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EPISODE 94

Fad or Future: An Inside Look at Shopping at the Edge, Implementations and Where Ecommerce is Headed

With Ashima Sehgal, Software Development Manager at Amazon Music, and Jon Feldman, Senior Marketing Leader for Salesforce Commerce Cloud

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The world of ecommerce is constantly changing — this last year being a prime example. How people shop in 2021 is radically different from how they shopped in early 2020, so forget about thinking about comparing today’s world to a decade ago. Although that is fun to see how much has changed. Now, it’s all about keeping up with your customers, which is why for our first official roundtable episode of Up Next in Commerce we wanted to bring on two people who have been on the cutting edge of the industry for years. 

Ashima Sehgal is a Software Development Manager at Amazon Music and Jon Feldman, a Senior Marketing Leader for Salesforce Commerce Cloud. These two go way back to their days working together on ecommerce implementation at Restoration Hardware, which was a journey in and of itself, and while they remain close friends, they sit on the opposite side of the fence when it comes to certain aspects of the future of ecommerce. We get into all of it in this episode, including discussing whether shopping at the edge is the future of the industry or just a passing fad, and how to get buy-in when selling a new implementation.

Main Takeaways:

  • Make It Easy: When pitching or selling an implementation, the key is to tell the right story and make it hard for the business to say no. Highlight the pain points that their business is facing, and play up how you will solve those problems from beginning to end and be a great partner throughout the process. But one thing to remember, don’t try to tackle everything from the start and be upfront about what is prioritized and what is put on the backburner.
  • Edgy Opinions: There is a lot of debate on the future of shopping at the edge and whether or not it is a fad. Regardless of whether it sticks, businesses should be harnessing the power of meeting customers where they are and selling to them in those places, but the base ecommerce platform should not have to suffer as a result of those efforts.
  • It’s All A Simulation: In the last year especially, there has been a lot of talk about the death of retail and the rise of an ecommerce-only economy. That is a myth. While 2020 and early 2021 undeniably changed the way people shopped, it was more of a blip in the timeline and not a true indicator of the future, which will more likely be a blend of in-person and online experiences.

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

Key Quotes:

“The best way to sell an implementation to a business stakeholder is to highlight their top three pain points — what is it that you’re struggling with the most? …  Velocity is a word businesses love. They want their things out the door, in front of the customers as soon as possible. That’s one. Two, I feel really strongly about instrumentation and collecting metrics. If you don’t know where your customer is and how they’re using your site and what they’re thinking as they’re using your site, it just is pointless in many ways, because you can’t make progress in any specific area if you don’t know how well or bad it’s doing. And then also giving the business a sense that we’re not boiling the ocean — we’re going to go slow, start at point A and take you through to point B and won’t abandon you midway and here’s how it’s going to go and give them an early peek into what an implementation would look like.” –Ashima

“Metrics and exclusivity don’t make sense, but if you connect the funnel that, here’s where the customer started, we can see that we have so much value in this detail page and this is the button they’re clicking the most. And if I improve this experience and reduce the number of clicks, it’s going to get us this much left in the final revenue number. I feel like starting and ending, creating a story out of it has the best impact.” –Ashima

“You have to know your audience, you have to really be able to know what the people want… Any big project is only going to be successful when it’s a mutual success. So understanding how you can talk to somebody and say, ‘We’re going to do this and it’s going to help you this way, and we’re going to need your involvement this way,’…if people don’t have any skin in the game and there’s no clear connection between their participation and some better outcome, they’re not going to want to do it.”–Jon

“Projects that are incrementally spinning off benefits, even if they’re not huge, but reliably doing it, in my experience, get a lot more love and attention than the, ‘There’s going to be this unbelievable bang on Thursday and everything’s going to change,’ [types of projects]. Those big bang projects, I think, can be very traumatic for everybody involved.” –Jon

“Be honest and upfront about what the trade offs are because you’re not going to make everybody happy out of an implementation. Never have I seen that in my career making everybody happy. …prioritization is key to success.” –Ashima

“People are trying to do one thing and one thing really well….These companies who are doing small things less inventory, trying to make the business profitable but doing those really, really well. I feel like that’s a huge switch from ecommerce that Jon and I are used to where I am this shop that is going to sell everything under the sun and tell me how to sell it and that was hard because every product is different and categorization is different. The search has complexity and those were really hard problems that we were solving. I feel like businesses are becoming smarter in deciding where they’re good at and what they should be doing.”–Ashima

“Shopping on the edge is happening. My point is that, as an engineer, as an engineering team, it doesn’t preclude me from building a strong ecommerce site that’s going to be my core platform. I still have to do everything in my power to make that as a strong space, that it can be stable enough to take regular orders. So the engineering effort to chase 50 different places is hard. But I feel like all teams probably first need to focus on making their core platform strong.” –Ashima

“When we think about a core platform, generally, we think about big robust servers sitting in a box somewhere able to handle any trade, but that’s not what every brand’s priority is….if your users are all on TikTok and they’re going to buy through some crazy thing, you’d be bananas to invest in the giant server solution or in a traditional ecommerce solution. You want something that can flexibly follow wherever your customers are and knowing that if you don’t own the store they’re in, that they’re probably going to move around a lot. It’s not going to be TikTok forever. And so you need the ability to service that.” –Jon

“It’s very hard to create emotions online. People don’t have the patience of going through things and things online. This feeling of hunting and finding gold in that aisle, that’s going to stay with us.” -Ashima

Mentions:

Bio:

Ashima Sehgal is a Senior Development Manager at Amazon Music. She has more than 10 years of Engineering Leadership experience, including Tech Lead, Project Management , Solution Design and Development of Ecommerce Projects based on Oracle Commerce(ATG) Platform, Java, Oracle, Couchbase. Prior to joining Amazon, Ashima was a Software Engineering Manager at Restoration Hardware.

