Chase Alderton: On this episode, we talked to Wes Buckwalter, owner at SeaMonster Studios, a 15-year-old Shopify agency. Wes has a unique perspective on e-commerce in the subscription space, as he built the self-proclaimed first coffee subscription platform in 2001. Because of this, Wes leaned in the e-commerce and subscriptions and SeaMonster has worked with hundreds of brands, helping them launch, scale, and continually learn from past experiences. We chat about compliance and why the ever-changing regulations are a good thing for merchants, not a burden. Wes dives into how being a compliance store can bring many benefits, including SEO, better acquisition, and higher retention stats. So let's get started. So Wes, thank you for joining us.
Wes Buckwalter: Thanks for having me.
Chase Alderton: Tell us a little bit about yourself and about SeaMonster.
Wes Buckwalter: Well, so I'm the owner and creative director at SeaMonster Studios. And so, most of the time I'm involved in our projects from start to finish, I deal a little bit with client services, a little bit with design and art direction, a little bit of engineering direction as well. And so as a full service agency, we do deal with everything from traditional design in print, product packaging, branding, brand strategy, and things of that nature.
Wes Buckwalter: And then as of late, by demand mostly, we deal with a lot of digital as well. So everything from websites to web applications, we specialize specifically in Shopify and Shopify plus e-commerce sites, subscription programs, and really trying to deal with what we would call the full stack solution. So an end to end solution provider for understanding the entire ecosystem of an e-commerce platform, helping merchants, not only understand how to build their website, or how to design their website, but what are the other tools that may contribute to data analysis or subscription programs, or shipping programs, and things of that nature that help the merchant understand all of the moving parts that exist within an e-commerce system, so they can develop their solutions around it, I suppose.
Chase Alderton: Awesome. Love all the detail. Really appreciate it. One of the things we're going to hop into today, which you didn't explicitly mention, but you kind of hint to that, which is this idea of a lot of different systems coming together within an e-commerce platform. We're going to hop into compliance, which is the sexiest and the most fun thing to talk through, which I'm sure everyone's pumped about to listen to. Before that though, I know that there's a long history for you in e-commerce. You've been around since 2001, I believe, in the e-commerce field. So it gives us a little background-
Wes Buckwalter: That's right.
Chase Alderton: ... of your history and what you've built up to now.
Wes Buckwalter: Well, I started working for somebody else back in the good old days. And so did not start SeaMonster at that point, but worked for another large coffee company, and happened to be one of the first coffee companies, I think in the United States, that came up with both an e-commerce solution, and then by happenstance decided, wouldn't it be great if people could subscribe to a coffee, and really had no example of something like that happening in the past, or another website to reverse engineer and steal from, or otherwise. And so essentially rolled our own solution.
Wes Buckwalter: And so, as a small team, we were fortunate enough in the Puget Sound area to work around a bunch of really great engineering companies and development agencies, and sort of tapped my contacts to say, how could we build something like this that I don't think exists yet for traditional retail commerce users. And so, with a lot of trial and error, and a bunch of hack together systems, and credit card platforms that don't exist anymore cobbled together.
Wes Buckwalter: This subscription coffee platform that I think was the first to the table, at least in the United States, but many may have done it before us, and I just didn't realize it, but started hot and heavy on a single corporate website that grew from zero to a pretty lucrative website over the tenure that I was there. And then at some point in my life, I decided, now's the chance to try to do this myself as a company, formed SeaMonster Studios way back in 2007, and have been at it ever since.
Chase Alderton: I love it. We'll give you credit for first e-commerce coffee company.
Wes Buckwalter: I'd like to take credit for it, I'm not confident that I can, but I'll take it, it'll take it.
Chase Alderton: Well, we're not going on a penalty of law, but as far as hearsay, I'm happy to give you credit for that. That sounds great.
Wes Buckwalter: Right on.
Chase Alderton: It's so funny that coffee companies seem to be one of the most repeatable businesses, as far as subscription goes in 2022, at least, everyone drinks coffee so consistently, I've had three cups of coffee today, I regret to admit. But everyone needs their coffee so frequently that it kind of just is a no-brainer to get them on subscription. But I got to imagine way back in the day, it's a lot harder to visualize, we need a login platform, we need to be able to skip and swap and adjust and all these kind of things. How was that process of identifying what the tough pieces were to build or was the whole thing just difficult?
