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EPISODE 6

Building Engagement and Re-Platforming to Create the Ultimate Omnichannel Experience

With Laura Hnatow, Vice President of Marketing & Ecommerce at Sea Bags

They say that a goldfish grows to the size of its tank. But what if that small fish is ready to launch into a bigger pond? That is the situation Sea Bags has found itself in recently. With a rabid following and millions in revenue, the Portland, Maine-based retail store has outgrown its initial eCommerce setup and is ready to grow into a major totes and accessories brand thanks to growth fueled by personalization, storytelling and an incredible social media presence.

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Laura Hnatow, the Vice President of Marketing & Ecommerce at Sea Bags, explains how she is helping to expand the eCommerce platform using a cross-platform social media strategy, and she digs into the re-platforming experience she is leading to help Sea Bags utilize tools like AI and ML to grow their business, both online and off.

Key Takeaways:

  • Content, social media, and UGC utilization are critical in building and maintaining an active, engaged customer base
  • Re-platforming offers an opportunity to utilize new tools such as AI and machine learning to introduce new forms of personalization in product offerings as well as marketing strategies
  • The power of storytelling is the most important tool in your toolkit to differentiate yourself from the competition

Key Quotes:

“Storytelling is one of the things that we do best.”

“[Social media is] one of the things we’re really good at, but it’s also probably one of the things that’s the most challenging in… people spend a lot of time on social media, but everybody’s competing for their attention.”

“I think customers want to be invited to participate and we do a lot of that with either surprise and delight opportunities, where we ask people to come and bid on something for a chance a win to a wristlet. A wristlet is a small item. It’s not like a vacation getaway. But that alone, people love the gesture. They love to participate.”

“We are looking at our digital strategy on a daily basis and really refining things. So if we see something taking off, we are chasing it. A great example is shopping at one point was doing very poorly. We didn’t know why and watched it for about a week or two. It was right when things were headed down to a flat line period at the end of March. Everybody was in kind of a lull. Then all of a sudden, things turned around and a lot of eCommerce folks were seeing a spike. As soon as we saw that spike, we chased it. I think that’s the thing. You really have to be on top of it and know when to chase it and keep increasing your budget. We’ve increased our budgets in areas like shopping more than we’ve typically been comfortable with. I would say the same goes for Facebook Prospecting. We found that Facebook Prospecting is performing incredibly well for us. We do a lot of prospecting with video ads for Facebook as well, and those are very productive too.”

“I think that one of the important things with meshing the retail business and the online business is just a general omnichannel approach. Our CEO likes to say that the eCommerce site is our biggest retail store. It carries all the products for the brand and you can see them all there at any time. And you go to our stores, and the stores may have most of those products but some different selections that might be regionally appropriate… If you were to go to a store and they didn’t have a product, the great thing is that you can log onto the iPad at the store. They can get the bag for you that you were looking for and ship for free. We’re using an endless aisle concept that leverages the flexibility that we have as a just-in-time manufacturer. We make our bags on demand for customers. It’s great to have that flexibility, where we don’t have lead times to worry about. We’re sourcing everything locally here in the United States. Most of what we source is within New England. That’s really critical, in terms of being able to take an order and turn it around in a matter of days.”

“There are so many new opportunities for us to improve the customer experience and to refine our practices, in terms of how we approach selling to customers. Using new technology like artificial intelligence and machine learning, personalization, I think we’re going to be as a team much more efficient and much more sophisticated in how we are able to speak to our customers and give them what they want. It’s going to take us a lot less time to manage that. I’m really excited about being able to grow the business utilizing those types of tools specifically for the eCommerce website. But the great thing is that it really does trickle into the other channels as well.”

“I think what we really are going to have to focus on is how to take omnichannel retailing to the next level. That term – omnichannel – is really broadly thrown around. I think that people don’t really understand what it is. I think that we need to be able to deliver a seamless customer experience regardless of where they’re shopping and figure out, also, how to do it without inconveniencing customers with asking for their information repeatedly. I think that’s one of the challenges in retail, is being able to know when somebody places an order in one of your retail stores, and being able to translate that into their customer profile so that you have, again, that really full 360-degree picture of that journey of that customer and really knowing what their full lifetime value is. Again, so that you can come back and customize and personalize their shopping experience and make it richer. They feel valued because they know that you’re speaking to them in a way that is informed and caring about what value they play for your brand.”

Bio:

Laura Hnatow is the Vice President of Marketing and eCommerce for Sea Bags, a Portland, Maine-based manufacturer, and retailer of handcrafted tote bags and accessories from recycled sails. Prior to joining Sea Bags in 2014, Laura was the eCommerce Channel Manager for manufacturer and marketer, Cuddledown and also spent more than 10 years at renowned cataloger, L.L.Bean in roles that included International Marketing, Advertising, Catalog Production, and eCommerce.

Laura holds a B.B.A. in International Business from Hofstra University and an M.B.A. with a Marketing concentration from the University of Southern Maine, where she was also an adjunct marketing instructor. She recently completed a 4-year term on the Advisory Board for the Women In Retail Leadership Circle, a national networking and educational organization for enterprise-level women in the retail industry.

