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EPISODE 15

Diversifying To Become Future-Proof with Chad Ledford, Co-Founder of AddShoppers

With Chad Ledford, the Co-Founder of AddShoppers

Chad Ledford likes to say that his Ecommerce journey started with a van and a fax machine. And it’s true. Chad has gone from selling socks out of a van to building one of the first and only online sock-sellers in the early 2000s, to his gig now, as the co-founder of AddShoppers, a company that was named one of the fastest-growing startups in Charlotte for two consecutive years, and an application installed on thousands of eCommerce websites  There were obviously many twists and turns on his journey, and he explains them all on this episode of Up Next in Commerce. But the main idea that drove Chad throughout his winding road was the idea of diversification. Long-lasting success only comes through diversifying marketing platforms, acquisition tactics, and communication channels where you can build those coveted one-to-one relationships with customers. He explains it all here.

Key Takeaways:

  • Anything that allows you to build a one-to-one relationship should be valued above others. Be willing to experiment here to maintain customer relationships
  • Be open to new and emerging channels and be ready to quickly experiment with those platforms so that you can be a first-mover and gain market share
  • More and more publishers will soon invest in creating their own platforms, thus lessening the reliance of major consumer channels like Facebook and Google

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“Whenever we started [selling socks online] we were just thinking about it more from a tactical execution standpoint. What I mean by that is we could basically put up a site, put some products on it, and then we could rank for it pretty quickly. We weren’t really focused on creating a brand, we weren’t really focused on lifetime value, or how do we cross-pollinate between multiple brands and things like that. It was really just how do we rank number one for this thing, and then push as many orders through it as we can? …But at the same time, just the shifts that we saw, how search was starting to gain more momentum, and more people were going online to start to look for things, and that’s when we started to see the shift from retail dollars going a little bit more online. Obviously that’s accelerated a lot recently. But at the time we just saw it as a way to make money, but now in hindsight, it was a bigger shift that was happening with people, and people wanting to get more convenience, and better deals, and things like that.” 

“We started AddShoppers and we tried to be a little bit ahead of the market when it came to social media. This was before everybody had a Facebook profile, and Pinterest was just coming online, but we saw that a lot of people were spending time there, and a lot of people were engaging there. So, the first version of AddShoppers was to try to figure out what was happening inside of social, and is it driving sales for people? So, it was mostly an analytics product that a brand could plug in and it would tell them if a social channel was driving sales, and if so, break that down and tell you how and why that was happening. But the thing that we were trying to solve is diversification of revenue.” 

“The problem that we help solve today is tapping into that other 95% of people that are on the website, people that haven’t given them their email address yet, but they’re still showing a lot of engagement, and they probably still want to try to get those people to be their customers.”

“It’s more about creating diversity in the revenue streams, and it’s more about just creating a closer relationship to the customer, and the ways to do that is through one-to-one channels, or really any kind of open protocol. So, if email is an example, another example is SMS, push notifications, direct mail, really anything that can kind of get you one-to-one with that customer and really build the relationship. Those are the things that should be valued a little bit more.”

“Diversification of the revenue is really the big thing, it’s not just about avoiding working with the big guys, but only using them as much as you need to.”

“The data that gets us really excited is network data, what’s happening across a huge chunk of people. Our network sees about 200 million people each month and what they do throughout that purchase cycle, and then what they’re actually responding to. So, whenever we think about data it’s more about the overall trends and how you can change a visitor’s behavior by creating a nudge, or creating some sort of incentive or offer to actually get the person to come back and convert.”

“My only criticism of big brands is just that they don’t test enough or fast enough, it’s more about just speed of iteration. The space that we’re in, digital commerce, it changes so fast, and by the time you’re doing something that everyone else is doing you have to pay a premium for it. If the bigger brands could just get a little bit earlier in the adoption cycles of things, then they would be able to capture more market share and more of a customer base, and not have to worry so much about the D2C guys. But that’s really the biggest difference between the big brands and why D2C’s continue to capture more market shares because they iterate so much faster and they test so much faster.”

“This is definitely a window of opportunity for every brand to get in front of more customers, and to acquire a customer for a little bit less, but the more that they can just focus on creating that great experience the easier it’s going to be.”

“It comes down to trying to create that personal experience and letting them know that you’re always going to have their best interest at heart. I think that’s probably where most people are under-investing right now, they’re over-investing in supply chain or logistics because they have to have those things, but if they really go above and beyond on the customer support side and try to find those ways to have a conversation, it doesn’t always have to be phone, it can be chat, it can just be a really responsive email team, but that’s really where you can separate.”

“Most Ecommerce teams, and the VP of Ecommerce and CMOs, they’ll usually set a KPI of like, “Let’s hit 200,000 next month in sales,” or whatever it is. What they don’t really set is tests. How many tests are we going to run next month? And find out whether those tests are successful or unsuccessful. Being able to really emphasize that, and get through those cycles faster, that’s the fastest way to really have a process that lasts a long time in this space, because everything else is going to change. The channels are going to change, the way we market is going to change. So, the thing I would say do less of is trying to squeeze a little more out of the lemons that you’ve already squeezed. So, if you’ve already done a lot through Google shopping, and you optimized AdWords, then yes, there’s always room for improvement, but if you try to get in front of that next thing that happens, it’s going to pay dividends down the road. So, I would say do more testing and more iterations, and a little bit less optimization on all the things that have already worked once you’re comfortable with those.”

“If you want to be a successful D2C brand you have to find one of those market opportunities where you think that a wave is going to happen, and then you just ride the wave as long as you can.”

