Lunch with Littledata: Q&A with Anshey Bhatia, CEO of Verbal+Visual

This week, we're continuing our Q&A segment: Lunch with Littledata! We sat down (virtually) with Anshey Bhatia, founder and CEO of Verbal+Visual, to chat about the Shopify world, good design, and where things are going. V+V is one of our fantastic agency partners here at Littledata. They work closely with thoughtful brands that are dedicated to a seamless, user-centric experience on Shopify Plus. We share a number of customers with the agency and it was great to catch up during these crazy -- but also inspirational -- times here in NYC. Let's dive right in! Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your clients overall? Have they seen a boom in orders or AOV, or has order volume been normal? Our clients with higher cost per units for non-home items have been much more affected than everyone else. While no client has seen a major boom, only one client has seen a significant loss, and they are a high-ticket, night-on-the-town apparel company that launched in February. All in all, while there was a slight dip for most in March, ecommerce rebounded quickly. Q: How has V+V adapted to the pandemic era? We have taken on some new client work that is smaller in scope than our typical projects. We’ve done this to help the immediate needs of brands that were not positioned to adapt to the acceleration of e-commerce shopping that we’ve seen. When we saw the need for smaller development projects that could save brands thousands of dollars a day in lost sales, we realized it’s more efficient to solve those short term problems before addressing a full site redesign. We saw the need for smaller development projects that could save brands thousands of dollars a day in lost sales Harley Finkelstein, the COO of Shopify, recently referred to Shopify as a “Retail Operating System”, and we agree with that definition. Our agency is not just building ecommerce websites; we create the infrastructure needed for a brand to scale across many different online and offline channels. [note]Wondering how Littledata has adapted? Here's what we're doing in response to the crisis.[/note] Q: If you were going to start a DTC brand right now, what would it sell? We partner with brands that are mission-driven and are thoughtful about their supply chains and materials. We also love working with brands focused on other mission-driven areas such as health and wellness, and empowerment / equality initiatives. With that in mind, we would start a DTC brand that sources non-perishable ingredients from local restaurants and merchants. Restaurants have come up with inventive ways to sell food and other products while their establishments are shut down, so bringing locally sourced products like sauces, spices, and seasonings to a larger audience is a huge opportunity. For example, Bread makers have seen the second largest increase in purchases from March 2019 to March 2020 as a result of COVID-19, and I have a feeling our team could design a pretty kick-ass bread maker! Q: Sounds delicious! So you're a group of ecommerce design experts — visual design, experience design, etc. What's the most challenging part of creating great design experiences for businesses running on Shopify? Two important issues come to mind. Firstly, brands always want experiential sites, however they also want high conversion rates and AOV. The two don’t always go well together. It’s important that while going through the design process, the tightrope between brand equity and conversion focus is walked across gently and that we don’t go too far in either direction at the risk of losing the other. This is not endemic to Shopify necessarily, however most brands that are on Shopify care deeply about their brand. Secondly, all ecommerce sites need to be accessible to everyone, everywhere. We need to design sites with accessibility as a priority, as it’s not only the law, it’s the right thing to do. The trick is retaining a unique experience, ensuring shoppability, and allowing equal access, all at the same time. Q: What are some underrated elements of great ecommerce design that merchants should pay more attention to? We spend a lot of time thinking about the design elements that are not immediately noticeable. A lot of the new brands we see have certain elements that are trendy or in line with an agency’s signature style. For us, we focus our energies on creating scalable design systems that will bend but not break as a company grows their enterprise. Sometimes that means we have to question the brand’s assumptions and really dig into their brand identity. It’s not always clear and then our job becomes designing a set of guidelines that can not only be applied to the digital experience, but elsewhere. While we don’t specifically focus on branding, it’s important that we understand the fundamental building blocks of the brands’ visual identity, so that we can bring that brand to life across digital touch points. We also pay attention to interactions, animations, and page transitions. These animations are not always noticeable and sometimes they are designed to be that way. If a PDP is image-heavy by design, we’ll create loading animations for those images, with the understanding that it will take a little longer to load some of those images as users scroll down the page. Q: What's your advice for merchants who may not realize that a great shopper experience is stalling their growth? A lot of brands are selling a great product, they’re creating compelling ads on Facebook and Instagram which tells the story of the brand. Then potential customers click on those ads and end up on a site that does not align with the touch points they’ve had with the brand so far. A digital experience that doesn’t align with the brand’s identity will immediately reduce trust between the customer and the brand. It’s important to have a seamless customer journey from delivering ads, to the website, to emails and even into the receipt of the packages. If parts of the customer experience don’t feel connected, you are more likely to lose your customer or lose their potential LTV. Q: How does ecommerce look different for standard Shopify stores vs. Shopify Plus stores right now? There are so many new brands appearing in different verticals right now. Shopify does a great job of giving brands the tools to get off the ground and running. However, when brands need to start to differentiate themselves, they break out of the templated design that Shopify is best for. From a design perspective, you can accomplish pretty much anything you want on a Shopify store all the way up to a Shopify Plus store. Shopify Plus stores, though, are able to elevate the holistic digital experience to another level. Shopify Plus offers significantly more functionality for brands that are going international and are expanding via physical retail or other channels. Shopify Plus is built to provide an entire commerce infrastructure, while Shopify is built for a starter level e-commerce experience. Shopify Plus also offers white glove customer service, which is hugely important for brands serious about their long term growth. Q: Is omnichannel selling a thing of the past? On the contrary, omnichannel is the future of commerce. Some people think of omnichannel as the relationship between offline and online shopping. We view omnichannel as any touch point your customer can buy at. COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of ecommerce, but ecommerce still sits at under 30% of total commerce. While most first-time ecommerce shoppers are going to large marketplaces like Amazon, Target, and Walmart, many of them are also exploring DTC brands for the first time. Brands are looking to shift to big marketplaces while also experimenting with new channels like TikTok and mobile gaming platforms. Additionally, we’re seeing traditionally offline businesses like restaurants looking for additional revenue streams. Shopify’s updates for Shopify POS have addressed the short term safety issues surrounding COVID-19, and we believe these updates will also help to improve the dynamic between online and offline, and make more shoppers comfortable with the idea of omnichannel. Ultimately, brands want to be where their customers are. We don’t always know what channels are going to be popular, but we do know all brands need a strong digital infrastructure in place to adapt and scale. Q: How crucial is it for Shopify Plus merchants to trust their tracking? In other words, how important is accurate Shopify tracking and reporting to a store's success? We use data to drive our design process, inform the user experience, and our ecommerce strategy recommendations. As mentioned before, one of the main problems we see with brands is the misalignment between their marketing campaigns, creative content, their website, and the unboxing experience. We use data to drive our design process and inform the user experience It’s critical for us to know where customers are coming from, how they are converting, how much they are spending, and their lifetime value. This not only helps our clients’ marketing efforts, but it allows their ecommerce team to make informed decisions. We can understand what changes need to be made to landing pages, PDPs, and path to purchase, and we can attribute customers to the correct marketing channels so that teams can align around shared goals. Accurate Shopify reporting ultimately leads to clarity around ownership of the data and accountability, so we can’t stress enough the importance of being able to read and interpret these data points.   Thanks again to Anshey and the Verbal+Visual team for hanging out with us online. Looking for more Lunch with Littledata? Last month we sat down with Chad Rubin, CEO of Skubana (and a Shopify seller too!).

