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These are the Digital Channels Ecommerce Brands Should Hone in On with Link Walls, VP of Digital Marketing Strategy for ChannelAdvisor

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To state the obvious, in order to be a successful ecommerce brand, you have to be able to win across digital channels. But just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s easy. DTC and ecomm companies big and small are coonstantly challenged to find new approaches in ever-changing online channels to engage customers and ultimately get them to hit that buy button. So how do you do it? Link Walls is the VP of digital marketing strategy for ChannelAdvisor, and it’s his job to answer that question. On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Link and I discussed what kinds of strategies are working — and more importantly which ones aren’t — and he let us in on how he thinks about advising digitally-native brands that are considering a move to brick and mortar. Plus, he gives advice on how to navigate through the holiday season, why shoppable TV is going to be the dominant channel of the future for brands, and which niche channels you should keep your eye on. Enjoy this episode.

Main Takeaways:

  • Understand and Speak To Your Audience: Building robust first-party data around your customers is the first step to ostaying ahead of the curve in the shifting world of ecommerce. Doing so will allow a brand too dive deeper into personalization, relationship-building, and bringing added value to the customer.
  • Should You Open a Store?: Recently, many digitally-native, DTC companies have been investing in retail and opening brick and mortar stores. But how do you know if this is the right strategy for your own business? The critical question you have to ask is whether or not having a store will create a unique experience that adds value and sets you apart from the competition in a real way. If not, then it’s likely better to save the cost and stick with selling online and investing in more digital channels.
  • Where are the Eyeballs?: When thinking about where to put your advertising dollars, you have to understand where customers are consuming content. These days, that means streaming and digital social channels. But still, brands aren’t investing fully in shoppable TV. They should be, though, and it can be done even on a small budget because with digital channels, there are better analytics that will help you hypertarget your audience at an economical price. 

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

Key Quotes:

 

“How do you get a product listed on Amazon? How do you make sure your prices are competitive on Amazon? How do you make sure that if you’re a small business or a medium-sized business and you’ve got 50 computers to sell that you don’t sell all of them on multiple channels all at once. How do you synchronize all of that inventory, all of those transactions?” 

“What brands have to think about today is how do they understand their audience and how do they keep speaking to that audience? We’re in a world right now and there’s much has been made about the demise of the cookie and various privacy changes and things like that. And so it’s all the more important I think that brands really understand who is their customer base, who are they selling to who’s their target market and how do they build more robust, first party data around that?”

“The more that brands can build that relationship and can get people coming back to them directly, ultimately that’s going to result in a better ROI, a better lifetime value for that relationship.”

“The beauty of digital advertising is we’re getting near instant feedback. We can run a campaign and within 24 hours we know that didn’t work or that worked great, or this part was good, this part wasn’t good. And so it’s really about taking all those data points that we get back and then building feedback loops. Just to oversimplify it, we’re doing more of the stuff that works and less of the stuff that doesn’t work.”

“If you’re running more of what is known as an upper funnel — more building awareness — and you go into that campaign and you’re really focused on how many conversions are we driving, what’s the return on ad spend to this, right? Brands are going to be disappointed because that’s not really what that’s meant to do. It’s really meant to build awareness, get people talking about your brand, coming back through other other channels. So I think where we see things don’t work, it’s often where we have a misalignment between maybe expectations [asking] are we maybe using the wrong platform for the goals that we’re trying to achieve.” 

“When you see brands go astray is really going back to that origin story of, well, why does this brand even exist? Why does this product exist? What problem were we trying to solve? What did not exist in the world that we said, this needs to be out there? And, ultimately, how do we think about what that is, who that audience is? And then ultimately we think about how advertising and reach is ultimately just finding more of those people and fueling that flywheel. But I think sometimes, especially in bigger companies where people turn over and it’s not really clear, like why do we really have a focus here? And so I think we always try to get that as much as we can. Because then the marketing part of it a lot easier if you’ve got that and use that.”

Bio

Link Walls is the Vice President, Digital Marketing Strategy at ChannelAdvisor. Link is responsible for ChannelAdvisor’s Digital Marketing Strategy, serving as a strategic consultant to leading brands and retailers, helping them with the strategy and solutions needed to successfully advertise their products online.

Link is a digital marketing and e-commerce thought leader who often speaks at industry events and regularly contributes to ChannelAdvisor’s blog. Prior to joining ChannelAdvisor in 2005, he managed online marketing for Art.com, an online retailer. Previous to Art.com, Link worked as a management consultant helping companies in finance, strategy and organizational design.

