Q&A with Brian Taylor: VP of Digital Agency, Forix
Brian Taylor is the Vice President at Forix, a digital agency that helps merchants overcome the hurdles of rapid scaling environments through custom web development, integration and workflow planning, and ongoing website support.
One of the reasons Forix accomplishes this so successfully is by introducing the right mix of critical ecommerce partners, like 4-Tell, to further optimize and enhance their customer’s ecommerce website.
Considering Brian’s experience and expertise in the space – and his history working closely with 4-Tell – we wanted to hear his take on the current state of ecommerce, common pain-points that merchants are struggling with and predictions about the fast-paced world of digital commerce.
1. When you first start working with clients, what are some common pain points they’re looking to solve?
The most common issues we encounter with clients tend to do with basic fundamentals like page load speed, user experience/checkout process, getting the support they need from developers, and learning how to interpret the data so they can make actionable decisions. Knowledge is definitely power in this world.
For example, many of the websites we rescue take 4-5 times longer to load than optimized sites. That is an instant revenue killer, especially on mobile. You would not believe how much conversion rates can go up by having a fast site alone.
User experience also offers some low-hanging opportunities that tend to get overlooked all the time. Search, for example, is a simple concept. However, most people underestimate the revenue it can generate. Just last week I showed a client that 6% of his users were using his onsite search, but those people were generating 60% of his daily revenue. That is a WOW moment for everyone I show those numbers to. It really separates the shoppers from the buyers. Now we are driving more users through search to get them on products faster than ever.
Developer support is a huge thing. A lot of the new clients we get are constantly grumbling about their former programmers. I commonly hear, “They never get back to me,” or “it takes them a long time to deliver what I want,” and even “what was delivered was not what I really wanted.”. Another common issue is “I feel like I’m the one who is always coming up with the ideas.” It’s important to have a reliable development firm that actually knows ecommerce strategy. The money they think they are saving on the hourly rate is costing them millions of dollars in opportunity costs. Nothing is more expensive in the long run than trying to go cheap today.
Finally, numbers are everything. Ecom is more of a science than an art. We all have strong opinions when it comes to aesthetics. Amazon is not winning any beauty awards from a design standpoint, and yet, they are the most effective selling machine we have ever seen online. Craigslist looks like something out of 1996, but you see how much we all use it. The key is to separate the numbers from the opinions. When we show people user data, our clients are blown away every time. The reactions vary. Some sit there in silence with eyes wide open. Some try to argue at first and then start asking questions. Once they see how much more revenue they could be driving, you can see their thinking change on the spot. That is what makes ecommerce so exciting. The smallest changes translate into big results.
Like anything in life, once you know how, it’s easy. Keep in mind, many ecom managers usually entered their role through a digital marketing position or from the IT side, so ecommerce is a relatively new skill set to them and their employers. Everybody knows they want more revenue, but both strategy and tactics tend to be the hardest part to nail down – especially for a company that is new to ecommerce. The good news is that we have seen big gains by getting page load times down a few seconds or cleaning up checkout processes. We have seen conversion rates climb by having the right kind of landing pages and better search within the site. We have watched traffic numbers surge after fixing a few organic SEO problems on product pages site-wide. Many of the fixes are common sense once we point them out, but most people are too busy to see these blockers or know how much they are affecting revenue.
2. Of the clients you’ve worked with, what are the top 3 or 4 most important capabilities that land them ecommerce success?
The number 1 indicator of ecommerce success is understanding their users’ behavior. This can be done with a series of tools: analytics, heat maps, videos, etc. Once we know what paths users take to purchase vs. our assumptions, the lightbulb moments come in rapid succession. Quantifying activity is the only way to make sense of it.
Number 2 would be how much a priority ecom is to their company. For example, if a company’s plan is to double revenues every year for the next 5 years, that is great – but the proof is in the budget. Many companies underestimate what kind of horsepower it takes to run a successful site, and so they need to make sure that a large portion of their marketing spend is directed at web driven revenue.
The third is the willingness to change. What worked last year doesn’t work as well this year, or it could work 100-times better next year. What used to be manual needs to be automated as quickly as possible so that we don’t bottleneck the sales funnel. Always ask yourself, “how do I sell 2-3 times more next year?” It will require a different approach each time.
3. In your opinion, how important is using data to drive the ecommerce experience? Do most merchants fully harness their data to drive ecom experiences? Or do the majority still have a ways to go?
Data is insanely powerful, but if it isn’t packaged in a digestible fashion, it is worthless to the reader. In this age of acceleration, there are numerous solutions that utilize algorithms to do the lifting for us. We see this in product recommendations, personalization, behavioral marketing, product wizards and countless other areas. Data is everything in the ecommerce experience simply because screen real estate is so limited on the screens we carry with us. We have to make every millimeter count.
4. Optimizing the ecommerce experience for mobile is a huge pain point you help merchants solve. In your experience, how are ecommerce merchants able to seamlessly blend digital channels? What tools do they use / what specific capabilities are in their arsenal?
Mobile performance looks worse in Analytics than it actually is. At face value, to see 1/3rd of the conversion rate of desktop makes it look horrible comparatively. Keep in mind that mobile is where research begins, and desktop tends to be where most purchases are made. Why is that? For several reasons, but think about your own experiences. Nobody wants to key in billing and shipping information with their thumbs. Storing client profiles and payment methods is a quick way around this issue. The closer you can get checkout to a single click, the more the conversion rate goes up.
The other key aspect is to make UX changes specifically for the mobile experience. If your mobile portion of the site is in need of improvement, then it requires that we get surgical. We isolate user paths on mobile devices so we can see specifically what is preventing orders from occurring.
5. When do you typically introduce 4-Tell’s solutions to your customers? In your experience, how do you see 4-Tell best deployed by merchants?
We typically introduce 4-Tell at all points in the process. Automation is key if they want to let their site drive up sales on its own. Whether we encounter clients looking to re-platform to something more robust, or established merchants are seeking to break through revenue plateaus, all of them have increased their AOV and conversion rates when we incorporate 4-Tell.
6. What kind of online experiences are customers currently expecting from online merchants? How do you think these expectations will change / what will be new customers expectations 5 years from now?
The immediate need is still on the mobile front. 2017 was the year of the mobile crossover, where more of our clients saw the majority of the sessions come from mobile devices as opposed to desktop. In fact, one of our clients saw 81% of visitors coming from phones exclusively. Since most sites were built with mobile as an afterthought, there are a lot of quick and easy opportunities to get conversions up on phones and tablets.
Users want the fastest, coolest, easiest and most relevant experience to their particular need – which is the current challenge to overcome. The good news is that there are so many solutions we can apply on nearly every dimension (4-Tell included) that you can really make an ecom site the place people want to hang out and explore. Just ask yourself “where do I spend the most time online?” and work backward from there. Are you on YouTube a lot? Then get a lot of video content on your product pages. Do you read up on comparisons and reviews? Do you browse product recommendations? Do you use product selectors or calculators? Do you learn about new things through things your friends share? Your own behavior is indicative of how others would seek out products as well.
With so many moving parts, we are far more dependent on algorithms to serve up relevant products to the right people at the right time. There are several 3rd parties who are focused on expanding the reach of their solutions, so why not benefit directly from their R&D and enjoy the ride. Five years from now it will be more of the same, but across more channels and with more purchasing options.