“I think what’s going to happen next is that a lot of the publishers are going to start creating their own ad systems for this stuff. I think a lot of the publishers are sitting on a lot of data, and being able to target that data with them directly is going to be enabled by CDPs, or customer data platforms. So, a lot of these guys are starting to build those out now so that they’re less reliant on Facebook and Google’s ad systems for all the ad buys. So, I think that’s where the unbundling is probably going to happen, it’s probably going to happen with the publishers as they start to pull inventory from those guys, and start to figure out their own ad system. And if they can start to figure out lookalike models that work on the publishers’ sites, then you can cut out some of the middle guys, and then drive down the rates, which makes it more appealing to the D2C guys.”

Bio:

Chad Ledford is the co-founder and CSO of AddShoppers. He is a three-time entrepreneur and previously founded 3tailer, a niche online retailer with a focus on partnering with the best manufacturers and distributors to sell their products on 3tailer.com.

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:

Hey, everyone, welcome back to Up Next in Commerce. This is Stephanie Postles, your host, and today we have Chad Ledford, co-founder of AddShoppers. Chad, welcome to the show.

Chad:

Thanks for having me.

Stephanie:

I would love to dive into your background a bit, because it seems like you’ve had a really interesting background, and getting into ecommerce, I want to hear all the stories around that, and how you got to where you are today, if possible?

Chad:

Yeah, you got it. I like to say that it started with a van and a fax machine. So, to give you a little background, my grandfather who raised me has been in the hosiery industry for the past 25 years, so he kind of introduced me to just entrepreneurship in general, but whenever I turned 16 I took one of his vans and loaded it up with socks and went door-to-door to small businesses to sell the socks. So, I did that pretty much throughout high school, saved up enough for college, and then whenever I went to college, my freshman year I didn’t do a whole lot, played probably too many video games, but it really introduced me to the internet.

Chad:

So, my sophomore year I started to get the itch around trying to make money again, and that’s when I basically took the socks that my grandfather had, and then put up my first ecommerce store. It was built on Microsoft’s ecommerce platform, I don’t even remember what it’s called today, but it was back in the early 2000s. We just put up a couple SKU’s, I gave my grandfather a fax machine, put a fax machine in my dorm room, and then as I would get orders I would fax it over to him, and it would print the labels off for it.

Stephanie:

Oh, my gosh, that’s amazing. So, what kind of socks were they to be selling like hotcakes like that?

Chad:

Yeah, it was pretty much every type of sock. So, I think Bombas has probably made it cool, but at the time we didn’t really have a brand, it was just socks. It was like ankle socks, or crew socks, but nobody else was selling them online at the time, so we got really good at the search marketing side of it. If you bought socks in the early 2000s, you probably bought them from us, because we were number one on Google for the keyword socks, and-

Stephanie:

Wow.

Chad:

Yeah, it was kind of a fun adventure at the time.

Stephanie:

So, was your grandfather any bit hesitant to go online, or work with his grandson? What was that like working together? That sounds, yeah, just really fun.

Chad:

Yeah, he was really supportive early on until it got to be too many orders that he didn’t want to do it anymore. So, he basically said, “We have to find someone else.”, and then that’s when we got introduced to the idea of dropshipping. We basically just needed to find somebody that wanted to handle the capacity, and then that’s when we learned about dropshipping, and how that fits in ecommerce.

Stephanie:

Wow, so you’ve definitely seen it all from the very start. What are some of the biggest shifts that you remember where you’re like, “Man, dropshipping used to be like this.”, or building up a website I remember silly things that would be super hard. What were some of the things that you remember from back in the day that just kind of look silly now looking back on the processes that you were doing, or the things that you were undertaking?

Chad:

Yeah, I think whenever we started doing it we were just thinking about it more from like a tactical execution standpoint. But what I mean by that is we could basically put up a site, put some products on it, and then we could rank for it pretty quickly. We weren’t really focused on creating a brand, we weren’t really focused on lifetime value, or how do we kind of cross-pollinate between multiple brands and things like that, it was really just how do we rank number one for this thing, and then push as many orders through it as we can? So, I think part of that is just being young and figuring out what business actually means, and how to maximize lifetime value.

Chad:

But at the same time, just the shifts that we saw, search was starting to gain more momentum, and more people were going online to start to look for things, and that’s when we started to see the shift from retail dollars going a little bit more online, obviously that’s accelerated a lot recently. But yeah, it’s just kind of interesting, at the time we just saw it as a way to make money, but now kind of in hindsight it was a bigger shift that was happening with people, and people wanting to get more convenience, and better deals, and things like that.

Stephanie:

So then what brought you to co-founding AddShoppers? At what point were you like, “This is something I want to do.”? And could you give us a little background on what AddShoppers is?

Chad:

Yeah so, that first business, 3tailer, was really built around Facebook. Whenever Facebook made a change to their algorithm we had to react as fast as we could to try to keep up. So, whenever we started AddShoppers … we tried to be a little bit ahead of the market when it came to social media. Again, this was before everybody had a Facebook profile, and Pinterest was just sort of coming online, but we saw that a lot of people were spending time there, and a lot of people were engaging there.

Chad:

So, the first version of AddShoppers was to try to figure out what was happening inside of social, and is it driving sales for people? So, it was mostly an analytics product that a brand could plug in and it would tell them if a social channel was driving sales, and if so kind of break that down and tell you how and why that was happening. But the thing that we were trying to solve is diversification of revenue. We had the 3tailer business, which was really built on SEO, but we saw social kind of up and coming, so we wanted to figure out how to monetize that and drive sales for our own business.

