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EPISODE 11

The Importance of a Frictionless Ecommerce Experience

With Christiane Lemieux, the Founder of The Inside

When Christiane Lemieux was looking to sell her first company, she knew she wanted to find a buyer that understood that the future revolved around Ecommerce. She found that buyer in Wayfair and for the next few years, she worked with the company to cultivate as much knowledge about the eComm space as possible before venturing out on her own once more. Today. Christiane is the founder of The Inside and the author of numerous books, including her newest called Frictionless. The idea of her new company and the book revolves around the concept that in order to have success in the world of Ecommerce, you need to give your customers an experience that is so easy and efficient, that they never have a reason not to buy. On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Christiane explains why that frictionless experience is so important, and how to make it a reality.

Key Takeaways:

  • Thanks to innovators like Bezos and Jobs, the world shops in a different need-it-now way. As a result, the biggest challenge Ecommerce platforms face is creating a frictionless experience
  • By leveraging the design community to be consultants, The Inside is targeting customers who can buy with more frequency and create predictable, repeatable conversions
  • Getting online quickly and the businesses who have a digital-first strategy are successful

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

Key Quotes:

“I really believed that all businesses were going to, at some point, in the near term or distant future, transition to Ecommerce. And what I wanted to figure out was, who could I either partner with or sell to that would understand that idea and philosophy?… When I walked into Wayfair’s office in Boston with 1,800 people and 800 engineers, I realized that we were really aligned from a conceptual point of view in terms of what the future of direct-to-consumer looked like.”

“[Wayfair] taught me so much about, first of all, UX, customer experience, and then the logistics and the profound necessity to really think about delivery in a way that is beyond just parcel delivery or white glove delivery. They really think about it from a 360 perspective all the way from margin protection to really flawless customer experience. Some of the things that you don’t necessarily learn when you’re building a design brand, I learned at Wayfair, so I’m forever thankful.”

“I wanted to take the ideas of brand and design but apply the Wayfair rigor of digital thought around how I executed this next brand, some of the things like having no inventory, having an exclusive product, having a 3D studio to do the photography, dropship, largely drop ship the product. So, instead of sending it through a more expensive white glove delivery, have it lightly assembled so that UPS or FedEx could do the delivery. And so, all of these things add up to really beautiful customer service, exclusive custom product to the customer, and then margin improvements around delivery, around no inventory, around a decreased cost in photo assets.”

“[Jeff] Bezos changed the way we shop, and he made it frictionless for us, and he keeps going beyond. Because if you think about Amazon Prime, he made everything accessible to us in two days. I mean, not necessarily right now, but generally speaking, and that just removes the friction from everything. And philosophically, it’s given us time back in our lives.”

“There are ways to hack almost anything. The only thing we can’t hack is time. And so, the more frictionless your experiences are across every single thing you need to do every day from like your healthcare all the way down to your grocery shopping, the more of this found time essentially you get back or digital time.”

 “We look at this every day in every way. I don’t think we’ve made it frictionless yet but we’re trying to. And I think that for home furnishings, in some ways, we have to act as your decorating friend, as well as your place to buy the product. And so to the extent we can make your choices easier — with the quiz or you can text us or email us or set up an appointment for a design consultation with us — if we can help you be your trusted friend and design advisor, that I think is one of the tools to a frictionless experience.”

“Some of the things we look at ar bounce rate. One of the things that people are looking at now is, they call it dwell time, how long people spend on each page and how in-depth they go. We look at who designs a piece of furniture, and then transacts, and then who abandons the cart and why. And so, we’re trying to finesse the experience all the time so that people feel they’re not stuck with paralysis of choice. Because I think the thing about customizing is that, especially if there’s 16,000 different iterations you can possibly make, you might get paralyzed by choice.”

“Really, our job, especially on a site level, is to make it so easy that why wouldn’t you buy it? And to the extent we can quell your paralysis of choice. That’s really where we’re focused right now, is really helping you design the space of your dreams digitally.”

“The interesting thing about the home furnishings business is that there are two distinct consumers, there is the DTCs, so the consumer you think about who wants to buy an upholstered headboard and goes on and chooses their fabric, and executes on that, but there’s also the trade. And so, our particular category has interior designers, and many of them who, at the end of the day, are a very big part of this business, and a very, very important customer to anybody in the home furnishings business because they are buying on behalf of multiple people. And if you make the whole experience frictionless for them, it’s not just one bed every five years, it could be five beds every month.”

“I sat and thought what is the underlying differentiator? What makes something win or something lose? What is it? What’s the winner or loser? And what I realized was that it was the frictionless experience that allowed somebody to get into a, it could be a crowded category, but if you can do it in the least invasive way, you will win because all people want is as few clicks as possible to get exactly what they want with the commerce table stakes and have it delivered to their home and they don’t want somebody calling them up with a delivery time. They don’t want 37 phone calls. They don’t want a helpline where nobody helps them. When you get into those scenarios, you’re like, ‘I’m not doing this. I’m never coming back.’”

“People would think “we’re going back to normal,” I think normal has changed. And I firmly believe that the companies that weren’t thinking digitally are thinking digitally very seriously now…. If your head wasn’t in the sand, and you were iterating, or at least pivoting during this, it’s going to serve you really well on the other side.”

Bio:

Christiane Lemieux is founder and CEO of The Inside, a direct-to-consumer Home Furnishings Brand, and also operates and designs her namesake brand Lemieux et Cie. She is the author of Undecorate and The Finer Things, and is a frequent contributor to Architectural Digest, Apartment Therapy, and other design media. Prior to founding The Inside, Christiane was the Co-Founder of Cloth & Company and the Founder of DwellStudio. Wayfair, the world’s largest online home furnishings retailer, purchased DwellStudio in 2013. Christiane served as the Executive Creative Director of Wayfair until 2016. She lives in New York City.

