Adam King is the co-founder of Media Lounge and an eCommerce expert with nearly 20 years of experience, both as an eCommerce consultant and retailer. Since establishing Media Lounge in 2008, Adam has overseen over 400 successful eCommerce projects.
There is no room for mistakes in eCommerce. As the eCommerce industry continues to boom, brands are fighting to meet expectations set by corporations like Amazon.
In this interview with solutions architect Adam King reveals how direct-to-consumer retail is making a comeback and why being niche may be the secret to success.
Spotlight: The eCommerce sector is bursting at the seams, with an estimated 12 million eCommerce companies operating around the globe, excluding China. What are the key aspects these businesses should consider to stand out from the crowd and gain a competitive advantage?
Adam King: Brands are taking back customers with direct-to-consumer retailing.Amazon is scoping up all the most popular products and driving the price down for the consumer, so there is little room for good retailer margins. This leaves specialists and nice product/service retailers. You must specialize in a niche and think about what the 10x customer experience is that you can offer to outshine the likes of Amazon.
What expert advice can you offer, what premium support can you offer, what loyalty can you build with the customer, what content can you create to inform and educate your audience? You’ll succeed by focusing on solving unique problems and putting the customer first. Ao.com is a great example.
Selling digitally starts with establishing a strong online presence. How does Media Lounge, as an eCommerce agency, help with these efforts?
Our services focus on the eCommerce infrastructure, user journey, and optimization. We want to remove friction in the customer journey and ultimately get more visitors to turn into customers. The way we’ve shopped has changed. You need to hang out where your customers hang out.
If your customers are going to use search terms to find you then you have to build suitable PPC campaigns on all the usual channels. But not all products are popular on search. Think about impulse purchases, or innovative products, you don’t know you want/need it until you see it, so there is no point in building a PPC campaign for terms that no one is searching for. For these types of products, you need to get in front of your potential customers via social media, influencers, online publications, video adverts on YouTube, and so on. The rest is down to compelling storytelling to connect with your audience and build a narrative they want to be part of.
Given the great number of eCommerce platforms out there, how do you approach projects in terms of defining your clients' needs and finding the best development platform for them?
That’s the best thing about being platform agnostic! We offer a range of SaaS, Self-Hosted, and Cloud Hosted eCommerce solutions, each with their own unique standout features. We don’t offer the round hole solution to the square peg problem. We offer a consultative service where we need to understand the business on a granular level, understand their wider software architecture, internal processes, their audience, and what goals/ambitions they have.
Once we have this it’s a simple case of mapping it to each platform and seeing which meets the business needs and objectives best.
From an initial range of over 10 platform options, this normally results in us putting forward the most suitable two for the retailer to evaluate further with our help, eventually deciding on the platform to proceed with.
The end goal of every online seller is to increase conversion rates and sales. What strategies do you have in place to deliver measurable results for your clients?
Everything online leaves a digital footprint. Analyzing these footprints through your tracking and sales data ultimately shows us where there are bottlenecks, frustration, and friction in your customer journey. It’s important to benchmark this so you have a base to monitor from.
We then look deeper into the problem areas on three levels:
- First, we need to put our human hat on and grade your experience against our mental models, experience tools, and checklists. Once we’ve identified what we think the problem areas are, we estimate the value and cost for improving them. We look at high value/low cost recommendations as a priority, then high value/ high cost, then low value/low cost, and lastly low value/high cost
- We deploy a range of monitoring, exercise, testing, and survey tools to confirm our findings, as well as specific knowledge from the retailer and their team so that we’re working collaboratively
- The next level is to design a split test with possible outcomes and targets for improvement, which likely involves redesigning and developing part of the experience. Finally, we commit the most successful split test live. We’ll continue to monitor this outcome post live while looking at the next improvement in our value list
How does Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) stand out as a strategy to boost conversions? What are proven CRO strategies that you leverage to drive success for your clients?
Many agencies dive straight into CRO by deploying split tests based on hypotheses alone. Some go one step further by looking at data analysis. Ultimately before you start any CRO you must understand the audience and what they're trying to do. We use the “jobs to be done” framework to map out different customer types or personas.
What jobs they’re trying to get done, what triggered them to come to the website in the first place, what pain points they have at each stage of their buying journey, what questions they have, what they are looking for in things like trust, reassurances, clear messaging, etc, and what actions they expect to be clearly presented. Knowing more about your customers will help you build better experiences for them, and from a CRO perspective you can then test each idea before taking it live.
User experience (UX) is a hot topic in eCommerce design and many businesses put a heavy focus on its implementation, with mixed results. In your opinion, what are the most common UX mistakes to be avoided on eCommerce websites?
We touched upon mental models before. Think about landing on an eCommerce website, you expect to see certain things, right? There should be a menu, a basket, an account you can log in to, perhaps signposting to contact or help information, an element of trust with logos and reviews, and so on. The biggest mistakes are often in removing these mental models to try and do something quirky or innovative. You’re not Apple!
Years of eCommerce optimization has led us to what we see as a normal eCommerce experience today, if you break away from this model, you’re likely going to frustrate users. Some other hot topics include putting design over function, things like light coloured text in small fonts making it hard to read, millions of pop ups, not considering accessibility, or one of the worst, alienating your audience by not making the experience inclusive. Your audience must connect with your brand and all too often we deliver images and stereotypes of unachievable perfection.
With 15 years in business and over 400 successful projects behind you, how do you think the eCommerce industry and shopper behavior have changed? How have consumer expectations changed and what can businesses do today to meet them?
Lastly, with online marketplaces growing in popularity, do you think it’s likely that they will dominate the eCommerce industry in the future?
Across a range of reports, it’s estimated that somewhere between 50% and 65% of shopping searches start on Amazon. Is this not dominating already?
Brands are taking back retailer and distributor margins by selling direct to consumers, which means they have even more disposable money for marketing. When last mile delivery becomes “same day,” we’re going to see another huge shift in the way we shop online and likely a final nail in the coffin for many brands on the high street.
Delivery speed, flexibility, and quality should be a primary consideration. I know that service for delivery is done via a third-party courier so it’s not the retailer’s service, but taking ownership over this, having clear delivery messages higher up in the customer journey, and offering a range of flexible services will ultimately help you meet expectations.
Yes, “meet expectations,” as Amazon has already set the bar here! Be niche in your products and services, offer a 10x user experience with unique product knowledge and first-class support. You’ll succeed where others fail.
PS: Being niche doesn’t mean you have to sell hats made of clay! Look at laced.com for example, they’re selling something nearly all of us wear in a very crowded brand heavy market but have curated a unique range of shoes you can’t even buy on the brand websites themselves. Yet they still offer a comparable shopping experience to Nike.