Stephanie:

Wow, that’s great. It seems like you guys were definitely very ahead when it came to spotting these trends, and seeing something that could get big, and starting to offer solutions around it to give deeper data insights for that. How did you realize that was a problem for companies back then, when I doubt a lot of companies were like, “We need access to the data, we need to do more with it.”? I mean, now it seems obvious, but back then were you getting customers who were looking for help around that?

Chad:

Not really, it’s just what we felt through our business, we had felt the revenue impact. We didn’t have a wholesale channel set up or a physical in-store, so whenever something changed online we had to be on top of it to figure out what was going to happen next, and as social was kind of coming online we saw it as an opportunity. So, it wasn’t a stroke of genius, it was we had to to survive, and that was the main reason that we focused so intently on it.

Stephanie:

Very cool. So, what does AddShoppers look like today? How has it evolved?

Chad:

Yeah so, similar to the early days of search marketing, Google kind of won the market, and then same thing happened with Facebook, Facebook won the market. At the time when we started it there were probably about 20 different social networks that we were kind of tracking, and figuring out how to drive influence on, but once Facebook became the clear winner it was obvious that the same things were going to start happening, Facebook was going to make changes, that was going to impact people the same way that search did for our business. So, we decided to look into other channels, and more specifically we wanted to looking into channels that don’t change often.

Chad:

The ones that don’t change often are usually kind of the baseline architecture of the internet, it’s the open protocols, basically email, or SNTP, being able to send a message to someone has been around since the internet started, and as much as people have tried to kill it, it’s still one of the top channels, and it’s one of the few things that a brand can really own and be able to have that direct communication with a client without having to … or with a customer without having to pay some sort of an ad tax, or CPM to really get in front of those people. So, today our solutions are really focused on creating ways for brands to tap into those open protocols a little more of like email, and being able to message a customer directly without having to go through the big guys.

Stephanie:

Got it. So, how do you get those emails? Is it something that a brand could already access, or what does that look like? What problems or pain points do the brands have when they come to you?

Chad:

Yeah so, most digital commerce brands realize the value of email today, especially whenever it comes to retention and lifetime value. So, the conversations are a little bit easier now because they understand that it is a really strong channel, and it’s one that they have to defend, but most brands can only tap into what’s considered first party data. So, first party data is data that the brand captured themselves. So, a lot of people build up emails from popups, or they capture it during the checkout process or things like that, but that usually ends up being anywhere from like three to 5% of their traffic that they’ve spent a lot of money to get to their site that they’re actually able to capture, and be able to continue creating that relationship with them. So, the problem that we help solve today is tapping into that other 95% of people that are on the website, people that haven’t given them their email address yet, but they’re still showing a lot of engagement, and they probably still want to try to get those people to be their customers.

Stephanie:

Got it, so the people who are just casually browsing, or maybe added something to the cart and then left, the people like that who didn’t directly give the brand their email, but maybe seemed kind of interested.

Chad:

Yep, exactly.

Stephanie:

Very cool. So, one thing I’ve read a bit about is that you said brands have been over-reliant on Facebook and Google when it comes to customer acquisition. How do you envision sellers getting around those two giants? If that’s a main channel like you mentioned, like they’re dominating the market, how should a brand find customers if they’re not going to rely on those two areas?

Chad:

Yeah, I don’t think they should neglect those. I think they need to figure out how they can push as much volume on those as possible profitably, but as a lot of D-to-C companies have seen more recently, as everyone starts to do that, it gets more expensive for everyone, because it’s an option. So, it’s more about creating diversity in the revenue streams, and it’s more about just creating a closer relationship to the customer, and the ways to do that is through one-to-one channels, or really any kind of open protocol. So, if email is an example, another example is SMS, push notifications, direct mail, really anything that can kind of get you one-to-one with that customer and really build the relationship. Those are the things that should be valued a little bit more. There’s ways to do it where it’s not scary, and you can track the revenue quite easily. So yeah, I would say that diversification of the revenue is really the big thing, it’s not just about avoiding working with the big guys, but only using them as much as you need to.

Stephanie:

Got it, that makes sense. So, what are some maybe, not a case study, but an example of a brand who came to you and diversified their channels to start maybe using … texting is one thing that a lot of people have come on here saying they’re thinking about or they are experimenting with sending texts to customers or potential customers, but they’re not always really sure how to check that or how to measure the results. What are some maybe examples where you’ve seen that work well, or other channels that have worked well that maybe a brand normally wouldn’t have explored?

Chad:

Yeah, I think the one that comes to mind it’s a pretty big omnichannel retailer, they have about 50 locations and they sell sporting goods. I don’t know if I can share the name, but basically-

Stephanie:

That’s all right.

Chad:

… they did a lot with the traditional advertising, so they ran local TV commercials, they ran local radio ads, and then they did a bit on Facebook and Google mostly around retargeting. They didn’t really see those things as kind of top of the funnel activities, and because of that they basically relied on it for retargeting for the most part. So, they were basically spending on these offline channels, and then they were using digital as a way to retarget and try to convert those people, because it was the only way they could tie together the conversion of, “Hey, this person is on the website, and they just bought something.”, and they could pretty much always get like a 10 to one return on ad spend.

Chad:

So, for them, they were kind of stuck in this omnichannel box where they couldn’t do additional things for branding or impressions, because they didn’t have a great way to track it, so whenever they started working with us, we helped them expand out into these other channels where they were still able to get a guaranteed 10 to one return on ad spend, because we were using things where we didn’t have to buy media, like email and some onsite personalization things that we did for them. Today we don’t have an SMS product, it is on the roadmap, along with push and a few other products, but really the email is still one of the biggest revenue drivers that we found for clients.