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible eCommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Welcome to the show.

Laura:

Hi, thanks for having me.

Stephanie:

I’m really excited about you joining me today. I just was browsing through your website, Sea Bags, and I wanted to buy like about five things.

Laura:

Oh, that’s flattering.

Stephanie:

Yeah. It’s awesome. An awesome product. I’d love to hear a little bit about what Sea Bags, in your own words, and why you joined it.

Laura:

Yeah. Sea Bags is a company based in Portland, Maine, that manufacturers bags, totes and accessories from recycled sails from sailboats. We gather those sails one at time from the boating community all around the country, and bring them back to Portland, where we cut them down one-by-one. Each sail is a little bit different, therefore each bag is a little bit different from the next. People come to visit us in Portland, where they can actually see the bags being made on the waterfront, at our building that actually overhangs the water, with the hum of lobster boats outside, along with the sewing machines and the seagulls. It’s really a great experience in quintessential Maine.

Laura:

The reason why I joined Sea Bags… It was almost seven years ago at this point. The opportunity was presented to be by the current CEO. It was the story effectively. The whole story about the brand. It was so compelling. I’ve worked for a number of brand manufacturers before, L.L. Bean and Cuddledown. They all had great manufacturing stories to tell, but this story was so much more authentic and rich. It was that authenticity that made the story so easy to tell. They also had built the brand up on these three core tenets, that drive the business every day. It was this very defined mission behind the company, of being made in the U.S.A., sustainable in product and practice, and also committed to giving back to the community generously. Those three things guide all of our decision-making in everything that we do. With such a clear mission and mandate, in terms of how we were going to grow the business forward, to me it seemed like a no-brainer to join that team.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s very cool. What is the story behind Sea Bags? I think it started with the Founder’s dad. Right?

Laura:

Yeah. Many years ago, the original founder, Hannah, her dad, he was in the sail bag-making industry, for the actual bags that hold sails in between seasons. He made a recommendation to his daughter, “You should try to figure out what to do with these old sails. They’re just going to landfills.” She crafted the first ones. It’s our current COO, Beth, who actually grew the business from there. She partnered with her and then grew the business to where we’re at now, with the help of our current leadership and CEO. Yeah. It started as a hobby business, and now has really ground to be a lifestyle brand.

Stephanie:

That’s amazing.The one thing I really liked, which I didn’t know before, was I didn’t realize that sailboat sails actually can’t break down. So when you guys say you’re focused on sustainability, you really mean it. Nothing would happen with those sails, if you didn’t transform them and give them a second life. Is that correct?

Laura:

You’re absolute right. Yeah. Predominantly sailboat sails are made out a material called Dacron. Dacron has an element of plastic fiber in it. It’s that resilience that lets the sail hold up to the strength of the wind and actually propel a sailboat forward. But it is that strength in the fiber and how it’s made that makes our bags so durable as well. Because of that inability to break down in the landfill, we knew that that material, itself, would be perfect for a bag. They wear like steel. People have gone into our store to show off, “Here’s my bag. I brought it 15 years ago.” They wash it regularly in the washing machine. They look great. Yeah. They do wear really well.

Stephanie:

That’s so cool. How do you convey that uniqueness to your customers, especially through an online experience? I saw some really great videos that you all had on your website, which I thought were amazing. Is that part of the way that you convey that?

Laura:

Yeah, absolutely. Storytelling is one of the things that we do best. Like I said, that’s why I joined the brand, is this rich story. We do a lot of content creation on our team. It’s easy to do content creation when you have a lot to work with. Building really great video content… We have a new line of products all the time. We have new partners that we’re collaborating with regularly. So being able to stitch together different videos, content pages on the website. We integrate a lot of user-generated content into the website and our marketing.

Laura:

So things like customer testimonials, but also customer images. We have a very rich user-generated content campaign, called our Sea Bag Citing campaign. It’s a hashtag. And customers in that campaign will tag us and show us all the places they take their Sea Bag. It’s really a great opportunity for us, because when we see a great picture, instead of us having to go out and stage a photo shoot, we’ve got a really authentic image of somebody vacationing using their bag in the environment that it was intended for.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I was very impressed when I saw your social media following and how engaged people were and the really great photos they were tagging you all in. I definitely see the world of online sales seems to be moving to social media and building a community. How do you think about building that up, and creating relevant content, and keeping those followers engaged?

Laura:

Yeah. I’d say it’s one of the things we’re really good at, but it’s also probably one of the things that’s the most challenging in what we do. Because people spend a lot of time on social media, but everybody’s competing for their attention. I have a social media team with multiple partners on it. I’ve tasked them with making sure, across all the platforms, that, number one, we’re showing different content, to keep different types of people engaged. And the other thing is that we’re hitting the breadth of content that I’d like us to do.