 

Jon Feldman is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Salesforce Commerce Cloud. No stranger to ecommerce, Jon’s previous roles include Senior Director of IT eCommerce at Restoration Hardware and Executive Director at AAXIS Commerce. He enjoys taking an active approach in both professional and personal life. When he’s not bridging the gap between technology and business, he enjoys DJing and exercising.

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 Up Next In Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO at Mission.org. Today’s episode is going to be a really fun one. It’s our very first official Roundtable and we have the two perfect guests joining us. First up, we have Ashima Seghal, the software development manager for Amazon and Jon Feldman, a senior manager of Product Marketing at Salesforce. Ashima, Jon, how’s it going?

Ashima:

Awesome

Jon:

How’s it going?

Stephanie:

Good. I’m glad to have you here. So I heard you guys have a little background, you’ve worked together in the past and I wanted to start there so people can know your relationship, like how do you all know each other? And maybe, Ashima, I’ll let you start with that.

Ashima:

Yeah, I feel like Jon and I have worked together forever now. 2008, I moved to the U.S. and I met Jon, the first company I joined. It was a consulting shop, we work together to help people build their ecommerce websites and features on it. And, he’s mentored me through that period to help me understand better where my interest lies. And he’s also helped me grow my management skills and given me opportunities as he grew in the ladder in those organizations, I saw some opportunities come my way as well. And then, we worked together recently in Restoration Hardware. As a director of engineering, he and I worked together in terms of prioritization of what should be done when and working closely with the business, in terms of understanding how to get to the customer, how to go get features quickly to market and so on and so forth. So, a lot of history there to explore.

Stephanie:

And that really talked Jon up. So Jon, is that your recollection as well?

Jon:

No doubt.

Stephanie:

And what was your favorite project that you all worked on together?

Jon:

My success in ecommerce is deeply intertwined with working with Ashima. I mean, we worked very closely, both at Access Group where we did a zillion implementations. And then, when we went to Restoration Hardware, we had a really beautiful relationship and so far, I had the crazy ideas and she had the practical skills to do those. And so, it worked really symbiotically. So I feel like we’ve seen a lot of stuff and built the systems so yeah, really delighted to be sharing this.

Ashima:

Yeah. One funny story, I can tell you was we work for Falabella in Chile, and it was a Spanish speaking Morgan, I didn’t understand as much Spanish so I would speak my English louder thinking they would understand me and Jon would be like, why are you yelling at them? I’m like, I’m not yelling at them. They just don’t understand me. I’m trying. So, that was some happy moments.

Jon:

I remember that. That’s wonderful. That was back at the building of [inaudible] or whatever.

Ashima:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

My gosh, that’s awesome. And Restoration Hardware, that seems like a really good company to work on, especially from an ecommerce perspective, because when I was looking through articles and whatnot, it was talking about how they were resisting moving to ecommerce for a while. So, were you guys working there when that was still undergoing, when they didn’t really want to make that move or were you already past that hurdle, and already ready to start implementing things?

Ashima:

I can go first and then, Jon can add to that. But if Restoration Hardware wants, they don’t want anything to do with digital, they would close their eyes and close that shop today. The reality for them is they want to be beautiful. They want customers to come and touch them and feel them. They want people to experience it and then, love it. And digital is a hindrance to that because digital is very removed. It’s away from the customer, however beautiful an image you put on digital, the fabric is something you can’t feel and that’s what they’re selling. They want you to experience it. Then, going into building restaurants in their business than going into hotels half that is an extension of that. But we were more of an idea shop. We were enablers for them, not that loved and given as much money but still help them run 90% of their business through auto management and so on. So, we were critical to their success, but didn’t get as much love I would say. Jon?

Jon:

No, I totally echo that. I think that Restoration Hardware is at its core, a luxury business and they want that luxury, in person experience. And it’s really interesting because it was fascinating to be there during a time when there was all this transition to digital and everybody’s like, well of course you need these nine things and to have like a real hard no, the experience is fairly impersonal and manual. I think it was really frustrating at the time. But it’s really impacted my thinking since that I challenged the ease shopping at the edge. It’s definitely something we’re seeing. There’s huge growth in it, right? It’s a big area, certainly, Salesforce can’t stop talking about it. But, from a Restoration Hardware standpoint, it’s growth, but is that the growth that’s important for my brand, which really affected how I evaluate some of that stuff.