He received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Drexel University and an MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.


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

 

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO over here at Mission.org. Today on the show we have Link Walls joining us, who serves as the VP of Digital Marketing Strategy at ChannelAdvisor. Link, welcome to the show.

Link:

Thanks for having me, Stephanie. Welcome.

Stephanie:

I’m excited. I’ve always heard about ChannelAdvisor for a long time ever since getting into the world of commerce, but I don’t know if I can say I actually know everything you all do. So I would love to start out a bit of, what is ChannelAdvisor? What do you all offer?

Link:

Sure. Sure. Let me go back a little bit because we actually just celebrated our 20th year in business. So ChannelAdvisor was actually started way back in 2001, so the early, early days certainly of eCommerce and even the early days of the internet. And really how we got our start was what we were finding, we were helping sellers sell on eBay, and these were companies that were starting to sell on eBay, but they really were businesses that were selling on eBay. So this wasn’t just you selling an extra pair of shoes, or a sweater, or something, this was companies that were coming to us and saying, “Look, we want to sell hundreds of computers or hundreds of servers”, and the tools just really didn’t exist for that at the time.

Link:

eBay was really about one Z, two Zs and things like that. And I think so the founders of ChannelAdvisor saw an opportunity there and said, “You know what, we really need to build the tools that go along with the type of commerce that’s happening”, right, “which is really much more than just a person to person, consumer to consumer type of arrangement.” And so really it was born out of that need, which is seeing a need in the market, right, how commerce was evolving, and then building tools from there and it’s just continued to evolve on top of that.

Stephanie:

That’s a very fun founding story. So what tools are you most well known for now?

Link:

Yes. So it really started with, how do we actually get products listed out on a different channel? How do we get orders out there? And now there’s really a whole suite of tools, right. So we’ve evolved over the years and really I think the thing that our two co-founders at ChannelAdvisor really saw really quite far ahead was really three things that they saw, one was really that eCommerce was going to continue to grow. And I think today we take that for granted, of course, right, everybody shops online and all this, but when you go back 20 years it was very much not a certain thing, right. We’d come out of a dot-com crash, right, you had pets.com held up as these failures of eCommerce. So the first really thesis was that eCom would continue to grow.

Link:

The second was that this world would get much more fragmented and that what would come between brands and retailers and consumers was all of these different channels, right. And I think we’ve certainly seen that play out, and we can talk more about that in a bit if you want. And then the third was really the Software as a Service Cloud Model. And so from the beginning, ChannelAdvisor built tools in a Software as a Service Cloud environment really back before cloud was cool or really even dubbed a thing, this is pre-AWS days. And so the result of that was a platform that started with, like I said, tools for listing on eBay, gradually evolved into tools for other channels, right. So how do you get a product listed on Amazon? How do you make sure your prices are competitive on Amazon? How do you make sure that if you’re a small business or a medium sized business and you’ve got 50 computers to sell that you don’t sell all of them on multiple channels all at once? How do you synchronize all of that inventory, all of those transactions?

Link:

And so it’s really evolved beyond that initial use case into really a full suite of tools that helps brands and retailers really be successful with their eCom strategy. And whether that’s selling through a marketplace like eBay, or Walmart, or Amazon, or many others, or advertising, so advertising through Google, or Facebook, or other places, or just having tools to understand their business and understand what the world around them looks like. So the analytics, that’s been a big part of our push over the last several years is really beefing out, what does that analytics mean? How do we give more tools and insights to our customers so they really understand their true presence online? What does that look like? How well is it doing? Where are there opportunities for improvement?

Stephanie:

Cool. Yes, I can imagine it’s been a lot of growth since you’ve been there. You’ve been there since about 2005, right?

Link:

Correct. Yes, 2005. Yes.

Stephanie:

Nice. So when thinking about the digital strategy today, I mean, this past year, two years of course been a very big shake up, what are some things maybe that you see brands doing that you feel like are a little bit ahead of the curve right now that you would maybe advise or already are advising other clients to look into?