Stephanie:

Very cool, and do you help with looking into the data after you start these campaigns for the different brands and whatnot, because I know before we were recording you mentioned that you’re really big into data and you love diving into that, so how do you incorporate that into the product, and with your clients?

Chad:

Yeah so, for us, there’s two kind of chunks of data. There’s the first party data, which you’ll see in like Google Analytics, or if they have a CDP they can kind of analyze what their specific customer base is doing. The data that gets us really excited is network data, what’s happening across a huge chunk of people. Our network sees about 200 million people each month, and kind of what they do throughout that purchase cycle, and then what they’re actually responding to. So, whenever we think about data it’s more about the overall trends and how you can change a visitor’s behavior by creating a nudge, or creating some sort of incentive or offer to actually get the person to come back and convert.

Stephanie:

Got it, how do you have that big of a network, and how are you able to kind of see what people are doing?

Chad:

Yeah, so there’s kind of two data sources that we have. One is a blind co-op, which I would say half of our clients are participating in that, and the blind co-op is the brands submitting data into it in exchange for being able to use the data that comes out of it to activate the campaigns. We don’t sync data, we don’t actually put data into another system, it’s all self-contained within our system, but about half of the volume that we see comes from that co-op of data. And then the other half comes from publisher relationships that we have where we license the data, and again, we don’t sell data, or we don’t push data out of it so that users can still control all their data, but it gives us additional scale so that we can start to match who these people are.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome. Was there any hesitancy with the brands sharing their data initially, or is it a little bit easier once they heard that other brands you were working with were already doing that?

Chad:

Yeah, we offer both. If they want access to the co-op data, they have to be part of it, so they have to submit to get access to it, that’s basically what makes it the co-op. So, they can still work with us, and they can still tap into that publisher data, and a lot of the enterprise brands that we work with will never submit any data to any other system including us, and it’s just off the table, it’s not going to get through legal. We can still work with those brands, we just do it through our licensed publisher data. But the thing that gets us really excited is that idea of the co-op, and the brands being able to work together to do more together.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s really cool. What’s some of the most interesting things that brands have seen when they utilize the co-op data where they’re like, “Oh, I never realized this or that.”? Have you heard any underlying themes from these brands where they’re getting access to something that maybe they never even knew to look into before, or had enough data to see that trend?

Chad:

Yeah so, we’re still pretty early on the insight side of this and being able to open up things that they haven’t been able to learn on their own. I would say we’re a lot further along on the activation side of the data, so being able to actually perform a campaign that drives incremental results. So, just as an example, whenever we send out browse abandon or cart abandon emails, we end up sending about five to 10 times more emails than they’re able to send internally. So, if a brand is sending out like 10 cart abandon emails a day right now, we’ll probably send 50 to 100 of those by leveraging the data that we’re tapped into, and then the benefit of that is revenue and less cart abandonment.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s really cool. How do you guys identify shoppers that maybe were unknown before? Like if a brand couldn’t identify them before, how are you all able to identify that shopper more easily?

Chad:

Yeah, so the core technology that this is built on is called deterministic identity resolution. It’s a little bit of a mouthful, but Facebook has the biggest identity graph which uses deterministic identity resolution, and the way that it works is pretty simple. You, as a user, you’ve signed into Facebook on your phone, tablet, laptop, all of these various sources, and as you’ve done that, Facebook has given you an identifier, your Facebook ID, and then it’s linked that to the different devices that you’ve done it on. So, our system works the same way, if you go to a publishers site, and you use an email address, our system encrypts the email and hashes it, and then we link that to the device that you do it on.

Chad:

As you do that across a network of devices and different publishers, that’s how we’re able to link an individual, or a hashed email, back to the actual devices that belong to that person. Once you have that link, then you’re able to perform different types of marketing campaigns. So, what we’re doing is actually no different than what Facebook and Google are already doing, except we activate the campaigns differently. Those guys, you can only get access to that identifier if you buy media through them and if you show an ad on Facebook, or across Google’s display network. Ours lets you do the same thing, but we’re doing it across open protocols like email, and SMS, and other channels.

Stephanie:

Ah, got it, and are you able to create like a shopper profile once you have all that data to then know how to maybe personalize your messaging to them, or really cater to that buyer who left?

Chad:

Yeah so, we don’t append a lot of data to the actual identifier currently, mostly it’s just the actual product that someone looked at, just so that we can dynamically include that product inside of the email, or anywhere else that we want to kind of push that product data to. So, we don’t include anything like gender data, or demographic data, anything like that, right now it’s just the email to the identifier. But as we continue to grow the dataset then that starts to get more interesting, and that’s what’s going to enable opening up insights and things like that. But today, we’re really just heavily focused on the use case of kind of winning back those lost people using this unique dataset, and then from there we can start to append additional data to it as we go.

Stephanie:

Got it. It seems like there’d be a lot of new customers coming to you with this new D-to-C movement and a lot of people getting online really quickly now, especially with everything with the pandemic going on, have you seen a surge of customers coming to you and saying like, “Chad, help me. We have a bunch of people now visiting our site, and we actually don’t know where they’re coming from, and how to bring them back.”?

Chad:

Yeah, most of our business is still driven through word of mouth, or through our agency partnerships. So, it’s definitely been an influx this year, we’re growing probably 20 to 30% month over month right now, just given-

Stephanie:

Wow, nice.