Ashima:

Right. Another important thing is that we were always asked to do one day in their store, and Jon did it and we did it like all of us employees did it. And it was fascinating, because you could see why that was important. You could see that they wanted customers to come every day, look at a cushion and buy that and keep the relationship going. That is what they thought the bread and butter was. I met this lady who comes in every two, three months and buys a new big thing for her house. She has lots of money.

Ashima:

And that’s the 1% that they’re targeting. And that’s what’s running their business. They don’t care about the 99%. They don’t want to be digital, because they don’t want to be for the masses. They know who their customer is. And that’s what I learned in Restoration Hardware, that they were so aware of who their customer was and they were very successful. Look at the stock price now, right? That’s part because they understand their customer. And we were just like I said, enablers. So, we were a step removed from that painting and so embedded in engineering, but if you talk about business, they were geniuses, I would say.

Jon:

Yeah, no doubt. Gary, he has built an unbelievable business. Restoration Hardware was a very difficult place to be in IT but it is an unbelievable business.

Stephanie:

Were there any big projects that you remember that you felt really strongly about? You’re like this could go through and you just got like, Nope, sorry. We are not doing that.

Ashima:

Many of those.

Stephanie:

Maybe your favorite memory?

Ashima:

Yeah, we brought in so many different awesome implementation options for [mobile] and people just didn’t buy it. It’s like my cat who knows I’m here but pretends I’m not here. It’s like that. Restoration Hardware acknowledges mobile is important but just does not want to invest in our mobile experience. I still say our because I feel like I’m connected to the brand but it is still sucky. Right? So I feel like mobile was the big, big one and why it’s painful is because we brought in so many different ways of getting it in, like let’s do it incrementally. Let’s get one page there. Let’s just get on iOS like, no.

Jon:

One of the strongest members I have is one of the chief merchandising officers who I want to be really clear is a lovely person, I follow her on Instagram, we’re still buddies, is super brave but sitting at one of those tables in the center of innovation and whatever it’s like it’s the big show building and Restoration Hardware is really designed, if you’re a vendor to be like, yo, this is the place, holding up herself and being like, who’s going to buy a couch on this? Right? And I was like, man, we got a long way to go. Technology is not the place these guys are hanging out so-

Ashima:

Right.

Jon:

Man. So, before I get into… I want to dive deep into implementation because I know you both had background in that. But before that, I would love it if Ashima, you can explain maybe your current role at Amazon and then, Jon will go over to you just so everyone knows who we’re talking to.

Ashima:

Yeah. Like I said, I’m software development manager there. I manage teams that run the front page of music app. So my team is a full stack team, which translates into iOS, Android web engineers, as well as Silverstack engineers who come together to build features for browsing, how customers discover music more easily, and highlight the personalization capabilities that we have under the hood and make it more obvious for customer experience improvement.

Stephanie:

Pretty cool. All right and Jon.

Jon:

That’s awesome, probably the highest performing team at Amazon Music, I assume.

Stephanie:

I would think so too.

Jon:

[crosstalk] Ashima took the technology path after leaving Restoration Hardware and I was like, I can’t do another project or I’ll be dead. So I went into marketing and now, I do event content and I do all the flashy video stuff for Salesforce. It’s a ton of fun. Ashima, your worst nightmare, I am paid for thought leadership. People pay to listen to the crazy stuff I say.

Stephanie:

I do want to dive into the implementation piece. I want to hear a bit about, we haven’t actually dove that deep into that side of things on the podcast. Usually, I have brands on big and small, but we don’t go into the weeds there and because you both have seen a lot of implementations in your career, I was hoping you can go through what makes a successful ecommerce implementation, like what does that look like, any case studies, I want to know how someone can make sure to put their best foot forward when thinking about that?

Ashima:

Yeah, in my experience, the best way to sell an implementation to a business stakeholder is to highlight their top three pain points, what is it that you’re struggling with the most like in case of Restoration Hardware, or even my current company, we would ask them, what are the features you wanted to get in in 2019 and still haven’t been able to get out of the door? And how can we increase velocity? Velocity is a word business loves. They want their things out the door, in front of the customers as soon as possible. That’s one. Two, I feel really strongly about instrumentation and collecting metrics. If you don’t know where your customer is and how they’re using your site and what they’re thinking as they’re using your site, it just is pointless in many ways, because you can’t make progress in any specific area, if you don’t know how well or bad it’s doing.

Ashima:

So those two avenues of velocity and instrumentation connect with business a lot. And then, also giving our business a sense that we’re not boiling the ocean, we’re going to go slow, start at point A and take you through to point B and won’t abandon you midway and here’s how it’s going to go and give them an early peek into what an implementation would look like, is again, something that just strikes under with business and I feel like they understand our side of the problem.

Stephanie:

Okay.

Jon:

I couldn’t agree more with agreeing on a language from an IT standpoint with the business and how you can evaluate the success of it. So ahead of time, you know that the business values this and IT values this and is the project to achieving that yes or no, rather than some… because the worst situation is where people start pulling metrics that no one’s ever measured out of the air. And it’s like, in the last week, our average card size is down 82 cents, you can chase that rabbit pretty deep.