Link:

Yes, I think, I think what brands have to think about today is, how do they understand their audience and how do they keep speaking to that audience? Right. We’re in a world right now and much has been made about the demise of the cookie and various privacy changes and things like that, and so it’s all the more important, I think, that brands really understand, who is their customer base? Who are they selling to? Who’s their target market? And how do they build more robust first party data around that? So I think one of the things I see brands doing is thinking a bit ahead of this and really making sure that they understand, who are they going after? And how do they really get smarter about marketing to them? Right. Just because I buy something from a brand once doesn’t mean that I really need to be emailed by them 20 times a month from here until the end of time.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

And so, I think those brands that are getting a more nuanced version and view into their customer data and understanding preferences and things like that, ultimately, with the goal of, how do they create a more personalized experience? And I think, I think sometimes personalization is one of those ones like mobile where it always feels like it’s just around the corner, right.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

And so I remember in the early days of mobile commerce was always like just coming next year, next year will be the year of mobile. And I think all of this customer data can really amount to really getting a better view of, how do you talk to your customer? How do you build a relationship with the customer?

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I’m thinking about, when it comes to first party data, we had on someone from Anheuser-Busch back in the day, and they were just talking about all these roundabout ways of how they’re trying to get first party data because they’re not even actually allowed to talk to their customer.

Link:

Right.

Stephanie:

It was so interesting hearing how they think about things and how they were exploring different giveaways, and just really trying so hard to be able to connect with them. Are there any interesting ways that you see brands connecting with their customers, who probably had a lot easier than Anheuser-Busch or any of the bigger beverage companies like that?

Link:

Yes, I think, I mean, they have some restrictions just based on the space that they’re in, they can do so many things. We see things like trying to get engagement through social giveaways in some cases, but I think ultimately it comes down to consumers are smarter about this stuff, right, and they understand that it’s a transactional relationship there. And so making sure that they’re understanding exactly why they’re handing over this information, if they’re trying to collect data, right.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

So that’s a couple of the ways. I’ll tell you though, it’s hard, it’s not an easy problem to solve right now.

Stephanie:

Yes. Do you think every brand should be optimizing for this? With how everything is looking and headed, should every brand be aiming for a way to obtain first party data?

Link:

I think they should, because I think ultimately brands, as much as possible, right … And so obviously, within ChannelAdvisor, we sit in a world where we’re really optimizing for how traffic comes through all these different channels, right. So how do you position yourself on Amazon, or Google, or Instagram, or wherever? But I think, ultimately, the more than brands can build that relationship and can get people coming back to them directly, ultimately, that’s going to result in a better ROI, a better lifetime value for that relationship. So yes, I think it’s pretty critical.

Stephanie:

So tell me a bit about some online advertising strategies that you think are going to be working now and even over the next couple years. What are some things that you see working right now?

Link:

Yes, so really when we think about online advertising, really our philosophy is that you need to be everywhere as a brand or a retailer. The consumers are more empowered now than ever before, right. So when you think about, where do you shop? You have so many choices today, the modern consumer does, right, whether that’s doing a search on Amazon or on Google, or seeing an ad on TikTok or anywhere else. So as we work with brands and retailers on advertising, it’s really about, how do we get this broader reach as possible? How do we make sure that our products are in front of that consumer no matter where he or she is, right, wherever they’re shopping?

Link:

Now, the balance there obviously is profitability, right. And so it’s one thing to say, we want to put everything out there, but really to be able to do it at scale and do it in a way that’s profitable, you have to really be smart about what’s working and what’s not working. So we spend a lot of time and invest a lot in our platform into really, how do we get good feedback loops around advertising? Right. And one of things I say often is that, anytime we’re getting data back, let’s say we go run a campaign, the beauty of digital advertising is we’re getting near instant feedback, right. We can run a campaign and within 24 hours we know that didn’t work, or that worked great, or this part was good, this part wasn’t good. And so really taking all those data points that we get back and then building feedback loops so then we’re, and just to oversimplify it, we’re doing more of the stuff that works and less of the stuff that doesn’t work, right.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). What’s not working? What are some things that you thought were going to work and then they actually haven’t been working?

Link:

Yes, it’s a good question. So I don’t want to call anybody out. But yes, I mean, there are times where we just missed the mark and where we have either products that just aren’t a good fit and we push hard and try to get them in front of the consumer, and ultimately they don’t work. I’d say most of the channels and programs we work through, whether it’s through Google or Amazon, I would say there aren’t really any that just don’t work at all. It’s sometimes that maybe somebody has unrealistic expectations.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

So for instance, if you’re running more of what is known as an upper funnel, right, so more building awareness, and you go into that campaign and you’re really focused on, how many conversions are we driving? What’s the return on ad spend of this? The very immediate thing. Brands are going to be disappointed, because that’s not really what that’s meant to do, right? It’s really meant to build awareness, get people talking about your brand, coming back through other channels. So I think where we see things don’t work it’s often where we have a misalignment between maybe expectations and are we maybe using the wrong platform for the goals that we’re trying to hit?