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:

Christiane, welcome to the show. How’s it going?

Christiane:

Hey. It’s going really well, Stephanie. How are you doing?

Stephanie:

Doing great. So, for all of our listeners, I want you to pronounce your own name since I did not do it this time.

Christiane:

My name is Christiane Lemieux. It’s very French and a huge mouthful, so I completely give you a pass on that.

Stephanie:

Thank you for doing that, so I did not have to. So, you are the founder and CEO of The Inside, a direct-to-consumer home furnishing brand. I love to hear a little bit about that and how you started it?

Christiane:

Well, this is my second foray into the world of home furnishings. I started my first company, it was called DwellStudio, out of college. I went to university at Parsons School of Design here in New York. And I started a home furnishings brand from my New York apartment. 13 years later, I sold it to Wayfair. And speaking of what’s up next in commerce and the digital landscape, part of the reason that I did that was that… Oh, you know what, I should cut my nail Hold on. Sorry. Let me just cut this so it doesn’t ding on you.

Stephanie:

Okay.

Christiane:

Sorry, I’ll go back to Wayfair. So, I sold my first company to Wayfair, and part of the reason that I did that was that I got to be entrepreneurial fork in the road where I had never really raised money before. And I realized that if I was going to continue down, the growth trajectory that I was on, it would involve me opening more than the one store I had in New York. It would involve me raising money for the first time, substantial amounts of money for the first time, to roll out stores.

Christiane:

And at the end of the day, I sat and thought for a very long time about the business model that I was on, that was growing, that I had started, and I realized that it didn’t feel right to me. I really believed that all businesses were going to, at some point, in the near term or distant future, transition to eCommerce. And what I wanted to figure out was, who could I either partner with or sell to that would understand that idea and philosophy?

Christiane:

And so, I hired an investment bank in New York and they actually had me meet with a whole bunch of home furnishings companies, most of them, you would probably know. But when I walked into Wayfair’s office in Boston with 1,800 people and 800 engineers, I realized that we were really aligned from a conceptual point of view in terms of what the future of DTC look like, direct-to-consumer look like. And so, it wasn’t the best offer financially but, to me, it was the best offer intellectually and philosophically. So, I sold my business to Wayfair in 2013.

Christiane:

And then, I went on their executive committee. I mean to say that it was a learning would be doing a disservice. It was like a full immersion into eCommerce with one of the best teams in the country, and by far, the best team in my particular category. And so, I learned so much from them.

Christiane:

And as I was sitting there, I was like, “What would make me start another business? What in the world after building one from the ground up and selling it, what would I do?” And so, I realized that if I could take my first business, which is really design-first and brand-first, and then merge that into what I had learned at Wayfair from a digital commerce-first perspective, that I might be crazy enough to do it again. And that’s what I did.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s amazing. So, what were the key learnings that you took away from Wayfair, and maybe the pitfalls that you saw where you’re like, “Oh, I should avoid that.”? Because when I was looking into Wayfair, I think they’re still very unprofitable. And so, did you see things like that and you’re like, “Oh, if you just adjusted this part of the model or this part of logistics, I wouldn’t have to worry about that.”? Or what kind of things do you take away from that experience?

Christiane:

So, I would say there’s almost nothing wrong with Wayfair. And I’m saying that, I mean that honestly. First of all, Niraj, their CEO is one of the smartest digital executives in the country, if not the world. I think that he’s very much following the taking market share approach pioneered by Bezos, of course. And so, I think we’re just very much on the same path. He will own the furniture category online and he will very quickly, if not even now. I mean, the last quarter was insane for them because now we’re all sheltering at home and [inaudible] in a very different way than we did maybe nine weeks ago. But he’ll take market share and he will be very profitable, and he’ll own furnishings online.

Christiane:

There are other companies that have pursued that line of growth that weren’t necessarily as equipped as he is. And he’s equipped to do that. So, as relevant as that is in the post-WeWork discussion, I think in his particular case, he’s already got the groundwork done to be able to do that and do it fairly flawlessly. I think for me-

Stephanie:

I mean, definitely still… The first company that comes to mind when I do think about buying furniture or looking for anything, even above Amazon and Walmart… I mean, they’re the first ones I would go to so I agree.

Christiane:

Also, because they’ve got the best selection and they’ve also got the back-end figured out. And so, they taught me things like overpack centers. I was like, “What is an overpack center?” And so, they take-

Christiane:

They have overpack centers where they take in the goods from the manufacturers and they overpack them, so they don’t break. And by diminishing the chance of something being damaged, not only do they make the customer experience better, which is really necessary in this day and age, but they also ensure that their margins don’t get completely depleted by goods that arrive damaged. And so, it’s not a crazy thing to do, but at the end of the day, it’s totally crucial.

Christiane:

So, I mean, they taught me so much about, first of all, UX, customer experience, and then the logistics and the profound necessity to really think about delivery in a way that is beyond just parcel delivery or white glove delivery. They really think about it from a 360 perspective all the way from margin protection to a really flawless customer experience. Some of the things that you don’t necessarily learn when you’re building a design brand, I learned at Wayfair, so I’m forever thankful.

Christiane:

The difference is that they’re like Amazon, they’re a marketplace. And so largely, they don’t design and produce their own SKUs or their own products. And they don’t need to because their value prop is that in COVID-19 when every single person in the country, all of a sudden, needed some kind of a home office and/or home school. I mean, you went right to Wayfair and you ordered a desk and they came to you perfectly, right?

Christiane:

I wanted to take the ideas of brand and design but apply the Wayfair rigor of digital thought around how I executed this next brand, some of the things like having no inventory, having exclusive product, having a 3D studio to do the photography, dropship, largely dropship the product. So, instead of sending it through a more expensive white glove delivery, have it lightly assembled so that UPS or FedEx could do the delivery. And so, all of these things add up to really beautiful customer service, exclusive custom product to the customer, and then margin improvements around delivery, around no inventory, around a decreased cost in photo assets.