Stephanie:

I was just going to ask that about metrics. It seems like at least back in my Google days, everyone was always operating in different metrics. I worked with product teams and [inaudible] teams and they didn’t really see eye to eye with what was important. So, how would you present that to leadership in a way that connects with everyone who’s your manager or manager’s manager, and not just presenting business metrics that don’t make sense to an engineering team who’s like, well, wait, this is actually the bigger infrastructure problem while business is like, but what about my average order size? How do you think about that good balance without overwhelming them with hundreds of metrics?

Ashima:

Right. I feel like I agree with Jon that metrics and exclusivity don’t make sense but if you connect the funnel that, here’s where the customer started, we can see that we have so much value in this detail page and this is the button they’re clicking the most. And if I improve this experience and reduce the number of clicks, it’s going to get us this much left in the final revenue number. I feel like starting and ending, creating a story out of it has the best impact.

Ashima:

If you throw out a caught value number from the middle, maybe that won’t resonate as much but creating a story, creating here’s where we start, here’s where we see most value. And this is where it’s going to end, might have a better-

Jon:

No, totally. And I can think of two reasons why that’s important. One is that it provides a north star for the project as it’s going. These projects are multi month projects with different stakeholders and a lot of movement in them. And so being able to touch back to here are the use cases that we all agreed on that we’re doing I think, is really critical. The other is it’s interesting because it’s table stakes to the level you’re talking about is to have a broad agreement with the business and IT about what it is you’re building full stop and while you’re building it. I can think of implementation we did in Emeryville, which was, super lovely people but they were ultimately trying to save the business by replacing their ecommerce engine and as the business degraded, the energy around like we’re going to get this new site out and all of a sudden the boat’s going to float again. It just doesn’t bear out that way. If you don’t know why you’re building and how that’s building your business, technology alone is not going to do it.

 

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Stephanie:

Yeah. And I love the idea to around having to have a story for it. I don’t think I’ve heard of many, especially, engineering managers speak that language before, which I think is awesome. But I mean, we talk about that in our company all the time about, every podcast needs to be told and the hero’s journey type format, even our show notes, everything needs to be told in the story, it needs to open up loops. I’d be interested to hear how you structure that to connect with other people. How do you think about building a story in a way that’s going to sell leadership and excite them for something that they might not be able to see like the changes that are happening after a year or so?

Ashima:

Yeah, and I might be preaching to the choir. You guys are much better than me in this business but I feel like you have to know your audience. If you’re going into a VP discussion, your story is going to be totally different and if I’m selling it to my senior manager, he’s going to look for what is my [inaudible] AWS. What story are you telling? So knowing your audience, and creating the story based on it is super important. We pay a lot of attention to documentation and story writing. That is why all engineering managers are, well, could have been all of them, rounded part of just knowing what will resonate with that particular team member is super important so that you can bring out just those facts in that conversation and sell that specific point. Jon, I don’t know if you have any-

Jon:

In marketing, we call those personas.

Ashima:

Personas.

Stephanie:

Tell me one more thing, Jon, how do we approach that?

Jon:

How do we approach aligning the stories with a persona? Yeah, I totally agree with Ashima, you have to know your audience, you have to really be able to know what the people want… like any big project like this, it’s only going to be successful when it’s a mutual success. So understanding how you can talk to somebody and say, we’re going to do this and it’s going to help you this way, and we’re going to need your involvement this way, right? Knowing how to have those conversations is the way to, I think, introduce people to these big projects and get them excited about it. But then, also really being focused on, here are the problems that this project solves for you, constituent of this project, because if people don’t have any skin in the game and there’s no clear connection between their participation and some better outcome, they’re not going to want to do it.

Jon:

A lot of it is people have some sort of vision, we came in at the point where people already had a vision that they were going to do something at the ecommerce thing and we filled in the blanks of here’s what your store would actually look like and here’s how your use cases actually match into a finished product. And so, I think she’s really right, that you really have to know what the people who are consuming the information about the project need to hear to feel great about it to feel like it’s a solution to their problems.

Ashima:

The other important thing to remember is the the reviews that go well are the ones where you’re not tackling 10 problems. I feel like you should look at your story again and find the two problems that you’re trying to solve, don’t talk about 20, 10. The ones that are successful are the ones that are saying, here are my two problems, working backwards from it, here’s where we need to start and here are the big milestones we’re going to touch as we work towards it. So working backwards, shortening your storyline to one to two problems that you will solve and never say you will solve everything because you will never be solving everything. There’s just too many things that you could fix.

Ashima:

As an engineer, I could find 1001 things to fix on a particular implementation, on a system. But are you trying to save cost? If cost is your end goal, your story should be just focused on cost. If getting customers specific feature is your goal, that’s what you should be focusing on. If you try to do too many things, the audience gets confused. And then, you don’t get consensus with it. Because they’re like you’re asking too much of me. I can’t make all these decisions today. So, you don’t get good outcomes of this conversation.

Jon:

Totally. I think that that’s a really good insight all the way around when you do an engineering project because it’s… particularly one of the sides, right? You live and die on the success of it. And in a very real way, it sucks but a lot of it is also politics and the visioning or how the perception of your project is in the company, and projects that are incrementally spinning off benefits, even if they’re not huge, but reliably doing it in my experience, get a lot more love and attention than the, there’s going to be this unbelievable bang on Thursday and everything’s going to change, right?