Stephanie:

Yes, that makes sense. When a brand comes to you, I mean, do you have a process where you go about and you audit them where they’re at? And if so, what maybe things do you see upfront where you’re like, I keep seeing this among all these companies that keep coming and they keep having these same three things that I would maybe adjust? Or do they all have such different problems it’s like each one is a snowflake?

Link:

It’s pretty snowflaky. It’s pretty snowflaky.

Stephanie:

That’s a good line, pretty snowflaky.

Link:

Yes, it’s pretty snowflaky. Yes, there’s a lot of difference because so many brands are just in different stages of their lifecycle, right. Some are creating a brand new brand and they really have no brand awareness, right, maybe they’re entering a category that’s very crowded.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

Others, in a lot of cases, we’ll find brands who may have been very successful on one channel, so maybe they’ve been very successful, let’s say, on Amazon and they built a very healthy business there, but then how do they translate that to other channels? How do they get people looking for them, coming back to their website, finding them through Google or through other places? So it is pretty unique in terms of how we look at each of those, but generally speaking, when I’m speaking with a brand, one of the things I always try to just as a foundational … and I think sometimes as people turn over in companies and sometimes this gets lost and when you see brands go astray, is really going back to that origin story of, well, why does this brand even exist? Why does this product exist? What problem were we trying to solve? What did not exist in the world that we said, this needs to be out there? And ultimately, how do we think about what that is, who that audience is?

Link:

And then ultimately, as we think about advertising and reach, it’s ultimately just finding more of those people, right, and fueling that flywheel. But I think sometimes, like I said, especially in bigger companies where people turn over and it’s not really clear, do we really have a focus here?

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

And so I think we always try to get that as much as we can, because then the marketing part of it’s a lot easier, right? If you’ve got that and use you use that, yes, we’re looking for a person who’s looking for this or trying to solve this need, then it becomes a lot easier to think about, all right, how do we go about finding them in a way that is an efficient use of our ad dollars?

Stephanie:

Yes. Is there any specific way that you like finding new customers like that? Are you guys thinking about content? I mean, you hear about all these brands becoming media companies, media companies becoming brands, is that an angle you’re pushing hard or how do you go about finding those new customers in different ways that maybe that brand has not even thought about?

Link:

Yes, so for where we fit, I mean, there are a lot of people do that and I think that can be an effective strategy. That’s really less of our focus, our focus is more of, how do we go out and look at … and this is where I especially love search marketing and part of the reason I love it so much is that it’s really the only medium where the consumer is telling you in exactly their own words what they’re looking for.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yes.

Link:

And so, all too often we can find that demand that’s out there, right. And so it’s a matter of tailoring starting with campaigns to cast a little bit of a wider net, but then ultimately seeing what works and what doesn’t work. When she searches using these words we tend to do pretty well, and when she searches using these words we’re not a good fit, right, and so let’s use that as a data point and adjust our strategy from there.

Link:

So what we find is it tends to work best to start in a field like paid search, right, paid search and shopping, because we get so much good data on, what is the consumer exactly typing? What are they exactly looking for? And that can then be used to fuel, okay, how would we go after things on YouTube? Or how would we go after things on Instagram or Facebook? But that’s a really foundational element because it tells us a lot, like I said, about what works and what doesn’t work for that brand.

Stephanie:

Got it. Thinking about the consumer searching for things and these long tail search keywords, how are you keeping up on the trends but also not letting your models getting influenced by this past year? I can imagine people are searching for things in a very different way and maybe this past year shouldn’t be relied on for next couple years, maybe that was just a one off. How do you make sure that your model is not going crazy based off of what just happened and keep it focused on, okay, stay true to your principles, we know this long tail keyword is the one that we should be going after?

Link:

Yes. No, it’s a good point because behavior … we certainly did see, over the last whatever it’s been, 18 months or so, 20 months, we did see changes in terms of how people shop, right, of course, and it’s really a combination of learning from that recency of the data but not being overly influenced by it, right. So the things that still worked before. Most cases, it’s not like there was wholesale shifts, if there was wholesale it was really within categories of products, right. So maybe certain categories, loungewear, and sweatpants, and yoga pants, and things like that maybe did really well, and dress shoes not so much. But at the end of the day, if somebody was searching for dress shoes, right, that probably still worked okay because there was still a need there.