Chad:

… everything that’s been going on. So, it’s a pretty exciting time, and it’s awesome to see people looking outside of just Facebook and Google to figure out other ways to monetize.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s awesome, congrats, that’s great numbers, of course. When these brands are coming to you, are there any blind spots that you’re like, “You obviously are missing this.”, that a lot of larger brands just haven’t looked into before?

Chad:

So, larger brands have a harder time kind of doing the up and coming things. Obviously they have a lot more things like infosec and legal that they have to go through. So, my only criticism of big brands is just that they don’t test enough or fast enough, it’s more about just speed of iteration. The space that we’re in, digital commerce, it changes so fast, and by the time you’re doing something that everyone else is doing you have to pay a premium for it. If the bigger brands could just get a little bit earlier in the adoption cycles of things, then they would be able to capture more market share and more of a customer base, and not have to worry so much about the D-to-C guys.

Chad:

But that’s really the biggest difference between the big brands and why D-to-C’s continue to capture more market shares, because they iterate so much faster and they test so much faster. So, my only feedback to big brands would be to figure out how to do it faster given all the internal constraints, and if you can figure that out it’s not about finding one silver bullet, it’s just getting through those iterations a lot faster.

Stephanie:

Yep, yeah, I definitely have seen that in practice before with having to go through a million approvals just to get one website, or one bug fix, or whatever the case may be. I’m thinking though right now might be a great time where brands have kind of broken down some of those barriers, because they had to move fast because of everything with the pandemic going on, they had to quickly stop campaigns, start different ones. I mean, so much has gone on over the past couple months, have you seen that on your end where it’s shifting needs, and shifting a pace that maybe they weren’t ever acting at before?

Chad:

Yeah, there’s really kind of three camps that we’re seeing play out. One is sort of the travel camp, which is at a halt, nothing’s going on, and then at the other end of that is food delivery services, or really any kind of online education, which is just exploding, 400 to 600% over what they were before, and they’re just getting hit so hard that they can’t take on any additional projects for lack of resources, they’re just trying to keep up with what they have. But then there’s kind of this sweet spot in the middle of brands that are growing, maybe they’re growing like 20 to 100% over where they were last year, and they’re starting to hit kind of those Black Friday levels that they were at in Q4. They weren’t really ready for it, but after the first couple months of this, I think people have started to realize this is probably going to maintain, and those are the brands that are really kind of what I see is capturing a bulk of the D-to-C movement right now.

Chad:

The guys at the other end of the spectrum where they’re just getting hit so hard, yeah, they’re winners but all the other competitors are also winners. So, we don’t really know who the winner is out of all the winners yet, but in kind of that middle range, those guys that are competing in the middle, and still getting pretty reasonable growth rates, the ones that are getting another 10 or another 50% growth because they are able to iterate a little faster, those are the ones that are going to come out the big winners in their categories.

Stephanie:

Yep, yeah, completely agree. It’ll definitely be very interesting to see who sticks around, because it seems like a lot of these trends, and I know it’s been debated for the past maybe month of like what’s going to stick, what’s not going to, I think the data’s coming in now that quite a bit of it seems like it’s going to be here for the longterm. Do you have any thoughts on what’s going to last trends wise, and what’s going to maybe revert back to how it was a few months ago?

Chad:

Yeah, I think the … we’ve just been kind of playing it out month to month. I think we’re assuming that half of all the growth is probably going to stick. So, if you were doing $100 last month, and you’re at $200 this month, then your new normal’s probably 150. Maybe that’s conservative or completely wrong, but I don’t know how else you’d model out in this world. I think it’s definitely inflated right now, but I don’t think it’s going to go back to where it was, so we just kind of picked the middle of the road there, and assume that half of it’s probably going to stick.

Stephanie:

Yeah, no, that’s probably a good initial methodology to use. I think one thing that’s always interesting is looking at what’s happening in China. I think I was reading about the Starbucks app how maybe it went to 85% usage from maybe 10% or something like that, and then it dropped back to, I think, like 33%. So, it showed that, like you said, it was inflated at a certain point, but now it was a huge channel shift to more people never probably going back to waiting in line, and ordering at the kiosk, or whatever it may be. Same with Philz here, I ordered online, or through the app a few times, and I’m like, “Why have I never done this before? Why do I walk up and stand in line?” It feels silly now. So yeah, I agree, that’s probably still a bit inflated, but there would be quite a bit of a large shift that maybe not everyone’s anticipating.

Chad:

Yeah, and the lifetime value approach to this, or figuring out how to get retention right is really going to determine the winners out of it. I think a lot of people are doing it now because they have to, so they’re getting exposed to different things like an app, or they’re buying something online for the first time, but if the experience is better than what they did before, they’re going to keep doing it and then you can create the new behavior. But if the experience is worse, then they’re going to sour on it, and then if it’s not any better than what they were doing, they’re going to go back to it.

Chad:

So, part of the onus is on the brand to really own that, and this is definitely a window of opportunity for every brand to get in front of more customers, and to acquire a customer for a little bit less, but the more that they can just focus on creating that great experience the easier it’s going to be. A perfect example, we ordered a couch from Costco, like some outdoor furniture, and they shipped the complete wrong set to us, and it’s still in our driveway after three weeks, and they haven’t replied yet-

Stephanie:

Oh, my gosh.

Chad:

… so it doesn’t make me want to buy from Costco online-

Stephanie:

Oh, no.

Chad:

… instead of just going to Costco. But yeah, any time that those kind of scenarios play out to the customer, they sour to that experience from that brand.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I’m trying to think of ways of how brands can rise above the noise, because I think through all the push notifications I’m getting right now, and some of them are helpful to keep them top of mind, I think it’s like Uber Eats, and DoorDash, they’re sending me coupons, and I’m always seeing notifications pop up that kind of remind me like, “Hey, you did this once, don’t forget about us.” But then a few other brands it seems like they’re silent, and they haven’t thought about maybe how to actually keep me engaged and retain me after all this dies down. How do you think about keeping a customer who maybe wasn’t on that channel before retained to come back for the long haul?

