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Once a business or brand has begun, there’s usually only one goal to consistently aim for—growth. Expanding a business is an almost never-ending objective, with many different ways to pursue it. However, with merchants chasing an ever-brightening horizon, there’s one thing that they should try to keep in mind—sustainability.
This makes sustainable growth not only the healthiest way to improve a business, but often the safest. A lofty goal, perhaps, but one that ecommerce coach and consultant Branden Moskwa knows how to achieve better than most.
With over two decades of experience in the ecommerce and retail space, we knew that Branden would have priceless insights for merchants. Branden has enjoyed a career that’s seen his skills and passion propel him from success to success, overseeing the most modest companies to titanic Fortune 500 brands.
The culmination of this experience saw Branden found Nadimo, an ecommerce development firm, as well as the eCommerce Allstars podcast. Helming a podcast that’s dedicated to coaching on a variety of topics, Branden was the right person to speak to about establishing long-term strategies for sustainable growth.
How to grow your business
Can you expand a bit more on how you help ecommerce merchants grow? Are you particularly focused on CRO?
Branden Moskwa: I tend to look at the larger picture and focus on business optimization and onsite optimization efforts. What I mean by this is that conversion rate optimization is essentially a sales metric for how many sales, leads, or whatever your ‘conversion’ equates to.
In the case of ecommerce, it tends to be one of two things, emails or hard sales. When you consider that this is a KPI in the way of how many sales you are generating in terms of traffic, it becomes a very important metric.
If you are a store owner and have 100 people walk into your store only to see 98 of them leave without making a purchase, you are probably going to start asking some serious questions about your business. In ecommerce, you have the luxury of tracking this data even easier. But guess what, 95 people letting their fingers walk them out of your store is actually a decent metric! I hate that!
That said, this makes it increasingly more important to ensure that your onsite components are in place to capture email addresses, passively or aggressively, as well as to go after the close.
With close rates as low as they are in the ecommerce realm and shipping and other areas of the supply chain being seriously impacted over the past couple of years, it’s imperative that you also focus your efforts on other areas in which you can reduce redundancies and in turn lower your overall costs.
Remove the apps, extensions, and tools that are not performing. This does two things: first, it gets rid of weight otherwise slowing your site down. Second, it removes the costs for something that is not contributing to your team. Deadweight must go!Branden Moskwa, Founder of Nadimo
Streamlining the overall supply chain processes, growing the gap in your margins so that you are making more per sale, is an often forgotten area of focus. It’s the back-office stuff that’s boring but can save you considerably.
We have seen companies simply slim down the apps to the essentials, introduce the right apps to make their various systems work better together, and apply the right on-page changes based on relevant data to optimize the overall sales process. These three seemingly simple items have allowed them to grow sales and increase profits significantly.Branden Moskwa, Founder of Nadimo
What do you think is one thing that had the biggest impact on ecommerce in the last few years?
Branden Moskwa: The most significant impact in ecommerce has been what appears on the surface to be the barrier to entry. Things like SaaS solutions, Shopify, and its abundance of Apps, have allowed startups to get up and running in very short and cost-effective ways.
As much of a proponent of getting up and running quickly and for a lower cost, there are disadvantages to this.
I believe that there are five key principles to success in ecommerce and one is that of platform. My opinion on this approach is that it’s great if you don’t have developers at your disposal, or want to test the market for a given product.
You need to consider the fact that it may not be a platform for long-term growth. But as you grow, you will get to a point where you need to think about whether you will migrate to a more robust and customizable platform, or whether you’ll be limited to the scale that Shopify can manage for you.
In my opinion, you will want to use Shopify as a stepping stone, while taking a portion of the revenue to plan for migration to a more robust and open-source platform down the line.
Driving success for new and established businesses
One of Branden’s overarching messages for success covers that a business should always aim to optimize for the big picture. Work hard on the essentials and help your stores run smoothly for cheaper. Streamline processes to make life easier and more cost-effective. Without this clear-cut vision for a business, it can be easy to get weighed down.
However, for newer businesses, there are rarely many bells and whistles added to the essentials from the get-go. This can lead merchants to rush to add more and more to their stores or websites, but this type of growth can do more harm than good.
To help the less experienced merchants engaging in new business ventures, Branden provided some insights into what he believed would be useful when he was fresh-faced to ecommerce. This advice isn’t just useful to new businesses though, as he elaborates with what he feels even established businesses should be working with.
If you could go back in time to when you started, what piece of advice would you give yourself, starting out in the industry? Is that advice the same as what you’d give to ecommerce entrepreneurs?
Branden Moskwa: Everyone thinks online success is synonymous with digital marketing, and when you consider the fact that this article is being presented by one of the major players in the online marketing space, this is somewhat true. That said, as in all business, marketing is only a portion of the success equation in ecommerce.
You cannot have sales without a place to sell your product (platform), a platform is useless without a product, not just any product will sell, and this product needs to meet all the requirements found in the wonderful world of supply and demand.
The lower barrier to entry that people are seeing is also synonymous with increased competition. You will never compete for the long term if you offer the same product that everyone else does—unless you find a way to differentiate yourself.
You need to also consider that if your supply chains are the same as your competitors, you will have zero price advantage, and likely a price disadvantage. In ecommerce, this can be a detrimental hill to die on.