Wes Buckwalter: It was a lot of fly by the seat of our pants. And so, we had a credential system already, so people could log in just to view read only order history. Had no concept of managing a subscription at the time, it was like unsubscribe if you need to, and start a new one if you need to. And I think we had a limited frequency choice as well. It was either month or every other month or something like that. And it was really rudimentary by today's standards, but it gave the consumer some amount of control, they could stop and start as they needed, and I think we chose monthly because we figured, well, nobody's going to have too much coffee at that point. If they need to order more, they can start two subscriptions and stagger them. We had no way to alter the timeline or any of those things. And so it was really basic.
Wes Buckwalter: And even as administrators, we couldn't alter them for the consumer either because we couldn't manipulate their payment system. And so it was once you set it, it was on until you stopped it. And then once you had to reset it, you had to come back and reset it yourself. So by today's standards, it was a horrible user experience. But in the good old days, it was a fantastic experience. You got coffee without having to think about it. And, by the time I ended my run with it, it was like 50% of the revenue stream for the company I was working for.
Chase Alderton: Wow.
Wes Buckwalter: And so it was a huge advantage in a world where, this company we were working for was competing with Starbucks and much bigger companies, and so. And at that point, Starbucks did not have an e-commerce presence at all. And so it was nice to beat the big guys, even though they're a little bit of our hometown heroes as well. It was cool to be tech forward. I was fortunate enough to have a boss who allowed me to do those things, even though they were experimental and weird.
Wes Buckwalter: And he kept telling me, this internet thing may catch on someday, we'll see if it goes well. But, I was fortunate enough to have somebody who was confident in our skills, I guess you would say, and let us do our thing. And it turns out that's sometimes all you need to be the Genesis of a really creative system or a cobbled together, held together with spit and duct tape system anyway.
Chase Alderton: I was going to say, what's the best practice. I would kind of answer that own question by saying that probably not having two separate subscriptions to stagger your delivery dates is probably a best practice.
Wes Buckwalter: For sure, yeah. I mean, I think these days, letting the consumer control stuff to their own will, I think is the essential, right? I mean, we've got an insane amount of opportunity to measure data and understand who our subscribers are, ask them what they want, give them flexibility in their plans and their controls. I mean, I think the way that we typically talk about subscriptions as an agency today is that the consumer should have ultimate decision making power over everything they do, whether it's the product they're receiving or the timeline they get it in.
Wes Buckwalter: If we can let them order something every 23 days, if that's what they really want, that may be the perfect amount of whatever the something is that they need. And so, you want to make sure that you don't overburden them with products so they walk away as a result of having too much that they can stop and start when they please, that they can go on vacation and not worry about a bag of coffee sitting on their front porch for three weeks or whatever.
Wes Buckwalter: And I think it also means that you spend less time dealing with customer service and complaints or alterations internally. If you give the consumer control, they can do whatever they want. And you spend a little bit of less person power attacking problems that can be fixed by letting the consumer be happier with process anyway.
Chase Alderton: I think that 23-day thing that you brought up, which I'm sure was just a random number pulled out, but I think that's a really cool example of where subscriptions are going in the future, is this idea of like non-perfect delivery dates. I said I've had three cups of coffee today, how does coffee company X know that their coffee drinkers have one a day, versus two every other day, versus one day it's five, and the next day it's zero. And occasionally that frequency ends up being 23 days. And I think that's going to be a really interesting space to watch, I think.
Wes Buckwalter: Well, and I think the thing not to forget that oftentimes we end up bringing up in conversation is why not just ask. I think a lot of companies think they know best, well, I can measure that every couple of weeks, you're going to need this much coffee based on this average, but everybody's a little bit unique and whether it's coffee, or cheese, or face cream, or any other consumable product, or even non consumable products, they run out at some point and everybody uses them a little bit uniquely. There's a lot of commonality, but we now have opportunities to help people cater to their desires. And I think that leads to an ultimate amount of success and really customer happiness as well.
Wes Buckwalter: I think loyalty is a big deal. Everybody assumes when we subscribe somebody to our product they're going to be around forever, but the more flexible subscription plan or the slightly cooler, or easier to use product tends to take over. And if we can find ways to give the consumer exactly what they want when they want it, the rate of attrition reduces rapidly.
Chase Alderton: That's a very good point. That's a very good point. So let's flip the script a little bit, maybe talk a little bit about best practices in your 20 plus your journey. What's something you've seen, that's kind of a consistent problem that somebody has... since 2001, all the way up through 2022, something that people are constantly seeing as an issue.
Wes Buckwalter: I think fulfillment tends to be an issue across the board. Whether it's the beginning of the supply chain or the end of the supply chain. I mean, I think what we've seen the pandemic in play is either product not getting to where it needs to be produced or turned into its final state, or the product leaving its warehouse or facility or production facility of some sort and not getting to the consumer in the timeline that they would expect. And so when you're thinking about food, especially specialty food or consumables, you have a limited timeline of freshness that is required to get something where it needs to be on time.