Laura:

They have a filter that they put all of our content through, to make sure that we’re showing the right variety of, and frequency of, things like behind the scenes images, testimonials, new product launches, PR news that we’re doing. We’re trying to make sure that we hit the breadth. And also, we’re tailoring it to the specific types of platforms. Obviously Facebook and LinkedIn are not a synonymous platform so we make sure that some of the content goes on one location and we speak to those audiences a little bit differently.

Laura:

I think customers want to be invited to participate and we do a lot of that with either surprise and delight opportunities, where we ask people to come and bid on something for a chance a win to a wristlet. A wristlet is a small item. It’s not like a vacation getaway. But that alone… people love the gesture. They love to participate. It’s really interesting. When somebody does win a prize, it’s funny how authentically and genuinely thrilled for the winner the other customers are. It does become very communal. They’re like, “Oh, my God. I’m so happy for you. Great job. You’re going to love it.”

Laura:

Then we also find that customers… Getting back to this idea of engagement. This is delightful for us. Customers sometimes answer on our behalf. We’ll get comments that say, “Do you have this bag in this color? Are you ever going to offer this again?” Before we can even comment, we’ll have other customers saying, “Yes, they have it. You can go to this page.” It’s almost like we’ve got these brand ambassadors stalking us right within our social media. That is so flattering. It really does speak to a highly-engaged social media following.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s amazing. Having people who are working for you and your brand without even asking.

Laura:

Yeah. Yeah.

Stephanie:

It’s a key strategy, if you can figure it out.

Laura:

It is. It’s great.

Stephanie:

Are there any new emerging digital channels that you are excited about or focused on right now?

Laura:

I think in terms of new channels, I don’t think there is one. Social media really is where we’re spending a lot of our time as a channel, in terms of trying to grow audience and engagement. We are playing around with some things like influencer marketing, which is important. I think some people might not call it new and emerging either. We’re doing quite a bit in just dabbling in lots of different spaces. There is a lot of overlap. I think video is probably where we found the most success, in terms of developing content and distributing. Video specifically for Facebook has been fantastic for us. We’re repurposing a lot of that video content again. We like to recycle. We put it in a lot of places. We’re trying to incorporate it into the site. We use it for things like Instagram Stories. It’s been really fruitful, so that’s been really fun.

Stephanie:

Very cool. Any key strategy that you have when it comes to guiding a customer through that buying journey while utilizing social?

Laura:

It’s interesting. We have a really defined and fine-tuned digital marketing strategy. We work with a great partner that helps us distribute all of our paid advertising. That would include paid social. One of the things about paid social that I think is challenging for people… I do chat with folks who say, “Facebook doesn’t really work for us.” I am always surprised to hear that. I think part of it is, it’s the type of content that you’re putting out in terms of advertising on Facebook advertising. Making sure you have the right mix of video, and static ads and then dynamic remarketing ads are really important.

Laura:

I think the other thing, too, is how you measure it. Of course, there’s different attribution models. Last click attribution and first click attribution. Of course, Facebook measures the performance differently than some other folks might measure it. We base it on Facebook’s measurement. When you base it that way, you’ll see that the programs themselves actually perform much better than if you base it on the other attrition models out there using Google Analytics.

Stephanie:

That’s interesting. I definitely see Facebook stepping their game up with the launch of I think it’s Facebook Shops just yesterday or the day before.

Laura:

Yeah. It’s so interesting. The landscape is changing quite a bit. I was actually talking about this recently with the CEO, because we see organic shifting quite a bit. We’re doing a lot, in terms of SEO on the website and building organic content. We have a blog that we try to regularly publish. It’s made a big impact on our SEO, but then all of a sudden when you have the search results pages changing to favor, again, more ad space? You do immediately see a falloff in your organic search results. Paid search all of a sudden is also doing much better, but you’re also spending a lot more money perhaps than you had intended to.

Stephanie:

Are you guys doing any quick pivots to try and bring back the organic searches? How do you think about that when things change so quickly?

Laura:

Yeah. I don’t think there is a quick pivot with organic. Organic is a long game, as always. The pivot that we’re doing right now, and I wouldn’t even call it that. We are looking at our digital strategy on a daily basis and really refining things. So if we see something taking off, we are chasing it. A great example is shopping at one point was doing very poorly. We didn’t know why and watched it for about a week or two. It was right when things were headed down to a flat line period at the end of March. Everybody was in kind of a lull. Then all of sudden things turned around and a lot of e-commerce folks were seeing a spike. As soon as we saw that spike, we chased it. I think that’s the thing. You really have to be on top of it and know when to chase it and keep increasing your budget.

Laura:

We’ve increased our budgets in area like shopping more than we’ve typically been comfortable. I would say the same goes for Facebook Prospecting. We found that Facebook Prospecting is performing incredibly well for us. We do a lot of prospecting with video ads for Facebook as well, and those are very productive too.

Stephanie:

Very cool. Did you have to adjust any messaging when it came to acting fast on that? With everything going on with the pandemic, did you kind of change how you target people and market to them? How do you think about that?

