Shopify & Ecommerce Ramblings

A blog about building and extending awesome Shopify stores

Spently’s Roddy Smith talks empathy, agility and walks around the block.

Roddy Smith - Spently

Ecommerce hasn’t been immune to the coronavirus pandemic, growing dramatically as stores scramble to cater for an influx of online shoppers. According to Roddy Smith, Director of Sales and Partnerships for Spently, many of the latest changes in ecommerce will last well after the virus has been overcome.

When the pandemic began, Spently, which customizes the transactional emails of more than 5000 Shopify merchants, saw a drop in app store traffic and installs. But the app, which turns the emails into a marketing tool by including recommended products and discounts, has since experienced an influx of ongoing business.

“With the initial shellshock around the pandemic everybody was pumping the brakes while trying to figure out how this would affect things,” says Smith. “Now, anyone who isn’t online is going online because that’s the only place they can sell.”

Home sweet work

The 14-strong Spently team has had to rethink how they work as they deal with the flood of new business, each from their own home in Toronto, Canada. Hallway conversations have been replaced by regular video calls and productivity is encouraged by daily goal-setting. Smith, who’s worked at Spently for two years, is known for being terrible at working from home and has had to trick himself into being productive.

“I start each day as if I was going in to the office. I make a cup of coffee and put it in the travel mug I’d normally use on my way to work. Then I go out my front door, walk around the block and come back in the back door. I’ll even listen to a podcast as I walk to mimic what my commute used to be like.

“It’s kind of crazy and a little silly, but it really works for me. It separates my home space from my work space.” Despite this, he struggles to stick to office hours and often finds himself replying to work emails in the middle of the night while caring for his two-month-old son.

Less luxury, more comfort

Most of Spently’s clients have been impacted by the pandemic, with high-end luxury items and drop shippers – which rely on international supply chains – hit particularly hard.

Others have experienced the complete opposite, with massive spikes in sales. “We’ve seen loads of merchants doing Black Friday and Cyber Monday-sized sales.” Athletic wear merchants are thriving because “all of us are wearing track pants way more than we used to” and beef jerky stores have benefited as panic buyers stock up on high-protein items with long shelf lives.

Spently has also seen increased sign ups by smaller mom and pop type shops like butcheries and bakeries that favor traditional brick and mortar stores.

Many stores, says Smith, have changed tack to focus on improving the customer life-time value (CLTV) of their products or services. And a number of Spently’s clients have asked to edit their customized emails to highlight changes in delivery options, the addition of curbside pickup, warnings of longer shipping times or reassurances on practices they’ve implemented to protect the health of employees and customers.

Empathy and agility for success

While there’s no single solution to guarantee an online business’ survival, Smith says he always preaches empathy.

“Being empathetic now is more important than ever. Brands will be made or broken by this. How they respond to the situation is going to set the ground work for their future success.”

He adds that it’s crucial for stores to be creative in their marketing, messaging and merchandising, and essential that they be able to change their strategies quickly. “You need to incorporate a multi-pronged approach, be digitally savvy and be agile to pivot. There are different avenues for driving traffic and it’s about using all of them to find out what works for your brand and your brand’s audience.”

He’s seen some creative marketing since the Covid-19 outbreak started, like a street-wear brand that offered discounts for sweatpants and hoodies to customers who’d recently bought denims from them “because they knew they probably weren’t getting a chance to wear them much”.

“Your marketing and merchandising needs to be tailored to what’s happening right now. There’s no point having business clothes on your home page if you also sell things that are more casual and relaxed. You need to remerchandise your store to be sensitive to what’s going on in our world today.”

Pure Play Ecommerce pre-Covid and now. As you can see in this graph from WITHIN, there has been some significant activity in the ecommerce space since Covid-19 took grip of the world. See more here.

New shopping habits here to stay

Smith believes that the changes in ecommerce as a result of Covid-19 are here to stay. “It takes 66 days to create a new habit and we’re already pushing the two-month mark in terms of quarantine and social distancing.”

Those who didn’t shop online before are now doing so out of necessity. “I think many of these new behaviors that people are developing in their day-to-day life are going to stick because it’s become our new normal. And online shopping is definitely more convenient.”

He predicts that Shopify will increasingly compete with Amazon, particularly since it acquired warehouse fulfillment network 6 River Systems in 2019 and the Swedish online marketplace Tictail in 2018. And he reckons augmented reality will take off as brands try to find new marketing techniques while adhering to global restrictions in movement.

“All of this is going to accelerate ecommerce by five years in about half a year. Being online and having a digital-first business model is a necessity now.”

Roddy Smith - Spently

Ecommerce hasn’t been immune to the coronavirus pandemic, growing dramatically as stores scramble to cater for an influx of online shoppers. According to Roddy Smith, Director of Sales and Partnerships for Spently, many of the latest changes in ecommerce will last well after the virus has been overcome.

read time.

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Working from home during COVID-19 Pandemic

Photo by Roberto Nickson.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are left with an uncertain future. Many brick and mortar businesses have closed their doors indefinitely (some will reopen, others not so lucky), and retailers are looking to ecommerce to secure their brand a future. The fate of ecommerce has a lot to do with the regulations in your country, some are able to continue with business as usual whereas some do not fall under ‘essential services’ and cannot sell, or fulfill orders due to being unable to make use of courier services. However, ecommerce stores are most likely in a safer footing for the current and immediate future climate - provided they can still use this time to convert sales or grow their business in some way.

While there has been an increase in offline stores going online, existing ecommerce stores are intensifying their efforts to turn inventory into cash while they still can. Some are using lockdown time in inventive and productive ways to set themselves up to their advantage for when things are back to business as usual. Wherever you are in these turbulent times, there are some strategies you can use to make the best of things - which includes what you need to do right now and what you can use your downtime for to your advantage.

What you should be doing right now:

Communicate with your customers

Depending on where you are in the world you may have certain restrictions that will affect your ability to fulfill orders. However, if you are still able to make sales with the intention to ship as soon as those restrictions are lifted, then communicate this to your customers in big bold letters on your website and via email. If you can still run business as usual you need to tell your customers exactly that on all your platforms, because they will assume you are closed like most other businesses.

Be honest with your customers and compassionate to what they too are going through, this isn’t the time to ‘cash in’ on this pandemic as an opportunity for business (think how tacky a ‘Coronavirus’ sale would sound or a #COVID19 voucher code!) but for many of us it is our bread and butter and so necessary that business goes on. That’s not to say that your products or services won’t make a profound difference to your customers’ lives. Communicate to your customers how your products or services can be useful to them during this time, eg. how buying your (for example) stationery catalogue will enable them to run their business from home, keep their children entertained, allow creative expression for boredom busting, or even play an important role in homeschooling, etc.

Pivot your business model

If your current business model does not work in the current climate, consider pivoting your business in such a way that it can thrive online. If you previously only had a physical store, bring your retail online (many brands are offering this service for free and now is a good time to do it).

Consider offering subscription services either monthly or prepaying 3 - 6 months upfront. You will then have some cash to operate on and your customers can relax in knowing they will be getting their product/service in the coming months regardless of their cash flow. You can even offer ‘buy now, ship later’ options for customers who still want to shop now but are happy to wait until restrictions have lifted.

Diversify your product range, if you previously only sold physical products, consider adding some digital products eg. if you sold books before, consider adding eBooks to your catalogue.

If you’re concerned about the investment in pivoting your business model, consider how uncertain the future is and how waiting out the pandemic could mean running your business dry. There is a lot of help out there - we’ve compiled a list of brands currently offering help to the ecommerce industry either for free or at huge discounts.

Intensify your marketing efforts

A lot of brands make the mistake of cutting back on their marketing efforts, when they should be redoubling them. Marketing is where your leads are being generated, so it would not make sense to cut costs such as online advertising.

Many advertisers are pulling out which means that ad prices are going down, so now is actually the time to be increasing your Google Ad and Facebook ad spend.
This will help keep the customers coming in, and hopefully the conversions ticking over. The only marketing channels you might need to pull are experimental marginal channels that aren’t driving leads or pushing revenue.

 

Cut out unnecessary expenditure

Invest some time in going over your expenditures, grouping your nice-to-haves (expense) and your ‘necessaries’ (investment). Reviewing these and cutting out unnecessary expenditure will ensure that you don’t burn through savings too quickly.

Your investments will have a demonstrable ROI (return on investment). These will include your online ad expenditure, email marketing (such as abandoned cart recovery), and content marketing. These serve to build your business by directly driving revenue.

You might consider cutting out some of your SAAS (software as a service) subscriptions that were convenient to have and which you can suspend while you are cutting costs but pick up later. These might include Music licensing software, full stock image database access, etc. which you can get away with by only purchasing what you need when you need it rather than all-access subscriptions.