Wes Buckwalter: Other cases, it's just a matter of gratification. Amazon has taught all of us that shipping should take less than two days. And so-
Chase Alderton: Which is not true.
Wes Buckwalter: ... we've got a conditioned society that assumes shipping should be free and that it should be here 15 minutes after I order it or whatever. And where I'm at in Seattle, for example, I've often gotten products the same day I order them, which makes me pretty jaded when I'm two days into a waiting for a shipment saying like, "Why is this thing not here? I can't believe I have to wait this long," when just five years ago, I would've waited three weeks for something to arrive and not had a problem with it.
Chase Alderton: It's a really interesting point. It depends what centers are around the country. If you live near them, you're better off. And if not, it takes you a couple of days.
Wes Buckwalter: Well, and I think some of that comes down too, to be able to just communicate with your customers effectively. If you have a good marketing channel or the right amount of communications that touches all the right points of something's being packed, something's being shipped, it's on its way, the mail man has experienced a delay or something like that. I think as long as the seller, the merchant is communicating that to a consumer, there's a lot more forgiveness in that concept somewhere along the way. And I think an amplified amount of customer service as a result as well.
Chase Alderton: So you talk communication, talk customer service. I think the next logical step here is to hop into compliance, which I know we were going to spend a little bit of time on.
Wes Buckwalter: For sure.
Chase Alderton: Compliance is something that SeaMonster does really, really well. It's something you guys are really high on. It's a core to who you guys are as a company. Define for me first, what compliance is. It's not just following a specific law, and then we'll talk into details about it.
Wes Buckwalter: Sure. Well, compliance has been, I guess I would say a bit of a gray area, even though there is a standard for it. I think along the way, it's been evolving rapidly as well, but it really comes down to making things more equitable for everybody on the web. And so when we think about Americans as a demographic, something like one in of us has some form of a disability, whether that's a speech impairment, or vision impairment, auditory impairments, physical impairments, whatever it might be.
Wes Buckwalter: And everybody uses and interacts with the internet in a different way. And so maybe, you can't see, or you have a certain amount of vision impairment, and so you have difficulty seeing certain things. And so compliance, I guess, allows a person with some form of a disability to experience the internet in an equitable way or in the same way that somebody who has no impairments would as well.
Wes Buckwalter: And so there's a standard called WCAG compliance, which stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. And it's a bit of a moving target in the sense that it keeps evolving much like home building codes would, but they keep getting better is really what it is. They discover new mechanisms or hardware that allow users to use the internet in a different way. And so building your website or your digital solution in such a way that you'll allow everybody in your audience to experience it, rather than just fully able-bodied people to experience it is what the guideline is all about.
Chase Alderton: What is an example or two of something in this WCAG compliance law that you can point to that would say, "Hey, you should be doing this because this is the alternative."
Wes Buckwalter: Yeah. I mean, I think the really easy ones are super easy to pick out and super easy for anyone to deal with themselves. So something as simple as alt texts that are assigned to images, and alt text stands for alternative text. And typically in the past, it's been referred to as an SEO move, you assign a logical human readable amount of text to an image. So for example, the picture of the hand holding the coffee cherry that's behind me, alt text would be something like handholding a coffee cherry, and it describes what the image is.
Wes Buckwalter: And if you can imagine a blind person traversing a website with a screen reader, and the screen reader keep saying picture, picture, picture, picture. That's a really negative experience for that person who may be staring at a product photo that isn't being related to them as a product photo. And so, as a result, you lose the impact of your website and all of this great content that you've created without telling people what that content is. And at the same time, robots like screen readers for search engines will also consume that and amplify the findability or the searchability of that image within their engines as well.
Wes Buckwalter: And so, that's a really easy one to pick off the list. Another one that we run across really commonly is stuff like color contrast ratios, and so to be fully compliant, and there's no multiple standards for compliance, but let's say for an average retail business, you have to have a certain amount of contrast ratio that's based on the darkness and lightness of colors when they're used together, maybe the size of the text that's being used, in a combination with colors and things like that.
Wes Buckwalter: And so, a lot of times what we run into are brands that have existed for a long time, who, 20 years ago, when their brand was being invented, didn't have compliance to care about, or even regulations, or maybe even the internet to worry about. And so they have things like primary brand colors that don't work well together when we're talking about folks with vision impairments, for example.