Laura:

We changed the messaging. Yeah. We definitely wanted to make sure we weren’t being tone deaf to what was going on. We definitely pulled down any ads that had anything to do with travel-related products. We have a great travel collection. We pulled down all of those because nobody was going to be traveling. I think the thing that we did more so than the actual ad strategy was our product strategy changed a little bit. We wanted to look at our product from the viewpoint of how we could add more value to it, to help solve problems for people who were now stuck at home and still had life to conduct.

Laura:

The example I’ll give is Easter came around and people were kind of caUght off guard by the idea that, “Oh, our Easter family celebration is not going to happen. The Easter egg hunt is not going to happen. I have a grandchild. How are we going to commemorate this holiday that is very important to a good portion of the population?” We quickly partnered with a local chocolate company that had just laid off most of its workforce. They were able to bring back five of their employees to help produce chocolate to put in our Easter buckets.

Stephanie:

That’s great.

Laura:

Within a very short period of time… We thought, “We might sell 50 of these over the next three or four days.” We sold over 700. It was one of those things that every day, we said, “How many more do we need?” It was really a matter of how much chocolate could the chocolate maker make in that short period of time? It was a real success story, in being able to reach out, help a fellow business in the community, but also solve some problems for customers. The comments we got from customers were unbelievable. Just saying how appreciative they were because they weren’t going to be able to see their family and bring them something. This is how they were able to do that.

Laura:

So that was really rewarding. That afforded us a lot of opportunity in our digital advertising to reach new customers, to convert customers who were prospects and who were already looking into the brand. It was more about just being relevant with a message that solved a problem for customers. So then we took that same product strategy and same digital strategy and expanded it onto Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day, and Graduation. Even though a lot of the stay-at-home orders have been loosened a bit? I think a lot of people are still looking for some convenience to eliminate any unnecessary visits to stores that they don’t want to make.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I completely agree. That’s such a good strategy, to find partnerships like that. I could see that lasting into the future, where a lot of brands start thinking about who they can partner with. That seems like it would help future-proof both brands, if they figure out ways to work together and send business to each other. I think we’ll see more of that over the coming years.

Laura:

Yeah. I hope so. I know for our brand, we’re not going to stop doing it. It was a pilot that was a success. Now we’ve realized there is an opportunity here and the customers see the value in it. We’ve always been very collaborative as a brand. We typically do reach out and collaborate with a handful of companies that are like-minded in their business practices and approach. What we often bring to the table is that we’re a sustainable product and they might not have that same messaging in their product that they can offer. Or the fact that we’re a Made in the U.S.A. product, which again is really valuable to a lot of brands to partner with us. So we have similar mindsets and very much focused the Coastal lifestyles perhaps.

Laura:

A more recent relevant example, we’re partnering right now with Life Is Good. If you’re not familiar with that brand, they are an apparel and accessory company that basically delivers the message of optimism in all of their designs. Really quirky designs that we are now able to add to a Sea Bag, and then with these really important optimistic messages during this time that we’re all going through. It resonates really broadly with customers. That’s another example of ways that we reach out and collaborate. It’s given Life Is Good an opportunity to have a Bag story that they sell to their audience, and it gives us a different story in terms of different designs and messaging for our audience as well.

Stephanie:

That’s great. When it comes to messaging, does the consumer know the background of the flag, where it came from and the journeys that sailboat went on? Do they have any insights into that, so they can find of feel connected to their bag even more?

Laura:

Yeah. It’s interesting. We would love to be able to pedigree every bag, but when you start talking about 700 tons of sails that we’ve saved from landfills, it’s really, really challenging to figure out how we could actually catalog that many sails. On a one-to-one basis, no. But what we do is when we take a sail in, our customers are so great about wanting to share the stories. So we’ve had many cases where a Sail Trade, is what we call it. The customer will bring a sail into our store, for example. Just show up and unfold the sail right in the middle of the retail store and start talking about, “Oh, this is the sail that was on my grandfather’s boat. As a kid, we sailed.” They just go into this long elaborate story. What we try to do is get somebody from the marketing team downstairs to take notes, and talk to them about it and basically interview them a little bit about what the story behind the sail is. Because that stuff is so meaningful.

Laura:

We have a really great one on our website called The Santana Sail Trade Story. The gentlemen, Ben, tells the story about how this boat meant everything to him. He had this boat since he was 15. At this point, he was in his late 40s, maybe early 50s. He still has the boat but was retiring the sails. He talked about the different moments that that boat was present for his life and every smudge and stain on that sail means something. He hoped that everybody who buys a bag really understands how meaningful the heart of the sails are.

Stephanie:

That’s great. Feeling like you’re connected to a community like that, and another person, without even knowing them, I think it’s super important. What people are going to want after all this. Now we’re all getting in the state where we’re connecting with people that we don’t even know online.

Laura:

Right.

Stephanie:

We’re getting used to that now. I think moving in that direction is really smart and also just fun. Knowing that you have something that has experienced things that you could never even think of.

Laura:

Yeah. Yeah. We like to say that carrying a Sea Bag is like carrying a story on your shoulder.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s great. Have you ever had a sail come through where you’re like, “This is from a pirate ship?”

