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Aaron Quinn, Founder & CEO at eHouse Studio

Exploring ecommerce strategies: Customer expectations and voice commerce

This episode features Aaron Quinn, Founder and CEO of eHouse Studio. We focus on the current state of ecommerce in relation to the customer experience. We discuss how the pandemic has affected merchants and where their priorities should be moving forward to capitalize off the unknown future. We also talk about what's next in ecommerce, particularly how voice commerce could be a major channel in the near future.

Connect with Aaron on LinkedIn or Twitter. Check out eHouse Studio. Read about voice commerce.

Episode transcript

Chase: Aaron, thank you for joining us.

Aaron: Absolutely. My pleasure.

Chase: Give us a little bit about yourself and about eHouse Studio.

Aaron: I'm the CEO at eHouse Studio. We hit 18 years this year, really have done kind of a myriad of work, haven't always been in the Shopify Plus, the ReCharge ecommerce side of things, really have done a lot of different types of work, all really sitting in the digital and web space. And then ultimately over the last half of that time, I shifted heavily into ecommerce and ultimately focusing specifically on Shopify Plus, ReCharge, helping D2C brands, ultimately in the health and wellness, beauty, and cosmetic, fashion apparel, lots of sporting goods as of recently, and then home goods as well.

Chase: Love it. So 18 years, that's exactly why we're talking to you. Seeing if we can get some industry knowledge from a veteran here.

Aaron: I'm old. Yeah, I'm old. It's okay. We can say it.

Chase: Let's start with this actually being in the industry for so long and obviously the impact of the pandemic we're in right now, what have you seen as the biggest change in the last six to 12 months? And how does that affect all the ecommerce merchants moving forward?

Aaron: Essentially, the thing that I talk about is ultimately what we're seeing I think is happening, it was going to happen eventually. There's nothing exponentially new, we're just seeing kind of gasoline thrown on the path that was ultimately going in that way. So I would say ultimately what we're seeing is, at least personally, and I can only speak to that, is really we're seeing that ecommerce growth, we're we're outpacing what people thought it would be at this time and hitting years down the line, we're hitting those kinds of growth trajectories. And ultimately, the expectation is going to stay there. We're not going to cut back off as people kind of learn that this is the new way of shopping and ultimately brands adapt to it.

I think that's the big piece. I think brands are adapting to what it means ultimately to own that customer experience end to end, really have the relationship directly with the customer, which is a very new thing for them. I think customers have basically, they tell us all the time that really good experiences and really great experiences are no longer a nice-to-have, they're kind of a must have. So from my perspective, that's what customers and brands are really having to adapt to, especially for those that weren't really D2C focused, they're having to adapt to no longer is it just about the brand or just about the product, or can you lean on the things that ultimately you used to be able to lean on?

The example I give people is pretty early on in working from home, it was summertime, I ordered some clothes from a brand that I shop from frequently. That being said, I normally buy them through my local surf shop. So normally I go in, I buy, I try on, things like that. Have a few of their items already, so I figured what's it going to hurt? I'll just order directly online. Went ahead, did that. They were really clear with me up front, they said, "Hey, this is going to be longer ship time" and so went ahead and had that from an expectation standpoint, it was going to take longer for things to get there. Did, ultimately I got them, tried them on, didn't fit. So here I am getting the same size that I normally get in their other products, but sizing didn't line up so a little bit, bit of a miss there, right?

If I bought items from them, how do I make sure that the sizing is appropriate? So we're putting a little bit of extra effort and extra work now for both of us. Extending that, I ended up reaching back out saying, "Hey, I need to do a return." I think it took about five plus days after kind of submitting that return before I got any information back from them. Still hadn't gotten anything, so I figured, "Well, I need this. I'm going to go ahead and get another one before they run out" and things like that so I placed another order, waited a few extra days to get that order confirmation, tracking information. Tracking information didn't work on that order. So now I'm like, "Okay, great. I got to reach out to support, my tracking number is not working on this item, which is the same item that I ordered and returned and I still haven't heard anything back from this item."