Chad:

Yeah, I think it comes down to trying to create that personal experience and letting them know that you’re always going to have their best interest at heart. I think that’s probably where most people are under-investing right now, they’re over-investing in supply chain or logistics because they have to have those things, but if they really go above and beyond on the customer support side and try to find those ways to have a conversation, it doesn’t always have to be phone, it can be chat, it can just be a really responsive email team, but that’s really where you can separate is … most people kind of understand right now that things are going to be a little bit delayed, and shipments might take a little bit longer, but if you can’t get back to a person in time, and if you’re not letting them know that you’re going to bust down walls to do what’s best for them, then you’re risking losing that person. And I think that’s been proven with Zappos, Amazon, pretty much any one-to-one ecommerce, Chewy, it’s all about the customer experience, and customer support is really what drives lifetime value.

Stephanie:

Yeah, completely agree. It seems like right now is a really good time too where you have the customer is a little empathetic to, like you said, things being delayed. I know I ordered something off Etsy, and it’s like three weeks delayed. However, the person who is selling it has been constantly keeping me updated of like, “Here it’s in San Francisco, here it’s … I see it on the map, I’m so sorry it’s delayed.” But I feel actually okay with it being delayed because she’s been so open about where it is and why it’s delayed and all of that. I think that’s a good point of if a brand gives a good customer experience, even if something’s not going well, that customer could still walk away with feeling good about it and having a good relationship with the brand just because they knew what was happening throughout the whole process.

Stephanie:

So, you’ve been in the world of ecommerce for a really long time, so I feel like it’s good to kind of make sure you answer some high level ecommerce questions since you seem to be a good expert to ask. What’s one thing that you wish online sellers would either start or stop doing?

Chad:

Yeah, I think starting’s probably going go back to just iterations and testing faster. I think it’s … Most ecommerce teams, and the VP of ecommerce and CMOs, they’ll usually set a KPI of like, “Let’s hit 200,000 next month in sales.”, or whatever it is. What they don’t really set is tests, how many tests are we going to run next month, and whether those tests are successful or unsuccessful, being able to really emphasize that, and get through those cycles faster, that’s the fastest way to really kind of have a process that lasts a long time in this space, because everything else is going to change. The channels are going to change, the way we market is going to change.

Chad:

So, the thing I would say do less of is kind of trying to squeeze a little more out of the lemons that you’ve already squeezed. So, if you’ve already done a lot through Google shopping, and you kind of optimized AdWords, then yes, there’s always room for improvement, but if you try to get in front of that next thing that happens, it’s going to pay dividends down the road. So, I would say do more testing and more iterations, and a little bit less optimization on all the things that have already worked once you’re comfortable with those.

Stephanie:

Ooh, I like that, that’s a good answer. It seems like brands right now are pretty hesitant to either do a lot of iterations just because of everything going on, or market in general. Have you also noticed that trend?

Chad:

Yeah, I think that’s starting to loosen up a little bit now. I think a lot of brands just didn’t know what to think early on, and for better or worse it was a great reason for them to go back and renegotiate a lot of things with a lot of people. So, I think they’ve kind of gone through that, probably cut some costs, and now they’re realizing, “Oh, we might not have had to do that, but that was good to do. So now what are we going to do with all this extra stuff that we have?” So, I think people are starting to be a little more open to it now. Marketing budgets, any time there’s a downturn, is always a thing that gets hit pretty hard. But ecommerce is definitely kind of in its own bubble, in its own world right now, so I think it’s going to get a lot more attention that it didn’t get before, and I think it’s going to get a lot more emphasis on growth than it did before.

Stephanie:

Yeah, yeah, I completely agree. Is there anyone that you watch in the field … not in the field, but I guess in the industry that you’re like, “This is a good brand to watch.”, where they stay ahead of trends, they’re always kind of one step ahead of everyone else?

Chad:

I think wish.com is one that probably doesn’t get talked about a whole lot-

Stephanie:

No.

Chad:

… but they do a lot of really interesting things. I think when people think about D-to-C they end up leaning more towards the actual brands like Allbirds and those guys, which do a great job, but I think it’s really interesting to watch the guys like wish.com, and even some of the stuff that Pinterest is doing right now is starting to get pretty interesting, more of kind of the marketplace approach. So, if I’m a D-to-C brand and I’m selling shirts, those are the guys that I’m trying to work with a little bit more.

Stephanie:

Got it. So, what is Wish doing, because I haven’t kept up with them. I downloaded the app back in the day, and it wasn’t the type of things that I would want to maybe buy quality wise, but I heard it has gotten better, so what kind of things are they doing, or Pinterest, that you got your eye on?

Chad:

think they’re realizing that discovery is becoming more of a thing, especially on mobile devices and mobile apps. So, Wish does a lot with kind of endgame ads, and driving media buys directly from publishers. They don’t do a whole lot on Facebook and Google, because it just gets too expensive, but they’ve gotten really good at running kind of the remnant ads, and driving downloads, which they can kind of funnel all the way through to a conversion.

Chad:

So, their conversion path is a little more complicated than just like, “Here’s a Facebook ad, and did they buy a shirt?” But the way that they’re able to monetize that is because they’re focused on a little bit higher funnel conversions like an app download, and they know if they can get the app download, let’s just say half the people are going to end up buying something for $1, because most of the stuff on Wish is $1, and then after that maybe they’ll start to buy more expensive things on there.