Christiane:

So, what I wanted to do is I challenged myself to think of all of the substantial problems with a home furnishings business, solve them first, and then start the business. And so, that’s how I did it this time.

Stephanie:

That’s super smart. So, how long has The Inside been operating and how’s it doing today with everything going on?

Christiane:

So, I left Wayfair in 2016 and I called up my favorite supplier. She went into business with me on a B2B beta way. And so, we did that for close to two years. And then, I met the extraordinary, Kirsten Green of Forerunner, and she said to me, “This is really interesting, Christiane. Why don’t I write you a pre-seat check and you go figure it out.”

Christiane:

And so, we came out of beta in July of 18th. We’re a year and a half in, and it’s going very well. It’s going very well. In this pandemic, I did not have the category breath that Wayfair has which made this a very interesting business time for them, but enough of a product breath that I think that we’re helping people improve their homes on a daily basis right now, which is what we set out to do.

Christiane:

And listen, I feel extraordinarily lucky that it’s a digital-first company. I don’t have stores, I have a very lean staff. We were working from a work kosher, which we closed down at the end of April. So, we are going to be dispersed until, at least, the beginning of 2021, so we won’t have an office. We can do all of this virtually. We hold no inventory, so we have no warehouses. Essentially, we had to let go two people just to preserve the business. But we’ve come through this, I think, as well as you can. My whole MO right now is making sure that nobody loses a job, really, because that’s the scariest part of all of this is the unemployment numbers. I mean, that just keeps me up at night.

Stephanie:

I know. Yeah, seeing how high they’re trending is definitely that’s scary. Was there any big digital pivots you had to make or that you made quickly when COVID-19 started, or right now?

Christiane:

Well, I think that what we did… Apparently, from my digital marketing, either cohort or people that we work with, there are three DTC areas that have done very well in this particular pandemic, I mean, the Starling pandemic, so this pandemic, but it’s athleisure, home, and alcohol. So, those three things had extraordinary growth. We happen to be in one of those categories.

Christiane:

I think one of the things that we did, which I think, anybody in a growth category in this particular time, we stayed the course with marketing. So, a lot of people caught their marketing. And what we’re seeing is customer acquisition costs have come down, the cost for all of these paid marketing initiatives across all the platforms have come down. And so, we really leaned into that.

Christiane:

The other interesting thing that’s sort of trend that’s come out of this is not the digital marketing, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but a lot of people are doing direct mail. Direct mail a huge resurgence obviously, depending on the category you’re in, but people are home, and they’re reading their direct mail.

Stephanie:

You shifted into that space of it?

Christiane:

We’re looking into it now.

Stephanie:

Cool. Yeah, that’s great. When you were first building The Inside, were there certain key technologies that you leaned on to build up the website, or are there any favorites that you utilize? I mean, I saw you have quizzes on the website, which seemed amazing. Is there anything specific where you’re like, “This is my favorite piece of tech we use or a plug-in how we build our website.” Any details around that?

Christiane:

Well, it’s funny, this is our third iteration of our website.

Christiane:

So, we actually had to build our site from the ground up, which has its challenges.

Christiane:

One of the things that happened to us is we were on a really new version of Java, and Google couldn’t index our site in the beginning so we had to do all kinds of back-end hacks to fix that. But for like three weeks, we’re like, “Why is our traffic so bad?” And then, we realized that we weren’t showing up at all.

Stephanie:

That’s not great.

Christiane:

No, it’s so horrible. So, just all these learnings along the way have been really interesting. So, because of the customizable aspect of our business, we had to build our own site from the bottom up, and that’s given us the ability to keep growing our SKU count and keep allowing people to customize each and every one of the pieces.

Christiane:

I think that there’s plug-ins. Everybody loves the Affirm or any kind of extended payment plan. There are things that are so unbelievable like Apple Pay and Amazon Wallet and all these things. If you don’t have them, I mean, you’re putting yourself at a huge disadvantage. I mean, they’re not necessarily plug-ins, they’re more payment tools.

Christiane:

I think the name of the game now is, it goes right to the core of my book, is making the experience frictionless. I mean, this is philosophical, but I think if frictionless extends even beyond that digital aspect of our lives, people are used to getting what they want, when they want, at the price they want, with the look they want, because of…

Christiane:

And I would say that Bezos might be the grandfather or the father of the frictionless experience. I mean, he changed the way we consume, and buying, shopping, whatever, fundamentally, in the same way that Steve Jobs changed the way we think about media. I mean, Bezos changed the way we shop, and he made it frictionless for us, and he keeps going beyond. Because if you think about Amazon Prime, he made everything accessible to us in two days. I mean, not necessarily right now, but generally speaking, and that just removes the friction from everything.

Christiane:

And philosophically, it’s given us time back in our lives, right? Especially, let’s think about others, me as a mom, I never have to take two hours of my day to go to the toy store to get the Lego for my son, William’s friend, Gray’s birthday party ever. It gets delivered to my house and it takes me no time. And that time that I get back, I mean, pre-COVID, I think the digital generation looks at time in a completely different way and the generation that preceded that, right?

Stephanie:

I absolutely agree.

Christiane:

Yeah, because there is all of this found time, and I think the digital generation also understands that it is the only non-renewable resource, right? If you have money, you can throw it on almost anything, right? I mean, you can have a jab for a trainer or whatever, or if you’re clever and you have to be resourceful like me, you can find, I don’t know, a meal delivery service or the stretch class on Mindbody, or whatever it is you’re looking for. There’s ways to hack almost anything. The only thing we can’t hack is time.