Laura:

I don’t know about that. There is a type of sail called tanbark. It’s like a dyed tan-colored sail. The lure of tanbark, it’s not often used in sail manufacturing today. It’s definitely not as common. The lure is that the pirates, they used to use tanbark sails so that they wouldn’t be seen on the horizon with the sunset. It was the way that they were able to sneak about in the ocean and not be spotted in the distance with a bright white sail.

Stephanie:

That’s cool. So if you see one of those come through, you’ll know. You’ll know where it came from.

Laura:

Yeah, exactly. I do think we have some tanbark on the site right now. It is definitely a little bit more rare and we tend not to offer it all the time. But I think we have a handful of tanbark designs right now. They’re just so cool because they are really uncommon and we don’t always offer it.

Stephanie:

I’d also be giving the side eye to whoever brought that in, like, “What did you do to get this sail?”

Laura:

Exactly! I could be looking for their medallion. “Are you actually a pirate?”

Stephanie:

Yeah. I know. “Tell me.” Obviously retail is on hold right now, but I saw you guys were expanding. Expanding actually one place that is close to my heart, Rehoboth Beach, in Delaware.

Laura:

Yeah. Yeah.

Stephanie:

We used to go there every single summer. I’m from Maryland. Such a cute beach town. How are you thinking about utilizing brick and mortar stores? How are they lifting each other up and accelerating your e-commerce as well?

Laura:

That’s a great question. By the end of this year, we’ll have 33 stores, spanning 12 states. That’s really exciting for us because when I joined the company, we had two stores. That’s a lot of growth. We open four to six stores a year. We’re opening eight this year, alone, which is really, really exciting. I think that one of the important things with meshing the retail business and the online business is just a general omnichannel approach. Right?

Laura:

Our CEO likes to say that the e-commerce site is our biggest retail store. It carries all the products for the brand and you can see them all there at any time. And you go to our stores, and the stores may have most of those products but some different selections that might be regionally appropriate. For example, you mentioned Rehoboth Beach. There might be some coastal nautical chart bags down in the Rehoboth Beach store relevant to that regional area. So there’s some things like that. But we try to do…

Stephanie:

Crabs all over the bags and whatnot?

Laura:

Right. Yeah. To customize and be relevant to that local region. If you were to go to a store and they didn’t have a product, the great thing is that you can log onto the iPad at the store. They can get the bag for you that you were looking for and ship for free. We’re using an endless aisle concept that leverages the flexibility that we have as a just-in-time manufacturer. We make our bags on demand for customers. It’s great to have that flexibility, where we don’t have lead times to worry about. We’re sourcing everything locally here in the United States. Most everything we source is within New England. That’s really criticaL, in terms of being able to take an order and turn it around in a matter of days.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s huge. With all this expansion that you guys are experiencing, how have you had to adjust your technology, your platforms you’re using. What does that process look like with such a large amount of change that you guys have been experiencing?

Laura:

Yeah. It’s great. I’m actually really excited about this. It’s very timely. We decided right in the beginning of this year to move forward with replatforming our website. It’s a huge endeavor. We realize that over the last six years, we’ve been on this very exciting ride of growth and expansion. Quite simply, we’ve outgrown the website platform that we’re using. I do find it really rewarding to think that we have squeezed every ounce that we could get out of the current platform we’re on. There’s nothing that we have left unturned.

Laura:

Embarking onto this new platform, we’re working with Salesforce Commerce Cloud. There are so many new opportunities for us to improve the customer experience and to refine our practices, in terms of how we approach selling to customers. Using new technology like artificial intelligence and machine learning, personalization, I think we’re going to be as a team much more efficient and much more sophisticated in how we are able to speak to our customers and give them what they want. It’s going to take us a lot less time to manage that. I’m really excited about being able to grow the business utilizing those types of tools specifically for the e-commerce website. But the great thing is that it really does trickle into the other channels as well that we sell in retail, for example, too.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s very cool. Tell me a little bit more details around how you plan on using AI. When you think of using that with Commerce Cloud, what are your ideas around how that’s going to improve the consumer experience? What does that look like?

Laura:

Yeah. We have some personalization currently on the site that we do. Not too much. It’s mostly personalized recommendations. I’m really looking forward to using that, in terms of… One of the most exciting things for me is the merchandising of the site and making sure that the predictive sort of the categories. When a customer lands on a page with 150 different wristlets, that the ones that are most relevant to them are actually rising to the top. It’s not based on a static presentation of what we think is the most important things to put at the top.

Laura:

I think that’s really important. One of the things on our roadmap after the site is launched, is to actually take a look at the marketing opportunities in terms of email marketing and how we can pull some of the artificial intelligence into the journey map of the customer and how we message to the customer in their lifecycle. I think a lot of those components as well will be really exciting to start to create not just a series. I think in the past, people have created a welcome series, or a trigger series after they buy X product.

