SellersFunding is honored to have co-hosted Transforming Economic Uncertainty into E-commerce Opportunity in London earlier this Q4. We presented alongside Shopify, Eastside Co, and Ernst & Young, with world-renowned entrepreneur, Steven Bartlett. Experts from the presenting companies participated in a nearly 90-minute-long panel discussion about the future of e-commerce and how retailers, brands, and entrepreneurs can plan when so much is unknown.
While this was an invitation-only event, we’re sharing key takeaways with you here so that you can include them in your 2023 plans and have the best year yet.
5 Key Takeaways from Transforming Economic Uncertainty into E-commerce Opportunity (London, 2022)
- Lean into building connections with your shoppers and existing customers.
- Be ready and willing to adapt in order to create long-term success.
- Focus on what is important and what will make a difference.
- Don’t be afraid of failure; embrace setbacks as lessons and revise your approach.
- Set the example from the top so you encourage quality and consistency across your business.
1. Build Connections
A key thread in almost every answer from our panelists touched on the importance of connection. In fact, Shopify is starting to refer to shopper interactions as “Connect to Consumer” or CTC (rather than “direct-to-consumer”). And for Shopify, this means reaching out further than standard direct-to-consumer (DTC) efforts in order to make and keep long-term customers.
Successful e-commerce is about so much more than producing and offering good products. Shoppers now want to have a positive experience from the points of initial search and browsing to the potential of a future purchase or recommending a brand to a friend. This experience includes everything from your website speed to your product listings to packaging to social media presence. Every touchpoint to which your brand name is attached is part of a customer’s journey – and customers are paying attention and they are open to choosing other brands if their expectations are not met.
“Trust no longer comes from a brand. Trust comes from people’s experience of that brand that’s shared through their social network where you can actually get trust (secondhand, if you like) from the people you do trust.”
—Paul Hunter, Director, Ernst & Young
Shimona Mehta from Shopify brought up a recent study the company has been conducting. Shopify has found that “consumers are saying that they’re planning on spending as usual this Black Friday and holiday season, but in preparation to stop spending for next year.” Just because consumers are planning on pulling back on spending in the new year doesn’t mean you should assume they won’t continue buying from you in the new year. Don’t abandon them; reach out to them. Continue building and nurturing connections so that you are the first brand that comes to mind when they’re looking for their next purchases. Brands are now competing not only for shares of consumers’ wallets, but for shares of their hearts and their minds.
At its very core, the definition of “adapt” is “to make suitable to requirements or conditions; adjust or modify fittingly.”
Companies with the greatest chance of success are those that can adapt to the changing environments around them. What worked for you last year probably hasn’t worked this year, nor will it work next year. Maybe in 10-20 years when things make a comeback (everything is cyclical and we’re looking at you, direct mail), but not right now.
But it’s not just the ability to adapt; it’s the ability to adapt quickly and appropriately. If you’re in a boat and you discover a hole in it, do you plug that hole or do an analysis of the structural integrity of the rest of the boat first? You’re likely going to plug the hole to keep from sinking. If a product of yours gets unexpectedly picked up by Good Morning America (a true story for a brand called My Audio Pet), are you going to adapt to ride that success, or focus instead on an underperforming product? Don’t overcomplicate or hesitate to commit to a winner.
Adaptation within your organization will also likely yield some less-than-comfortable conversations. Do you have the right people on your team? Are the technologies, services, or agencies you work with helping achieve your goals? It may mean that departments or strategies become obsolete or take a back seat to higher-priority items. Make sure your adaptations are made with data and logic, not with your emotions.
At one point in the discussion, Paul Hunter from Ernst & Young was asked how the company works with different brands. Generally, when E&Y gets started with a new client, they first look at the business as a whole. They think big picture and focus not just on sales or advertising spend, but processes, headcounts, inventory levels. . . the whole shebang. From there, analysts make recommendations and leaders execute changes in accordance. Regardless of the size of your business, you can’t move to a different advertising agency or a new 3PL overnight. Remember, you are adjusting to the current conditions and “current” changes all the time.
3. Focus on What Matters
It’s easy to get caught up in what’s new or to try to follow what your competitors are doing. However, at the very core of everything that you do, you need to determine if it’s the right thing to do and how much impact it will make. Ask yourself questions like,
- Will this potentially result in a positive ROI?
- Is this what my key demographic or target audience is interested in?
- Will this help my company grow?
- If this doesn’t work out, can I pivot and learn from this?
- What is my goal in moving forward with this? Can I measure those results?
- Is there something else I can change that would get me more bang for my buck?
At the Transforming Economic Uncertainty into E-commerce Opportunity event in London, an attendee asked about different tactics she might use for her niche product. She said, “We have a Facebook audience.” She knows her demographic. Is moving to TikTok ads a channel where her target audience is likely to be? No. However, that demographic may be more responsive to direct mail or even email marketing. TikTok may be “the next big thing,” but will it be “the next big thing for her and her Facebook-heavy brand?” Not likely. Should she focus elsewhere? Probably.
Remember that focusing on the right things may not even mean trying new things. It could mean removing tactics from your current strategy and doubling down on what is best serving you. When money is tight or conditions are uncertain, focus on where you excel.
4. Embrace Failure
The panel took an interesting turn when Steven shared that he’s obsessed with the concept of failure. In fact, it’s a metric he watches with his team.
“Are we outfailing our competition? A key thing in macro-uncertainty is the rate in which your company is failing, I think, this may be the single biggest predictor of your success. Are you failing faster?”
Instead of holding people accountable for the number of phone calls made or the number of leads touched, Bartlett keeps an eye on the number of experiments his team runs. Once a week, he asks his team, “What did we try in the last 7 days?”
Do all of these experiments succeed? Before you say, “No, they couldn’t possibly,” read on.
Every experiment you run should teach you something. Whether the experiment supports or disproves the hypothesis, it is not a failure so long as you walk away with a lesson learned. Shopify’s founder, Tobias Lütke, even goes so far as to say, “A failure is just a successful discovery of how NOT to do something.”
5. Be the Example
In times of flux and uncertainty, you must be the example for your peers and your employees. Being in a position of power, whether you’re the CEO of a company or a manager of a small team, means that people look up to you and you set the tone. As Bartlett said, “We are proactive and optimistic regardless of the world burning around us at times.”
This goes beyond maintaining a positive attitude around your office. Set the example of how you want teams to move forward. Foster collaboration, iteration, and ideation! Reward new ideas and thinking outside the box. Set the culture and mindset at the top and let that make its way to the rest of your company.
One of the most important things you can do is to make sure your people are equipped to succeed. This is a point that Shimona Mehta drove home. Prioritize your people as they’re the ones in the trenches, talking to customers, executing the strategy, etc. Equipping your team for success does not mean just giving them the right software or a second monitor. It means ensuring that meetings are efficient, lines of communication are open, PTO is ample and encouraged, and people feel heard and valued. Wellness of both mind and body will result in a stronger workforce.
Check out Steven’s podcast, The Diary of a CEO, available on YouTube and/or anywhere you listen to podcasts!
In times of uncertainty, you can continue to move forward. It seems frightening and counterintuitive when caution says to hold back and wait for better times, but business doesn’t stand still and neither should you.
Want to see the full presentation? Sign up on Eastside Co’s website for access!