Get social and personal

Now is a good time to get to know your customers. Reach out to them on social media as a leader in your space to offer compassion and any advice that you can offer; social media engagement rates have never been this high. Your compassion and authenticity now will be remembered long after the pandemic has passed, and it will become part of the personality of your brand.

Use downtime to improve Operations:

Now that you have all of that in place it is time to use your extra time to improve your Operations. A lot of us are finding ourselves with a lot more time on our hands than before, and while we are all dealing with the anxiety and fear of the unknown, keeping busy helps to feel in control - not to mention putting us in better stead for when things are a bit more normal again.

While you’re working from home or piloting the ship alone, there are still some things that you can do for your online store that will help improve your Operations and put you in better stead for the coming months, here’s a quick checklist:

  1. Go through your product descriptions and improve them where you can. Perhaps add a creative spin on them, eg. some humour or a theme. Take note that you can optimise your descriptions for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) by using keywords associated with that product.
  2. Improve your SEO by adding appropriate keywords in all your page titles, meta descriptions, ALT tags (what appears when images don’t load, and tells Google what the image is), and the page’s body content.
  3. Map out your marketing campaign strategy for the rest of the year; when things start to normalise you will want to hit the ground running with a well thought out marketing campaign.
  4. Use this time to be creative - write a series of blog posts, even one a day, so that you can post these throughout the year. When things get busy over peak periods you will thank yourself for getting ahead on your content strategy.
  5. Do a thorough audit of your product photography. If you have better photos (or can request them from suppliers or take them yourself) replace them on your website. Product photography can make or break your ecommerce website.
  6. Reach out to your customer base to review items or write testimonials, hopefully they also have more time on their hands to submit something you can use in your social media strategy and on your website. Nearly 95% of shoppers read reviews before making a purchase!
  7. Follow some tips on how to boost the speed of your Shopify website. There are many ways of doing this, eg. go through your store and remove any apps that you are not using as well as minimise redirects and broken links.
  8. Browse Shopify’s free tools for anything that might be useful to your store, including an image resizer tool, refund policy generator, privacy policy generator, shipping label template, and more.

All these improvements will result in a site that loads faster, is more efficient at converting leads into sales, and attracts more organic leads via search engines. This will not only benefit you now, but it will put you in better stead for months to come - and perhaps change the way you approach operations on your website forever, for the better.

Working from home during COVID-19 Pandemic

Photo by Roberto Nickson

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are left with an uncertain future. Many brick and mortar businesses have closed their doors indefinitely (some will reopen, others not so lucky), and retailers are looking to ecommerce to secure their brand a future.

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Ecommerce Automation
Photo by Brett Jordan

Automation has become a real obsession when it comes to technology and making life and work better for everyone. We can see it everywhere in our daily lives, from programmable coffee machines, fridges that order groceries when you’re getting low, the artificially intelligent bots that answer simple questions on websites, to Google Maps that offers the fastest route to our destination. Sure, those are simple examples. But it just shows how focused we have become on cutting out the manual work and streamlining our day; because time is precious and the more time we save the better. 

This translates directly to businesses as well, automation is the key to cutting costs and boosting productivity. It is also not that difficult to implement and is just as advantageous for small businesses as it is for larger ones. Automation has been most influential for ecommerce, as there are so many tasks involved that are manual and time-consuming and which threatens stunting the business’s growth potential.

As a business scales, so the demands on the resources mount, processes that may have worked flawlessly before will start to buckle under the pressure and essentially become inefficient. The mad scramble to do what is urgent trumps what is important, and time is sacrificed on the wrong things. The simplest solution, but not always the right one, is to hire more people - but that becomes expensive and has its own time-consuming processes. This is where Ecommerce Automation takes care of the repetitive tasks and effectively gives you back your time, energy, and cuts costs. Soon you will start to invest your new saved time on creative experimentation and product development - which is a much better use of your time!

What is Ecommerce Automation?

Ecommerce Automation is the software that converts manual and time-consuming tasks and processes, or even campaigns, to automations that execute what is needed without your intervention. You simply set up the parameters and let it run on its own. These can be a myriad of processes but can include monitoring and collecting information, looking for parameters and acting on them, eg. receiving an order/payment/return and triggering an email or flagging a task on another productivity program. 

Typical Ecommerce Automation includes:

  • Transaction emails such as Welcome emails to new customers and vouchers 
  • Flagging orders for review that have ‘suspicious’ traits like mismatched billing and shipping orders
  • Customised sales emails that recommend new products that match previously bought items
  • Emails sent after a period of time requesting service or product reviews of a purchased product
  • Automated purchase order generation when inventory starts to get low on a particular product
  • Abandoned cart follow-up emails when customers leave the website with items in their cart without completing a transaction

How does Ecommerce Automation work?

Ecommerce Automation uses past human behaviours on the website to predict what they will want next. Certain tasks require you to set up parameters to trigger events, such as a 30-day delay after a product is purchased before automatically sending out the product review request email. The great thing about automation is that it is not set in stone, but rather changes and adapts according to the customer data it collects. 

Where is the best place to implement Ecommerce Automation?

The number of places that you can introduce Ecommerce Automation are endless and very much based on your own setup, however here are a few typical instances:

  • Automatically schedule Sales: apply price changes and promotions for predetermined time periods
  • Market new products: automatically load new products to the online store, as well as on social media, apps and sales channels
  • Customer retention: flag high-value customers and send a task or email to sales staff to send a personalised message or reach out
  • Live stock numbers: automatically unpublish out-of-stock products and show live updated stock numbers on the store
  • Manage stock: send a notification to staff of products that are out-of-stock and to marketing to pause advertising on that product
  • Adjust pricing: automatically adjust the pricing on checkout based on product combinations or quantities
  • Manage risk: automatically flag high-risk orders at checkout
  • Loyalty programmes: easily manage discounts or shipping rules for loyalty members based on their email addresses
  • Seasonal promotions: switch on entire theme changes for seasonal promotions or product launches and automatically roll back once the promotion ends 

What advantages are there of Ecommerce Automation?

As we’ve already touched on, Ecommerce Automation saves you time, money, labour and allows you to grow your business with your saved resources - but it’s much more than that. Here are the top 4 departments that it is going to make the most difference to for your business:

Operations 

Ecommerce operations has a whole host of manual tasks and processes that can be automated. This includes inventory, shipping, and other product-related workflows to make product discoverability easy such as being automatically tagged and added to collections based on their title, SKU numbers, and type. Stock can be automatically managed both on the online store as well as in the back end processes. Items will be out of stock for shorter periods of time (if ever) and the stock management process will be streamlined and rely less on human intervention over time. Less human intervention also results in less human error. 

Marketing 

Very often the communication between sales and marketing isn’t instant, but with automation when new products are added to the store, the marketing team can be automatically notified as well as supplied with all the product details, enabling them to start marketing the product instantly. Advertising teams can also use low stock flags on specific products to pause promotion and optimise their advertising spend. Customised newsletters can be automated to include products that are most likely to convert to sales based on previous purchases and browsing behaviour. Less errors will occur if sales and promotions are scheduled for uptime and downtime rather than relying on someone to physically remember to make the changes to the website. 

Fraud Prevention

As mentioned before, Ecommerce Automation helps you mitigate risk by flagging high-risk orders based on IP address checks, address verification systems (AVS), and Shopify’s own database. These flagged orders can automatically notify your sales team to follow up on, which can save you thousands in chargebacks and lost revenue.

Web Development

Seasonal theme changes as well as product campaigns can take a lot of time, however with Ecommerce Automation these can be automated and scheduled. Other development tasks such as transactional emails, free-gifts on selected purchases, and displaying best shipping options can all be configured with Ecommerce Automation. Once these rules and processes are initially developed there is no need to repeat the code updates as they can be automatically switched on and off, saving your developer’s resources and time. Web development, especially if outsourced, is also often one of an Ecommerce business’s highest expenses.

What Ecommerce Automation Apps are there for my Shopify store?

There are a number of third-party apps that provide Ecommerce Automation, including Shopify’s own enterprise app:

Shopify Flow

Shopify Flow, for Shopify Plus merchants, has automation software built into the Shopify platform that enables a whole range of automation across the store and apps. This includes tagging customers for segmentation and marketing, standardising visual merchandising, streamlining tracking and reporting, pausing high-risk orders, and more. Shopify Flow makes this easy to set up using a visual builder where you can set triggers, conditions and actions, without the need to code anything.

