Lindsey - Aaron, What were you doing in 2009?
Aaron - Wow, 2009 seems like an eternity ago. I haven’t thought about 2009 since 2010. I was married, no kid, 1 chocolate lab. My wife and I were probably just hanging somewhere listening to The Black Eyed Peas or Flo Rida on our iPods.
Lindsey - What were you doing for work?
Aaron - Oh right, work… I was working at GSI Commerce. GSI was a technology and services company that provided e-commerce, multichannel and interactive marketing solutions to hundreds of brands and retailers. Some of our flagship clients were Toys R Us, Dicks Sporting Goods, Ace Hardware, GNC, all of the major sports leagues like NFLShop.com, and more. I was in charge of the technical strategy for the platform, delivery of all commerce solutions and services, and managed our largest client Toys R Us. Our commerce solutions included creative services (studio, UX, usability, creative), technology services, payment processing, order management capabilities, product warehousing and fulfillment capabilities, call center, marketing services (SEO, paid search, media, affiliate, eCRM, agency services, consumer analytics, web analytics). Back then, large retailers were busy running their physical stores and ecommerce revenue was such a small percentage of overall revenue they outsourced their entire ecommerce operation to companies like GSI.
Lindsey - I’ve never heard of GSI.
Aaron - The company died.
Lindsey - Uh...What do you mean?
Aaron - GSI lost its magic. eBay bought them in 2011 and that really slowed down innovation. 49% of all online retailers were now investing in an ecomm platform. 37% of online retailers were investing in content management solutions. Ecommerce was changing big time and it was changing fast, but we weren’t offering the component solutions.
Lindsey - Ecomm platform and content management seems so broad. Do you have more specifics?
Aaron - Ecommerce started becoming more important to retailers. Retailers were thinking more strategically about integrating their online / offline experiences. For example, Toys R Us launched ‘Order Online’ and ‘Pick Up In Store’. Dicks Sporting Goods started fulfilling consumer orders from the closest physical store to the consumer’s shipping address, saving them millions of dollars in shipping annually. MarTech started becoming a thing. Digital Marketers had more consumer data than they knew what to do with.
Lindsey - Sounds like a recipe for a great business.
Aaron - It was, but GSI got lost in big corporate eBay. Honestly, eBay was awesome but they didn’t know what to do with us, so they did the worst thing… they froze and no decisions were being made or allowed to be made. We stopped innovating. Clients were looking to do their own fulfillment, their own payment processing. They didn’t need a one-stop shop for all their ecomm needs. We couldn’t adapt to that fast enough.
Lindsey - It’s amazing how fast technology enabled that.
Aaron - 100%. Technology has become easier and easier to implement. In 2009, it was taking $1.5 - $2.0 million to launch an ecomm store. 5 years ago, at an ecommerce agency in CT, we were launching ecommerce stores on Demandware and Magento for $400 - $500k. Today the same stores can be launched for $150k with more features and functions. The platforms that stopped innovating are dying out and new platforms are growing like crazy.
Lindsey - What do you think is at the heart of the innovation?
Aaron - Consumers. I think the strongest commerce agencies and commerce and marketing platforms have a balanced scorecard. They are on the ground figuring out what consumers are doing, what they are struggling with and researching ways to reduce those friction points. These companies are doing a great job listening to their clients BUT NOT being order takers. They are educating clients. They are bringing new ideas to clients. They are always saying yes, but doing so while educating and bringing data and innovation to clients. In all of this, we at BVA need to create an environment that fosters this with our teammates. An environment where we always say yes we can do that and that makes sense client XYZ or yes we can do that, but have you considered this other approach. Keeping up with consumers is hard and ever changing. We are in the best position to use data to design and build for the future while validating/iterating with analytics.
Lindsey - So what is the future of commerce past 2019?
Aaron - Not sure, but I think consumers are leading us to the answers. We just need to be on top of the data and innovate in disciplined, fast cycles.
Lindsey - Sounds like you aren’t giving me an answer.
Aaron - No, that’s my answer. I just think it isn’t this one size fits all answer for every client, just like 1 stop ecommerce platforms in 2009 don’t exist anymore. Take for example a big purchase, like furniture. I have a hard time shopping for furniture online because I can’t visualize it in the room. Within 24 months, most new DTC furniture brands will enable 3D modeling on their site to help people like me upload a picture of my living room and actually visualize a new coffee table product in my tan painted living room with hardwood flooring with the grey sofa sitting behind it. I will know how much room I have to walk around it, exact color matching etc. This may not be as important to a cosmetics brand who needs to get the point across that their products are made from all natural ingredients. There, augmented reality of touring kelp fields or farm fields could solve those friction points better. It isn’t one solution for everyone. In my opinion, that’s why DTC brands are killing retailers. They are listening to their consumers, figuring out the friction points and doing something about it quickly. That to me is the future 2019 and beyond. It is up to us to innovate more and more quickly to keep up with consumer behavior.
Lindsey - Ok, so you did answer my question, but I’m still not buying the fact that innovation is disciplined. It seems counter-intuitive
Aaron - Yeah, I get that a lot. I think what I’m saying is in commerce there is never just an answer to a problem. This isn’t a simple 2+2=4 math problem. There are changing variables with inventory going out of stock, consumer behavior changing, weather changing, consumer moods changing. If you aren’t constantly measuring your ‘innovation’, then what was an awesome solution turns out to be non-effective in 3 months. We need to be taking a disciplined approach to everything we do which will enable us to innovate faster and more accurately. Anyone that says they can read data and put the best solution out there 100% of the time is just kidding themselves. On the other hand, if you can continuously read the results and the analytics of solutions, you can adapt quickly and get there almost as quick as the folks who got it right the first time by luck. Over the long run, we will get it right 100 times faster on average than our competition.
Lindsey - This has been great. I really appreciate your time and perspective on how commerce is changing everyday. It is up to us to keep learning and sharing our learnings with clients and driving innovation. We will still have to take orders, but we can shape the orders with all of the ingredients we have.
Aaron - Well said.
Lindsey serves as BVA's Sr. Sales Operations Manager and Aaron as BVA's Chief Technical Officer.