eTail East Arms Online Retailers for the Coming Holiday Shopping Battle
Attendees to the eTail East Conference in Boston last week may have suffered from a heat wave, but it didn’t stop them from thinking about the holiday season a few months away. The agenda for this year’s conference featured insightful and useful content focused on helping retailers make the most of the upcoming 2018 holiday shopping season. Throughout the conference, attendees heard about ways to create “peak moments” for their online businesses, and how to ensure that their e-commerce operations will perform optimally during these peak times.
Here were a few of the most powerful presentations from eTail East, which should give you things to think about as you prepare for the holiday season.
Sugarfina: Building a Candy Frenzy That Crashed A Website
The conference kicked off with a presentation by Rosie O’Neill, co-founder and chief creative officer of Sugarfina, a fast-growing luxury confections brand. O'Neill gave a passionate explanation of how she and her husband started this very creative and high-quality candy company to become the “Tesla of Candy.” They’ve built a strong following by offering tastings, parties and engaging community events to launch new products. Some of their more innovative creations include rosé gummy bears, a seven-day “green juice” gummy bear cleanse, Hello Kitty co-branded candy, and “candy for breakfast.”
Although Sugarfina had great success driving business through viral campaigns, the brand has found volume and timing of demand peaks can be difficult to predict. One of its best promotions sold out in hour hours, and accumulated an 18,000 person wait list. But the most acute pain of this success came in the form of an e-commerce site that crashed three times during the mad sugar rush.
A wildly successful viral campaign that crashes a website once may be a badge of honor. A website that crashes three times indicates a problem that threatens your customer relationships. It was a great cautionary tale that Sugarfina provided attendees. These are the problems you need to solve now before November.
Going into the holidays, scaling for peak traffic was on attendees’ minds at the show. More often than not, website slowdowns and perceived “crashes” are caused by the third-party technologies that retailers add to their websites. These page delays cost retailers hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars every year. And when website delays happen during a peak that was driven by an advertising investment, it’s a lose-lose situation. You lost the sales that went elsewhere when your website wouldn’t load, and you lost the money that you paid for advertising to drive those visitors to your website in the first place.
Retail Systems Research (RSR) recently studied the impact of performance on the shopper experience and found that the average retail website relies on over 300 third-party calls to build every page. And even though these third-party calls are often building key features for the shopping experience, RSR found an inverse relationship between the best retail experiences and website performance. In other words, the more third-party shopping features, the slower the website.
So if you’re planning now for your holiday traffic, make sure you have a strategy for monitoring and controlling the third parties on your website. Otherwise, you risk them crashing your holiday party.
ASICS Embraces the Cloud Technology Revolution
Dan Smith, president of ASICS Digital, presented about the sneaker brand's massive transition from a primarily wholesale business to a direct-to-consumer business. Smith joined ASICS through the Runkeeper acquisition, and his team quickly became the digital backbone for the transition. One of his first tasks was to shift the organization from an internally managed e-commerce technology infrastructure to an e-commerce operation that relies on multitenant cloud platform technologies.
Moving forward, the project goal is to shift ASICS attention more toward addressing customer needs. Smith believes that relying on third-party solution providers to manage core technical capabilities will allow the brand's digital team to focus 80 percent of their efforts on the shopper experience, and only 20 percent on policing venders.
This transition to relying more on third-party e-commerce technologies is not isolated to ASICS. In fact, it has been embraced by the entire retail industry. Retailers are using third-party vendors to deliver new features and innovations into their shopping experience faster (and often better) than if they had built them in-house. The wide adoption of customer-facing third-party technologies has allowed e-commerce teams to focus on their true core competency — serving their customers — rather than building technical features that other firms have already mastered.
Smith understands this, but it doesn’t mean the process of moving to cloud-based e-commerce technologies is easy. The Runkeeper team first had to build credibility with ASICS leadership before they would agree to such a big change. Smith and his team started small, and began the transition with its EU storefront. They selected vendors that would conduct pilot programs, so ASICS could test and validate the value in small pieces. Each small win allowed Smith and his team to build the internal consensus and support required to gain approval for a global roll out.
Smith presented a great business case and road map for moving to cloud-based technologies. However, he could have expanded more on the risks presented by Sugarfina earlier, which showed that too much reliance on outside technology vendors can slow down your website pages. By giving up some control over their website to third-party technologies, ASICS left itself vulnerable to vendor failures. Just one failure could slow its e-commerce page load times beyond three seconds, as we saw with delays on Amazon.com during Prime Day and errors on Gap.com over Thanksgiving. Slow e-commerce pages would quickly lower ASICS’ conversion rates and transaction volumes, jeopardizing this initiative.
Fortunately, ASICS has taken active steps to control and mitigate these third-party technologies so disruptions don't occur at the worst times. Retailers could learn much by visiting the ASICS’ EU site and observing the steps Smith and his team have taken to make performance a foundational element to its outsourced, cloud-based technology strategy.
STATE Bags Embodies the Holiday Spirit
A full day of sessions focused on e-commerce sales and capitalism was balanced out by a powerful and emotional presentation by Scot Tatelman, co-founder of STATE Bags. Scot is the son marketing genius Barry Tatelman, known throughout New England for building the Jordan’s Furniture superstore chain. Scot told his story of growing up in the shadow of his father, and searching for a different path to a more “authentic life.” We're glad he found it.
After leaving a non-profit job, Scot and his wife (Jacq) started a program, Camp Power, for youth in underprivileged environments. Upon seeing the number of children that attended camp carrying trash bags filled with their belongings, they decided to create STATE Bags as a philanthropy brand.
STATE Bags sells online through its e-commerce site, as well as retailers like Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Barneys. For every bag it sells, STATE Bags donates and hand-delivers a backpack to a child in need, stuffed full with school supplies and other essentials. Scot showed a video about the program to the eTail East audience, and it brought much of the room to tears. It’s great to be reminded about the work of entrepreneurs like Scot and Jacq that use retail and e-commerce to make a real impact in the lives of those who need it. #GIVEBACKPACK.
Best Laid Plans for E-Commerce Holiday Battle
The presentations at eTail East this year were fantastic, and featured authentic content that focused on e-commerce best practices, lessons learned, and preparations for the holiday rush. Sugarfina, ASICS, and STATE Bags all introduced different business models and challenges, and provided lessons that can benefit almost every retailer. Hopefully, attendees left eTail with improved plans for addressing their own website weaknesses before holiday shoppers arrive.
Rich Stendardo is the CEO of Yottaa, a web and mobile optimization services company.