Christiane:

And so, the more frictionless your experiences are across every single thing you need to do every day from like your healthcare all the way down to your grocery shopping, the more of this found time essentially you get back or digital time.

Christiane:

Pre-COVID, the people were applying that to travel, experience, I don’t know, wellness, self-care, working out, all these things. Because it’s the first generation that doesn’t have to wait in line to get their license renewed at the DMV.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I mean, that’s definitely a very different generation now who knows nonsense and they’re not going to put up with the old way of doing things. How did you think about designing your website and your customer journey to create that frictionless experience? I mean, like I said earlier, I love seeing the quiz. I actually took it to see what kind of bedframe I should buy. How did you think about designing things to make it easy for people to buy? Especially furniture, that’s kind of tricky. People are usually used to testing it out.

Christiane:

They’re used to testing it out. So, my caveat is the following, that is definitely a work in progress. We look at this every day in every way, I don’t think we’ve made it frictionless yet but we’re trying to. And I think that for home furnishings, in some ways, we have to act as your decorating friend, as well as your place to buy the product. And so, to the extent, we can make your choices easier, so the quiz or you can text us or email us or set up an appointment for a design consultation with us. If we can help you be your trusted friend and design advisor, that I think is one of the tools to a frictionless experience.

Christiane:

Like every other eCommerce site, there’s table stakes things like, “If you don’t like it, you can return it,” and you have 30 days to return it. Because you know what, that’s just the name of the game today. And also, we have to ship it to you for free because that’s also the name of the game today.

Christiane:

So, there are things that have been institutionalized, I’d say, by Amazon first and then adopted by everybody else that are just table stakes. And so, we started out with those and that was, I think, like 1.0 of frictionlessness online. And then the companies that are really forward thinking are the ones that could build on that on a near constant basis. So, yeah, that’s very much where we are philosophically and trying to make the UX better every day.

Stephanie:

Got it. What kind of metrics are you focusing on when you’re making all these iterations and trying to make the experience even better? Are there certain things you pay attention to or that you sync up with your team every week and go over?

Christiane:

A lot of it is Google Analytics and then we look at the Facebook metrics for the paid marketing, all of these things. But some of the things we look at are, obviously, like the really basic ones like bounce rate. One of the things that people are looking at now is, they call it dwell time, how long people spend on each page and how in-depth they go. So, we look at that.

Christiane:

We look at who designs a piece of furniture, and then transacts, and then who abandons the cart and why. And so, we’re trying to finesse the experience all the time so that people feel they’re not stuck with paralysis of choice. Because I think the thing about customizing is that, especially if there’s 16,000 different iterations you can possibly make, you might get paralyzed by choice.

Christiane:

So, the quiz is very helpful there because you may have learned that you like coastal mid-century, your favorite color is blue, here are three patterns that you like that are foolproof for you. And then, you can go from there. You can iterate from there. So, you can choose a brass leg or wood leg or whatever that works for the rest of your interior. But at least you’ve narrowed down to the extent you can, algorithmically what you like. And so I think that, I mean, all of those things are super important.

Stephanie:

And I think less choices is definitely key. Especially I’ve seen a model where they’re populating an entire room for you of like, “Here’s the whole entire bundle, so you don’t even have to think about it. You can swap things in.” And like you said, having someone that you can text is so super important, where you feel like you have a friend where you’re like, “How would this look? What do you think about this? Show me something that’s similar.” I think all of those are really strategic.

Stephanie:

But when it comes to some of those metrics, how do you… For dwell time, for instance, I think any of these might lead you down the wrong path based on what’s happening right now with the current environment where I heard that, well, times are up, but then conversions aren’t maybe up at the same rate. Is there any metrics where you’re like, “Oh, they might be reading into that the wrong way, and we shouldn’t maybe take a quick action based on that right now.”

Christiane:

I think that’s right. I think people are… Because we have so much time, and content looks different from one person to the other, the content they like. So, if you’re in the middle of decorating your house, you might be on all these sites, and because you have, all of a sudden, more disposable time at your fingertips than you have in the past. So, I think dwell time is important, but add-to-cart is really the thing you want to see, and then the final conversion.

Christiane:

So, we look at where people are hanging out from a GA perspective and then look at the add-to-cart and then look at the conversion on that add-to-cart. Of course, for us, the metrics that we want to focus on are getting from add-to-carts to conversion to the extent we can, and so trying to make the PDP and the the checkout page as flawless as and as inviting as possible to really get people to transact.

Christiane:

I mean, in front of that is as much inspiration as we can possibly allow people to consume, whether it’s through Instagram or through Facebook Ads or through whatever means to get them inspired. But really, our job, especially on a site level, is to make it so easy that why wouldn’t you buy it? And to the extent we can quell your paralysis of choice. That’s really where we’re focused right now, is really helping you design the space of your dreams digitally.

Stephanie:

Very cool. So, you just mentioned Instagram. I saw that you launched an Instagram Live series called Go Inside. Can you speak a bit about how you’re utilizing that to potentially drive sales and the strategy behind that, and ROI that you’ve seen on that content or how you measure that?

Christiane:

Well, I think, for us, part of this… The interesting thing about the home furnishings business is that there are two distinct consumers, there is the DTCs, so the consumer you think about who wants to buy an upholstered headboard and goes on and chooses their fabric, and executes on that, but there’s also the trade.

Christiane:

And so, our particular category has interior designers, and many of them who, at the end of the day, are a very big part of this business, and a very, very important customer to anybody in the home furnishings business because they are buying on behalf of multiple people. And if you make the whole experience frictionless for them, it’s not just one bed every five years, it could be five beds every month.