Wes Buckwalter: And so, what we run into is something like a button, that's say, light blue with darker blue text on it, and they don't meet a ratio of contrast between those two colors to allow somebody with a vision impairment to be able to differentiate those two colors from each other. And so a lot of times we investigate these low-hanging fruit items right out of the gate, which once you've gained a little bit of understanding and expertise, you can pick out just by looking at it. I mean, there's a bit of a science to it, but a lot of it's like, you'll know it when you see it scenario.
Wes Buckwalter: And then a lot more of it comes down to the complexity within the code, making sure that it's written correctly and semantically consumable by even more intelligent systems like screen readers, or braille readers, or even something as simple as like close captioning, which we're used to on seeing in TV. With all these influencer videos, and product videos, and things like that, coming into play these days, a lot of folks don't realize you have to have closed captioning in your videos for them to be compliant. And so you're otherwise basically putting a video into your site that say, somebody with a hearing impairment could never understand because there's nothing that tells them what's going on.
Wes Buckwalter: And so things like that are relatively simple moves that help with compliance. And then, as you grow up as a company, there's much more complex things that you might want to engage with a developer to look under the hood and find out if there's other deeper problems.
Chase Alderton: I love those examples, and I'm so glad you brought up closed captioning and also button colors, I think are two that popped out to me. When people hear compliance, sometimes they think, oh, this is boring, I don't have to worry about compliance any of that kind of stuff. But things color blindness is a real disability. And it's a real something that people actually struggle with. I have family and friends all over the place.
Chase Alderton: Some funny story real quick. A friend of mine was buying a ticket in a movie theater, and you flip the screen around and it says, pick whatever seat you want. And one of the colors for the chairs that are free is like a dark blue. And the color for the chairs that are taken is a light blue. But this person's looking at the screen and the color blindness just blends them all together. And you have no clue what seat is open and what seat's closed. That's something that most people would just say is best practice, but that's a compliance issue. That's something that you really need to watch out for to make sure that people can actually attract these things. So those are both really good examples.
Wes Buckwalter: Well, and it plays into usability as well, right? You want as many users as you can have to use your website. And I think the thing that impacted me the most was a conversation we had with somebody that was an expert a long time before we decided to become experts, was like, "If you can imagine going to a brick and mortar store, and let's say your legs don't work and you are in a wheelchair, and they don't have ramps and they don't have doors wide enough for your wheelchair to fit into, but there's a greeter at the front door that says, 'well, the store for people in wheelchairs is actually in the back parking lot, has a limited number of products that you can view and understand. But if you just roll yourself back there, you can shop there. Everybody else can come into the store,'" and then it starts raining.
Wes Buckwalter: And so, you're basically this person who's been told, you don't really matter to us, but we had to do something for you. And so just, work your way around the corner and off you go. And I thought about that in a real life scenario, how horrible it would feel to both say that to somebody, and be that somebody who it was said to. And that's the thing that sort of hammered home that like, we need to address this problem as an agency.
Wes Buckwalter: And I think one of the things I've found is that there's nobody out there, whether you're going to college, or you're taking a trade school route for learning development and engineering or design, telling people this is becoming law and you should think about users from a usability perspective that aren't just yourself. You're not just an able-bodied, fully abled person to consume the internet. There's a million ways to consume it. And it used to be the same thing when we were talking about responsive websites. Well, only so many of our users use phones. And so we don't need to make a responsive website because that's... there's only 10% audience. Well, in my region now it's like 80% of our audience and so-
Chase Alderton: And that was only a few years ago, if you remember, only one to two to maybe three years ago-
Wes Buckwalter: Not that long ago.
Chase Alderton: [crosstalk 00:19:18] friendly, yeah.
Wes Buckwalter: And so, you look at it like, are we going to make moves that eliminate a chunk of our audience? And if my statistic is accurate, are we going to eliminate 25% of our audience right out of the gate by doing the wrong thing? And that's irrelevant of the laws and regulations that are coming into play as well. I mean, at some point, we're not going to have a choice, but to be compliant. And so, as a result of that, we can do the right thing because we can, it only takes a little bit of extra knowledge to do it, but if we just want to about it from a purely selfish perspective, there's a 25% chunk of our audience that we're skipping out on and all that revenue, and all of those people that we could interact with, as designers and developers or as merchants that is ultimately very important to keep in our audience. I mean, everybody's money spends the same way. And there's so no reason to limit somebody from be coming your customer in a discriminatory way, whether it's on accident, or on purpose, or otherwise.
Chase Alderton: One of my favorite conversations to have is emergence why. Why are you selling this product? Why does this matter to you? Something like that. How does compliance fold into emergence why? There's so many people who talk about, we only deal with organic products, or we only sell fair trade product, things like that. Is this just another level of like, we care about all people, we really want to make sure that everybody has accessibility to these things.