by Ari
2020-06-16

Lunch with Littledata: Q&A with Chad Rubin, CEO of Skubana

This week, we're kicking off a new Q&A-style segment on the blog: Lunch with Littledata! We sat down (virtually) with Chad Rubin, Co-founder and CEO of Skubana, a multi-channel inventory management and ERP software working largely in the Shopify ecosystem. Let's dive right in! Q: How are your customers handling COVID-19? Thriving? In a drought? Somewhere in between? What we're seeing is essentials thrive. Brands that are providing non-discretionary necessities in the household are doing exceptionally well, and that's where we're building our pipeline. But also it's how Skubana has historically been built, through customers selling essential finished goods across multiple channels with multiple warehouses. Overall, what you're seeing in ecommerce is a shift of spending behavior. With quarantine in effect, the only way to purchase right now is online, not in store. So while ecommerce isn't necessarily immune to recessions, given the pandemic, we're seeing customers on the Skubana platform behaving in a way that is inconsistent with what we'd expect in an economic downturn. Q: How has Skubana adapted to the pandemic era? Honestly, as a retail operations platform, we're at the epicenter of this rush to be online and supply this surge in demand. Skubana enables both brick-and-mortar and online purchases, whether that's on Shopify, Amazon, eBay, you name it. As a business, we're also extremely focused on our employees. Once the risk of COVID-19 was made clear in early March, we implemented a company-wide work from home policy. It was the first time we allowed that to happen. And I believe that it's going to become the future of this company, to flourish "remotely." [note]At Littledata, here's why we believe remote work is more productive[/note] We've been able to adapt pretty quickly from a company perspective, but it's not all rosy. We've already had some disappointing casualties from customers who have been on our platform for years. So while there's a lot of momentum and encouragement, there are some cases where customers have closed-up overnight or have sought relief. And we work with those individual customers to help them see this through, given the circumstances. We've been very action-oriented and proactive in our efforts to make sure that they come out of this alive and in business. Q: You also run your own DTC store on Shopify. As a seller, how do you mitigate the costs of unpredictable shopper behavior, both before and after checkout? In addition to co-founding Skubana, I also run a direct-to-consumer home essentials e-commerce business called ThinkCrucial. So it's great that ThinkCrucial is an "essential" business. We supply home appliance parts and accessories. Again, we're right in the epicenter of panic buying, of people stocking up. And a symptom of that could be stock-outs. Luckily, we have  Skubana to forecast the demand, to mitigate if we're running low on certain channels, to allow us to be flexible with inventory deployment, and so on. So that's been just an incredible case study for us. It has automated our entire business and allowed us to be more efficient and resilient. I initially built Skubana because of these issues I was experiencing with ThinkCrucial. I was unable to find a solution that could help me with all of these things at once. Another cool thing that we've done is implement the  Bold Upsell app. Within the Skubana platform, it's easy to identify high-velocity products that people are buying all the time, especially in this environment. And we've been upselling those people with additional products that they should be buying as well. And that strategy has worked very well for us. That's a simple app that we've installed that we didn't have pre-COVID that has increased AOV for us. [tip]Did you know Littledata has an advanced Google Analytics connection for Shopify and Bold subscriptions?[/tip] Q: What are some "hidden" challenges of cross-border ecommerce? And some underrated solutions? First, I just want to shout out one more app that I think we've been leveraging more heavily during this time which is called  Tone. It's a Shopify app that leverages SMS to re-engage customers who abandon their cart. So as people abandon their carts, we've enabled this app to catch that customer that left to get them back into the sales funnel, which also lowers acquisition costs. We've been able to recover lost dollars and lost baskets because of it. [tip]Struggling to reduce cart abandonment? We have you covered[/tip] In terms of cross-border commerce, it's been just business as usual for us. I think everyone's well aware that there are fulfillment delays during this time as warehouse employees are social distancing, and air cargo availability has decreased. The most important thing you can do is make sure you have the infrastructure to enable the movement of parcels. And of course, we use Skubana to make that happen. [tip]4 tips for Shopify Plus merchants