Christiane:

And so, I think part of our Instagram strategy is really letting the rest of our community meet the interior designers that really work with our product, not only so that they can see what this community does, but also, at the end of the day, we would love our interior designers to get business and to really think about this, not only as a home furnishing company, but as a community that we’re growing for people who love design and who want to, as we call it, live beyond the beige. And for us, that’s really people who want to personalize their spaces, and think about their spaces as something that is theirs and that is customizable, in a way that’s frictionless. And so, by going live with our interior designers, we’re introducing the world to this great community of people who can service that.

Christiane:

A little early for ROI right now, but if we circle back in a little bit of time, I can let you know, because data has to have like a decent subset, right? So, we just launched a home design 30-minute consultation, and that’s really helpful in terms of conversion. Because if people get you on the on the line and walking through their spaces and really helping them, chances are it’s the kind of help that they’re looking for. So, we find that useful.

Stephanie:

Well, how do you think about scalability when it comes to having those one-on-one interactions with the customer and consulting them on the products and whatnot?

Christiane:

Well, that’s where these two things dovetail together, right? And so, if we build a really beautiful, robust design community that is local… Because every different area has a different design philosophy. In California, you can live indoor or outdoor, in New York, a lot less. And so, if I can introduce you to a design in your area via Instagram Live, and he or she is showing off some of the projects they’ve done, there’s a good chance that you will then reach out to them and let them know that you were introduced to their work on The Inside.

Christiane:

And the rest, I think, is just great for everybody involved. I mean, that’s my business philosophy. I love a win-win-win, so the customer wins there, the designer wins there, and we win there not just because of a sale, but because we’ve made somebody’s home and life better.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s a really good strategy. And this thought that you are partnering with the designers and having them do the consultation, that’s super smart, where you don’t really have to worry too much about hiring a bunch of people and customer support to do it who don’t really have good design principles probably.

Christiane:

Yup. That’s how we’ll scale. So, we’re just at the inception of this, but you get it, right? So, they can meet Maureen Stevens on Thursday night or tomorrow night, and if she’s in New Orleans and if they love her design, they can call her up. And when she finds out that they were sent to her via The Inside, then she’ll most likely, I mean, hopefully, use one of our upholstered beds in her next project. But even if she doesn’t, if somebody gets a better interior because of something we did along the way, then I feel pretty good about that.

Stephanie:

These micro-influencers and designers who are helping with these consultations, are they starting to request metrics and wanting to see data and things that your team will have to start supporting eventually?

Christiane:

I hope so, but not yet. I hope that… Listen, that’s part of that frictionless post-COVID change. I think everybody is going to need data, digitally-driven data, so that they understand exactly what the reach is beyond this traditional business models that they’ve had prior to all this.

Stephanie:

Yup. I think that because of COVID, a lot of people are definitely putting on their entrepreneurial hats and they’re going to want to see those metrics. And I think it’d be really interesting to have some type of leaderboard that would show which designer is doing the best and who’s helping customers, and just gamify it a bit.

Christiane:

That’d be so much fun. It’s almost like you’re at, whatever it is, flywheel and who’s biking the fastest.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I know. Just implement that tomorrow. Easy. So, are you-

Christiane:

Stephanie, I’m going to take a note right here and actually do that. That’s pretty interesting.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think that’s where a lot of the world is going when it comes to gamifying certain purchases and making it more fun. Well, when it comes to gamifying, are there any pieces of tech that you’re thinking about? I was just playing around with IKEA’s app where they have AR that you can put the product in your room, which was really fun to play with. I was just putting full-on dressers on top of the bed and just being silly with it. But have you thought about doing that since your products are so unique, it seems like it would be really good to get them in the room where people are trying to design it?

Christiane:

Absolutely, yes. And in fact, we were talking to a company in Palo Alto, who was on the forefront of this, probably right around the corner from you.

Stephanie:

Oh, we’re neighbors.

Christiane:

Yeah. And they are pioneering this incredible drag and drop. So essentially, you can take a picture of your room, and then you can drag and drop furniture into it. It’s so well done. It’s so well done that they can tell where your window is and they can have a shadow underneath the furniture so that it looks perfectly real. Interestingly, a lot of the technology that people use for gaming is really applicable here. So, it can create a really unique and kind of true-to-life experience.

Christiane:

So, yes, we’re looking to this all the time. I think that as a brand spanking new startup, we’re trying to make sure the fundamentals are frictionless before we add all kinds of layers of complexity to the customer experience. So, we want to make sure that it’s really easy for you right now to go in and say like, “I love the modern platform bed and I like it in polka dot. I’m going to transact,” versus… Because I think that we got to make sure the customers where we are in terms of technology, too. So, I think we’re taking baby steps there, but the answer is absolutely yes. And all of that technology is fascinating to me.

Stephanie:

Yeah, completely agree. I’m definitely watching that market closely and it seems like people are leaning heavily in, but agree that until you understand how you want the customer journey to work and the product to work and everything, I think…

Stephanie:

We were just talking with someone from Lenovo who’s saying that after years of being in business, you have to just start killing a bunch of things because too many things build up and it starts worsening the customer experience. So, it’s probably good to figure everything out first before pulling in a bunch of new trendy tools.

Christiane:

Yeah. We need to have a really beautiful conversion rate indicating to us that the customer journey is frictionless before we can start throwing pretty complex essentially gaming ideas at them.

Stephanie:

Yup. And it would seem like you would need a pretty large catalog as well if you’re going to develop an entire AR app for your company. I mean, people probably slip through placing furniture. I mean, at least that’s what I was doing. I was like, bang, bang, bang, bang. I was putting in front of everywhere. It seems like I would need a pretty large catalog for that, too.

Christiane:

I think that’s right. I think that’s absolutely right. And so, somebody like IKEA touches every part of your house. I mean, we’re too young to have that kind of SKU count. It has to be in every single category, right? You can’t just have the dining room chairs, you have to have the dining room table too. So, we’ll get there. We’re not there today. And so, I think that you’re right. That’s a very good point. And so, IKEA is a layup for them. It’s a layup for Wayfair as well.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Are there any specific follow ups you do with your customers to keep them coming back, or ways that you’re acquiring new customers that is maybe unique?

