Spently’s Roddy Smith talks empathy, agility and walks around the block.
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.”
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 Hallway conversations have been replaced by regular video calls and productivity is encouraged by daily goal-setting.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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”