So it's gotten more complex, still kind of no word from customer support. I think ultimately it took a while to get a single item to me in the size that I needed with lots of emails back and forth. I was kind of in the driver's seat for making sure that I got it done, and I think it's a great brand, it's cool products and things like that. But ultimately, people are going to get tired of that. They're going to get tired of, they're going to find somebody who's going to be able to give them the product and the experience that they need without it being intensive on the customer. I think that's where brands are really having to adapt. No longer is that experience managed with the local shop, it's now a direct one to one relationship, and that's going to be what the brands are really going to have to open up in all the different facets that that means.

Chase: There was so much good content there. I love every single piece of what you were just talking about. But it's that whole focus on the customer experiences. It doesn't matter what's going on, whether there's a pandemic or any other reason, the customers want their products and they want them on their timeline and their schedule, so how do the merchants end up making that work? That's a big problem that we're seeing.

Aaron: Yeah. I mean, you see people all the time are loving a product but hating the experience, and that still doesn't work. If the experience is painful enough, no matter how much they like the product, they will stop buying it, even for an inferior product if the experience is easier. They just really will. You end up having to learn that mechanism of no longer can we just be the brand that's great at design and great at marketing and influencers and having the best pros and things like that, that's only going to go so far before people are like, "Yeah, but I can't get any of your product" or "It takes forever to get there."

Aaron: Ultimately they're like, "Well, I still got problems I need to kind of fill. I still, I need a new pair of trunks for the summer." Ultimately that's going to happen. Or, "I need a new pair of running shorts." You've got to fill that need, so they're really going to have to adapt to learn that and especially the brands that ecommerce has not been a focus, there's a whole new world of what that means, and the customer's expectation on timing, response, human involvement in it, like how small a little note goes. That's a big thing.

Chase: Yeah. My next question was going to be how has customer behavior changed, but I kind of want to tweak that. Has customer behavior changed or are we just seeing customer behavior is now coming to the forefront more and merchants are having to adjust more to that?

Aaron: Certainly I think our willingness to buy online for things, that's fast forwarded or maybe even opened up. The example I tell people is I bought a 35 pound kettlebell and had it shipped to me. That's insane. It probably was one of the items that I couldn't find, ended up finding it and I was like, "I don't care, add it to cart whatever the rating is," if it comes and it's a hot mess, I didn't care, but it was coming because I couldn't get to the gym and things like that. So I was like, "Yep, I need it." And then I kind of laughed when this box, I was picking it up at the front door, I'm like, "Oh my God, what is in here?"

Chase: "It's so heavy!"

Aaron: And it's so sure enough, it's a kettlebell. That's crazy. That's so different. But I think certainly customers are, again, they're shifting from non-essentials and essentials, what does that mean? I think from my perspective, and it's just also my experience too, I think one of the things that's maybe shifted is I've found myself being home more. I'm more cognizant of when things are arriving, so expectation setting feels like it's a bigger thing. Knowing that delivery times take longer and returns are going to take longer and they're more complex and I can't go drop them off someplace, that is more risky so I'm really cognizant of like, "Am I getting the right thing? Is that the right size?" Versus like, "I don't know, buy it in three and we'll figure it out later." That's kind of a pain too. So I think that's shifting.

Aaron: I would say also for my perspective, I think people are opening up to other brands that maybe were like in the peripheral, right?

Chase: Totally.

Aaron: I think as we're engaging more with social media or people are having more time and things like that at home to kind of fill that void of where they're out and about or running back and forth from the office, things like that, I think we're exploring more and looking for new opportunities. I feel like there's that, "Hey, I'm going to try this athletic wear brand that I haven't tried before. It looks like they've got some great reviews, I've been getting retargeted, I'm going to break down and give them a try." I've heard a lot of "I'm going to break down and give it a try." That seems like it's happened a lot, and I think people's flexibility in creating ultimately what they want at the house is shifted.

The example I give people is I literally get a non dairy creamer, plant-based dairy creamer. I'm that person. Really annoying, healthy person. I get that delivered to the house. They have coffee, but I get the clean coffee from another brand. That's also shipped to the house, ultimately all coming together to create my morning ritual, but from different brands. And I'm able to do that and I'm not just kind of focused on like, "I don't know, the thing on the shelf" and get it and they didn't have it, or whatever that may be. I'm kind of able to pick and choose and I feel like that's filling a little bit more of our day of like, "How do I get the things that I want or are important or maybe have the same brand values that I have in terms of environmental or health or social," whatever that may be. I think people are more open to that.