Christiane:

What’s great about our category is that design is a process, right? I mean, even if you hire an interior designer, it usually takes quite a while. And also, people are thinking about their homes in a different way than they used to. It’s all these things where it’s done, you live in it, and that’s it. I think people are constantly upgrading or adding in seasonal elements. And so, once we know you, Stephanie, are coastal mid-century from your quiz, we can keep sending you design ideas that-

Stephanie:

Did you just see my quiz?

Christiane:

No. Is that-

Stephanie:

That’s what I was. I’m like, “Did you see me?”

Christiane:

But I have a feeling. Well, first of all, I can see your personal file from our Zoom earlier today, so I-

Stephanie:

You mean, hoodie and sweatshirt? Just kidding.

Christiane:

I also know where you are. I know how old you are. I know where you went to school. But this is all I do all day long, so I can pretty much-

Stephanie:

You’re good.

Christiane:

… figure it out. So, since you are coastal mid-century, I would know what to send you as a follow-up. I don’t know if you have outdoor space or not, but I might send you some really cool outdoor furniture that would work with the bed you had. I will try and assist you in decorating your space, getting the home of your dreams pretty subtly until one day, you pick up the phone and say, “Hey, Christiane, will you just call me back because I want to do my entire living room?” And I will say, “Of course,” and I will call you back and you’ll FaceTime me through your living room and we’ll decorate it.

Christiane:

But until then, I’m going to show you all the beautiful things you can have at very reasonable prices to make your space exactly the mid-century coastal dream you want it to be.

Stephanie:

That’s great. It’s a good process. So, to pivot a little bit, you’ve written a couple books and I’d love to dive into them because they’re all around everything eCommerce, it seems. And so, if you want to maybe start with your most recent one or your first one, whatever one you want, I would love to hear about them.

Christiane:

Well, so I’ve written three books and I’m working on two other ones right now. But the first book I wrote was called Undecorate and it was really, for me, that watershed moment in design when I realized that the way people approach their interiors was no longer going to be like, “I design it. I live in it for 25 years. My kids take a few things when I die and that’s the end of it.” I realized that people were approaching their interiors the way they were approaching fashion. And that was largely because for the first time ever, things like Pinterest, that was right after Instagram launched… But all these things, all of a sudden, we were surrounded by content and media in a completely different way. So, you didn’t have to buy a magazine to look at a beautiful interior, you got to see it all day long on your phone.

Christiane:

And so, what that did was, I believe, it raised the design IQ, not only of our audience in the United States, but globally. And so, all of a sudden, people are interested in interiors, they’re interested in design history. They’re interested in all these things that they weren’t before and they think about their spaces in a less static way. So, I wrote that book.

Christiane:

And then, I followed it up with a book called The Finer Things, which was my first Instagram-generation encyclopedia of the decorative arts on the same day, and I’m writing right now the Instagram-generation encyclopedia of important furniture. This one’s take me a long time, I think, four years to write. It’s a big project. [inaudible] is the one I’m writing about furniture right now. Will probably take me between two and a half and three.

Christiane:

And then, I wrote Frictionless, which is really my first business book. Because I realized that I had started a business out of college in 2000. I grew it organically for 13 years. And if I hadn’t written a book at the end of that journey, it would have been useless. It would have been fire-starting kindling at this point, because everything had changed, every single thing.

Stephanie:

It makes you wonder if you can rely on books these days anymore because, I mean, especially around eCommerce, everything’s new and so quick. It’s like what sources should I even look at to stay up to date with things? It’s definitely probably not a book.

Christiane:

Yeah. I mean, I sat and thought what is the underlying differentiator? What makes something win or something lose here, right, if I look at all the incumbents in my industry. But just generally, what is it? What’s the winner or loser? And what I realized was that it was the frictionless experience that allowed somebody to get into a, it could be a crowded category.

Christiane:

But if you can do in the least invasive way, you will win because all people want is as few clicks as possible to get exactly what they want with the commerce table stakes and have it delivered to their home and they don’t want somebody calling them up with a delivery time. They don’t want 37 phone calls. They don’t want a helpline where nobody helps them. When you get into those scenarios, you’re like, “I’m not doing this. I’m never coming back.”

Stephanie:

Whenever someone wants to call me, I’m like, “Oh, can we not? And don’t leave me a voicemail. Can you just text me, please?”

Christiane:

Yeah, just text me. Or my favorite thing is Slack. Just Slack me.

Christiane:

Slack is frictionless. I mean, it’s beautiful.

Christiane:

And so, experiences like that, I don’t know, equal parts art and science, I think is the big differentiator. We, as human people, now that we’ve experienced it, that’s what we want. We want the Slack experience in every single facet of our life. And if it’s not-

Stephanie:

No one’s going back after that.

Christiane:

No, no. And if it’s not that, then you’re like, “Why does this suck so badly?” And then, you find the experience in that, I don’t know, that milieu that you need, and you can find it. I mean, if you can’t find it today, you’ll be able to find it soon. And that’s what every business should go after.

Christiane:

Because all the rest of it is table stakes, right, like fast and free delivery, great design. You can do those things, but to do it in a frictionless way is what’s going to change your business or give you the competitive advantage you need to take market share. I mean, that’s what Wayfair taught me. And when I sold to them and I understood how far ahead of the commerce game they were, it was amazing to me.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s such a good experience. When you were doing your research for Frictionless, was there any surprises that you found or companies that you’re following that were doing something surprising that you hadn’t thought of? Or just a good process that you were like, “Oh, that’s really neat. I can see why it works for them.”?