Back in Stock

Back in Stock takes care of notifying customers when an item is back in stock in the store. Customers are able to let you know if they are interested in purchasing an item that is currently out of stock, Back in Stock then emails them as soon as it is available without you having to intervene.

Klaviyo

Klaviyo is a marketing automation tool that allows you to easily recapture lost sales through pre-built email flows, including abandoned cart and winback emails. You can also segment your audience using both Shopify’s and Klaviyo’s data to send super-targeted, personalised email campaigns.

SmartrMail

SmartrMail takes marketing mails to the next level by using customer behaviour, browsing history on the store, email clicks, and previous purchases to recommend a personalised selection of products that they are very likely to want to buy. They also have an abandoned cart email series feature to pick up on those potential sales.

Prisync

Prisync helps you keep your pricing market-related and competitive. It is a competitor price tracking and dynamic pricing software that automates collecting price and stock availability data to help you make informed decisions about pricing and marketing.

Ecommerce Automation

Automation has become a real obsession when it comes to technology and making life and work better for everyone. We can see it everywhere in our daily lives, from programmable coffee machines, fridges that order groceries when you’re getting low, the artificially intelligent bots that answer simple questions on websites, to Google Maps that offers the fastest route to our destination. [..]

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BFCM 2019 Shopify

The question on the minds of everyone running an Ecommerce business at this time of year is ‘Am I ready for Black Friday?’. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Halloween, and the Festive Season looming you need to be absolutely sure you can cope with the influx of sales without compromising on the quality of your customer service. You also need to have all your marketing ducks in a row to capitalise on this phenomenal opportunity to boost your online sales.

On Cyber Monday in 2018, US shoppers spent $7.9 billion online, on that day alone. Shopify, which has never gone down on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, processed over $1.5 billion in sales over the four days of BFCM.

There is no better time than now to look at all your processes and start doing some upgrades and housekeeping. The size of your business will affect the scale of the undertaking but there are a few things we can point out for you that you should be taking into consideration in making the most of the craziness that is to come. The good news is that all the fruits of your efforts don’t just stop there, this will also put your Ecommerce business in good stead for the rest of the year too.

Product

Take a moment to get back to the basics - starting with your product. Make sure that it is these 5 things:

  1. In demand
  2. Of high quality
  3. Well explained on your website
  4. Well presented
  5. Correctly priced

If even one of these are questionable then consider not pushing that product to the front lines, or spend some resources tightening up your product strategy.

Team

Consider your current man-power, will you be able to cope with the influx of sales if business, say, doubles? If your projections for the rise in sales at the end of the year are solid (perhaps based on last years numbers - still accounting for growth during this year) then it should be quite easy to figure out whether you’re going to cope with fulfillment and customer support. If you need to hire some staff but don’t need a bigger team full-time, consider hiring seasonal staff or freelancers until things go back to normal.

Make sure everyone is on board with the possibility of a bit of overtime during the 4-day bonanza that is Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and ensure they’re all on the same page about rotas and support. Things will very likely get hectic during this period with the influx of orders and the pressure to keep up with fulfillment, without also having to deal with housekeeping issues.

Fulfillment

Will you be able to keep up without compromising on something? Be smart about keeping track of your stock, perhaps look into Shopify apps like Stock2Shop to monitor stock levels to ensure you don’t sell products you don’t have stock of. This helps you to avoid customer frustration and to keep shipping deadlines. If the turnover for shipping is going to be longer, due to greater demand, make your customers aware of changes to expected delivery times or find a way to optimise your fulfillment processes. Try as much as possible to keep your fulfillment fast and efficient, while keeping your customers in the loop as much as possible.

Given the likelihood of significantly more orders than usual over this period, consider putting a little something extra in your packages this year. A hand written note, a voucher for another purchase, a small free gift or anything else that you can budget for that will endear you to your customers and ensure a fruitful Q1 of 2020 as well as increased customer retention.

Marketing

Often most overlooked is the value of marketing, however it forms a firm pillar in the model for successful Ecommerce. It is indeed a broad term and covers everything that represents your brand online, as well as processes that go into generating new business opportunities. These are our top seven marketing initiatives to channel your energies into:

  • Organic - includes word-of-mouth, viral marketing, PR, social media, network marketing, direct sales, and anything else where customers come to you naturally over time.Content - these include blogs or articles, creating education media (about your product or the need thereof), useful pieces of content like free guides or infographics.
  • Paid - online affords many places to pay for advertising including Google Ads and Facebook/Instagram Ads (this includes boosted or sponsored content).
  • Social - all the social platforms that your market frequent, often includes Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter.
  • Email - keep in touch with your potential customers via email through newsletters and other email campaigns. Optimise your transactional emails to boost repeat sales using tools like Spently to automate it.
  • Automation - automated marketing campaigns can be ‘always-on’ lead generating channels. They can be setup once and run automatically, warming up leads and bringing in sales. Look into implementing an automation flow tool like Klaviyo to take full advantage.
  • Reviews - customer reviews are new age, ‘word-of-mouth’ gold. Incorporate customer reviews into your completed sales follow up and your automated processes.

 

Incentives

A lot of brands use this as a great time to implement incentives such as discounts, buy-one-get-one-free deals, store points, or free shipping. These are great ways to try and win over customers from competitors who may be offering a similar product range. They also encourage repeat business and customer loyalty, especially if the reward system accumulates benefits with every purchase (for example).

Warm up your customers in the weeks building up to the big event; hint at deals and discounts, encourage customers to build wish lists and share your content. You can even offer pre-ordering for limited stock items.

Ecommerce Store

Your Ecommerce store is the most important thing alongside your product, so use every metric at your disposal to iron out any UX issues or faults before the big day - you don’t want to miss out on sales or have your site go down. You can use Google Analytics metrics for user data, but also Shopify apps like Hotjar (a heat mapping tool) to find out where your users are getting stuck and make some tweaks. Just as a general rule, we’ve added some tips below to help prepare your website for this busy time:

  • Don’t launch anything too bold - now is not the time to test out something big and fancy, focus on making sure that what you have works perfectly.
  • Keep UX simple - make sure your path to purchase is clear and unhindered.
  • Conduct user testing - if you have the time, conduct some testing with your users to further fine tune your website to optimise its user-friendliness.

Follow up

Everything before this is going to set you up in good stead for everything BFCM can throw at you, but what about after the dust settles? There’s still plenty of work to do as the ripples of BFCM aftermath still offer a lot of potential for conversions:

Abandoned carts

Follow up with any of your customers who abandoned their carts by sending them an email to encourage them to complete the purchase. They may need help or you can offer a discount if they make the purchase within a tight timeframe (eg. in the next 24hrs or by 5pm, etc.).

Stock clearance sale

Throw a Black Friday clearance sale in the immediate weeks following to get rid of any extra stock, your customers will love it especially if they missed out on BFCM.

Grow your mailing list

You may have had a lot of first time buyers on your site; send them a mail to tempt them to sign up for your mailing list for more amazing specials (this is a great time to expand your customer database!).

Transaction emails

Repeat purchases, cross-selling, and gathering customer reviews should be on your radar now. Using your transactional emails and follow up emails to cleverly place related products in front of them is a great way to boost your repeat and cross-sell purchases. Encourage your customers to make further purchases with the incentive of time-sensitive discount coupons, or extend your free shipping deals.

Planning for Black Friday 2020

It’s a bit late now to be looking at conversion optimisation for 2019 BFCM, but you should be aiming to get ahead of things for next year and next year’s gifting season. For this, we now offer a stand-alone CRO service called ConversionBoost. It’s designed for established stores that already have a baseline of performance. Stores with a certain level of traffic and sales will see the best results. If you are just getting started, though, and want to know how you can best optimise your sales for your growing store, we can help too. Ready to take your Shopify store to the next level? Apply now.

BFCM 2019 Shopify

The question on the minds of everyone running an Ecommerce business at this time of year is ‘Am I ready for Black Friday?’. As Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Halloween, and the Festive Season are looming, you need to be absolutely sure you can cope with the influx of sales without compromising on the quality of your customer service. You also need to have all your marketing ducks in a row to capitalise on this phenomenal opportunity to boost your online sales.

read time.

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If your ecommerce store has been up and running for a while with purchases neatly ticking over but you’re not seeing the surge you expected to see by now, heat mapping is certainly something you should be adding to your process of optimisation. Heat maps could very well be one of the keys to understanding what problems your users are experiencing on your site and where they’re getting caught up instead of making purchases. Making random tweaks and changes to your site (like stabs in the dark) without the data to back it up is a waste of your valuable resources.