Wes Buckwalter: I think so. I mean, when you get down to the purely business minded money making person, I mean, it steps back to that chunk of the audience that we're leaving behind, right? It's a revenue generating mechanism-
Chase Alderton: Kind of just [crosstalk 00:20:51]-
Wes Buckwalter: I think people that... Exactly. And so, but most people that we encounter that care about compliance out of the gate are there because it's about equity and fairness and it's about doing the right thing because they need to, or they have to, or they want to. I think a lot of folks are like, well, everybody eats cheese so I shouldn't be able to not sell cheese to folks with disabilities, or everybody needs an opportunity to enter my store in whatever way they see fit and shop it and so forth. And so a lot of it's about doing the right thing to be inclusive or to be understanding of people of all walks of life. I mean, you wouldn't say that, "I'm going to limit my store based on racial demographic, or age demographic, or male or female demographic, or any other... Pick a binary thing or whatever, and say, this half doesn't get to be here. Nobody would do that.
Wes Buckwalter: And so now, we're trying to blur that line that's been drawn around able-bodied and disabled people and saying, "There is no line," it's everybody is in the audience and we need to erase that line as well if we're going to have a conversation about inclusivity, and equity, and things like that when it comes to e-commerce or when it comes to websites in general. And I think what we're seeing is a lot of much larger enterprise dealing with it first. And I think a lot of that becomes, they have a bit of a larger target because they have more money, they're more suitable, some of those kind of things.
Wes Buckwalter: But I think also, they're the organizations who have HR departments who focus on inclusivity and making things fair for their employee base and stuff like that. And so, they have a larger amount of awareness, maybe a larger motivation to keep a workforce happier and thus an audience happier as well. And so we started to see it much more prominently in large enterprise. And now, I think it's just becoming something that everybody cares about. It's becoming part of our cultural vernacular and it's starting to be a thing where it's like nobody would limit somebody for any of the other reasons I listed off. And so this is now one other thing to get out of that list of horrible things and mistakes that we've made as a society to eliminate people's possibility of enjoying our cheese or whatever it might be.
Chase Alderton: From a subscription standpoint, the customer portal is a major place that most people know about, so that's one. Once you buy a product, you have to log back into your portal and manage your subscription, whether it's cross-sells, upsells, so skip swaps, whatever it is. How does something like WCG compliance play into subscription portals, when we're talking kind of like prepurchase and post purchase?
Wes Buckwalter: I think step one is getting somebody to make the purchase, right? We've acquired them as a customer, we've built a compliant website that allowed a nonable bodied person to get through the purchase process and complete a checkout. And then typically, in a subscription process, the next step is receiving a invite to a portal, or a text message that gets you into the portal, or something that allows that person to interact with their subscription from post purchase until the next recurrence of the subscription, for example.
Wes Buckwalter: So if that consumer say, gets an email that can't be read for color contrast reasons, or because it's not using semantic text or something, they never get to interact with the portal as a result. And so I think it plays into step one, getting them into the portal, making sure they can sign in, access their account, see all the things and so forth. And whether see means their screen reader reads it to them, or their braille interpreter interprets it for them, or they can visually accomplish whatever they need to, then it's a matter of getting them around the screen. So, can we all allow the user to alter their credit card, or select a new product, or swap a variant or product type within their subscription to switch out to a new flavor or something.
Wes Buckwalter: Then likewise just understand that they've taken all the steps as quickly as possible, to logically traverse through a portal and then alter what they need. And a lot of the that comes down to let's say, making sure that the portal is accessible with keyboard controls, or can be read to a user by a screen reader, who may be using another assistive tool to click on things or whatever. And that it responds appropriately to all of those tools, not just a mouse interaction or a touchpad, or whatever the device might be, that's being used.
Chase Alderton: They're all great points. You brought up acquisition, which is where I wanted to go next anyway. Is this something that you have seen measurably change acquisition for certain brands who actually lean into this? Or is this something that-
Wes Buckwalter: It is.
Chase Alderton: ... we're just talking is it's a good idea to do, and it's something you should cover your bases for?
Wes Buckwalter: Yeah, I think in the beginning it started out with a bit of brands showing up saying, "Hey, we got this form letter from an attorney that tells us that we've done the wrong thing. And so we need to do this because we're being... we're in trouble or whatever."
Chase Alderton: You're being forced and sued-
Wes Buckwalter: Or we're being forced to do this. And I think there was hesitancy in the concept of forcing the hand as well. I think it was, "What if we just fight this." And it's like, "Well, are you really going to be the company that fights for the right to be discriminatory to somebody who has disabilities?" Absolutely not, and you'd be out of your mind to do that. At least as a business anyway. Whatever your opinions are, you're here to make money, you're here to make custom tumors happy. That's your actual job as a business, and so you would be insane to do that.