Link:

And so I think that’s part of the beauty of it, is that if you can set up these campaigns and get them automated in a way, they can really adapt really on their own to what the demand looks like, as long as you have things set up right and you get those feedback loops working

Stephanie:

Got it. Yes, I was just imagining the consumer, I mean, even myself over this past year, I’ve just having the time to go on there and do extra research and sit around and wait and probably searching for things in probably a way that I would not have done even a year or two ago. And so just trying to think about how to convince someone like me to actually push that buy button in probably a landscape that doesn’t feel as rushed as it would have back in the day.

Link:

Yes. Yes. I mean, we certainly saw lift. It was interesting, early on one of the things we thought was that, well maybe we’ll see less searches from mobile devices because people, especially in the first couple of months, people were really home bound, a lot of people at least. And it was interesting is that this was a hypothesis we had, turned out to be wrong, we saw maybe a couple of days where mobile traffic really dipped, but then it went right back up.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

And so it was really interesting to see that even though people weren’t on the go, they were still very much shopping through mobile as the predominant platform they were using. Now, were they being more deliberative? Maybe, right, so that’s hard to see, right, because if they had more time or whatever else. We know for sure they watched a lot of Netflix and they watched a lot of YouTube, and a lot of other content over the last year and a half.

Stephanie:

How were you advising your companies around their brick and mortar strategy? Because one interesting thing that I’ve heard a couple of times is that everyone’s celebrating these DTC companies who have this fast growth, and if you actually look at the skews at Walmart it’s like just one of those can make up for an entire company that is maybe being celebrated for its revenue growth. And so it made me start thinking, I want to look at what’s at Walmart and how they’re actually performing or what’s at Target. But how are you advising your companies that come in who maybe are those DTC brands who’ve never even thought about having a retail strategy?

Link:

Yes, so you’re absolutely right. And I think for all of the celebration of the DTC brands that are disruptors in the market, most of those pale in comparison to what target can do with launch of a new brand in three to six months.

Stephanie:

Yes. Yes.

Link:

Absolutely, distribution clearly matters. I think in general what we would advise them is really, again, it goes back to being true to their customer, right, do they have something unique to say, I guess, right?

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

Is there something unique that, that store can do? Is it the experience? What is it about that store that can really set them apart? Because if there’s not that, then really what you’re recreating is sort of an omnichannel retailer that maybe there’s no real reason to go into the store, right. At that point that’s just a lot of overhead and a lot of expense for really not a differentiated retail experience.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

So I think those DTC brands that understand how to create, whether it’s a showroom, or a curated experience, or think about a Warby Parker, right, where you can obviously try on glasses and get them adjusted, and this and that. So having some differentiated experience I think is really key for those DTC brands.

Stephanie:

Yes, thinking about what that experience could be is always interesting. We had on Dick’s Sporting Goods and they were talking about how they were building entire stores just around having an entire golf experience and some other things like that, and I’m like, how can brands lean into that strategy? How can you be innovative and create something that makes people want to come in? Because at least here in Austin, you see this pent up demand of people wanting to come and do things in person and wanting to go to concerts and they’re really waiting for that. But then trying to think about the strategies that a brand can implement that’s different definitely feels hard when you look to the ones who are already out there, like the Warby Parker’s and Bonobos and stuff, and trying to think different seems like a pretty big challenge for some of them.

Link:

Yes, I think it is. And this really goes back to, well, what do you have say that’s different than anything else that’s out there?

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

I think that Dick’s Sporting Goods is a really good example of, how do you create a customized, differentiated experience? And it’s almost the same challenge that movie theaters have, right? I mean, buildings you see with movie theaters these days, right, that’s a really even more challenging industry in a lot of ways, but they’re trying to differentiate the experience, right, through better food, or alcohol, or other things, right. And I think the same is true with retail, right? If I can just shop from my couch on my phone, why do I want to drive 15 minutes to go to a store? So is there some experience there? Is it that I can go and I can hit golf balls into a net, and I can try things out? I think, I think one of the retailers that I think has figured this out for a long time has been REI.

Stephanie:

Yes.

Link:

Really certainly very knowledgeable people that work there that are passionate about whatever the topic is, whether it’s canoeing, or biking, or whatever, but has always had some of those experiential elements. And I think you got to give a reason for people to go, right, because the online is just so convenient. And so if the only reason to go is just, well, we’re in the mall, well that’s not really enough in 2021.

Stephanie:

No, yes, malls. I mean, I also think that if you can’t offer a big experience, like an REI or something, because maybe you just sell T-shirts, then how about leaning into partnerships? We’ve had a couple of guests come on the show and we’ve talked about they sell, I think one was little burgundy shoes, and so of course they’re all shoes, which you can make an experience out of that. But then they started partnering with other people who are on their street and having these events and thinking about, there’s so many other brands that probably also need something else to leverage they could tap into, that seems like still an opportunity, they haven’t seen leverage enough at least with some of the newer companies popping up and trying to get the word out there.