There is a wealth of data available via your website’s analytics both on Google Analytics and Shopify’s analytics and reports that you could be using to pinpoint any issues or potential hurdles. However, heat mapping is arguably the easiest tool to use for this very purpose that almost anyone can understand. It’s visual and intuitive, making it a very popular tool for ecommerce optimisation amongst merchants.

What is a heat map?

A heat map is a visual representation in the form of graphical data where the values are depicted by colours. The heat map shows you what users are doing on your web page; where most popular elements are indicated with a hot spot (red) and unpopular elements are cold (blue). This helps you to immediately see where your users are clicking on, scrolling through or ignoring. It’s important to have this data, because it allows you to see how far users scroll, where they are clicking, and what they ignore or pay special attention to. It helps you to identify trends, or potential issues such as elements on a page appearing clickable when they are actually not.

Hotjar
See how areas of the page display a heat signature that indicate the more popular portions over the less popular ones.

There are a number of different types of heat maps that help you investigate different aspects of user interaction on your website, we’ve listed them below:

Scroll maps: These show you how far your users are scrolling down your page, the redder the area the more visitors have scrolled to that point. This is crucial if you want to know if users are reaching important information on that page.

Click maps: These kinds of maps show you average data from interactions on both mobile and desktop devices. Desktop would show clicks and mobile would be taps or touches. Most clicked/tapped areas would appear red, then orange, then yellow. Click maps could help you determine if users are accessing certain areas of your site from a particular page, they can also show you where users might be getting distracted.

Move maps: These show you how users are using their mouse to navigate the page, showing move patterns and pauses. Hot spots show most frequently paused at areas; research has shown to correlate between where people are looking and where their mouse points. Move maps are great at showing you what content is getting good attention, versus what is being mostly ignored.

Desktop and mobile heat maps: Browsing on desktop is a very different experience to browsing on mobile, and side by side comparisons can help to show if the interactions differ as well. For example, some content on desktop may only appear much lower below the fold on mobile and could be getting lost.

The benefits of using a heat map

Heat maps take the guesswork out of identifying solutions to business-critical questions, such as low conversion rates or low user engagement and high bounce rates. They effectively show you exactly what your average user experience is, allowing you to determine whether they are reaching important content, able to find and use main page links such as the contact buttons, getting stuck on non-clickable elements, or having a device-specific issue.

Making informed decisions backed by real data for tweaks and fixes to your website is crucial, and heat maps can help you get easier buy-in from other team members as heat maps are difficult to refute and simple enough for everyone to follow.

How to create a heat map

You can use your Google Analytics to view heat maps, or you could use a paid for service that provides a heat mapping tool such as Hotjar or CrazyEgg. Whether you can get by using your Google Analytics heat maps or whether a more feature-rich version is needed lies largely on how detailed you would like to go with your reporting on user interaction and how many visits you receive a month. Some heat mapping third-party apps have a trial or free version that you can try out and see if you like it first, which is always the best bet when there are lots of options.

Google Analytics for heat mapping: You will need to install Google Chrome as your browser, if you don’t already use it, and then install the addon for Google Chrome – Page Analytics (by Google). It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that a dedicated heat mapping tool will have but it still gives you your users’ interactions on your website from a visual perspective. Perhaps this could be your introduction to using heat mapping to identify issues with your website and progress to a standalone third-party app thereafter. It’s free and easy to install with lots of how to’s on the internet.

Hotjar: Hotjar is a dedicated heat mapping tool that you would need to sign up for. It is available for Shopify by installing the Hotjar Shopify app or manually adding the Hotjar tracking code to your Shopify theme. Add the tracking code (a JavaScript snippet) to your website and then go to your dashboard to start viewing your data. There is a free forever version, which they deem for ‘personal use’ that includes tracking for only 2000 pageviews. The smallest paid for package is called Plus, which is $29 per month and includes tracking 10 000 pageviews per day. The Professional package tracks $20 000 pageviews a day and that is $89 a month. Hotjar offer a 15-day free trial for you to test it out first.

CrazyEgg: This heat mapping tool offers visual reports that include individual session recordings so that you can watch how a user interacts with your webpage. They also offer an A/B testing tool with a quick edit function to make simple aesthetic changes such as colours, fonts, hide elements, and then publish to live. Their basic plan is $24 a month to track 30 000 pageviews, 100 session recordings, on one website. This also includes unlimited A/B tests and edits, as well as 3 months’ recordings storage. CrazyEgg offers 30 days free to test.

We use heat mapping in our evidence-based approach

Our firm belief in a data-driven approach to website improvements to boost ecommerce conversion rates lead us to using heat mapping as an integral part of our analysis of customer websites. Our ConversionBoost service involves doing data collection and analysis in order to improve and enhance our merchants’ Shopify stores. Most of our customers who sign up for this service have established stores and are looking for optimisation to increase their sales conversions. We use analytics and heat mapping techniques to make evidence-based suggestions to effectively boost sales.

Conclusion

If you are looking to improve your online store’s performance, such as to increase conversion rates, lower bounce rates, and provide a better user experience for your visitors, then heat mapping will give you a better understanding as to how your users navigate your website. You will be able to make informed UX design decisions by easily identifying friction points in the experience. The data you collect can be sliced and diced by the device being used, the browser type, the purchasing behaviour, source, and more. Whether you use the simple version provided by Google or invest in a third-party app like Hotjar or CrazyEgg, you will be able to make your website better serve you and your customers to drive sales conversions.

If you’d like to know more about how our ConversionBoost service take a look at the this page and feel free to reach out by emailing hello@shopcreatify.com if you have any questions.

If your ecommerce store has been up and running for a while with purchases neatly ticking over but you’re not seeing the surge you expected to see by now, heat mapping is certainly something you should be adding to your process of optimisation.

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Social Responsibility in Ecommerce
Photo by Ben White

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their power for effecting change over brands, and one way they’re using their power for good is through supporting brands that give back. A company or brand that is socially responsible is one that holds itself accountable by way of a self-regulating model of being conscious of the impact it has on society - including socially, environmentally, and economically. For some companies, having a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) model is an add-on, but for others it’s a fundamental part of their brand and product DNA.

Whatever the motivation, brands cannot ignore that social responsibility likely needs to be integrated either into their brand or directly into their products, otherwise consumers will simply switch to another one that does. Don’t believe me? Here are the stats.

Ethical consumerism is driving social responsibility

“Consumer, consumption, consume. Feels like a dirty word in a day and age where we all feel like we would rather save. Save the planet. Save for the future.”
- JuE Wong, Global CEO of Moroccanoil.

In a CSR study conducted in 2017 by Cone Communications it came out that 87% of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about. 89% would rather buy from a company supporting social and environmental issues over one that does not, and 66% would switch from a product they typically buy, to a new product from a purpose-driven company.

The driver of this trend or (lest we say it) Agent of Change, is the ‘conscious consumer’. The definition widely accepted is that a “conscious consumer is an agent of change who considers the social, environmental, ecological, and political impact of their buycott and boycott actions”. Consumers have a conscience and they want to make responsible purchases; but how did this overwhelming wave come about?

How Millennials are shaping consumer consciousness

Millennials shaping consumer consciousness
Photo by Perry Grone

Millennials are changing the shopping experience, and they have the lion’s share of ecommerce transactions, accounting for 54% of all online purchases. Millennials are born between the early 1980’s to the mid-1990’s, and while they are the generation with the most student loans – they are projected to become powerful (but ethical) consumers as they pay off these loans, get better jobs, and higher salaries. Currently millennials spend approximately $600 billion, but by 2020 they are projected to spend $1.4 trillion.

“Millennials care. They care about the impact their money makes, they care about what brands stand for, they expect brands to be socially responsible. For a generation that gets a bad rap, they are encouraging the world to give back and rally together through purchasing power to create positive change.”
– Ronny Sage, CEO of ShoppingGives.

In a global study carried out over 60 countries, it was established that 73% of millenials are willing to spend more for sustainability. This shows that ethical consumerism is a global character-trait of millenials and is not limited to only developed countries, as emerging and developing nations home 86% of all millennials. So not only do millenials prefer a purpose driven product stack, but they are willing to pay more if it means they are supporting a cause close to their heart.

According to the Cone Communications study, 88% of millennials would be more loyal to a company that gives back. How good is giving back for your brand? We investigated a bit into that for you:

Giving back is worth it, any angle you look at it.

Giving back has a two-fold effect of both increasing your sales figures, while also elevating a cause that your consumers find meaningful. Since Millennials are such powerful consumers, and they far more readily support brands that are mindful about their impact, if your brand provides a way to consume while being socially conscious then you will inevitably grow conversions and your average order value.

You have the opportunity now to ‘poach’ customers from their regular merchants if what you offer is associated with a cause, as Millennials are up to 91% more likely to switch brands for a cause close to their heart (as opposed to the 66% of the average US citizen).