If I were to offer my younger self any advice, it would be to ensure that you treat your ecommerce business like any other business. In the case of my past coaches and mentors, they always asked me “What is your competitive advantage, and what is your key differentiating factor?” What makes you different, and will set you apart? Don’t tell me it’s your ability to run a successful email campaign or to buy Facebook ads, because that will only get you so far.
Do you have a go-to app or tool that makes your life easier?
Branden Moskwa: Well, I think I am a glutton for punishment. I like Google Analytics, it does, however, not make my life easier, it makes the life of my clients easier. What I mean is I dig deep below the surface and find that between GA and an app called Fullstory, I am able to get to the bottom of most issues, identify the pain point customers are finding, identify opportunities, and really isolate areas of success which could be scaled.
Common mistakes & how to overcome them
Next, we discussed mistakes. Everyone makes them and no one is safe from them. Few, if any, will go through the years without making the odd mistake or two—something ecommerce veterans like Branden are all too aware of.
These can include everything from a questionable choice in designing a UI (user interface) to fundamentally misunderstanding your audience. Mistakes can arise from even the best intentions. For example, a merchant may have a clear image for what they want, all while failing to notice that it’s not necessarily what their customers want.
However, every good merchant knows that a mistake is simply an opportunity to learn, grow, and adapt. After all, every problem is simply a challenge to overcome. With this in mind, we asked Branden about what he sees as common mistakes in the industry, as well as how to weather any challenges brewing on the horizon.
What is the one thing that you see ecommerce brands doing that just makes you facepalm? On the other side of that, what’s one thing you wish more brands were doing?
Branden Moskwa: So this is interesting, in the sense that there is one simple thing that I can’t stand seeing. I hate it, and 99% of the data shows it not to work: rotating hero images! You know that nice big image people see when they land on your site? It’s above the fold, with no need to scroll to see it.
Quote: That important, well-articulated brand story or perfect value prop just vanished and was replaced with another message and image! It’s distracting, and honestly, the numbers show that the next carousel image and message is missed—and the more that are there, the less they are seen.
Keep it static, and keep the message consistent with the rest of the page! On the other side, I do like the use of this space for user engagement. If you make the CTA (call to action) here, something like a video load that tells more of your story, this seems to be a winning answer to this section.
The other option is to make the carousels user-driven, whereby the user clicks (or slides in the case of mobile) to see more. This is the most important real estate on your site, so make it worthwhile. Don’t make it distracting, but rather engaging.
It’s like a salesperson when you walk into a store, they need to say hello, they cannot sit back and not engage you. They also cannot overwhelm you. It’s a delicate balance, and one you will find as you continually look at the data.
The recent iOS 15 announcement by Apple is rocking the email marketing world, effectively killing off open rates for Apple mail users. What are your thoughts on this update, and how do you think email marketers should prepare? Are there any other metrics that you see threatened for the future?
Branden Moskwa: Honestly, I see all metrics threatened over time. We live in tech, an age where you will soon see cars without steering wheels.
I think the key here is to adhere to old-school business concepts, apply these to the technical space wherever and whenever possible, and know that things will change. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an issue, and one that needs to be considered, especially as you focus more on data and metrics.
But if you are looking at this and similar numbers from the perspective of sales, you need to consider that it’s still going to be a numbers game. And besides, I can be pretty savvy and get you to open the email, but it still comes down to matching the right content with the right reader.
Future-proofing & inspiration going forward
Finally, we looked towards the future. Understanding how to cultivate growth from humble beginnings is useful. However, knowing how to follow the momentum of sustainable growth is vital for anyone looking to engage well with their audience for the long-term.
We asked Branden, both on a professional and personal level, for insights on how he continues to help his customers and clients.
Ecommerce and digital marketing are ever-changing fields. However, there are foundational strategies that will always ring true. What’s one thing you’d recommend ecommerce marketers do to future-proof their strategies?
Branden Moskwa: The two are not the same, and in fact, the two are finally starting to take their own flights in different directions, whereby digital marketing is now being seen for what it is, a part of but not the whole.
That said, the most future-proof strategy is to always listen to your customers, and the customers of your competition. Taking that one step further, listen to the staff that works directly with them. There are key pieces that will allow you to keep your competitive edge simply by listening to them and providing them the experience they expect.
Do you recommend any blogs, Twitter accounts, or podcasts for ecommerce merchants looking to grow? Who do you follow?
The Retail Doctor Blog, by Bob Phibbs, A Better Lemonade Stand by Richard Lazazzera, and of course, Nadimo Podcasts.
Regardless of how established a business is, a good ecommerce merchant understands the importance of growth. This can be led through a keen focus, grasping which tools are essential to success, or the ability to accept and work with feedback. In many cases, as Branden suggests, it often calls for all of the above.
You need to know where to place your attention and efforts. You have to understand how to set yourself apart from the competition. Above all else, you need to know how to adapt your strategies—whether it’s due to a mistake made or an industry-shaking event. When you’re looking at your own long-term strategy for sustainable growth, remember that nothing needs to be set in stone if you want to build a strong foundation for the future of your business.
For more help and guidance with creating long-term strategies for sustainable growth, follow Branden Moskwa on Twitter, LinkedIn, and at Nadimo.
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