Link:

Yes, I mean, I think the challenge for some of these brands is there is maybe such a narrow focus, right. If all we sell his socks, it’s like, what exactly is that experience?

Stephanie:

Unless you’re Bombas, then I guess you can do you.

Link:

Yes. Yes. So I think you’re right, I think partnering with others could be a very effective approach to come up with something new and different.

Stephanie:

Yes. So let’s talk about holidays. One, I love holidays, Christmas is my favorite thing, so which most people already know that who listen to this. But what are you all seeing right now around holiday shopping data, I keep hearing, at least people keep coming to me because I have three kids, they’re like, “Toys, you won’t be able to get toys this year, there’s a shortage”, so much FOMO around that. So-

Link:

There’s a lot of FOMO around that.

Stephanie:

So one, tell me if that’s true, because I’m not doing any early shopping. And then two, for everyone else who’s listening, what are you seeing behind the scenes?

Link:

I think it is true. I would be worried. So we’re in the midst of really just a massive supply chain crisis, right. And so if you’re not familiar, I mean, we’ve got, I don’t even know what the count is right now, but all these ships off the Port of Long Beach in Los Angeles, right. You can’t get containers, you can’t get trucks, right, you can’t find enough truckers. I think we’ve spent the last 30 years building very efficient just in time supply chains and when there’s disruptions in those, they ripple out and it’s a mess.

Link:

Yes, so it’s very much real and so I think it’s going to take time and I think this is going to last well into 2022 before things get normalized and back on track. So I do think, for holiday, I think there’s a lot of concern around that. So in terms of your average consumer, I think it depends a lot on what you’re shopping for. If you’re really focused on buying a very specific thing for your daughter, that might be challenging to get it. If it’s more like, I need a gift for my brother and it’s, I need a sweater, well there’s going to be sweaters available, right? It may not be the exact same one you are looking for. And it hits in really random places, right. So sometimes it’s just components, it’s just other things that have mucked up the supply chain, but-

Stephanie:

Anything wood chips, people should be worried about.

Link:

Anything with chips, yes, you should definitely be worried about. So if you’re planning on buying a car for Christmas, that could be a challenge this year.

Stephanie:

You’re out of luck.

Link:

Yes. So we’ll see, I don’t know if Lexus will run those ads or not this year or not with the bows [crosstalk].

Stephanie:

I doubt that they will be able to fulfill it, that’s what I heard. Yes, that they’re like telling people they have inventory, not just Lexus, but just in general, car brands saying they have inventory and then when you buy it they’re like, oh, sorry about that, it’s actually like six months from now that you can get your car.

Link:

Right. Right. Yes, we can deliver it to you Friday, unfortunately, it’s Friday in 2022 sometime.

Stephanie:

Yes. Yes.

Link:

So, yes. I mean, we saw retail numbers came out yesterday, they were strong for October. I think part of what is making this supply chain crisis even worse is that the consumer demand is pretty strong right now.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

And so it’s not only that we’re having trouble getting things through ports and manufacturing everything else, but at the same time, consumers are buying a lot, right, and there’s a lot of demand out there. So I think we’ll see a strong holiday, I think we’ll see an early start to holiday because I think as consumers when you wake up in the morning and you turn on the Today Show and they’re like, Christmas may be ruined by this supply chain Grinch, that drives people to act and it’s not unlike the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 or these other things that just people it’s the psychology takes over.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative) So is the buying amount higher than the previous years? Do you think it just coming earlier and then it will peak and then go down earlier than it normally would or is it actually just up all around?

Link:

Yes, I think, I think in terms of digital and online, we’ll see up all around I think. I think when all is said and done, if I had to predict today, I think we will see a shift to buying earlier. And really that’s a shift that’s been going on for probably the last five or six years, because a couple years ago, maybe two or three years ago, Amazon started doing their Black Friday deals starting November 1st.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

And so what happens is every brand and retailer says, well, I don’t want to be late, and so they keep going earlier and earlier and earlier. I remember when my son was a bit younger than he is now we were driving around and there was an ad on the radio, and he’s probably eight or nine, and some ad for Black Friday and he asked me in all seriousness, he said, “Dad, is every Friday, Black Friday.”

Stephanie:

[crosstalk] It is now in 2021.