Offering customers a way to be socially conscious will improve your customer loyalty and retention, as Millennials are proven to associate brand loyalty with how it represents the issues that are important to them.

This offers a fantastic opportunity to, not only become a more socially conscious brand but, connect and engage with your customers on a more authentic and personal level.

How to make your business more Socially Conscious

Businesses are now making social responsibility a key part of their strategy, often with the millennial market at the core of it. They’re needing to get creative in ways to make their business more socially conscious, this includes the working environment they foster and the immediate needs of the community in which the business operates. Here are a few ways to establish social consciousness a part of your brand’s identity:

  1. Create a social mission:
    Establish how your company will actively help the community.
  2. Make a list of goals:
    Set short and long term goals that are realistic.
  3. Inform your employees:
    Educate your entire team about creating a socially responsible brand.
  4. Form an in-house team for the job:
    Put together a dedicated team to drive positive social impact initiatives.
  5. Find a way to direct contributions:
    Create a way for customers and employees to donate funds or resources to local charities.
  6. Volunteering:
    Encourage your team by dedicating hours to volunteering, it’s also good for morale and team building.
  7. Ethical labour practices:
    Make sure you are following ethical labour practices within your own business.
  8. Consider sustainability:
    Easy ways to do this would be a paperless environment, recycling programs, eco-friendly lighting and plumbing, carpooling, etc.
  9. Collaborate with organisations:
    Team up with compatible organisations to supercharge your fundraising efforts.
  10. Make it an ongoing effort:
    To avoid consumers thinking your efforts are marketing stunts, create regular or continuous efforts in the community for longer lasting contributions.

If you’re wondering whether there is an easy way to incorporate this into your online store that doesn’t complicate the purchasing experience but still gives you all the advantages previously mentioned, then we’re happy to say that yes there is.

Introducing ShoppingGives

ShoppingGives enables you to integrate charitable giving in your Shopify store with ease. Their retail program, Change Commerce, is a shopping cart technology that is designed for Shopify. It allows customers to choose a cause or charity to donate to (at no extra cost to them) during the checkout process.

Change Commerce allows you to keep the checkout process simple, while offering customers millions of organisations to choose from (local charities to national non-profits). The process is quite simple; customers shop as per usual by adding items to their cart, they then choose their favourite cause upon checkout, and the retailer donates the money (at no extra cost to the customer). It enables merchants to engage customers in their CSR strategy with every purchase, adding great value to the customers’ experience and allowing retailers to create a greater impact.

ShoppingGives offers a 30-days free trial of Change Commerce, all you would need to pay during this time is the donations. Thereafter their pricing includes the donations plus 0.5% processing fee per transaction (orders with donations).

For this amount they include the following:

  • End-to-end donation management
  • Support up to 6 causes or non-profits
  • On-site widget
  • Donation confirmations for tracking (all donations are tax-deductable)
  • Customer cause data for personalisation
  • Platform to measure donations against bottom line using RODS (Return on Donation spend)

Another useful tool that ShoppingGives has developed that is worth a mention is their impact calculator.

ShoppingGives Impact Calculator

It enables the merchant to determine how much of an impact their brand could be generating. All you need to do is plug in some of your ecommerce metrics, such as your average monthly users, average order value, and average conversion rate and it will tell you your potential. Retailers can then see how much they would generate in donations annually, what is their ROI for their impact, and their Return on Donation Spend.

Do we recommend it?

If this is a route that you would like to pursue for your brand and online store then ShoppingGives is ideal for you. We have looked into and have been recommending it to our merchants that would like to incorporate charitable giving into their checkout process.

If you would like to try out ShoppingGives, reach out to us and we can help you get started.

Social Responsibility in Ecommerce

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their power for effecting change over brands, and one way they’re using their power for good is through supporting brands that give back. 

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Transactional emails in Shopify ecommerce

Turn your transactional emails into a standalone sales channel and see repeat business spike.

Leave no stone unturned when it comes to ways of increasing your conversions, especially if they can be processes that tick over nicely all on their own. It used to be that throwing money at your marketing budget for ads and PR was a solid strategy for ramping up business, but in the digital age we have so many options at our disposal that it can be quite overwhelming.

Digital marketing and online retail platforms like Shopify have made it possible to optimise almost all these channels relatively easily, quite affordably, and so that they can run automatically. One of these examples that we’ve found to be possibly the lowest hanging fruit for repeat business is beefing up your transactional and follow-up emails. 

What are transactional emails?

All online retailers have some form of transactional emails; their function is to facilitate an agreed upon transaction between the merchant and the customer. They contain information such as details of the order, expected delivery times, and other similar information.

If you’re still not sure what transaction emails are, these examples will help:

  • Abandoned checkout
  • Contact customer
  • Customer account invite
  • Customer account welcome
  • Customer account password reset
  • Delivery notifications
  • Draft order invoice
  • Fulfillment request
  • Gift card created
  • New order
  • New order (mobile)
  • Order canceled
  • Order confirmation
  • Product review request
  • POS and mobile receipt
  • Order refund
  • Shipping confirmation
  • Shipping update
  • Social media updates

Why are they considered low hanging fruit for repeat business?

Transactional related emails have very high open rates, on average most transactional emails have an open rate of 80-85% and most marketing emails are somewhere between 20-25%.

The reason for this is quite simple, the information they contain is exactly what the customer wants or needs. So it makes sense that you should leverage this captive audience by customising and personalising campaigns to improve your conversions of new and repeat business. It is also an opportunity to improve customer service and deepen customer engagement.

According to a white paper by Experian, connecting purchase behaviour to email marketing allow transactional emails to have substantially greater revenue per email than bulk marketing campaigns such as newsletters. These emails also have average revenue that is between two and five times greater.

Shopify transactional email revenue

The study also found that certain transactional emails had much higher conversion rates than bulk mailers, such as order confirmations (eight times higher), shipping and return/exchange based emails (four times higher). The graph below shows the conversion rate difference between transactional emails and bulk marketing mailings (commonly referred to as newsletters).

Shopify transactional email conversion rate differences

What do we mean by customising transactional emails?

Transactional emails are mostly personalised, due to their very nature, which improves their click-through rates by about 14% and conversions by 10%. When customising these emails with the idea to drive repeat purchases, the general rule of thumb is 80% informational and 20% promotional. After all, these emails are intended to deliver information, and not to sell too hard. Ensure that the information that they need and expect is at the forefront and any other promotional content should be added as a bonus.

Over at Spently, the recommended ratio is 60/40 where 60% of the information is related to the transaction and the rest is promotional content, designed to cultivate repeat purchases.

There are a number of ways to customise your transactional emails, which include offering a discount on their next purchase, free shipping, or cross-selling products that the customer may also be interested based on their purchase or wish list history.

Here are some examples of content features that have high conversion performance:

Product recommendations
Leverage your captive audience (merchants who have already purchased from you) to showcase different items sold by your store via product recommendations. You can also filter your recommendations based on different Shopify collections, ie. best selling, newest products or a unique featured collection provided by Spently.

Order status tracking
To enhance the engagement rate (click through rate in this case) as well as the customer experience, ensure that your confirmation or order status tracking email has a link that goes directly to the tracking page for that specific order rather than to any other link to the website. Mails that include order tracking have two times the click rate and 23% higher conversion rates than confirmations without.

Website navigation
Transaction emails can be designed to include some of the website navigation links, including those you would normally find in the navigation on the website and some quick links (order status, returns, etc.). Although the links that pertain to the purpose of the email should take preference and reduced website navigation links have been found to be more effective (higher click rates).

Email acquisition
If you have not got the consent of a customer to subscribe them to your mailing list, but have their contact details, include a link to sign themselves up for your newsletter and content that includes the benefits of receiving your regular communications such as specials and new product launches.

Offer inclusion
According to the white paper by Experian that we referenced earlier, 78% of online adults said they were more likely to open emails that include promotions or coupons - however, counter to what one might believe and despite that high open rate, emails that did not include promotions had up to 11% better conversion rates. Basically, if the content that is presented to the customer is targeted and relevant enough they do not require the addition of an offer to be tempted to make a purchase.

Social media linking
Many brands add the links to their social media sites as a standard to their email footer, this makes it that much easier for your customers to promote your brand on their favourite social media platform. Transactional emails that included links to social media had 55% higher click rates than those with no links.

Customising transactional emails on Shopify

Shopify does enable you to customise your transactional emails by adding your logo or changing the colour scheme for all the templates in one go, however the functionality is quite limited. There are other platforms that are available on the Shopify App Store that can help strengthen the relationship between merchants and their customers by turning standard retail messages into actionable opportunities. One such example, that focuses on driving repeat purchases via transactional emails, is Spently.