Laura:

I think instead what I want this to be is a more dynamic opportunity to generate emails to customers that are, again, pulling in predictive content. So the customers have performed certain activities, and then the machine learning decides, “Okay, great. Because they did these five things, the most relevant thing to put here is this item and a message about this.” That’s what I’m excited about. And then being able to look at that data. I think the data is so exciting too, and knowing what works and what’s not working. And being able to do site tweaks and adjustments to it will be really helpful.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I completely agree. I was just going to ask, were there any metrics that you paid attention to in the past that you think it will be way easier to get to? Or that you weren’t able to access easily because it was too hard to maybe compile all the data and see it easily. What are some of those metrics if so, that are now going to be accessible to you that’ll really help?

Laura:

I’m not sure if this definitely going to make it easier. But what I’m really more excited about is seeing… The measurements are customer lifetime value and customer acquisition costs. Starting to really understand the customer lifecycle better. So that once we see customers logging onto the website. Also, we just launched a Customer Loyalty program. Getting customers more engaged and in the habit of, “To get your reward points, logging in and making sure.” We’re keeping track of what customers are doing and delivering them relevant content, as opposed to just sending them too many emails.

Laura:

I think I was telling you, I’m in the process right now of cleaning out my email and unsubscribing from everything possible. I don’t want people to have that experience with our brand. Saying, “You guys just email me too much.” I want the contact that we’re sending them to be interesting. The one thing I will tell you, and again this goes back to how we engaged our audience is. The open rates on our emails are really high. The click through rates are high. Our customers, like when we do these auctions periodically on the website.

Laura:

After the auction is complete, we usually take a look at who won the auction. We’ll just see who the customer is. What’s their lifecycle like? Almost every time when we do this, the customers email open rate is over 80%. They’re highly-engaged people. Of course, they’re participating in an auction. You would assume that. But it is so interesting to see somebody opening that emails from us. That to me, is a real testament to the strength of the brand and how engaged people are.

Stephanie:

That means you’re definitely doing something right. For sure. How are you assembling the team for this digital transformation that you guys are about to undergo? How are you thinking about aligning your organization and your team members so everyone can help make this transition quick and easy?

Laura:

Yeah. That is critical. So what we did, it’s probably not so different than what a lot of other folks might do. I assembled a core team. A Project Manager whose in charge of managing the project with our Systems Integrator. Then I have a Lead Developer in-house. His job is really to get into the technical details behind the development and transition. Because he has been primarily responsible for all of the development on our current website. I’m on the team, more from a strategic guidance standpoint and decision-making. Then our CEO has been really involved as well, which I really appreciate.

Laura:

This is the biggest project that our company has undertaken in the last six years, to do this type of major replatforming. It’s a totally new platform. We’ve done some previous site launches and relaunches, but this one’s pretty huge. I still have a number of other people on my marketing team who will participate and we’ll start pulling them in one-by-one. We’ll also embarking on a training curriculum, that we’re developing in-house for our team. That’s going to be going on while we’re doing the developing, so that we’re ready to go when the site’s ready to launch.

Laura:

We’re also looking at peripheral technology that is impacted by this transition. So an example I might give you is, our shipping platform and how we ship products. That was impacted. We needed to make a decision to shift to another provider. We assembled pilot team to get together and review the technology available and the vendor. We got all our decision-makers in one room and everybody agreed said, “Yes, let’s do it.” We’ve been making these decisions quickly. Kind of in that agile methodology of those sprints.

Laura:

Part of that is a function of how the Systems Integrator has outlined and structured the project. We have a very tight timeline, too. We’re looking to have the website launched by October 1st. We started it in mid-March. We’re definitely on an accelerated scheduled and we don’t want to miss any milestones. Knock on wood, we are currently on target. So I’m excited about that.

Stephanie:

That’s so fun. I can’t wait to see the new site and try it out. Are there any digital commerce trends that you guys are preparing for, as you’re launching this new platform and putting out a V2 of the brand? Are you preparing anything in the e-commerce space that you think is coming down the pike, that you’re thinking, “We better get ready for this, or this trend?”

Laura:

No. I can’t say that we’re focused on anything like that right now. We’re definitely mostly looking at the capabilities of the new platform. Like I said, the AI and machine learning component is so rich, that we see that as foundation to changing how we approach, how we do our marketing strategies and communicate with customers. So I think that’s really the biggest opportunity for us.

Stephanie:

Very cool. One side question I had was, when you have your customers tagging all these photos and they’re flowing into your website, are people able to buy from those photos right now?

Laura:

Yeah. On a limited basis right now. When we launch the new site, it’ll much more prolific. You’ll be able to buy from almost all of them.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s great.

Laura:

I think that’s really critical and it’s important.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I know. When I was looking at all the different photos that you guys were getting tagged in, I’m like, “Oh, I want this Bag.” There was this one alignment. It was like a tan orangeish bag but it had a duffle bag, and a bigger bag and there was like three of them together. I’m like, “If I could just click in and get this set, it would be so much easier than going into the website and trying to find out what this is called, or trying to figure out which one it was.”