Jon:

Those big bang projects, I think, can be very traumatic for everybody involved. And so, I think the idea that you start with something that works, and then build on top of that, rather than, I got to get all 10 of these perfect at the same time, it’s a much harder climb.

Ashima:

Yeah. The last thing I would say about this is, be honest and upfront about what the trade offs are because you’re not going to make everybody happy out of an implementation. Never have I seen that in my career making everybody happy.

Jon:

Of course.

Ashima:

So, the prioritization is key to success, like I was saying, picking through problems and solving them. But even within that, you’re not going to be able to fix everything, right? If you set the right expectation as a consultant, as an STM or whoever you are in that meeting, and say, this is what I’m going to be able to do in this timeline. And, this is what I’m not going to be able to deliver up front, that might make you lose some customers, but you’ll probably gain more customers out of that and I feel like that’s a more honest conversation, you earn trust.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I was thinking-

Jon:

Yeah, total radical transparency, being upfront. We had a mentor Ashima and I, who would say, hold your client’s feet to the fire. Every time he’ll be like, are you holding their feet to the fire? And that idea that all of these are partnerships and that a strong vendor relationship is not a vendor who is complacent and like, I’ll do whatever you want but is actually holding your feet to the fire and being like, if you don’t do these two things, these outcomes are going to happen. And I’m not going to be injured the same way you are, but you got to get on it.

Stephanie:

Now I know where you got that line from Jon, you pulled that on me last week.

Jon:

Some inside baseball, Stephanie is outstanding at holding her clients feet to the fire. It’s really great, because long ago, I learned that people in business negotiations very rarely say stuff, just to say it, right? There’s always something that happens. And I was like, this is the third time I’ve heard this. It’s consistent every time.

Stephanie:

Yeah. So how has the landscape changed when it comes to maybe either re-platforming or moving to digital for the first time? What were the maybe the two to three biggest problems that were being solved back when you were at Restoration Hardware or before then to now where before maybe people were focused on costs or just simple things? What’s the focus now that people are trying to achieve when going through any kind of digital transformation or re-platforming? What are they looking for now?

Ashima:

I feel like business and engineering are looking for different goals. Engineering is looking to break down the architecture. When Jon and I did initial projects, most of the systems were monolithic. And there was this one giant deployment doing everything and when it broke, everybody cried. We’ve moved on from that world into the new brave world of Azure and AWS, and every other small or big company trying to get into the buzzword cloud but what that really means is that the implementation goal from engineering side has changed. We’ve felt more empowered to make small changes. I don’t want to boil the ocean. I don’t want to switch all of my implementation but I’m going to change this part of this page and just live with it and then, see how it goes.

Ashima:

And that’s a big empowerment factor because then, I’m not stressed about changing everything at once. Right? I can go make micro changes. From business point of view, I feel like the challenge is about understanding younger customers and that’s a totally different challenge from engineering because you have to run more user surveys. When we were doing implementations, I barely saw anybody doing user surveys, and coming back to me with a product doc saying, here’s what I found. This is what people want, and it’s going to be awesome. It was like, I have some intuition. I want to implement incrementality and this is what we should try and do and we’ll see what happens. I feel like business is smarter now. I see many more people doing user research, user deep dives, experience deep dives ahead of time to know why they’re building something, what would resonate, how do I get that 12 year old into my service so they will stay with us until 40 and I have a continuous revenue stream. So, I feel like the business landscape is changing from that point of view. Jon?

Jon:

Yeah, it’s really interesting that you say that. It reminds me of a million years ago, like 2000, 2001. I was at ATG, which became Oracle commerce. And we were at some crazy Swedish auction bidding site and in Stockholm, I remember the CTO comes in and he’s like, are there any features of ATG we haven’t turned on yet because we should turn them on and I was like, that’s bananas. And so, I think that initial like, I just need to be online. I don’t really care what it is because I just need to hold the hill like just to physically be there I think is less important than to Ashima’s point. There’s a lot more intentionality about like, I want to produce this experience for my customers, and it’s tied into a larger journey rather than like, if I’m not selling online.

Jon:

Although, actually, you said two things I was really interested and the first is that, just to say it out loud, right? At Salesforce, it’s not a monolithic, kind of is monolith, right? Like we have micro services or APIs but it’s all behind the curtain. It’s not pure micro services in the way that someone else would but provides it all API stuff. I hear what you’re saying about engineering teams having more ability to make small changes and being able to just get in and do stuff, because stuff is more easily manipulated, because there are more places, I don’t know, from access. But, I think that also comes with a lot more ownership. I mean, you need an engineering team that’s capable of doing those things, or more maintenance in that scenario.

Ashima:

Yeah, absolutely. You can’t microservice the heck out of the system. You have to be intentional about it. But I feel like in the last five years, our overall engineering pool of people have learned this and it’s no longer an anomaly. More people are doing this, it doesn’t matter what language you’re using, you could be on C, C++, or you could be on Golang. I feel like there’s lots of people who have experienced it, learnt it. The bigger companies are now doing it, the Walmarts are all microservice based so we’re no longer in the world where people were just experimenting with this and created hundreds of them. I feel like we’re more intentional now, we’ve learned from our experiences.