Spently

Spently is a marketing platform available to Shopify merchants that enables them to transform their transactional emails into marketing opportunities with upsells, personalised discounts, feedback loops, and referrals.

Abandoned carts is one of the biggest issues that Ecommerce merchants are faced with when it comes to losing sales, with an average of 75% of all products added to cart remaining unconverted. This number is also increasing year on year. Spently makes it easier to reconnect with your customers automatically via follow-up sequences that can help recover lost sales.

It also helps to bolster the brand by providing a unified experience across every interaction as visual branding is consistent whether they are on the website, in-store, on mobile, or when receiving a mail. Spently boast a 600% increase in clicks, 125% increase in transactions, and 360% increase in revenue per email when using their platform to enhance transaction emails for up-sell and cross-sell opportunities compared to Shopify’s default emails.

Below is an example of a transactional mail with Shopify’s default emails and an enhanced version using Spently’s Supercharged Store Emails app.

Spently comparison before and after.

How much does it cost?

As with any investment in life, you want to try something out before you make the commitment to invest your resources, which is why it is so convenient that Spently offers a Starter plan for free. Allowing you to experience the breadth of their application without any financial commitment on your part, along with gauging its efficacy towards driving repeat purchases.

With their Starter plan you can utilise Spently up to 50 monthly orders, including email template themes for all of your store notifications, variable settings for recommended products, discount codes, analytics, and support docs. Thereafter there are three more tiers that cater towards merchants with higher monthly orders and require increased functionality, such as follow-up emails. Spently will also provide a dedicated customer success manager to assist with onboarding, and on-going support. Usage-based plans begin with Essential at $99.99 merchants with upto 500 orders, moving on to Growth priced at $199.99 and upto 1000 orders. Usage-based plans taper off with Premium at the highest tier being recommended for ShopifyPlus merchants, allowing up to 5000 monthly orders — so you never feel like you’re paying too much. There are also unique enterprise plans for merchants above 5000 orders.

Do we recommend it?

It’s important to note that there are a number of marketing platforms available in the Shopify App Store that can do similar customisations and automations of notification emails, such as Klaviyo, and you can actually run Spently and Klaviyo together on one store, but we see little reason to not consider implementing Spently in your store ASAP.

We actually looked into Spently for some of our existing Shopify merchant clients and found it to be a worthwhile inclusion on almost any Shopify ecommerce store. It seems to be a great value investment in terms of what it has to offer in features and functionality. So much so that we have decided to partner up with Spently and have managed to negotiate a 30 day free trial on one of their paid plans.

If you would like to try out Spently on their free tier, or don't mind passing up the 30 day trial, feel free to use our link to install the app, or if you'd like to take advantage of the 30 day trial, please get in touch with us and we'll set things up for you.

Transactional emails in Shopify ecommerce

Turn your transactional emails into a standalone sales channel and see repeat business spike. Leave no stone unturned when it comes to ways of increasing your conversions, especially if they can be processes that tick over nicely all on their own. 

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Shopify Unite Conference 2019

Having now recovered from the three day journey back from Toronto, Canada, I thought it worthwhile to put together some words and pictures to document my journey to the annual Shopify Unite conference.

This is actually the first time ShopCreatify has had a presence at Unite. It was the fourth time Shopify have hosted the event since its inception and based on peer pressure from other folk in the Shopify ecosystem, we decided it was worthwhile to attend.

Important Note: If you're looking for a list of announcements from Unite, I've obliged by creating a digest at the end of this article with links to the respective sources. Also, if you're looking for specific information about what was announced, you can also check out Shopify's comprehensive article on this here and also go and give a listen to Kurt and Paul talk about it in the Unofficial Shopify Podcast.

The Journey Begins

Unfortunately things started off a bit shaky with all BA flights out of Cape Town being delayed (fog I believe) forcing me to have to forfeit my initial departure date since I'd miss all my connecting flights. The original journey was intended to be:

Cape Town > Johannesburg > Heathrow > Gattwick (drive) > Toronto

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise since not only did they reduce my legs down to Cape Town > Heathrow > Toronto, they also bumped me up from economy to business class for the first leg. 

Shopify Unite Journey from Heathrow
A view from the boarding lounge at Heathrow. BA has quite a flock... or is that fleet?

After a short layover and coffee break in Heathrow with my brother -where I had to frantically apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization Visa that my travel agent hadn't mentioned- I departed for the final leg to Toronto.

Shopify Unite 2019 Liberty Village Airbnb
I was pleasantly surprised at the nice quiet, leafy suburban feeling Airbnb location in Liberty Village. Complete with squirrels and maple trees.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't really know what I was in for when it came to my Airbnb. Turns out there was no cause for concern. Just over a mile from the conference venue, clean, and in a quiet road in Liberty Village, I managed to score a great priced and super convenient location. I couldn't have been happier.

Night 1 - Bold Commerce Pre-Event

Jet-lagged or not, I headed out from my airbnb to the pre-event hosted by Bold Commerce and a few others including Rise.ai (formerly GiftWizard) at the Steam Whistle Brewery in central Toronto.

Shopify Unite Bold Commerce Pre Event Panel
The panel at the Bold meetup in the Steamwhistle Brewery in Toronto.

The first familiar faces (actually just the name since we'd never chatted with video on) were Ines and Alejandro from GetMore.mx. I sat through the panel discussion with them which was interesting but brief. I actually appreciated this in my fragile lack-of-sleep condition. After meeting a few other people, some I'd only met via Zoom calls or in our global agency Slack, some just new... I headed out for a breather and promptly decided to jettison myself to the highest point of the CN tower... so I did.

Shopify Unite 2019 Bold Commerce Pre-Event
My view of the Steamwhistle Brewery from the CN Tower and a shot I took of the tower later that same evening.

On my return from the (extended) breather I met up with long time collaborators of ours Peter and Loughlin from Milkbottle who came all the way Dublin. Excellent guys and we ended up having a great chat over dinner and beer. That was it though... I was pretty broken so Ubered (is that a word?) back to my Airbnb for a proper sleep.

Day 1 - Sorta Kinda... actually just registration

After a proper sleep, I headed off to the Beanfield Centre on foot (only ~1.9km from my Airbnb) and subsequently came to realise that I was walking part of the Toronto Indy race circuit. They were actually setting up the grand stand scaffolding but I was saddened to hear that the race is only in late July. Probably good because Unite wouldn't have been possible with an Indy race happening.

Shopify Unite 2019 Arrival and Registration
Me looking decidedly South African in shorts on arrival at the Shopify Unite registration day.

With typical Canadian friendliness (it's true, it really, really is!) I got registered, my badge, some swag and a custom printed shirt from their on-site while-you-wait screen printers.

Having a pre-arranged lunch with my partner contact at Bold, Lauren, I headed off to meet her at The Craft and serendipitously bumped into her on the walk there. We had a great chat following which I set out on the longest walk I've done in recent memory to find a new bag (mine's strap broke on the flight in).

Shopify Unite 2019 Walking Toronto
Some visuals from my many walks around Toronto.

I think I totalled over 10km walking that day already and should probably have called it there... but no... there was a happy hour to attend still! So after getting some food in my face and setting off for another walk, I hit the Drake and soon met up with Canadian local Matt from Voltage and Leighton & Andy from Envision. A thriving event packed with people, but the happy hour came to an end around 8pm and we decided to head out for dinner.

Outside the Drake, we conveniently met up with some long time contacts Karl from RedFoxBanjo, Tom from Burst Commerce and the guys from Electric Eye Chase & Shawn. Others too, but it's such an overload for my brain to remember all the names and companies, so suffice to say it was a networking festival of note.

A bunch of us set off to grab some dinner at the most local looking place we could find. I tried some Poutine - Canada's claimed local cuisine and as Karl put it "it tastes like fries with gravy". I found that to be 100% accurate... but yes, I enjoyed it.

After another seemingly very long day, I walked back to the Airbnb and think I crashed for the best sleep I've had in a long while.

Day 2 - Actually day 1 with the keynotes etc.

For some reason I decided to go down for the main opener really early and I think I was let in before they started to stop people at the door. Unintentionally sneaky of me. Some of my contacts were stuck outside while they prepped the main stage... but I was already in and got some work done in the lounge area.

The keynotes were fun, if not a bit long. Some great announcements were made, which I've listed out at the end of this article, and Shopify's share price spiked shortly I think during and definitely in the hours thereafter.

Shopify Unite 2019 Keynote
Announcement of the new Shopify mobile phone tap & chip case.