Laura:

Yeah. It’s really interesting. The thing about user-generated content is that the customers put the product in context that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to in our marketing because it wouldn’t make sense. I’ll give you an example. Just this week, we received a review from a customer, that was a picture of what they were calling a COVID Survival Pack that they were sending out their friends. It was a Sea Bag’s beverage bucket bag. A beverage bucket is kind of a like a tall 14-inch high bucket that has handles, and the interior has six pockets for six beers. Then in the very middle is like a cavity that you can put ice and it has a grommet in the bottom, so that the ice can melt and escape out of the bottom of the bag. So it’s a collapsible cooler.

Laura:

While they were filling the buckets with six Corona beers, and then put a roll of toilet paper in the center. They were mailing these out to their friends as COVID Survival Packs. It got such a laugh for us. It also is great, in terms of giving other customers ideas on ways to use our product in a way that is memorable and fun. Yeah. There’s a lot of that. But like I said, that whole idea of content creation… While a lot of stuff can come from us and we can push it out, when it comes our audience, it’s even more relevant.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s such a fun idea. I want one of those Survival Packs right now. Person whoever made that, please send one my way. I want lime as well.

Laura:

Yeah. The lime would be great.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s a necessity. That’s a good point, too, for larger brands. We work with a lot of larger brands developing podcasts for them and whatnot. When you have your customers, where they can actually interact how they want. They don’t have to go through the brand policy team and all these approvals and things like this, where maybe 80% of it would never get past the company’s PR team. But when the customers are able to engage the way that they want to, it seems like it allows for more organic conversations to start and just things that maybe wouldn’t normally get past the actual internal policies. It makes it more fun to have those customers who can do that stuff.

Laura:

Yeah. Absolutely. I agree.

Stephanie:

So to shift a little bit. Are you the founder of Women in Retail Leadership Circle?

Laura:

No, not the founder.

Stephanie:

Tell me about that.

Laura:

I’m very flattered. No. Women in Retail Leadership Circle is a national organization that basically connects senior women in leadership, C level and director level, in retail organizations. They were started about seven years ago. They’re backed by NATCO Media. I was a founding advisory board member, on the team there. So I’ve been involved over the last almost seven years. They’ve grown significantly in size over that time. It’s one of the most energized and engaged leadership groups I’ve ever participated in. They have an Annual Conference that I can say is nothing short of transformational. It has been rescheduled this year for October. I’m hoping that I’ll be traveling, to be able to go to it.

Laura:

Even so, during COVID. The conference is usually in April. They were very quick to figure out how they could be of service to their audience. They set up peer groups that leaders could participate in on a biweekly basis with opportunities to share advice and experience with other senior female leadership. During more normal times, they do regular what they call On The Road Events, where you can connect in a major city, like Boston or New York, over an evening of cocktails or something like that with leaders like Rebecca Minkoff talking about her leadership struggles perhaps. It’s a great way to collaborate with other companies.

Laura:

I’ve been able to uncover new tactics and strategies for growth. I also use it as a tool to refine my leadership style, because there’s a lot of inspirational leadership that we share in those, like I said, events that they sponsor. They’re doing a lot of stuff virtually right now. The thing I like the most about it, is it’s noncompetitive. It’s just great personal development at the senior leadership level, which I think there doesn’t happen to be a lot of that typically. A lot of the personal development that happens in organizations usually is more at a junior level.

Stephanie:

That’s really cool. Is there anyone in the industry that you look to for not only leadership, but maybe different tactics or strategies that they’re trying out or doing? Do you keep an eye on anyone to incorporate at Sea Bags? Like incorporate what they’re doing?

Laura:

Yeah. I look at a lot of brands, which is the reason why I need to pair down my emails so much. I do. I track a lot of folks. I also follow a lot of people on LinkedIn, because I feel like it’s just a great opportunity to see what everyone’s doing. As a brand, we try to spend time benchmarking and keeping our eye on brands, again, that are very, very correlated with our DNA. Coastal lifestyle brands, like Sperry Top-Sider, Life is Good, a very inspirational brand. We have a lot of partnerships like that. We also try to keep an eye towards some more local name brands too that we partner with, and just benchmarking what they’re doing.

Laura:

And we also share a lot of information too. An example of that would be Stonewall Kitchen, which is a gourmet food brand. They also are on Sales Commerce Cloud. While we were going through this whole replatforming project, being able to reach out to people within our network and benchmark around what their experiences were on their websites platforms and technologies that they’re using is really important.

Stephanie:

That’s great. Having that little network that you can tap into and be like, “Hey, how did you guys do this?” Or, “Does this work better, or this strategy?” That’s really fun. And all about, once again, tying it back to having that community that you can tap into to get answers from and learn from people who’ve already gone through that.

Laura:

Yeah, absolutely. Over the years, that’s one thing that I learned very early in my career. Some of my leaders, actually one that I’m still working with today, who is on our Board at Sea Bags, taught me how important that skill of networking was and that networking is a two-way street. It’s really important to make sure that you’re not only asking things of people and keeping in touch with them, but you’re also being a value to them as well, in terms of that networking relationship.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s such a great point. Coming up next we have the Lightning Round, which I can tell you a little bit more about in a second. But do you have thoughts or ideas that you want to share before we move onto that?