I feel like that's kind of changing what we're doing. Then the last thing I would say is I'm really moved by the brands that engage with me personally. Nothing goes longer than if I go through the effort of tagging somebody's product in an image or things like that, where people were like, "Oh, thanks," or put it on their timeline or send me a reply, or when I'm like, "Hey, when is this going to be back in stock?" When somebody replies back to me, I'm like, that's the greatest thing ever because I know how much work that is. I get really connected to even just having a personal connection at the company, so I think that's shifting as well, maybe as we're all home and talking to people a little bit less.

Chase: Totally, totally. That makes perfect sense. So that's a bit about some of the history and some of the last, like six to 12 months that have gone on, where do you think the next few months are going to go? There's a handful of kind of landmark things that are happening. The election one way or another is going to shake things up, Black Friday, Cyber Monday is always huge. I'm so excited to see what the numbers are going to be this year, they're going to be through the roof. Holiday season is always big. Where are actionable ways that merchants can focus their attention and energy over the coming months to try to capitalize off all that?

Aaron: I would say the first one's probably not super sexy and fun and you've heard it a lot, which is inventory, inventory, inventory. I think a lot of our brands and clients and brands that I'm shopping from and things like that are experiencing, some of them are experiencing tremendous growth and so getting pulled in, especially as it's harder to get products made, is becoming a challenge. That is going to be the new world, ultimately, do you have enough to be able to hit the kind of goals that you want to hit during this next season of the year? I think that's going to be on a lot of people's minds. How do we ultimately try and think of ways of maybe delivering product when we know it's going to be hard to get things or focus on other types of products that might add value because you can get them.

Things like that, I think that's ultimately going to be a big part of what's on brand and kind of the overall merchants, how do we prepare for that side of things? I would say from my perspective, I think what we're really kind of focusing on is the fact that again, we're doing so much more home shopping than we have before and we're forcing that experience, so really kind of the nice-to-haves are now more and more important. Things like better sizing technology I think is really interesting, try before you buy, augmented reality, like, "How does this stroller fit? Will it fit in the front coat closet?" Will it fit in those things without having to buy and then ultimately figure out, "Oh, crud, it doesn't" or go in and be able to experience it and kind of push it around.

That's a big thing, so I think we're going to see people... Bubbled up, I think the story is really help people understand the value props of the brand, value props of the product, and what it's good for. How do you buy it? How much do you buy it? That's going to be really important for the customer's experience because they're going to be going into this really kind of blind to these things look like in real life, so we're going to have to really amp up that storytelling. Then I would say looking for more ways of driving value, like we discount, a lot of brands have been discounting things up until this point, so I think now going into this season where there are more discounts, how much have we over discounted people? I think finding new ways of adding value are going to be really important.

What does that look like? If you're a subscribe and save brand, how do you turn that into a membership more than just recurring product? How do you meld the access, the auto replenishment, things like that, to build a membership program that looks different? Maybe give them access to early release products, special content, special benefits and features, expedited shipping or free shipping or things like that. Ultimately drive value for having a relationship with us one-on-one that goes beyond just, "We're going to send you a discount code" because everybody's going to do that.

Chase: That's huge.

Aaron: Yeah, exactly. I think people are looking for value, especially if you're not doing the really quick and easy Amazon-it. "I don't know, it's two day Prime," whatever. I think people are looking for a reason to have a relationship with the brand and you give that with really good experience and then also unique things that you can only give as a brand that the marketplaces essentially can't. I think that's where we really need to focus on those and what does it mean to deliver value, again, that's not just a discount.

Aaron: There's lots of tactical stuff as well. I mean, I think SMS we're seeing oddly enough even people being home, SMS, we're seeing some really good results with some of our clients in terms of that and the conversion rates are pretty wild. So there's a lot of the tactical stuff again, that that varies per brand, and then the day in and day out stuff like don't use discount codes if you have to in these time periods so that you don't have the whole customer support thing. If you're going to have a lot of like, "Where's my order" and stuff like that, don't have people dealing with like, "I can't use the code" even though the code works. That always comes up.

