Retail & the Digital Customer Experience: How to Get it Right

Product Management, PM Confessions

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For the final installment in our conversation with Tim Schulz, Chief Product Officer at BigCommerce, we hear his thoughts on:

  • How the best retailers translate their branding and store experience to online (Spoiler alert: Shout out to Williams-Sonoma!)
  • Making the ecommerce platform a source of insight for emerging business
  • Integrating with partner platforms to address customer problems (e.g., partnering with Square to provide accounting and POS)

Watch Part 1

Watch Part 2

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Tim Schulz: That's how we look at this. That cascades into our 40-30-30 model. It also impacts which durable teams we put on certain initiatives and how big the staff is.

Matt Pasienski: That's fantastic.

I think in traditional retail, everyone's understood that you have to have a great experience. You think of the great, traditional retailers, you walk in the store, you know where you are, you know what they're all about. How is that transitioned over to e-commerce and to the online world?

Tim Schulz: This is a great question. I think, my opinion is the best retailers who really get this right are the ones who think about the entire customer journey across channels and make sure that there's a sense of consistency with the branding, the merchandising, and just the overall look and feel of things. Williams-Sonoma does a great job, where the way that products are lit in their stores is very identical to how products are shot on their site. There's also an investment in these new use cases where customers will start a journey through one channel and finish it in another. If you've ever reserved an iPhone online and then gone to the Apple store, there's a seamless connectivity between the channels that you almost don't notice when they do it right, but boy do you notice when they get it wrong.

Matt Pasienski: Yeah. When you walk into a Williams-Sonoma store and you see the little casserole bowl and you're like, "I've got to have that." Then you walk online and you get that same feeling, even after you've left the store.

Tim Schulz: Oh yeah. Nordstrom does a great job with this, where now the associates are armed with mobile devices. When you see that item in store, if they don't have your size, out comes the iPad and now you can scroll through the inventory and get it shipped to you at no extra charge. It's there at your house a couple days later, or if you buy it online and it's not the right fit, you can go into the store and return it. Talking with executives who run these programs, it's just a maniacal focus on all these different use cases and edge cases. To the furthest extent that they can deliver on those edge cases, where I buy online or return on store, I buy another size in the store, these really [inaudible 00:02:06] edge cases, if they can deliver on that, it's just a wonderful experience for a customer.

There's a great study out that was co-written and co-sponsored, I think, by Hybris, Forrester and Accenture. They surveyed all these mobile, next-gen, digital shoppers and all their expectations from big retail. Then they surveyed all the retailers to line up the capabilities. There's this huge mismatch. I mean, the long-short of it is nobody's addressing the needs of these new shoppers. We've been really excited because these smaller retailers that we serve, that maybe have six stores, ten stores, a dozen stores and not hundreds, they can pivot a lot more quickly and do these next-gen experiences thanks to the fact that technology's not so costly. We're trying to create a bottom-up effect at least, that some of these ...

Matt Pasienski: That's really powerful when you're platform becomes not just an enabler but a source of insight for new business. What would you say to maybe the mid-market, maybe an SNB, about where they should be taking their e-commerce business based on what you see?

Tim Schulz: For the mid-market retailer, make sure that, if you are selling in a physical store and an online store, that you're investing in technology solutions and partners that are connected in some way. For example, big commerce is partners with a lot of [inaudible 00:03:30] providers like Square. As a small, medium-sized business, you're typically fulfilling orders out of your actual store. Let's say you have three teddy bear stuffed animals. People have just come in and bought all of them from you.

Matt Pasienski: You need to update your ...

Tim Schulz: Yeah, you're still merchandising online. At the end of the day, you go onto your order management screen on big commerce. Oh you sold two. Now you need to provide two refunds. What a crappy experience for customers. Or you have to delay that shipment which causes a lot of issues with charge-backs and what not. Our integration with Square, the moment something sells in the store, inventory is decremented across all channels and it prevents you from overselling.

Matt Pasienski: That's really interesting because if you're a small business, you've just adopted mobile point-of-sale and now you're facing this huge new challenge that you can address, which is, okay, how do we manage multiple channels in an integrated way?

Tim Schulz: Right.

Matt Pasienski: That's not something that you're going to ... Not something I would've thought of while you're struggling to build your brand and things like that.

Tim Schulz: Oh yeah. Products, inventory, analytics, these are areas that have typically been under-invested in because all the entities are always separate. It's like, "Well, you guys provide that and you provide that." Big commerce has taken a stance that we're going to provide that, that middleware technology and the analytics, but we just won't build the point-of-sale. We won't build the accounting solution, we'll integrate with best [inaudible 00:04:49] partners on that front so that they can continue to make their product better and we can continue to make ours better. Together we can have a market-leading solution that's all [crosstalk 00:04:57]

Matt Pasienski: Same question. What's your advice to the CEO, but now for those enterprise, bigger retailers?

Tim Schulz: Other retailers. One of the biggest struggles that large retailers have is actually an organizational one. When the internet came around and e-commerce was a big deal for big retailers, it was typically treated like a catalog. It's like a digital catalog. A lot of the e-commerce and dot com divisions were managed by the traditional catalog division. It was treated as this separated entity with separate technology with separate budget. Even as retailers looked to modernize their systems, they're finding that the in-store teams are funded and rewarded separately than the online team.

There's always attribution concerns. A lot of these orgs refuse to work with each other or have a lot of difficulty in working with each other. "Well, if I do that for the digital team they get credit for that sale and then I'll get credit for this." Or if a customer starts a journey on the online website but comes in store, how do we attribute that? I think the leading retailers have just said, "We're going to get ahead of that and we're just going to focus on something more general, just driving over all sales and focusing on brand and unifying our technology and meeting the needs of shoppers first and thinking about bonus structures last." If a retailer does not do that, then they fall the risk of just investing a lot in something that isn't really set up for success long-term.

Matt Pasienski: Do you ever lose deals to ... This organization is really just not at the ... This is mismanaged. Is that something that you have to go in and fight? I don't want to put you into a position where you're like [crosstalk 00:06:36]

Tim Schulz: Well, fortunately, a lot of the merchants who launch stores on big commerce either come from another e-commerce platform that was maybe what we would call on premise, where their nephew wrote the code or it was an open source piece of software that they downloaded and configured and they want to get off that because they're tired of hiring an IT staff. They are already optimized for e-commerce. They're just coming to us and realizing all these cost savings that they put into marketing and branding, which is great. A lot of our retailers, because we're focused so specifically on this $250,000 in sales all the way up to about 20 or 30 million, they typically don't have very big staff. They're not the size of maybe a JC Penney or a Nordstrom.

We don't encounter that as much in our business. In fact, a lot of our merchants push us to innovate because they are trying to compete with these big retailers. When these big retailers came into being and really hit their stride, when the baby boomers in the early 1960s started to flee metropolitan areas into the suburbs, no longer they want this main street experience. They wanted a one-stop shop where I can go and get diapers and milk and everything and then come home in time for dinner when the kids get home. That's what that model grew out of. Now the opposite is happening. Now you have Millennials and younger people moving back into the metropolitan areas wanting to discover unique products and unique experiences. These smaller retailers are saying, "I want to compete with these ... This is our era."

They push us to innovate because they often have their hands on the pulse of what these younger, more savvy digital shoppers want. They push us to release as much software as we can to meet those needs.

Matt Pasienski: That's an incredible picture of, I think, a very quickly changing ... Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. Thanks a lot.

Luisa Posted by Luisa on Wednesday, December 2, 2015.

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Jun 28, 2017

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