Chad:

It kind of goes back to the … there’s a psychology study about a guy that was running as a candidate, and he wanted to get people to put these big signs in front of their yards. So, he went to half the houses and gave them a huge sign and said, “Will you put this in your yard?”, and then he went to the other half of houses and asked them if they would put a small sign, but then he went back a week later and said, “Can I replace that small sign with a big sign?”

Stephanie:

That’s good.

Chad:

Half the people would let him upgrade to the big sign after they got the small sign in place instead of asking for the big thing upfront. So, I think the brands that are really doing a good job right now are focusing more on those type of tactics where you have a small ask for the consumer, and then you sort of build on that over time instead of just asking them to buy a $1,000 mattress.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I like that story about the signs, I’m going to have to use that one in future episodes. Do you think it’s … Is there any reason to be nervous around relying on marketplaces like Wish, or Pinterest, or even Amazon?

Chad:

When they get too much market share that’s when it becomes a problem, because then they can kind of control the ocean. It’s best if there’s a lot of players, usually five plus players, because then you’ve got options and you, as a brand, have a little more negotiating ability, and you’ve got some more leverage. So, this is what happens in the world, everything kind of gets consolidated, and then it starts to break apart again, or it gets unbundled. So, I think we just kind of keep going through those cycles, and then as you can, as a brand, capitalize on those cycles and try to do enough testing where you can figure out what that next shift is going to be, that’s when you really start to hit your strides.

Chad:

A lot of the D-to-C brands that we look at today, and we’re like, “Hey, these guys are awesome.”, it was because they were early on Facebook Ads, and then they diversified outside of that. So, they really got their momentum by finding that market opportunity where there wasn’t a lot of competition, and then capitalizing on it as fast and as hard as they could until it became too competitive, and then they expended it out, now they run TV, and they’re basically a traditional brand like everyone else. So, if you want to be a successful D-to-C brand you have to find one of those market opportunities where you think that a wave is going to happen, and then you just ride the wave as long as you can.

Stephanie:

I like it. So, are there any platforms that you’re paying attention to right now, or that you’ve heard some of your brands are looking into that are maybe more early?

Chad:

TikTok’s probably the biggest one [crosstalk 00:38:46]-

Stephanie:

Yep. A lot of people have brought that up.

Chad:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

But tell me your thoughts on TikTok.

Chad:

So, they still have a lot to figure out with TikTok’s ad platform, but this is always how it happens, they have a huge group of customers, and they’re getting a ton of impressions, but they don’t necessarily have all the data that they need to be able to get the highest CPMs for those impressions. So, right now it’s sort of a … they’re just kind of running brands one-off, and you can get CPMs for pennies and just hope that it does something. TikTok doesn’t have a very robust attribution system as far as like, “When they saw this did they actually convert?”

Chad:

But that’s always how it works. If you can find something that really resonates then it’s going to … you can just maximize it, you can just push it as far as it’ll go, and as far as your supply chain can handle it. So, there’s no clear, “Do this on TikTok and you get this.”, and that’s what makes it appealing. If you can get into a platform like that, run a ton of experiments, and figure it out before the next guy figures it out, then you get the cheapest CPMs, and you get a huge growth rate from it.

Stephanie:

Got it, yeah, that’s really interesting. It’s funny how many people are starting to look into that, but no one’s fully explained it how you did about why you want to find a platform, like you said, that it’s not a, “Do this, and then you will get this result.”, because if it’s like that it’s probably everyone already knows how to do it, and there’s a lot of competition, and it’s expensive.

Chad:

Yeah, I think Gary Vee probably said it best, but marketers kill everything. Once you figure out something works, then every other marketer’s going to do it, and then it’s going to stop working.

Stephanie:

Oh, he is heavy on TikTok, so he’s-

Chad:

Yep.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I’ve gone on there a couple times and seen him all over the place on there. Are there any other platforms like that that you’re looking into?

Chad:

I’ve heard retargeting on Snapchat’s pretty good depending on the audience that you have, if they’re under about age 40 then you can usually get pretty good results on there, who knows what that’s going to keep growing into. There are some D-to-C companies that get pretty good traction on Twitter. I don’t know if either one of those are really kind of growth channels anymore, they’re more like optimization channels either for retargeting, or just figuring out how to get a little bit lower CPM, maybe it’s half the rate of Facebook, but it could still work pretty well.

Chad:

I think what’s going to happen next is that a lot of the publishers are going to start creating their own ad systems for this stuff. I think a lot of the publishers are sitting on a lot of data, and being able to target that data with them directly is going to be enabled by CDPs, or customer data platforms. So, a lot of these guys are starting to build those out now so that they’re less reliant on Facebook and Google’s ad systems for all the ad buys. So, I think that’s where the unbundling is probably going to happen, it’s probably going to happen with the publishers as they start to pull inventory from those guys, and start to figure out their own ad system. And if they can start to figure out lookalike models that work on the publishers sites, then you can cut out some of the middle guys, and then drive down the rates, which makes it more appealing to the D-to-C guys.

Stephanie:

Yeah, ooh, that’s interesting. That’ll definitely be fun to watch, because yeah, I’ve seen a lot of posts right now around people going to the more expensive platforms, maybe like LinkedIn where everyone’s like, “It is not efficient budget wise to try and run ads on maybe LinkedIn.”, but if you run a small subset on there, and then you retarget on Snapchat, that is way cheaper. That’s how a lot of companies seem to be trying to get around the more expensive platforms right now. So, it’ll be fun if more open up that aren’t like that, or you don’t have to go through that many steps to actually find your audience.