So it's stuff like that, that I think ultimately again, nothing new. I think it's really just more of a focus on that again, expectation, experience, and then really like dipping people in the essence of what the product is so they buy the right thing.

Chase: Totally. And just to drive home the point of a membership for a while, I was going to say that's speaking my language. I'll talk all day about this kind of stuff. But one of the things that people always overlook when you say "Drive value" and deliver things that are valuable to your customers, a lot of people just think the way to drive value is discount or the way to drive value is to add more products or something like that. You hit the nail on the head: content or special features or early releases. Those things are all massive.

So some sort of membership program or some sort of like, "Hey, thanks for buying/subscribing, here's a piece of content that will show you how to use XYZ," whatever it is. Or if you buy a surf board or even like a bathing suit or something, "Here's something that you can pair on the top of the swim trunks you bought," or like "How to wear this as a style" or something like that. All of that is super, super high value that people often overlook because you don't make money off of selling that, but those are the things that keep people around long term so you can continue buying from that same product.

Aaron: Yeah. Everybody's always interested in like, "How do I use it? What's the best way to use it" And ultimately again, really delivering on the content side of things. We work a lot in the health and wellness space, whether it be stuff that you put in your body, supplements, stuff you put on your body to keep you healthy, whatever that may be, I think we do a lot of work in that space and with those types of brands and that's huge. I mean, ultimately I tell people like, generally people are not creative. You give them a type of protein, they are going to use it until they get sick of it and then just move on.

Chase: Find a new product.

Aaron: Yeah, exactly. So ultimately if you can really help them understand how to consume it, other ways of consuming it, "Did you do this?" And when people are buying health based products, ultimately what they're signaling is, is "I'm interested in my health, so what else do you got?" Right? Most of those brands also, they're not a one shot product. Some of them are, but a lot of them have multiple different products, and so ultimately people that are interested in improving their health are interested in results. So how do you help them get closer to those results, maybe with other products or that they're not pairing this well, or maybe they're not using it in the regimen that they need to.

I think that's the really interesting thing that we're really kind of talking to people about. And again, value also doesn't have to be just more and more and more. It can just be consistent, consistent, consistent. I think in subscription world, value is making it flexible for the customer, making it easy for them. I talk to people all day long and essentially say like, "Ultimately, what we're trying to do is get a very fixed thing, this amount in this package, this many ounces, every X days delivered to the same place."

Chase: Spot on.

Aaron: Consistently, right? What we're trying to map that to is a human being, which is nowhere near consistent. Nothing is consistent in their world, and especially right now. So the reality is more change and more flexibility ultimately for them to basically make that subscription as flexible as their life is, whether it be changing flavors, getting more, getting less, pausing for a minute and coming back. Whatever that may be, that overall just extends the life of the engagement with the brand and keeps them into the game versus them feeling really rigid and tied in. I think that's a big thing as well.

Chase: Totally. I couldn't agree more. I subscribed to quite a number of subscription products and even just looking back and doing some analysis, the ones that are really easy to swap and change and try something different or a different protein powder, different flavor, whatever it is, those are the ones you end up sticking with longer versus the ones where you do it for a month or two and they make the process so difficult to cancel, you have to buy a new one, re-sign up, different email, all this kind of stuff, those are the ones you just say, "You know what, forget it. I'm over this."

Aaron: Well, and ultimately it costs money too, because essentially people get frustrated and they talk to customer support, so customer support gets inundated and it's all for the fact that they can't use the thing that you gave them ultimately to do that management for them. That's where it's really key, like why is that? Why can't we empower them to be able to really do that in a great experience, but give them that flexibility to stay in and have to do that without holding their hand every step of the way?

Chase: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Let's shift gears a little bit. We've talked about some of the ideal ways that we can build a store and some of the things that we can do to get people ready for the upcoming seasons, what are some of the things that you see as the biggest problems? I know we talked about shipping a little bit, we talked about this whole customer experience idea. What's something that if you could have fixed across the board, just with a magic wand, what do you think people should do 100% of the time?