Ashima:

The pool of engineers we have now are more experienced. This is not a new thing for them so, I feel like I have seen… maturity is the word I was looking for, that people are becoming mature in their implementation and more intentional about it. It’s no longer monkeying with this new concept like-

Jon:

No, totally. Not only their robust skills in the marketplace, but their design patterns as well that people can fall back on. It’s not like I’m now writing the very first of these ever on the internet.

Ashima:

Right.

Jon:

Awesome. That’s really interesting. I’ve already answered the question.

Ashima:

The other thing I would mention from business side, which I really appreciate is people are trying to do one thing and one thing really well. You could go to the play shoe store, and you see kids shoes, they do that awesome. I love those shoes or the furniture I recently bought. These companies who are doing small things less inventory, trying to make the business profitable but doing those really, really well. I feel like that’s a huge switch from ecommerce that Jon and I are used to where I am this shop that is going to sell everything under the sun and tell me how to sell it and that was hard because every product is different and categorization is different. The search has complexity and those were really hard problems that we were solving. I feel like businesses are becoming smarter in deciding where they’re good at and what they should be doing.

Stephanie:

Yeah. [crosstalk]

Jon:

Shopping at the edge is this big idea, right? That all of a sudden, you can’t keep people within your website, that all of a sudden, those four walls of your website are gone and now people are going to be shopping in marketplaces or on Amazon Music or at the Hertz checkout thing, or you’re renting your car, you can buy whatever, right? And I think it’s a compelling idea and I think it really speaks, Ashima, to what you’re talking about in terms of little engineering things to make it easier. Like all of a sudden, you’re like, now I can really easily ingest orders from the Hertz kiosk. It’s not a big lift to do something like that.

Jon:

And we’re seeing crazy growth and I think it speaks a lot to that engineering crowd into the marketing idea that you’ll have a lot of control agility to be able to do this stuff. So I mean, as a Salesforce employee legitimately, it is something that we’re investing in making happening, but I don’t know, it’ll be interesting to see how brands navigate it. Because certainly, it’s a different model than I’m used to putting on the internet, certainly different than I’m used to using personally, but then, Ashima’s point was like, kids today, right?

 

Stephanie:

I was going to say exactly what you just said, Ashima about how now, it used to be kind of chaotic, because businesses were trying to do everything. But now to think about, it seems like businesses have to be everywhere to sell, consumers want to shop everywhere. I mean, I know Jon mentioned shopping on the edge, that term which we’ve brought up a few times in the show and I want to hear how you guys think about that. Because I talked to quite a few brands who say that consumers are on TikTok, Instagram, Pinterest, they’re over a walmart.com, they’re on Amazon, how do we keep up? We need to be selling everywhere quickly. And maybe Jon, I’ll let you start because I know you have a strong opinion that maybe doesn’t go well with what Ashima thinks?

Jon:

I think Ashima and I naturally falls in different sides of this. I think in addition to brands now not necessarily needing to have a gigantic… you can have a very focused set of skus that are easy to merchandise and understand. You also don’t need to own all the software and stuff that you once did. It’s much easier for a brand to be like, I’m going to exist to sell beanies. They’re going be the greatest beanies in the world and assemble, it’s the software stack for the brand stack, getting back to that, assemble the software in a way that, frankly, a physical brand that has a lot of legacy stuff is going to have a much harder time following you along.

Ashima:

I’m not opposed, or I don’t think it’s something that’s not happening, it is happening. Shopping on the edge is happening. My point is that, as an engineer, as an engineering team, it doesn’t preclude me from building a strong ecommerce site that’s going to be my core platform. I still have to do everything in my power to make that as a strong space, that it can be stable enough to take regular orders. So the engineering effort to chase 50 different places is hard. But I feel like all teams probably first need to focus on making their core platform strong, right? It has to be.

Ashima:

And the second point I would make is only small… only X5 of your customers are coming from the edge shopping and that is why it’s harder to understand exactly how to show your features and what will work for them and that’s where my point about user case studies might work. But the bigger bulk of customers still going to come back into your site to explore other things that you have. So if you have X number of dollars, where would you get the most value out of them? Would it be just a shiny poster on Instagram, and bringing them back to your site or putting in your engineering dollars and making that one click work from Instagram? So that’s where I struggle what would give you the best bang for your buck? Jon.

Jon:

Yeah, no, it’s, I think, a great point, right? When you’re talking, I’m like, man, I definitely want that core platform that’s like robust and could do anything.

Ashima:

Yeah.