The standout announcements for myself were the enhancements to the theming in Shopify as well as the massive announcement about the fulfillment network.

There was also an AMA (ask me anything) with Tobi Lutke, the founder of Shopify. It was pretty revealing and gave a glimpse into the mind of someone that planted a seed and has grown it into what is -according to Shopify- the third largest online retailer in the world when you combine all the merchants using the platform.

Shopify Unite 2019 Tobi Lutke ama
Tobi Lutke being grilled (not really) with questions about Shopify and the future of the platform.

The food was really good in the aptly named Unite Cafe -complete with coffee from Starbucks- and then we migrated to the lounge area where I had worked from earlier in the day. From there it was a smorgasbord of networking where I got to meet the camo jacket wearing posterboy of Shopify partners Kurt Elster and his business partner Paul Reda... and all their documentary filmmaking gadgets, Kelly from Taproom, Sara and R. V. d. from Mote, the guys from Spently... and honestly, just so many others I can't bring myself to try and recollect them all and turn this into a painful paragraph to read. Name dropping isn't my thing.

The day culminated in a great dinner out with Kurts (Elster and Bullock) and a bunch of other cool guys. We were introduced to the Canadian "Caesar" which is definitely something I'd like to try and make my own now that I'm back.

Another Uber, and time to reset for day 3.

Day 3 - Lightning talks, office hours etc.

On this day I broke with my newfound tradition and started a bit later than I'd hoped. It wasn't too serious and my attendance at the conference consisted mostly of networking, attending some of the talks and workshops with Karl.

Shopify Unite 2019 Session
Karl looking decidedly uneasy about the idiot next to him doing a panoramic photo. That or this is his concentration face.

I achieved one of the main things I wanted to with my attendance and that was to meet the founder of Out of the Sandbox Brad Miller. Conveniently we shared the front row in a talk about Shopify theming (surprise surprise) and I got to meet Anne and him directly thereafter. He's taller than I imagined... apparently height is one thing that people are surprised by when they meet people in person for the first time after knowing them for a while online.

We discussed their new theme which I won't name since it hasn't been officially announced at the time of me writing this as far as I'm aware. Needless to say, we're excited to look at putting it into our arsenal of Shopify store production weapons.

Following the day's events, I went for a long walk along the side of the lake (fresh water ocean if you ask me) with Karl and Matt which ended with us parting ways, them going to the official afterparty and me having a sunset call with Quintin, my business partner from the water's edge.

Shopify Unite 2019 - Great Lake Toronto
Not a bad view while chatting to Quintin back in Cape Town.

It felt kinda strange to be on that end of the time zone difference. Odd in a way, but I can also see how beneficial it can be since I woke up every morning with so much to review and do because a lot of my team had already been up and working for more than half the day. An interesting and revealing observation.

An early night for a change and some needed rest for the final day of Unite was on the cards for me. Apparently the afterparty was really good, but the idea of Facetiming my wife and kids back home was more appealing. Call me an old fuddy duddy if you will.

Day 4 - The grand finale & a Blue Jays game

The final day of the conference followed much the same formula as the preceding day and I don't have a lot of new information to add for it.

The closing keynote by Atlee Clark, Director of Partner Platform was quite heartfelt and touching and seemed a suitable closing talk with her speaking about a Shopify store that she herself is in the process of launching. Great to know that even some of the higher-ups in Shopify's own ranks are using their own platform.

I did manage to try the much talked about Canadian famous beaver's tail which turned out to be just a flat donut-like pastry. Tasty.

As much as the final day of Unite was great, I think everyone was all networked out, our elevator pitches permanently tattooed on the inside of our skulls and our business card pile looking rather depleted... not mine though, as I chose to go with a QR code printed on my shirt but found direct Linkedin exchanges to be a lot easier... I was travelling light.

As earlier planned with Peter and Loughlin from Milkbottle, we chose to hit the Toronto Blue Jays vs Los Angeles Angels final game at the Rogers Centre. I'd say this was one major highlight of my trip. The stadium was incredibly impressive with the retractable roof, and the game kept my interest from the first pitch... also my first live baseball game.

Shopify Unite 2019 - Baseball at Rogers Stadium
Inside Rogers Centre on a rainy night watching the Toronto Blue Jays beat the LA Angels.

And that was it. Done and dusted, the Shopify Unite conference for 2019 was officially over and most people headed off home, some driving back to different parts of Canada and the United states and us overseas travellers preparing for the long haul back.

I did manage to have lunch with Ines and Alejandro on my final full day in Toronto at a great vegan spot called Fresh on Spadina. I think they -and I- were a bit tired of burgers and deep fried foods, so it made a welcome change.

The trip back

Getting home was far less eventful than the up-trip with the exception of a long stopover in London. This allowed me to spend most of it with my brother and sister-in-law, grab some toys for the kids from Hamleys and even take the founder of one of our favourite merchant clients, FoldaBox, to a proper British roast lunch at the Smokehouse in Islington.

River Thames
What would a stopover in London be without a shot of the River Thames!

Needless to say, after a near 3 day journey back, I required a couple of days to recover, but now -Friday- I'm putting this all together before the memories fade.

Was it worth it?

One of the biggest, most niggling questions in my mind since I first signed up for Unite was "will it be worth it for us?" and to be quite frank, I don't yet know.

I think it was, and I feel the connections I made, or strengthened by attending may be worth the time and cost of quite a significant journey. We're talking about a relative homebody that -while I'm fine speaking at meetups in front of a crowd- I don't particularly like the networking vibe.

Yes it was a bit of an adventure, it was my first time on that continent and the fact that people drive on the wrong side of the road was odd, but all in all I think going to the biggest partner event that Shopify currently offers, and it was big... like over 1,800 delegates, I hope the effort, time and cost was worth it.

Time will tell. We're already doing very well as it stands with the Shopify platform and an excellent existing client base across the globe, so in short it certainly won't do any harm.


Shopify's Recap of Announcements

According to Shopify's own highlights recap, the following was announced at this year's conference. You can read their full article to get further context.

  • A reimagined design experience for your online store
    • Easier customization at the page and store level. 
    • Portable content that moves with you. 
    • A new workspace to update your store. 
  • Bring your products to life with video and 3D models
    • Manage media through a single location.
    • Deploy through the new Shopify video player.
    • New editor apps.
  • Cutting edge merchandising with custom storefront tools
    • Connect microservices to create personalized experiences.
    • Turn the world into your storefront.
    • Speedy and scalable to have development teams work in parallel.
  • Build lasting customer loyalty with retail shoppers
    • Apply discounts lightning-quick.
    • Important information at your fingertips.
    • Create small moments of delight.
  • Grow globally with seamless cross-border selling
  • Announcing the Shopify Fulfillment Network
    • A single back office.
    • Recommended warehouse locations.
    • Low stock alerts.
    • 99.5% order accuracy.
    • Hands-on warehouse help.

Kurt Elster's Shopify Unite 2019 Notes

I also took the liberty of reaching out to Kurt Elster from the Unofficial Shopify Podcast if I could share some of his notes which he graciously permitted and  which I've posted below. Be sure to check out his podcast though. He has some great content on there and interviews some great players in the ecommerce industry... even me.

Online store:

  • Site-wide sections
  • Apps can add sections
  • Product pages have parent and child templates
  • Content portability: all content lives outside theme, simplifying theme changes
  • Native video & 3-D support on product pages
  • Check-out app extensions for native integrations of things like subscriptions
  • Multi-currency checkout rolling out to all merchants
  • Multi-language API for native localized content

POS:

  • Tap & chip case for mobile orders. Apple store like experience. Printed with a custom logo.
  • Cart extension apps.
  • Entirely redesigned POS interface
  • Native “buy online pick up in store”

Admin:

  • New “shipping profiles” to assign product-specific shipping rules.
  • Order editing!!!

Plus:

  • All new interface: centralized view of multiple stores
  • Multistore dashboard for customers, orders, Flow automation, etc
  • Future: cloning & store sync
  • Multi-store staff managed in one place

Apps:

  • Command line interface tool to make dev easier
  • Shopify App Bridge: one library to rule them all, and create more embedded apps
  • GraphQL improvements mean faster apps
  • More stable apps because of API versioning. (Keeps apps from breaking when the API changes.)

Shopify Fulfillment Network:

  • 2 days to deliver
  • 99.9% order accuracy
  • Multichannel support
  • Custom packaging & branding
  • Returns/exchange support
  • Now: Merchants of every size. (10-10,000 orders/day)
  • Later: Merchants of every size. (3-30,000 orders/day)
  • Beta complete, apply for early access at shopify.com/fulfillment

When: Most updates had a timeline of "Available later this year"


Shopify Unite Conference 2019

Having now recovered from the three day journey back from Toronto, Canada, I thought it worthwhile to put together some words and pictures to document my journey to the annual Shopify Unite conference.

read time.