Aaron: Hmm. Well, I would say a big one that we see people coming to us for, this one comes up in a lot of the brands that we're talking to. We do a lot of things like moving people onto the platform, rebuilding them on Shopify Plus and ReCharge and things like that, that's what we do. That's a big part of what we do. I'd say one of the things that we see is ultimately people come in and they're kind of blown away when we talk about the concept of really allowing their team, their internal team, to be able to manage the content, the promotionalization, the way the site is structured, the navigation, all of that day to day, without having to get an engineer or developer involved. That's a world that they're like, "Are you serious?" And for us, it's so foreign because we're like, "Why would you buy a truck and ultimately need your mechanic to be able to use it? That's so strange."

We see that across the board. Really how do we end up helping them be able to use what we've ultimately given them, whether it be the platform, the site, the promotional areas or managing the content, things like that, really making it unique as they need to on their own, while they're leveraging an agency or an internal department or whatever that may be, or eHouse Studio using those teams ultimately to do new features, innovation, AB testing, basically moving the needle on the things that they can't while they're doing it at other work. So I would say that across the board, normally I don't talk to a whole lot of merchants. I don't feel that like, "Amen, I want some of that" kind of thing. So I'd say that's a big one.

Let's see. I would say generally what I tell people, and a not so fun one, is understanding what customers want. I think we all make a lot of assumptions about what we know as the brand, or we know as the agency, because we've gone through that experience. Ultimately I think a true lack of understanding of what the customer actually needs and what they actually use to go through the purchasing process, why they left, like ultimately, why they left, right? Like, "Why did we lose you as a customer? Why did you end up buying from us?" Those are things that I think ultimately people just don't really know.

We make a lot of assumptions and then we test a lot of guesses hoping that we've found the right one. But I think sometimes as much as just going to the customer, sitting down, talking to them, using surveys, using one-on-one interviews, "Why did you leave? Why did you stay? Why do you continue to stay? What is a big part of you purchasing? What's a big part of you not purchasing? What are we doing as a brand? What differentiates us?" Those types of information, I mean, they're key. It's the path, right? It's the golden path, so you just really need to pull it out of them and make that process easier. So I'd say not really understanding that, not having the time and the ability to connect with them.

Product findability is always something that we see a lot. Ultimately if they can't find it, they won't buy it. So I think really, we kind of take the overall approach of like, every time somebody is clicking, we should be reducing and narrowing that focus, not necessarily giving them more or giving them different. How do we narrow that focus as they're clicking? We see a lot of times where it's not hard to find lots of key phrases that should be coming up with products, aren't coming up with any products, or filtering will filter out based on nothing. That's not good. Why would we allow people to get to a no result through filtering, things like that.

So ultimately helping find the product, especially when you have a lot of products that are very similar with multiple different types of protein or multiple types of different shoes that are close, but a little bit different, and really helping them understand, what's the difference? Why would I choose one or the other ultimately, so the shopping experience isn't huge and take a lot of time to pack back and forth.

Bad analytics. I would say that is a pain point for a lot. Ultimately I think with analytics, the challenge with that is there are so many different sources for analytics, so many different silos for analytics, and they all kind of vary in what they report and measure and report similar things but the numbers are different because they look at it differently. So ultimately I would say what ends up happening is different people look at different things, things don't line up, and brands ultimately just stop believing all the different sources or they pick a source and then they're very kind of siloed in their ability to use that information to make business intelligent decisions.

I would say that's a consistent challenge of how do we make sure we set the KPIs that are really important to us right now, and then measure and track for those versus like taking stabs every time we feel like there's a problem and then going like, "Well, this says this, and that says this, and this says this" and ultimately you spend all your time just figuring out what's right versus making a decision. That's kind of a consistent challenge that we're blessed to be able to help brands and merchants solve.

Chase: So taking this all the way back to the beginning, we started about kind of UX experience and how the customer understands your brand and experiences and interacts with that. It's all the unsexy things that really do make a really, really well qualified and a well built product and a well built merchant. It's things like inventory, it's things like analytics, it's things like product searchability, which is something that I hadn't even thought about, but it makes perfect sense. Merchants usually sell very similar products so if you're searching for something and 387 products are showing up, that's probably not a good experience for the merchant or for the customer. All really, really interesting things. I think that's a great point.

Aaron: Yeah, absolutely.

Chase: Let's shift gears to something that I think is going to be popular in the coming months or maybe years, which is voice commerce. Explain really quickly what voice commerce is and why it's going to be so important in the coming months.