Wes Buckwalter: But I think what we started to see though, was businesses who decided I want to be more compliant just because I've heard of somebody being sued, or because I've seen the legends, or I've heard about these terrible things that can happen if you're not. And so are we, or aren't compliant? We don't really know, can we assess it or not? And so taking simple steps to assess correct issues and so forth does a couple of things.
Wes Buckwalter: One of the nicest benefits of being WCAG compliant is you increase your SEO with it. You have semantically written code, that's more reversible by robots, whether that's an assistive technology or a search engine of some sort. And so what you start to see is sites that maintain WCAG compliance show up in search more often. And as a result, they acquire more customers, or they attract more people through search and through sort of non-organic type means. And then, hopefully as a result, some of those customers are able to use their assistive technology to get through and the able bodied customers who don't rely on assistive technology, maybe found them as a result, more likely than they didn't.
Wes Buckwalter: So we do see a pretty good uptick in not only, I guess, search result usage or search acquisition, but what we can also assume, because we're not necessarily asking our audience, "Are you able or disabled bodied person?" That some amount of conversion increases attributed to people who otherwise couldn't previously use the website, being able to use it more effectively, as well.
Wes Buckwalter: As an agency, we haven't necessarily chosen to measure the demographic of people with ability, or lack thereof using a website. And so I don't really have a great measure of anything, but an assumption that I can make about that. But seeing an uptake in conversion would seem that leaning in on WCAG compliance has definitely not hurt things. But in most cases, we do see either an increase in initial traffic, and in some cases, an increase in conversion as well.
Chase Alderton: In relation to SEO is a super, super cool point that I had not really thought about. You brought up SEO earlier, and I was going to try to dig into that a little bit. But it's tough to measure, but you're spot on if you are building these things out the right way. And I think image text is a great example or a point to better crawling for search engines, listing on the front page, easier access for all new customers, higher acquisition costs... I'm sorry, higher acquisition percentage. So it certainly makes sense as you keep going, and you keep digging into why acquisition costs are arising. This is a good solution to that.
Wes Buckwalter: Well, and I think at the end of the day, it's a lot cheaper to build an equitable site that allows 100% of the audience to access it, traverse your products, use the site to its maximum ability. And at the same time, you spend let's say that same chunk of money on SEO or whatever, but you don't create at a compliance site. You're actually doing a little bit of both all at once. I think there's a lot more magic to search engine optimization than simply having alt tags and a semantically built site. But I think you're tackling a lot of the things that an SEO agency would also be tackling right out of the gate, when they're first surveying a site, maybe making small fixes that are easy, low hanging fruits to tackle as well.
Wes Buckwalter: I think you get a lot more bang for your buck than I think most people believe. I think it's a, like you said, at the beginning kind of an unglamorous thing. It's a compliance move, I'm trying to stick to building codes or whatever, I'm not changing anything that makes my site more awesome to look at or whatever, but it makes it more awesome to use. And I think that's the thing that a lot of people don't necessarily gain sight on until they understand from someone else's shoes, how they might use the internet. It's that your site is a ultimately more awesome to use for somebody who otherwise couldn't have used it without maintaining some level of compliance along the way.
Chase Alderton: I think you're spot on. And so final question before we hop into our closing questions here. In the same way that this will help accessibility, does this help retention as well? And I think communities, another one that plays into this, once you start talking about everyone's accessible and you start talking about why we do this, and it's not just a money grab, all of those things play into retention, even though it may be similar to your SEO argument, where can't quite really measure that.
Wes Buckwalter: Well, I think it must. I don't necessarily have great proof again, because we're not measuring a able versus disabled bodied demographic. But I would assume that if we think about just our disabled audience, and that doesn't matter what their disability is if they have a better time using your site than any other site that might be within your product line, or your competition. Let's say it's you and one other person, your site's fully compliant, theirs is not. Disabled folks will have a much better chance of becoming your customer, staying your customer, using your site. And it's not about lack of choice in that equation either, it's about who's done the best and the right things, and somebody who hasn't loses pace on the competition.
Wes Buckwalter: And so in a lot of ways, it's keeping up with the Joneses to some degree or another, but it's more about being out ahead. I think if you think about this chunk of your audience, if it is truly 25% and it's just you and another competition, and you're the only one that's compliant, well, that audience is all yours. And I think as an easy move to retain somebody is make them feel welcome, to make them understand that you've taken moves as a business, to care about them being able to have the same experience that any other person would. And that's got to be a valid, valid reason to maintain a larger retention of the sort of customer base, I would say.