Jon:

I think what you’re saying about user stories is ultimately the right answer, though, because when we think about core platform, I think you and I, Ashima, generally, we think about big robust servers sitting in a box somewhere, able to handle any trade, but that’s not what every brand’s priority is particularly something you want so-

Ashima:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Essentially say, they didn’t even know they needed a website. They were just like, if you… I am trying to think, who we had on who is… a more recent episode where they’re like, well, if we’re selling on Instagram or Facebook or wherever it may be, no, it was a bot within Facebook Messenger. And you go on there, it’s a personalized bot and then, they can say, this shirt would fit you perfectly and you can buy within Facebook Messenger. And she was making the point of like, why would you even need a website, if you can sell within Messengers or through Dms which is where the world is moving right now? Who cares what your website looks like [crosstalk]

Jon:

I guess, right back to this Ashima’s point about user stories, right? Which is that ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you have… pure in the server box of ecommerce definition, if your users are all on TikTok and they’re going to buy through some crazy thing, you’d be bananas to invest in the giant server solution or in a traditional ecommerce solution. You want something that can flexibly follow wherever your customers are and knowing that if you don’t own the store they’re in, that they’re probably going to move around a lot, right? It’s not going to be TikTok forever. And so, you need the ability to service that.

Ashima:

Yeah, I feel like I’m a little bit biased being in Amazon, just the pink hat makes me think that I’m not just selling to TikTok customers, I’m thinking big. I have my customers everywhere. So it might be that for your brand, that might work. But for the [inaudible] of the world, they have to have strong presence on their own platform, and TikTok might help. I recently made a big purchase of couches I bought from article.com and I didn’t do the shopping on the edge but what was super helpful was to look at Instagram photos of people using that furniture in their house and how it’s set up.

Ashima:

It enabled me to buy it. So again, I was thinking one of the investment people are making is an AI and augmented reality and so on and I don’t know if it’s worth it because you the Warby Parkers of the world which are sending you the thing at home or the Instagram approach where you’re showing people how your product looks in someone else’s home. I feel like that’s so much more effective to me as a customer that, making this guess of where my dollars should be spent is a hard problem. And I just am not fully convinced that shopping at the edge should be your end goal if you’re a big hump.

Jon:

No, I think even in the most robust Salesforce marketing, we’re definitely not suggesting, turn off your channels, shopping at the edge is the only way. 104% [crosstalk]. don’t even need it anymore. it’s going to be really interesting Ashima because my kids have Amazon accounts, I think. I don’t think they’ve ever bought anything but turns out, all this management of your kids accounts trying to keep them affiliated like Apple , not doing a great job, Amazon, not doing a great job. Anyway, that’s not where they go to shop for stuff. It’s all social. I’m like, I need a cable, I go immediately to Amazon. They will not do that.

Ashima:

That’s a really great point because I feel like there’s a generational gap that I am starting to understand better as my kids are growing up, living my life through them a little bit and that’s a great educational experience for all of us learning, how are people adapting to these new things? What are they connecting with? What are they not connecting with? And so on and so forth. My kids don’t even read books, it’s all audible. I’m like, I’m going to listen to story that I pick so the life is very different than… why I call shopping at the edge, a fad is it’s working really well for this generation but for how many years? The next thing is going to replace it is my opinion and that’s why having a core strong platform will get you over this hump into the next one.

Stephanie:

What do you think could be the next thing now? It’s piqued my interest of like, what do you see coming after shopping at the edge just dies? No one does that anymore. What are they going to be doing next then?

Ashima:

You know-

Ashima:

I have started to see people use Airbnb experiences and Amazon explorer experiences a lot. Just yesterday, a friend of mine said they’ve gifted their friend or their wife a Valentine’s gift of our tour in [inaudible] somewhere in Korea. I’m not saying name right.

Jon:

Korea?

Ashima:

It was awesome. Yeah, it was awesome. Lik this person walked through the markets, who then, they could show them the product. It was a very personalized tour so, I thought that’s like the next big thing. And even an ecommerce opportunity like if you’re buying from here in a shop in Korea and they can ship it to you.How unique is that? I think there’s lots of potential and then, doing online experiences. I’m going to do a cooking class with you and then, I’m going to buy all of these pots and pans and ice from you because it looks awesome. I feel like that could be the next big thing.

Jon:

No doubt because we’ve got this live shopping demo that we do which is that it’s like we have… it’s funny because I thought of you when I narrated. I was like Ashima is going to be like this is never going to happen but it’s that, there’s an Influencer, you can buy stuff on the side so it’s interesting to hear the facts.

Stephanie:

I think that’s the way to go. Yeah, I mean, I think about we had someone saying that they… Andrew from Ideoclick, he teaches or does something with Harvard Business School on ecommerce and stuff. And, she was mentioning they had an influencer from China come in and show what shopping looks like and what her fans do and it was within three minutes, she’d racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales of a Harvard sticker. And they’re like, that’s power.

Jon:

Totally.

Stephanie:

It was new to me. I mean, I get it. I buy shirts and clothes and all this stuff on Instagram just by seeing people I follow I’m like, they remind me of myself and that shirt’s cute. So I guess maybe not top level.

Ashima:

Yeah. Well, I use Airbnb a lot. We go out a lot and one of the things that I really enjoy is that something that that person is using in their house, I sometimes come back and buy it because I’ve experienced it. I’ve worked with it for two, three days and I loved it and I’m like, I should have this fixture or I should have this knife or I should have this other thing that I’ve experienced now, lived with it and I feel like that’s such an awesome way to promote product, where you can touch and feel it and experience at no extra cost, but then, also buy it if you really like it. So, if Airbnb uses it, they should give me some money. But-

Stephanie:

We’ve got affiliate Airbnb, come on.