selling internationally[/tip] Q: What are some "tricks of the trade" larger stores use (especially those running on Shopify Plus) to handle busy shopping seasons? This virus is preying on weak businesses. We've seen that COVID-19 is having the biggest impact on retailers that don't have their operations buttoned up, and still working with inefficiencies. One of those weaknesses is that people aren't leveraging technology to replace low-value, repetitive tasks. Right now, people should be leveraging any downtime to reinforce and build the foundation of their business with resilient operational software. That means implementing software that is nimble, agile, and not painful to deploy. Software that connects to all of their channels and warehouses to properly forecast and demand plan. That's table stakes right now. On top of that, brands need to focus on technology that facilitates customer connection and retention. You need to reach out to those customers and communicate with them to convert them into buyers. And not just one-time buyers, but consistent repeat buyers, which of course, extends their lifetime value (LTV). We're looking at new apps all the time on Shopify. We already have our foundation built on Skubana, but we're constantly trying to figure out how we "one-up" others and excel or accelerate our progress in this environment. Q: How does ecommerce look different for larger Shopify stores vs. smaller/mid-sized stores right now? So I think this downturn has been beneficial for many small businesses. I see good and bad with these unprecedented circumstances. We know that Shopify stores have been seeing Black Friday traffic every day of this pandemic. Additionally, we saw Amazon restrict certain items to FBA, which ultimately reinforces the need for diversification and a multi-channel strategy. Those that are positioned and diversified across multiple channels that have the right infrastructure to be able to support this uptick have been able to benefit. And a lot of those SMBs have built their sites on Shopify, so I think that's a huge positive for the small to medium-sized businesses.  We saw sellers who focused exclusively on Amazon become significantly affected because they couldn't replenish the products during the FBA block. Also, Amazon didn't let you add new listings to their catalog for some time. So actually, we saw sellers move to Walmart and eBay because they were able to accept new products onto their platform. So a lot of new merchants and brands embraced other channels during this period and opened up. Another thing to note is that Google started offering free product listings. So I think that there might be a shift coming out of Coronavirus to expand as an SMB across many other channels. Q: How important is it to have accurate Shopify tracking & reporting? It's essential. If you're using multiple point solutions, like a purchase order app or a forecasting app, and you're just duct-taping them together, but they were never meant to talk to each other, your data is not going to be accurate. If you're using multiple point solutions, and you're just duct-taping them together, but they were never meant to talk to each other, your data is not going to be accurate. I've tried every other software out there. I developed Skubana out of the pain that I've experienced deploying those other point solutions and those fragmented pieces of software. Having everything in one place is vital so that you're able to ensure your products are in-stock and making you money. It means you are not spending your precious time doing manual labor to calculate how much inventory to reorder, when to buy, where to ship that new inventory to, which vendor needs the most lead time, etc.  [note]Here's how you can get 100% accurate Shopify tracking[/note] Q: How do Skubana customers (merchants) use tracking to optimize performance? When you have a holistic solution for every part of your business, you're able to make more decisive decisions regarding growth, expansion, replenishment, and even cutting back. When you have a holistic solution for every part of your business, you're able to make more decisive decisions regarding growth, expansion, replenishment, and even cutting back. You need to have accurate data not just on orders coming in but on the  inventory available across all warehouses, 3PLs, FBA, and fulfillment operations. Automating that is invaluable. And replacing human labor so you can have your team doing higher-value activities is the name of the game. To survive this, you need a resilient business that can scale as needed. As a retailer, you have to be more efficient with your staff and your business, and that's what Skubana merchants are doing with our platform.   Quick links What you can track with Littledata's Google Analytics app for Shopify Littledata's top-rated Google Analytics app for Shopify Try Littledata free for 30 days (full month of accurate Shopify data)  

by Nico
2020-05-19

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