Chad:

Yeah, definitely, and I think another one is Tabula, if you haven’t tried Tabula, you probably should, they’ve got lookalike models now and some retargeting, and the CPMs are still pretty low, so they’re definitely one to keep an eye on.

Stephanie:

Oh, I haven’t heard over time that, I’ll have to check that out. So, is there anything that you want to share before I move into the lightning round where I ask a couple questions, and you have to have a quick question answer? Anything around ecommerce, or AddShoppers that’s top of mind that we missed?

Chad:

So, we deal a lot in customer data, so sort of the elephant in the room with us is always upcoming regulations, and how do customers actually want to use their data, or how do we create an environment where we can have trust in the marketing world without violating someone’s personal data. So, we as a company, we launched a brand called SafeOpt, it’s S-A-F-E-O-P-T.com, and SafeOpt is basically the endpoint for shoppers so that they can tap into our data. A lot of companies have created things for CCPA, and GDPR that are limited to just California or just Europe, but we’ve created the SafeOpt brand to be exposed worldwide to anybody that ever wants to get access to their data, and I think that’s how we, as marketers, build trust with consumers is by making everything transparent.

Chad:

I know like my grandparents and in-laws and things like that, they sometimes think if they’re near an Alexa and they say something, Alexa’s picking up on it, and all of a sudden they’re going to start to see ads for those things. As a marketing technologist I know that the amount of data they would have to ingest to do that is pretty much near impossible, and that they’re probably not going to do that. But it’s little things like that, that create this perception of marketing being a bad thing, or marketing being a thing that is like this black box of it knows everything about me. So, I think that we, as marketers, have to continue to push towards versions that create transparency, and versions that give control to people that want control.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. So, for the brands that are just optimizing for the California or European rules, what could you see happening for people who aren’t thinking more holistically? Could they lose access to … maybe if they had a whole customer subset dataset where maybe if they didn’t do things correctly from like a privacy protection area, would they lose that whole entire dataset and couldn’t use it in the future, or what do you see happening if they don’t get ahead of this?

Chad:

I think a lot of it’s more hyped up than what customers actually want to do. We get very few CCPA requests, or GDPR requests. Most people are just curious, they want to know what’s in there. They don’t necessarily want it to go away as long as there’s some sort of benefit for them. Some people do, and you want to purge those people as easily as you can, because you don’t want to violate their trust either. If they want to be completely anonymous that’s up to them, but I would say that’s probably less than one to 5% of all people, and it’s probably the group of people that isn’t the highest lifetime value. But yeah, I would say just focus on creating a … It’s one thing to just do what the regulation requires you to do, and it’s a completely nother thing to do something that creates a good customer experience while accommodating the regulation.

Stephanie:

Yep, yeah, I love that. Cool, all right. Well, with the last couple minutes I was going to move into the lightening round, brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud, are you ready, Chad?

Chad:

Let’s do it.

Stephanie:

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

Chad:

Ooh, I like Joe Rogan.

Stephanie:

Yep.

Chad:

I think he’s pretty much just constant.

Stephanie:

But now you got to go to Spotify for him, right?

Chad:

Yeah, pretty much.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I like him, too. What’s up next on your reading list?

Chad:

I’m reading Great by Choice from Jim Collins right now.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), awesome. You’ll have to go to our Mission Daily podcast, we are having Jim Collins … we had him on the show, but we haven’t published his episode yet, so I think it’s coming out in a couple weeks.

Chad:

That’s awesome.

Stephanie:

So, you’ll have to go over there afterwards. What’s up next on your Netflix queue?

Chad:

I’ve got a eight-year-old and a four-year-old, so I don’t really get a Netflix queue right now. By the time nighttime comes around I’m ready to go to sleep, so I’ve got nothing.

Stephanie:

All right, I like it. What’s up next on your travel destinations when you can travel again?

Chad:

Yeah, we go to Maine every year, this is going to be the first year we missed it in probably like 14 years-

Stephanie:

Oh, no.

Chad:

… so we want to get back to the Maine beach as fast as we can.

Stephanie:

Oh, that sounds fun. Yeah, Maine seems really pretty, I need to check that out. All right, and the last, slightly harder question, what’s one thing that will have the biggest impact on ecommerce in the next year?

Chad:

All right, that’s a trick question. One thing with the biggest impact … I think it’s probably going to be the unbundling of Facebook.

Stephanie:

Tell me more.

Chad:

I think that … So, Facebook is … I would guess that they’ve hit their prime, and that micro-networks are going to start to grab users away from Facebook and push them over to their platforms, and all the various iterations that that’s going to happen in. Mark’s done a great job of kind of buying all the scale and everything that Facebook has now, but I think that without them continuing to innovate there, and with all the things that are happening inside of Facebook right now, I think they kind of hit their peak. I could be totally wrong, people said the same thing about Microsoft and a lot of other brands, but I think that’s probably what’s going to happen next. And then that’s going to drive, for ecommerce, new opportunities like we were just talking about where if you’re early enough on those you’re going to be able to drive huge brand awareness and a lot of sales.

Stephanie:

Cool. Yeah, that’s a great answer. All right, Chad, well this has been a blast, where can people find out more about you and AddShoppers?

Chad:

Yeah, so AddShoppers is A-D-D Shoppers.com, and I’m on Twitter @ChadLedford.

Stephanie:

Awesome. Well, thanks for coming on the show, and we’ll see you next time.

Chad:

All right, thanks, Stephanie.

 

 

 

 

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