Jon:

Right? I think you’re really, right and I also think about Twitch because I do some deejaying stuff so I am on Twitch a lot and there’s not only crosssection between product buying but also, in terms of rewarding the influencer directly with cash, that your experience where you’re like, this is great. I love being here and they’re also selling stuff.

Stephanie:

How are you guys thinking of retail then, you talked about touching, feeling things and experiencing that, obviously, retail hasn’t been at the profile lately. How are you guys thinking about that?

Jon:

That’s why all these predictions, they are really a little tricky because this physical digital thing is all screwed up, well, not screwed up but vastly affected by the pandemic and that’s incredibly changed everybody shopping habits. I mean, I bought stuff online, I never buy again and so, if I’m really honest, I am not sure the Twitch DJ stream outlives clubs opening. I’ll talk about how Twitch is going to change the world and it’s all great but I don’t know if people are going to hang out online all day if they can go out once a week.

Stephanie:

Yeah. [inaudible] I am ready to get out.

Jon:

Yeah. Like everybody-

Stephanie:

[crosstalk].

Ashima:

Absolutely.

Jon:

For me, in person is going to be a big trouble. The camera’s not going to get it done anymore.

Ashima:

Yeah. I feel like this is a blip, I feel like retail and in person shopping is going to come back with vengeance once things open up, we all get vaccinated and be safe. I generally think this is a blip. I feel like retail’s going nowhere. It’s going to be back. Restoration Hardware is all ready for it, I’m sure.

Jon:

[crosstalk] Do you think that they’ll shift…yeah, totally. Do you think it’ll shift the market place, right because I agree, I think we are going back to in person something but the Best Buy down the street has evolved so many times. During the pandemic, they were a fulfillment center then, they were a store , then, they were like outside only and now… I just don’t know that it makes sense for Best Buy to have that big retail store and not have a [inaudible]. I agree they’ll come back but, I don’t know if it’s going to be the same.

Ashima:

Yeah. With Fry’s stores closing last week which was a sad event in my household. My husband loves Fry’s.

Jon:

That was really sad. Bad day.

Ashima:

Yeah. You are absolutely, right that it’s going to look different. It’s going to be more personalized as, I think, we discussed before, it will look different. There’s also going to be a disparity, the big guys are going to have money, they’re going to come back the same way, the Targets, the Walmarts, they are going to be the same. The little guy or the medium guy has to make some sense of what will get them through this hump and keep them going. I don’t see a [inaudible] store coming up near me, even if they were planning to, I think those plans will be delayed but I feel like some of it is going to back the same way it was, earlier.

Stephanie:

Yeah. The one thing we keep hearing is more about curation when it comes to stores, that people want to go there for an experience, you go to a pottery ban, you go to West Elm, whatever it maybe and you’re lik, this is my space, this is my style, I come here because I don’t want to think but then, I also think about me and I’m like, I go to a T.J.Maxx and it’s just, all over the place and I thrive there. I’m like, this is my spot. Find something fun and I don’t know what to expect so, I think it just depends on the shopper.

Ashima:

I love that comment because it’s very hard to create emotions online. Pe`ople don’t have the patience of going through things and things online. This feeling of hunting and finding gold in that aisle, that’s going to stay with us, again, there’s a demographic that loves it and that demographic is waiting for being vaccinated to get out there.

Jon:

And you think that digital needle in haystack experience doesn’t exist in the same way it does, I mean, like T.J.Maxx, I found this unbelievable bargain.

Ashima:

It does in some cases, where you guys talk about Instagram and finding something you didn’t even know existed. Sure, it does but not in the same way. Finding the $5 t-shirt that you didn’t know exist in T.J.Maxx is like, that’s new.

Stephanie:

It’s my day. Walking out of T.J.Maxx store snapping, maybe Jon, he looks very confused about our conversation.

Ashima:

Yeah.

Jon:

No, it’s cool. There’s a Ross up here. I know what’s up.

Stephanie:

Ross-

Jon:

Ross is like the… you could get, Ross is a second store, right? It’s just lost inventory so anything can be there.

Stephanie:

Extra lost. No one goes in and doesn’t get lost. All right. Well, Ashima and Jon, this has been an amazing round table. So fun having you guys on. We definitely have to do it again, where can people maybe find out more about your work. Ashima, we’ll start with you. Where can people find more about you?

Ashima:

You can find me on LinkedIn, a lot about me, things I write or things that are relevant to me so LinkedIn is the right place.

Stephanie:

LinkedIn. All right. Jon, what about you? Where can people find out more about your work?

Jon:

Yeah, totally. LinkedIn is a good place or just search for Salesforce and my name. I write a lot of Salesforce stuff, number one blog ever. Number one performing blog.

Stephanie:

Yup and you have an amazing stay conversation for it. Everyone should check it out, methodical trans in there. We’ve referenced it a few times in our newsletter and it is very helpful for anyone who’s either trying to start an ecommerce shop or trying to transform into a big brand. So, thank you guys so much for doing this show and we will see you next time.

Ashima:

Thank you very much

Jon:

Thank you.

Ashima:

Take care, Stephanie.

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