Christiane:

There’s so many nuggets in this book. I mean, I find just talking to the founder of Ixcela, she does a gut biome. You send in your… I’m obsessed with that. You send in your blood sample through the mail. I mean, the idea that we can have MIT science level help digitally is amazing to me. I mean, all of these… That is going to be the outcome of this particular pandemic because what we’re realizing is that all of the things we thought we needed to do like endless in-person meetings, we just don’t need to. I mean, I will never take 60 subways in a day in New York again to go to in-person meetings unless they’re absolutely necessary.

Christiane:

So, I’m thinking about my life through the lens of frictionless experience. Those things, that’s a lot of friction, like running around, being late, being stressed, when we don’t need to do it. I mean, Zoom has also changed our lives, all of these platforms.

Christiane:

And the interesting thing is that I believe the entire world, regardless of what generation you are, just got schooled in technology, right? We all just got fully immersed in what it means to be a digital citizen.

Christiane:

Even my 75-year-old mom in Ottawa, Canada knows how to use Zoom now and thinks it’s the greatest thing ever, and I’m like, “Mom, I told you so.” But sometimes it takes being forced into something to realize how extraordinary it is. And now she realizes she can have all of her grandkids all over the world on one Zoom call and everybody can talk to each other. How amazing is that?

Stephanie:

That sounds very similar to my parents as well. They were teaching me how to put backgrounds on Zoom. I’m like, “Mom, I got it. But thank you.” Actually, she did send me a pretty funny article that showed how to loop a video on Zoom so it looked like you were moving around and paying attention in a meeting, which I guess her… She’s a teacher, so I think some of her students were doing that. They were looping themselves just moving around a few times, and it looked like they were really on board with the whole lesson.

Christiane:

Oh, my God. That is hilarious.

Stephanie:

I’m like, “That’s good. Thank you for sharing that wisdom.”

Christiane:

One of the partners that we’re working with at The Inside, it’s a very big home furnishings company and they are pretty sophisticated digitally, and all of them have a constant Zoom competition of who has the coolest background. Apparently, somebody had something like a 1980s workout video. That was fantastic last week. These guys are thinking about this on a near constant basis like your Zoom background now is a reflection of who you are and how creative you are, how digitally savvy you are. I think it’s hilarious.

Stephanie:

So to zoom out a little bit, what do you think the future of online commerce looks like after the pandemic’s over? Do you think things are going to shift back a bit to how they were? What kind of disruptions do you see coming down the pipe?

Christiane:

People would think “we’re going back to normal,” I think normal has changed. And I firmly believe that the companies that weren’t thinking digitally are thinking digitally very seriously now.

Christiane:

Because as I told you, here I am in SoHo, New York and it turns out when there’s a pandemic, nobody lives here. At 7:00 at night is when we all cheer. I mean, there’s now six of us on my block who I see every night, and everyone else is gone. And there is one coffee shop that’s open, and that coffee shop very early on had a contactless app. So, you could order your coffee in advance and then go and pick it up. Nobody touched anybody with gloves and a face mask on. I’ve gone there every single morning for the last nine weeks because I want to get out of my apartment and I want to see some of the world, and they have really good coffee.

Christiane:

And across the street from them is the fanciest coffee place in New York that people are die hard lovers of, and you know what, the doors are closed and they never came up with a contactless app and they never figured out how to digitally bring themselves into this particular pandemic and keep their business going. And I think that that’s only like a neighborhood version of what the rest of commerce is going to look like, and not only commerce, just like service as well. I think that people are going to have to think about how to pivot their particular businesses digitally as quickly as possible.

Stephanie:

I don’t think this will be the first event where businesses have to come online quickly and figure it out. And we’ll definitely see the people who did do that this time and the ones who didn’t.

Christiane:

Yeah, especially some of the ones that didn’t and who are waiting for things to go back to normal might not make it through this. And that breaks my heart because there are fairly… You could probably scrappily do something fairly quickly, but you have to want to. And I think that people that didn’t have their head in the sand… Is that what the ostrich does? Stick their head in the ground?

Stephanie:

I think so.

Christiane:

If your head wasn’t in the sand, and you were iterating, or at least pivoting during this, it’s going to serve you really well on the other side.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it seems like it’ll be, well, it is an environment right now where people have to learn quickly, but they’ll probably look back and be like, “Glad I did that.” We learned and we moved at the pace that normally would have taken us maybe on a five-year roadmap, we were able to get it done in a week or two weeks. We got pushed into that, but I’m sure they’ll look back and be happy they did.

Christiane:

But also, look at the very fast category options. I look at the home furnishings category where, I don’t know, it’d be those between 20% and 25% of consumers were willing to buy the category online. I think, in the last ten weeks, it went up to 60% or 70%. I mean, that is massive, world class adoption in a very short period of time. And I would imagine that that is universal across some of these categories. So, it’ll be really interesting to see what happens post the pandemic.

Christiane:

But the people that are listening to the CDC won’t be rushing out and shopping and going to the beach as quickly as… Some people will and some people want. So, I think that digital adoption is going to be extended, at least for 18 to 24 months, if not, forever.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I completely agree. So, before we move into the lightning round, which I’ll explain, is there any other thoughts or ideas you have that you want to share?

Christiane:

No, I think we’ve covered up everything. I mean, I could go off… You and I are philosophically aligned that this is the way of the future. I mean, I could talk about this for days, but we need a whole Round 2.

Stephanie:

Yeah. It’ll be really interesting to see what the landscape looks like in 8 to 10 months, if not, and then again in 24. Because I think you’re right, I think that the people that are thinking on their feet and iterating constantly and really pivoting their businesses to be digital-first in whatever, incumbent-second are the people that are going to win here. It’ll be a really fun way to look back.

Stephanie:

All right, then the lightning round, which is brought to you by our friends at Salesforce Commerce Cloud, who sponsored this podcast, of course.