Link:

It just feels that way. It just feels that way. So I think we’ve seen this trend of things going earlier and earlier in the season, I think we’ll see even more of that this year, because people are worried about missing out and they don’t want to be left out.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So what should brands be doing right now then to prepare for this already increased demand? Are there some things that they should maybe be looking into right now?

Link:

Yes, I mean, I think brands in general are trying to make sure that whatever stock they have, right, that they’re really pushing that. You’ve worked with a number of people on, how do we get smarter about anticipating if we know we’re going to sell out of a product, let’s back off on advertising it before we’re all the way out, right? So how do we take some of these systems and really integrate it through, it’s part of what we do at ChannelAdvisor, is integrate that together so we have the signal that says, look, the rest of these goods are on a ship somewhere and we’re not going to get them in time for holiday, so let’s shift advertising dollars from that product over to something else.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

But I think for brands this year it’s especially when we’ve been encouraging everyone in terms of, as their advertising, if the demand is there take advantage of it, right. And so if you’re seeing a good return on the budget you’re spending, take advantage of it, right, because again, if that season shifts earlier, that demand may not be there come mid-December maybe the way it was in years past. So take advantage of the demand. And more than anything, it’s really staying agile and nimble and being able to roll with the punches of what the consumer is doing and what we’re seeing in the demand data.

Stephanie:

So the other piece I wanted to touch on was around Shoppable TV, had this come up quite often throughout a lot of the interviews and brand saying it’s really working for them, and now they’re even exploring traditional TV. What are your thoughts around TV in general?

Link:

Yes, I mean, I think an exciting part of digital advertising is around OTT, right, and around getting more advertising onto that surface. If you take a big step back and you look at things like Amazon Prime Video, you look at YouTube TV, right, the biggest advertising platforms in the world, there’s a reason they’re in that business, right. It gives them a whole lot more eyeballs, right, it gives them a whole lot more ways to get in front of consumers. So I think in general, TV and YouTube as well, right, is an area where we’re seeing a lot of growth, a lot of success. And really, the changing nature of it is such that you don’t need to be a brand that’s so big where you’re spending $2 million to go create an ad on whatever show, but you can really be much more targeted and go in much smaller increments and still get in front of that consumer.

Stephanie:

Is that around a brand creating an entire YouTube channel or just focusing on ads or always doing both?

Link:

I mean, so in some cases it’s, yes, creating a YouTube channel and putting out organic content. A lot of what we do and what we’re seeing YouTube is really shifting from really a big brand reach kind of a channel into one that’s much more Shoppable in nature. So we’re seeing stronger call to action through the ads that YouTube’s rolling out, and I think that’s going to continue to be a big area of growth because the signals are all there, right, in terms of what you’re doing, what you’re looking at. And so it’s a really good place to get in front of consumers, show them products, and then walk them through a seamless shopping experience.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yes, completely agree. We just started putting all of our content on YouTube in the past couple months. And it’s funny, it’s always been there but it seems like this past year it’s like, yes, of course, why isn’t everyone on there and tapping into that channel? And yes, it’s being used for a lot of different things which is cool to watch the transition now.

Link:

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Stephanie:

So when thinking about ChannelAdvisor and specifically your role there, what do you plan on doing the next two, three years? Where do you see yourself being or what big projects are you going to tackle next?

Link:

Yes, so our mission at ChannelAdvisor, setback, is to connect and optimize the world’s commerce, and that’s something that we’ve been working on for quite a while and we’ll continue to work on. I think in terms of the things that I’m really excited about, probably the biggest one is just around what we call retail media, which is the advertising on retail sites, so places like Amazon or Walmart. We’re seeing tremendous growth there and I think we’re going to really expand out, you’ll see us do more in that area in terms of more platforms, more channels. I mean, a core part of ChannelAdvisor has always been that we’re expanding the channels that we support.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

We’re in the midst of a project right now to add, I think, upwards of close to 100 marketplaces around the world. And so it’s really all about, how do we help that brand or retailer that comes to ChannelAdvisor get their data in as many places as possible?

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

So I think expanding the footprint and the reach of what we do is probably what I’m most excited about, and it furthers our mission and continues us on this path of, how do we help brands and retailers be more successful and really win online? And having been at an online retailer, I know this stuff is hard and I think having a partner that can help you get that reach in a world where the channels are always changing, the rules are always changing, the API’s are always changing, is really exciting. And that’s what’s fun, it’s helping our customers win.