Chase Alderton: Awesome. Really, really appreciate your concept there. Let's hop into a couple of closing questions for you. I have a feeling I know what these may be about, but what advice would you give to a subscription brand that just launching?
Wes Buckwalter: Well, I would you remiss as an agency not to say, engage with an agency? I think there's a lot of things that a lot that folks can do themselves. I think there's a lot of really smart startup businesses, and whether it's somebody who's tech savvy or not. Platforms like Shopify and Recharge make it really easy to help yourself and get started. And I think that's great. One of the things though that I think the... let's say the beginning user or the early startup type business forgets is that an agency like ours that has hundreds of years of cumulative experience smashed together, might know a bunch of things that you don't know, and might help you take some shortcuts. And even though agencies are expensive, and intimidating, and say things that maybe don't make sense, because our jargon is weird or whatever, we have... Almost every agency that I work with in the ecosystem has a ton of knowledge.
Wes Buckwalter: And I think knowledge is ultimately power. It lets you skip steps along the way that otherwise you would have to make the mistake, fail, rebuild, understand yourself, and we've all made those mistakes. We've all done the trial and error, we've worked with hundreds of businesses like yours, and we can at the very least, give you a couple of pointers, and at the very best, help you all the way to the top. So, I think a lot of it's just a matter of setting your apprehensions aside. Most agencies that I've worked with are really friendly. Even though we seem intimidating, there might be a bunch of smart nerdy engineers or something. Agency's jobs is just the same as yours, to provide a customer with great customer service, help you get where you need to go. It's our job to help any merchant make money, for example.
Wes Buckwalter: And so if that's your goal is to get into business to develop a product, get it out into the world, change the way the world works a little bit, and make some money while you're doing it, I think in most cases, an agency versus somebody with limited or no experience will get you there a lot faster. And it may help you focus on things like product development. As a single CEO type company, what's your time worth and where would you like to spend your efforts as an example? So would you like to be developing new products and coming up with fantastic, say concept or marketing, or do you want to be pushing buttons on your website, maybe figuring out a platform or otherwise? Sometimes it's a matter of just simple division of labor. Do we provide you with opportunity to spend your time in a better place?
Chase Alderton: Those are all great arguments. I'm a big agency fan as well. I love this idea of what's your time worth. The trying and failing is definitely a great way to learn lessons, but also a lot of people have tried the same things and failed before you. And you may just need to hop on an agency and learn those lessons from someone who's telling on you what works and what doesn't. Let's flip the script and let's go the other way. Let's say a brand already is established, let's say they're at this 10, 20,000 subscriber mark. What's something that they can do to get to the next level or get to the higher level?
Wes Buckwalter: There's sort of two pathways that we encounter at that mark. How do we get more out of our existing customer base or how do we get more customers? And that seems to be sort of a dividing line most of the time. It's that, when we get approached by a typical let's say, enterprise style company that's grown for a while, they've got a lot of experience under their belt, it's, I need to go this way or I need to go that way. The way that we tend to approach it is why wouldn't you do both? So if we think about your existing audience, are we giving them all that they need? And is there any more that they can do for us?
Wes Buckwalter: So, what is it that would entice them to do that? Maybe it's a slight increase to the product price, the simple business move of just crank up the price. It could be something about the offering could be a little more robust. Maybe it's something as simple as the unboxing experience could be better. We could make a nicer package and that increases the value to the consumer, their joy of opening the package, and their delight of experiencing your product or whatever, and that's worth so to somebody as an example. And so that price increase becomes easily more possible, for example.
Wes Buckwalter: The other one is acquisition of new customers. There is only so much you can get out of a single audience without increasing its size over and over again, and also forgetting or without forgetting that sometimes those audiences leave. Their credit card expires and they just give up, they lose track of their subscriptions, they have too many things, they get tired of your product and they need more variety. And so a lot of times we try to take a holistic examination of not only, how do we get more people, but how do we keep from losing the people that you have as well? And maybe you're only losing a few here and there and everything's great. Maybe you're losing a lot rapidly because you have a frequency that's off, or you haven't measured your data very well, and you're giving people too much of one thing, that kind of stuff.
Wes Buckwalter: And so some of it comes down to maybe proper marketing, maybe understanding your audience, and there's really nothing wrong with asking your consumer, "What is it that you like and don't like about us? How could we do better?" That's a thing that I think a lot of companies are afraid to ask audience because they know better. I invented this product, I've told you how it's supposed to be, and so what would as the guy who's just consuming my product or the person who's just consuming my product. It's like, well, they probably know a lot. And I think something that we try to do is figure out, are we really in the audience that is our audience as a merchant or something? Or are we not the right audience? Are we measuring based on our own opinions and ourselves rather than the opinions of the group at large?