Christiane:

Excellent.

Stephanie:

This is where I… Yes, they are great. They’re amazing.

Christiane:

They are.

Stephanie:

This is where I ask you a question and you have a minute or less to answer. Does that sound good?

Christiane:

Sure.

Stephanie:

All right, what’s up next on your reading list?

Christiane:

What’s up next on my reading list? Oh, I have a really good friend in New York City who just wrote a book, Lauren Sandler, and I’m going to read her book next and it is called

Christiane:

Her new book is called This Is All I Got, and it’s A New Mother’s Search for Home. She is an investigative journalist. She writes for The New Yorker and New York Times. And she actually followed a single mother through the shelter system in New York. But I’ve just started it, it’s pretty amazing.

Stephanie:

I’m going to check that out.

Christiane:

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. I’m trying to think what else? What am I reading that’s like business-related? What is it? Harder Things? I just started it.

Stephanie:

The Hard Thing About Hard Things?

Christiane:

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is the business book that I’m reading right now. My editor at Harper who did Frictionless, also was the editor on Ben Horowitz’ book.

Stephanie:

Oh, cool. I got to read that.

Christiane:

Yeah. I highly recommend that one.

Stephanie:

Highly recommend?

Christiane:

Yeah. I think that there are probably universal truths. And also, we’re going through hard things right now. And I think it’s people that are accepting and fluid in the hard things that end up being okay.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I completely agree. What’s up next on your podcast list?

Christiane:

On my podcast list? Oh, my God, there’s so many on my podcast list, but I’m stuck on the daily right now, if I’m honest, because, first of all, the news is so completely crazy and riveting. And also, I’m obsessed with all the COVID data. You know, I just had the test because my son was exhibiting some symptoms, and all three of us are negative.

Stephanie:

That’s good.

Christiane:

Yeah, it’s really good. But as a parent, the whole Kawasaki manifestation of this is very scary. Because the first bill of goods we got sold was that, “Oh, if your kids are under 20, you’re fine.” I was like, “Great.” I don’t care if I get it, I’ll figure it out. But if my kids get it, I don’t know what I’m going to do. And now, that’s not the truth at all. So, that’s generally where you’ll find me. It’s hard to take your ears away from the news right now.

Stephanie:

I know. Yeah. I have to, every once in a while, take a break because I have three kids under two and a half.

Christiane:

Wow. You’re like me. My kids are 21 months apart.

Stephanie:

So, who do you follow in the industry or any newsletters or sources that you go to to stay up-to-date on all things eCommerce?

Christiane:

Wow. I mean, everything, like Crunchbase and TechCrunch. Oh, and I’ve been watching some of the podcasts, some of the live stuff on Extra Crunch. I’m trying to think eCommerce. I mean, there’s just so much of it. I don’t know, where else do I follow?

Stephanie:

Or if nothing comes to mind, we can also skip this one.

Christiane:

Okay. I mean, all of the above. And also, all the inbound newsletters and things like that. But just generally, the newspaper.

Stephanie:

Oh, newspaper. Okay. The last harder question is what’s up next for eCommerce professionals?

Christiane:

What’s up next for eCommerce professionals? Wow.

Stephanie:

Big shift.

Christiane:

Well, I think that everyone is going to have to become somewhat of an eCommerce professional first of all. I don’t think digital and analog are going to be two separate things anymore after this particular pandemic, and I think that everybody out there is understanding that in a pretty profound way. I think that digital immersion is not only necessary, I mean, I think it’s the only way to actually stay relevant and push your career forward.

Christiane:

Part of the reason that I wrote the book was also to try and understand being the parent of two children, what the future would look like for my kids and what does that mean for college and all these things? Because I wanted to understand 72% of people want to be entrepreneurs, and what does that mean? And so, I think that if they think about that from a digital perspective, it’s actually a pretty great place to be, right? It means you’re immersing yourself in the digital aspect of things. I think that it’s not just eCommerce professionals, it’s going to be every single professional.

Christiane:

I do think when I look at the landscape, that the content part of this is really important, right? Because even when I was at Wayfair, I mean, we did content but it wasn’t merged the same way. So, your AR question I think is really important. I think that we’re going to shift online for a lot of the things that we did in analog ways before this.

Christiane:

So, if I’m an interior designer, I’m not thinking about what my career looks like when I come into your house, I’m thinking about what can I learn online so that I can do it for you from a distance, right? And I would apply that to every single aspect of every single job out there. If I have an analog job, how can I digitize that? And I think everybody’s going to have to think about that.

Christiane:

I mean, look at doctors are doing it through telemedicine and designers are doing it through FaceTime. You can go down every single career. I mean, pharmacists are doing it through telemedicine as well. One of the people that I profiled in the book is Eric Kinariwala from Capsule in New York. And I mean, that’s a genius business because he’s delivering everything from the drugstore, all of your pharmaceutical needs, anything that your doctor has prescribed, you can get delivered to your home. I’m talking to him next week, but I think he probably crushed it in this particular scenario.

Christiane:

So, I think there’s no… You’re not on one side of the fence or the other, like this silo in the company does eCommerce and this one does regular commerce. I mean, I think that the two now are going to be forever conjoined.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s such a good point. Completely agree. Well, this has been such a fun interview. We definitely need to be back for Round 2. Where can people find out more about you and The Inside and your upcoming book?

Christiane:

Well, my upcoming book is at frictionless.pub, and you can get a copy of it there. It links to Amazon and Barnes and Noble and every other great book place to buy books. The Inside is theinside.com. And the rest, there’s an endless breadth of information on Google.

Stephanie:

Yup. Awesome. Yeah. Thanks so much for coming on the show. It’s been such a blast.

Christiane:

Thank you. Thanks, Stephanie.

 

 

 

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