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Ecommerce conversion optimization

It is perhaps a couple of months (or a year or so) after your ecommerce store was first launched. You’re patiently watching the conversions tick over each week, and you start to wonder - what’s next? The journey you took to get your online store live was undoubtedly long and industrious, but it’s not over yet - you may already have encountered some pain points or perhaps you’re not yet satisfied with your conversion rate. So now that your Shopify store is live, what now?

The beauty of digital is that we can constantly and relatively easily update and upgrade our store according to the many metrics we record each and every day of our customers’ behaviour as well as our general website performance on tools such as Google Analytics and heat mapping products like HotJar and CrazyEgg. This ultimately means that your job is never finished when it comes to your Ecommerce store; there are always improvements to be made, A/B testing to be done, and upgrades to make to ensure that your store is running at absolute optimal performance.

Just as you might have found it overwhelming as to where to start while you were devising your now finalised live online store, it can be equally paralyzing when contemplating how and where to start on optimisation. To help you get started we have grouped some aspects that you can take a look at first that will form a great start.

Now that your Shopify site is live, here are the next steps:

Ultimately, almost everything that you endeavour to do with your Ecommerce store is in aid of increasing your conversions; and there are an infinite number of things you can do to increase sales on your Shopify store. Some things are easier or faster to implement and others might require more research and a bit of development but could yield much better results over a period of time and therefore worth it in the longer run.

We have compiled the checklist below of things you can do to increase conversions:

1. Enhance your Search
You can thank Google for making a Search function an expected feature on most websites - and you can use this to great advantage too, especially if you have a large product catalogue. Enhance the user experience with a good quality search feature that makes finding what they need easy. Consider adding auto-suggest functionality to cleverly propose relevant products to the consumer while they are still typing. Usually this would come in the form of an app, and there are a few to choose from.

2. Use Product Videos
Video has quickly become the king of content, with more than 500 million hours of videos watched on YouTube each day and a third of all online activity consisting solely of watching video content. Suffice to say, a video explainer is the ideal medium to explain your product/s on your website in basic and succinct terms. Other than your home page, embed these videos in the description field of your product/s, and if you're smart enough to be using one of the Out of the Sandbox themes, you can even put videos into the main image carousel.

3. Improve your Navigation
Most Shopify themes come with navigation options that ‘do the job’, but you want more than that - you want your navigation to improve product findability, be laser-focused, and offer consumers an intuitive user-experience. Your navigation needs to contribute to your conversion-efforts, so keep your product front and centre - everything else can go into your footer or other secondary navigation areas so as not to clutter up your interface.

4. Add a Site-Wide Promo Bar
Site Wide Promo Bar
A lot of Ecommerce stores, like GymShark (above), use promo bars to communicate value propositions like specials or free shipping to their target audience. However, they often limit this to their home page, limiting its reach along with it. Make your promo bars site-wide, thus maximising the messaging and the opportunity to drive conversions with it.

5. Use and Promote Social Proof & Reviews
Consumers trust word-of-mouth more than anything else; according to this Nielsen Global Trust In Advertising Survey 92% of people trust recommendations from friends versus 70% from online consumer opinions. This is why you need to leverage your social presence and social reviews as much as possible, after all they are unpaid endorsements! There is a great app for social reviews called YOTPO that a lot of our merchant clients use with great success.

6. Up-sell, Cross-Sell and Bundle
“According to Forrester research, product recommendations such as upsell and cross-sell offers are responsible for an average of 10-30% of ALL eCommerce side revenues! " – Bold Commerce.

Use up-sell, cross-sell and bundle offers to increase the average cart size and boost your revenue. There are a large number of apps to choose from when looking to provide this on your store but our usual go-to apps are the ones offered by Bold.

7. Emphasize Call-to-Actions
Be selective and stay relevant when drawing the consumer’s eye to a CTA, if you give equal attention to all CTAs (Add to Cart, mailing list sign up, inquire now) they contribute to a general ‘noise’ and essentially disappear amongst it. The rule of thumb is that you draw attention primarily to the element(s) that are going to lead to a conversion.

8. Add Guarantees, Trust Seals & Value Propositions
Elements such as expedited shipping, free shipping, product guarantees, country of manufacture/sourcing (locally sourced, etc.), secure transactions, PCI Compliant Hosting & Cart, and payment method logos inspire trust and confidence in your consumer. Proudly display these where they are about to make their buying decision.

9. Incentivise email subscription
Consumers are spammed to death from every angle, so one doesn’t blame them for making us work for their email addresses! One of the best tried and tested ways to persuade consumers to opt-in for a mailing list is to offer them a free gift with their first purchase or a sizable discount code after signing up.

10. Localise
If you currently only have one store catering to multiple countries and are experiencing some drop-off in other territories, consider creating a separate instance for each region. This will allow for you to provide:

  1. Checkout in the customer's own currency.
  2. Ability to market to that region's specific events and holidays.
  3. Ability to market to that region's potentially different seasons.
  4. Use the predominant language of the region.
  5. Use familiar payment methods and shipping providers.

11. Give a Stock level indication
Providing a stock level indication (only 6 items left in stock!) gives a sense of urgency and prays on the consumer’s sense of FOMO (fear of missing out). An app like While Supplies Last will enable you to implement this functionality.

12. Add a Countdown timer
Similarly with the Stock level indication, a Countdown timer effectively provides an air of urgency (to the minute) and also works on the FOMO in every consumer. Use an app for this like Sales Countdown Timer Bar to give the consumer a certain amount of time to act before losing out on a deal.

13. Provide back-in-stock notification
Don’t lose out on sales simply because a product is temporarily out of stock, capture the consumer’s details and send them an automated reminder when the product is back-in-stock again with functionality like that of the BackInStock app.

14. Recover your Abandoned Carts
“The typical shopping cart abandonment rate for online retailers varies between 60% and 80%, with an average of 67.91%.” - Wikipedia

Abandoned carts are the ultimate low-hanging fruit for picking up on lost sales, consumers were literally selecting items for purchase and for some or other reason didn’t complete the sale. Provide an opportunity for them to pick up where they left off (or even offer a discount to tip them over the edge). If you're on Shopify's "Shopify" plan or higher, you already have abandoned checkouts available to you as a feature, otherwise for a lower plan there are still plenty of options in the form of apps.

In conclusion…

If you implement many (or all) of these points you are very likely to see a marked impact on your store’s performance. If you would like to see more detailed information on the above checklist items, view our article on increasing your site’s conversions. Alternatively, you could sign up for our ConversionBoost service and see exponential growth in your online store conversion.

Have you heard of ConversionBoost?

ConversionBoost is one of our specialised services, where we use an evidence-based approach, with data collection and analysis, to improve and enhance your store. ConversionBoost is designed for established stores that already have a baseline of performance, and stores with a certain level of traffic and sales already will see the best results. If you are just getting started, though, and want to know how you can best optimise your sales for your growing store, we can help too. Ready to take your Shopify store to the next level? Apply now.

Ecommerce conversion optimization

It is perhaps a couple of months (or a year or so) after your ecommerce store was first launched. You’re patiently watching the conversions tick over each week, and you start to wonder - what’s next? 

read time.

Read More
Shopify SEO Scrabble pieces (because we're arty and good with metaphors)

Sometimes while you're going about your normal daily business you'll come across some piece of information that you consider worthy of being committed to your arsenal of reference material. Today was one of those days.

In a closed Shopify agency owners Slack channel, our friend Eric Davis over at Little Stream Software shared something that should probably be read, digested and stored for later reference by every Shopify merchant, expert and partner.

What I'm referring to is this article about SEO for Shopify.

For us, the main takeaway from the article was a checklist we were able to put together from Eric's own recommendations which consists of:

  1. Page titles
  2. Meta descriptions
  3. Consistent URL structures
  4. Alt tags
  5. Content length
  6. Structured data

Without diving into the details (we're not online marketers), if you read the article, you should be in a pretty good position to ensure that your on-site SEO is up to scratch.

Note: Remember that online marketing is always full of ever moving goalposts. At the time of you reading this or Eric's article, there may be new factors at play, but at the time of writing, this is pretty solid advice.

Read the article on SEO for Shopify here.

Shopify SEO Scrabble pieces (because we're arty and good with metaphors)

Sometimes while you're going about your normal daily business you'll come across some piece of information that you consider worthy of being committed to your arsenal of reference material. Today was one of those days.

read time.

Read More