Aaron: We were asked to do some research on voice commerce and what does it mean and what should we be thinking about. We're always trying to pick things and ultimately dive into them and say, "How do we prepare ourselves for those conversations when they come up, and then how do we also help prepare our clients and brands to start forward thinking?" Because you should always be looking for that next opportunity. I think ultimately when it comes to voice commerce, in full transparency, we're very realistic in that the expectation of people shopping from their smart speaker without being able to see something, we're not there yet. As we've been talking about good customer experience, it's not something that people are used to doing just yet, right?

They're still using it for what we all use it for. "Play music, do this, play games with the kids," things like that. That being said, the reality is, what we're seeing is the big tech brands, the big retailers, they are tipping their hats to this. They are starting to say, "Hey, we're investing in this, we're improving this assistant, we're improving the technology to allow shopping through this method, we're really putting a focus and effort in that." Ultimately what we're seeing is that it's not going to take a lot for things ultimately to start to tip, to let the floodgates kind of open up on that. And it's things like being able to bring together the screen and the smart speaker.

As we shift to being able to see the smart assistant at home with the screen stand part of it, that's going to start opening up the floodgates and we've got like, I don't know, 60 million or something like that, of those in people's hands was one of the numbers I saw. When you start to think about what the floodgate looked like for the iPhone and the smartphone and what that meant for mobile shopping and mobile in general, it's not going to take a lot for us to be able to start to initiate some of this purchasing, investigation, finding, things like that from these devices, as people get more comfortable with them.

I think the last thing I would say is especially with people being home, I think I saw a recent study that said like over 50% increase in smart speaker home usage because people are home more, which is just a totally different thing now. I've found myself using it a lot more now that we're home. What's that going to start look like as, again, these things kind of merge and intersect, are people going to start opening up to that? Our sense is yes. It's only going to be a matter of time.

Chase: That's super interesting. And again, it's kind of like you said, tipping your hat to it. It's not something you need to go all in and invest on right now, but it's something that these big merchants, these big retailers are investing in. So in order to not get left behind, it's important to invest a couple of resources here and there.

Aaron: Yeah. I mean I think the crazy thing is that we tell people... Here's the positive thing with the whole voice search and voice commerce, is that the things they tell you to do right now are ultimately, they're the things that essentially are like, they're good. What's good for the goose is good for the Gander, you should be doing them anyway. So that's kind of what we're telling people is a lot of it sits in and around SEO, content structure, leveraging Q&A snippets and FAQ snippets, long tailed keywords, long form content, site speed, schema for FAQs, for products, things like that. All of that stuff has benefits well before we get to voice commerce. They're good for SEO, they're good for search, it's good for site speed, it's good for conversions.

All of that is going to be beneficial, whether I'm wrong and the big tech companies are wrong because it's not the first time, definitely not the first time I'm wrong, and definitely probably not the first time they're going to be wrong either. But ultimately what I do feel confident in saying is it's not going to be effort wasted. It's always going to be effort put in the right place, and so those things ultimately take time to put in place. It takes time for that stuff to start to work so start now, and then if the stars align and things kind of interject then great. If they don't, then the reality is you'll be getting lots of benefits from those other things and those other efforts in terms of search and things like that, so it's kind of a "Why not?"

Chase: Yep, yep. Very well said. Voice commerce, go check it out. Last question for you, Aaron, as we wrap up here, I know you've done a lot of work with ReCharge and subscriptions and you're kind of an expert in all things subscription-based, so what subscription products do you subscribe to?

Aaron: Well, let's see, I do a plant based protein, vanilla protein from Ancient Nutrition, which is also quiet, but really like that. Athletic Greens, which is kind of a daily supplement that I do as well. Again, I'm kind of annoying in the health department. It's what happens when you get older, 18 years of experience, it starts to remind you you're not young anymore. Then the last one, let's see, I do this clean coffee from a brand and then I also do a non dairy creamer, one of the Laird Hamilton non dairy coconut creamers, which I think is also on ReCharge, and I subscribe to that as well.

Chase: Awesome. Very cool. Well Aaron, thank you so much for joining us. I think we had a great episode today.

Aaron: Absolutely.

Chase: I'm excited to continue to talk about all things in the past and in the future.

Aaron: My pleasure. Thank you.

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