Disney World and being asked how he was enjoying the experience. When asked, “What was the highlight of your vacation?” The expected answer would’ve been the thrill rides or the golfing at the resort. But his answer was somewhat surprising.
"The highlight of our vacation," he said, "was coming back to the hotel at night." How could a hotel room top all the wonders of Disney World? He explained:
My five-year-old daughter can’t wait to see what the maid does next with her dolls. One night, we found the dolls perched on the edge of the bathtub. Another night, the dolls were hanging from the light fixture. Last night, the maid fashioned a boat out of a big bath towel and the dolls were in the boat on my daughter’s bed.
To achieve lofty growth targets, you have to heighten every experience and keep one-upping yourself. Most times this happens after the sale, after the showroom visit. Even after a cart or browse abandon. "Plus every experience—then plus the plus," says Williams.
Industry West has found a way to keep "plussing the plus." Sadly, this isn't the norm. Every day I meet merchants who will see eCom as a way to drive efficiency and cost savings in an organization. Their ultimate goal is to REDUCE their investment, to drive margin and cut costs. Those brands regress to steady-state. They'll stop investing, and entropy sets in.
If you're not plussing, what are you doing? You're minusing.
So, here I sit, talking with yet another merchant about their next phase of eCommerce investment. They expect that building a new eCommerce site is the magic bullet for them, with no other major change elsewhere in the organization.
Where to begin?
As the saying goes: "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result."
So, where do you start your "plussing" effort? For many brands, start with product detail pages. How long has it been since you've rewritten product descriptions? Photography? User-generated content/reviews? Constant, small, iterative changes will keep it fresh and surprise customers when they eventually return.
After that, try creating discrete landing pages for organic traffic. Experiment with features like quizzes, guided selling, and website polls. These can all be accomplished with a free version of Typeform. If your eCommerce platform is cumbersome to work with or expensive to develop on try a no-code solution for an experiment. Carrd.co is a platform that can make beautiful one-page experiences.
Don't let excuses stand in your way. Get to plussing.