Stephanie:

Yes, that’s cool. 100 channels, wow. Okay, so do you see any channels bubbling up right now in that 100 or in general that you’re like, people should be on this, this one looks pretty hot, a lot of people going to like this one? Any smaller ones maybe?

Link:

Well, yes, I mean, so a lot of them are very small and often very niche, right, so very specialized for just certain categories. For instance, I’d say the one that’s maybe not as familiar in the US is Zalando in Europe.

Stephanie:

Okay.

Link:

Not a small channel by any means, but tremendous growth there, it really has expanded outside of some of its initial footprint of categories to a lot more brands, a lot more reach. And that one has grown very quickly for us and I think we’ll continue to see growth there.

Stephanie:

What’s on that? And how do you spell? I haven’t heard of that one.

Link:

So Zalando, so Z-A-L-A-N-D-O. So it’s fashion primarily, they started as almost very similar to Zappos in the US.

Stephanie:

Okay, got it.

Link:

It’s fashion, shoes, apparel, fashion, and have really expanded the reach and grown pretty dramatically.

Stephanie:

That’s cool thinking about you all being the central hub that can be doing all the work behind the scenes so the brand can come in and tap into all those channels and already know that everything’s already buttoned up that they don’t have to stay up to date with every subtle change that’s happening throughout the weeks or months.

Link:

Exactly. I mean, we often think of ourselves as we want to buffer our client from all of that turbulence that’s going on, right.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

So just because Walmart is making changes to their API, if we can, we don’t even need to let the brand know about that, right. It’s just that those are the things that we’ve just taken care of and it just continues to work.

Stephanie:

I love that. All right, let’s shift over to the lightning round. The lightning round is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I ask you a question and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready?

Link:

Okay, I’ll do my best.

Stephanie:

All right. What’s the best piece of business advice that you’ve heard and that you actually gone on and tell others now?

Link:

Best piece of business advice. I’d say probably something I was actually just explaining to my kids recently, probably something I’ll mangle it here, but from Warren Buffett, which is to really never invest in something that you don’t understand, at least [inaudible].

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative) That’s definitely about it. I love that, it’s great. What’s one thing that you don’t understand today that you wish you did?

Link:

The holy world of Web 3.0, all of that. I’m scratching the surface but I can’t claim to understand it yet, but it’s on my list.

Stephanie:

If you were to have a podcast, what would it be about and who would your first guest be?

Link:

If I was to have a podcast. Well, I mean, the obvious answer would be eCommerce, but I’ll give you something probably a little bit more personal. I think a passion of mine, so maybe a little more personal, would be financial literacy.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

I don’t think we teach it enough to kids, I don’t think we teach it enough to adults of all ages, and I feel for it pretty fortunate that I had a strong background there and teacher in my parents. And probably something around that to help people just better understand, how do they understand financial literacy?

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yes, I completely agree on that one. What’s your favorite questions to ask a potential new hire when you’re interviewing them?

Link:

My favorite question to ask? Well, I mean, I often ask people, what do they think is going to be hardest about the job?

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Link:

To try to gauge, do they have a realistic expectation of what they are taking on? And I think that’s true really at any level, right? It could be somebody who’s brand new right out of school taking an entry level job and it could be a new executive, how much of a realistic sense do they have of what their next X number of weeks, months, years looks like?

Stephanie:

That’s a good one. You know it’s a red flag when they’re like, nothing, these all seems like a cakewalk?

Link:

Yes, it should be easy. You’re like, okay.

Stephanie:

Yes. All right, next. And the last question, tell me about a time when you made a powerful choice.

Link:

Powerful choice. I mean, so I’d say probably coming to ChannelAdvisor. I was at an online retailer and that had been sold and so needed to do something else and was making a decision between a couple of different options. And when I look back on it, I had zero idea that I would still be at the same company 15-16 years later, it was not all planned out. I would have told you, you’re crazy if I said that. But I think ultimately, I bought into the idea, I thought it was an interesting vision and it was solving real problems that I’d seen happen in the real world. And I said, yes, let’s do it. And that was a powerful choice.

Stephanie:

Yes, I love it. Well, Link, thank you so much for spending time here today, giving us all your knowledge, it was really, really fun. Where can any person listening find out more about ChannelAdvisor or connect with you?

Link:

Yes, so easiest place is just go to our website, so www.channeladvisor.com, you’ll find ChannelAdvisor on all the social channels. You’ll find me on Twitter occasionally tweeting about eCommerce, music and whatever else is on my mind at the moment @linkwalls.

Stephanie:

Amazing. Thanks so much.

Link:

All right. Thanks, Stephanie.

Episode 168