Laura:

Geez, thoughts that I want to share.

Stephanie:

Anything that we missed?

Laura:

I’m sure there’s something we missed. But I think we covered a lot, too. I’m excited to hear what the Lightning Round is all about.

Stephanie:

All right. Cool. So the Lightning Round, bought to you by our friends at Salesforce Commerce Cloud. It’s where I ask a question and you have one minute or less to answer. Are you ready?

Laura:

I guess so.

Stephanie:

All right. What’s up next on your reading list?

Laura:

Oh, on my reading list. I am about to start… I’m like one chapter in. A book by the founder of IDEO. I think his name is Dave Kelly, if remember correctly. It’s a book all about innovation and idea generation and how to approach innovation a little bit differently. I’m really excited about that. I’m definitely one of those people that reads multiple books at once, too.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Me, too. I think they did have a space here in Palo Alto, right down the street from us.

Laura:

Yeah. I think you’re right. I think you’re right. The name of the book is The Art of Innovation.

Stephanie:

Okay. Cool.

Laura:

It’s Tom Kelly. I got his name wrong.

Stephanie:

Tom Kelly. Got it. For everyone, Tom Kelly. Yeah. That’s really funny. We went and we were touring office spaces. We toured through their building. It was very forward-thinking and innovative. I mean, just like what you were talking about. It was all about R&D and trying new things. It was cool to see the inner workings of their space.

Laura:

Very cool.

Stephanie:

What’s up next on your Netflix or Hulu Video?

Laura:

Oh, I am watching Ozark. I know I’m a little painfully behind. Yeah. I’m trying to make my way through into, I think, season three of Ozark. I am really enjoying that and it’s a problem I will sometimes stay up way to late trying to fit in just one more episode.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Me, too. I love that show. What’s the next conference you’re excited about attending?

Laura:

I am really excited about the Women in Retail Leadership Conference. Like I said, I hope it’s happening in October. This is, as I mentioned, it’s a transformational opportunity for me to go talk with other senior female leaders about their challenges and opportunities and where they’re seeing growth within their companies. I’ve walked away from this conference before getting lots of new ideas, new business opportunities and third-party partners to work with and collaboration opportunities. So that to me is what I’m most looking forward to and I hope that it still happens, especially because it’s in Miami in October, which will be a really nice time of year to be there.

Stephanie:

That’s very cool. I’ll have to check that out. What are you doing for fun these days? Any passions that you have?

Laura:

I am actually, after this podcast, going to jump on my boat with my husband and two kids for the first time this season. That is actually our big passion. This is the kickoff to boating season in Maine, Memorial Day weekend. Usually while I’m on the boat, the things that I do is knit. I’ve been knitting a sweater for four years now, that I am committed to finishing this year. That’s my goal.

Stephanie:

You have to post a picture when it’s done, so we can all see it.

Laura:

I will. I hope it actually fits. I’m kind of laughing at it going, “I don’t even know if this is going to fit.” I end up probably giving it as a gift.

Stephanie:

Yeah. My mom got into sewing and knitting and all that. She was trying to make us outfits, just for fun. Sweaters and things like that. She ended making one that ended up having to go towards our Shih Tzu dog because it… She was like, “Oh, this went really wrong.”

Laura:

Yeah. It can go wrong quickly. That’s what I’m worried about. I’ve ripped out a few rows of this a few times and I’m not sure I recounted correctly. So we’ll see. I post a picture regardless of what it looks like.

Stephanie:

Great. It’s a journey.

Laura:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

The next hard question. You guys at Sea Bags are moving quick. You’re having to transition platforms. It’s your job to stay ahead on the expectations and your competition and all that. What do you think is up next for e-commerce pros?

Laura:

Up next for e-commerce pros. I think that we really are going to have to focus on is how to take omnichannel retailing to the next level. I think that that term, omnichannel, is really broadly thrown around. I think that people don’t really understand what it is. I think that we need to be able to deliver a seamless customer experience regardless of where they’re shopping and figure out, also, how to do it without inconveniencing customers with asking for their information repeatedly.

Laura:

I think that’s one of the challenges in retail, is being able to know when somebody places an order in one of your retail stores, and being able to translate that into their customer profile so that you have, again, that really full 360-degree picture of that journey of that customer and really knowing what their full lifetime value is. Again, so that you can come back and customize and personalize their shopping experience and make it more rich. They feel valued because they know that you’re speaking to them in a way that is informed and caring about what value they play for your brand.

Stephanie:

That’s a great answer. Laura, it’s been blast. Thank you for coming on the show. For all our listeners, go check out Sea Bags and don’t forget to subscribe, rate and review this podcast. Let’s help spread the word and spread stories like the one Laura shared today. Laura, thanks. I hope to have you back.

Laura:

Thank you so much for having me. It was an absolute joy.

Stephanie:

It really was. Yeah.

 

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