Wes Buckwalter: And so sometimes it's a simple matter of asking, sometimes it's a matter of using data to our advantage, understanding metrics and numbers, and reporting and things like that. Building a system to consume data and turn it into usable information and inform a decision. We're really big on making data-driven choices. If we can say with absolute fairness that this choice is being made based on behavior that consumers have become and given us as an example, then we can make an intelligent choice. If we have to go with a gut feeling, maybe we have to ask a consumer, "Well, how would you do this, or what would make you happy? What would make you happier?" If they're perfectly happy. And try to appeal to that side of things.
Wes Buckwalter: Because I think when we look at the businesses that we've worked with that are the most successful, I think it's kind of several facets. They've got fantastic customer service, they've got a really great product or a product that's pretty good, but at a great price. It delivers well, it lasts a long time, or it satisfies a need that other products aren't. And then at the same time, I think they... when we're talking just about subscriptions, it shows up at just the right time. The consumer never has too much or too little, they feel like they're in control of their own destiny. They're not bothered too much by having to manage it or manipulate it. One of the biggest advantages that was the original pitch of subscriptions is sign up and never come back.
Wes Buckwalter: And now it's more like sign up and come back when you feel like controlling it. And giving people the opportunity to manipulate when they want, and forget about it when they need to, could be something to focus on as well. I think, are we creating an ease of use that's facilitating the consumption of our products, or our services, or otherwise, or are we causing the consumer to spend too much time dealing with it, and then they get frustrated and walk away, or a result, maybe never come back once they've decided to come back somewhere along the way or something like that?
Chase Alderton: Again, really well said. A lot of content in there, definitely worth re-listening and going back through. Final question for you when I've been looking forward to the whole time, what physical products do you subscribe to?
Wes Buckwalter: Oh man, so many. Like most of America, I'm an Amazon Prime member and I use a lot of subscribe and save. So groceries, I think are pretty common for me. When we think about, let's call it my luxury goods or my specialty goods. I'm a Dr. Squatch subscriber, so soap, and shampoo, and things like that I really enjoy that.
Wes Buckwalter: I think one of the things that I find myself doing is convenience products, so I use an electric toothbrush. So I get a new head for the toothbrush every three months, or soap, shampoo, body lotion, all the things that somebody might use in their daily routine, those kind of things that run out. Dog food, of course, for my pets, those kind of things.
Wes Buckwalter: For me, it's a lot about convenience. I'm not so way gone like what most people would call luxury goods. When you think about subscriptions, the really fancy food products, and stuff like that. A lot of times I'm a picky guy that wants to stare at the store, and pick it out for myself, that kind of stuff.
Wes Buckwalter: As a software company or as engineering company, we subscribe to a ton of software as well. People often forget that your email is a subscription, or your desktop code editing software is a subscription, and things like that. And so I would say we subscribe to a insurmountable amount of software as a service platforms that we use every day, and that I couldn't live without. And I enjoy the idea as an agency owner that I pay just a little bit every month for software, as opposed to like every year renewing my annual $3,000 ticket item for 12 developers-
Chase Alderton: Exactly.
Wes Buckwalter: ... or something. I love subscriptions for that reason and I think I use them probably more than an average person, but at the same time, I bet if everybody assessed, what am I actually subscribed to? You'd realize all of a sudden like, "Well, between my Netflix, and my Hulu, and my Amazon Prime and all of my other things, I subscribe to like 400 things."
Wes Buckwalter: I think they've become a way of life for a lot of folks, their convenience feature, but at the same time, I think they're doing things to eliminate waste as well. When you think about having just the right amount of food in your pantry that gets delivered at a regular frequency, you never have spoilage or whatever.
Wes Buckwalter: Things like that can be used to help your family's economics or your personal economics. I think they can also reduce your usage or waste of stuff, things like that. And I think if you look at it that way, it ultimately becomes a lot more sort of palatable, I guess you would say. And then at the same time, that extra Netflix subscription doesn't seem so bad either.
Chase Alderton: Exactly. Perfect way to endcap with all the subscriptions everyone subscribes to.
Wes Buckwalter: Right on.
Chase Alderton: Wes, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for your insight. Have a great one.
Wes Buckwalter: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Chase Alderton: We want to thank Wes once again for joining us. If you're interested in SeaMonster, you can head over to seamonsterstudios.com.