Five Learnings from Experts at Allbirds, Spanx, HUM Nutrition

Last week we were pleased to host a webinar that looked back on the biggest trends in ecommerce in 2020. 

Our two honored guests were Jim Kingsbury, the head of digital for Allbirds, and former Marketing exec at One Kings Lane and Zappos, and Geraldine Martin-Coppola, currently COO of Tastemade, a board member at Spanx and HUM Nutrition, and former president of Goop.

Moderated by our CEO Paul Palmieri, these industry leaders led an insightful and thought provoking conversation around ecommerce. Below are 5 key insights from the conversation – both about the year looking back, but also looking ahead into 2021.

The #1 key to ecommerce success used to lie in strategic planning – now it’s about problem-solving and reacting/adapting to changing environments.

Across the board, this was the biggest lesson that all panelists learned from the past year. And it wasn’t just about one area in which they needed to adapt. Three challenges all arose at the same time!

  • Operational – There were suddenly multiple operational issues: How do I keep the lights on? How do I keep shipping? How do I keep my supply chain working? How do I keep my employees safe? And even now, as the vaccine takes up air cargo space, this affects companies’ ability to ship.
  • Strategy – Brands needed to rethink the marketplace, given the disruption to retail and wholesale channels.
  • Leadership – Every company this year had to manage their people, try to communicate while also dealing with personal challenges at home.

As Geraldine said: 

“Any one of those challenges in one given year would probably have been enough. But I think what was so unique about 2020 was companies and companies’ leadership teams had to tackle all of those three buckets at the same time. I have never seen that happen before.”

As everyone went online to buy, companies were forced to embrace and understand ecommerce. And that’s a good thing.

With more brands selling online, there is certainly more competition. That, coupled with fewer channels, might increase customer acquisition costs. But then again, the pool of customers is suddenly a lot larger. And with Shopify making it easy for virtually anyone to sell online and present their brand the way they want to, this leads to more niche and diverse brands, which further fuels customers’ interest.

Jim Kingsbury from Allbirds:

“More and more competition and fewer environments to reach customers means that costs are going to rise. But I think that is just the reality, and it’s prudent for all marketers to just accept that that's how the world is, and therefore look for opportunities to find different ways to find customers and stay connected with customers.” 

As a result, brands are getting more focused on customer lifetime value.

Jim was also excited to see how customer lifetime value would play out in 2021 and beyond. Using the example of Allbirds’ Pay it to the Planet on Black Friday, where they upped prices by $1 to contribute to Greta Thunberg’s climate movement, and then matched that donation – he noted that the company took a stand for its values, and that is a way to retain customers who are part of a community with similar values, ideals, and behaviors. Rather than rush to hold a sale, they created a meaningful moment, putting care into what they stood for and encouraged participation.

The entire panel agreed that in 2021, companies will have to find new, unique, creative, and unusual ways and platforms on which to sell. And there will be more focus on building personal relationships with customers, because retention is critical. Even when there are operational challenges – when “the nuts and bolts are out of control” – there will always be chances to create moments of joy, and you’ll be rewarded for that, they said. 

Marketing is more difficult now, but remember: less is more.

In this new crowded marketplace, as paid social channels are full of noise, creating awareness around your product is harder than ever. How do you tell your story in a way that is engaging, but also has reach? Now there are so many opportunities and possibilities that considering where to spend your effort is a challenge in itself.

“Our channel managers are in almost a trading environment, where the market is always changing and they are always making adjustments. You need to be proactive and set up tests to better understand how you can change and positively influence your place in the market.”

Geraldine recommended: “Focus on doing the things that you can only uniquely do as a brand, really well, and do those things even better. Focus on fewer things and sweat the details, not just about what you do, but how you do it.”

“Don’t forget about the product and service you are delivering,” she added. If you’re not delivering a great product, no amount of marketing will save you. “If your product is not perfect from the get-go, you need to be relentlessly focused on testing and learning and getting closer to it.”

And lastly, when it comes to data, it helps to know what you’re looking for before you dive in.

Decision-making has always been a challenge, but this year more than ever, a lot of companies had to start from scratch and completely rebuild their plans, multiple times over. Even with access to so much data in this all-digital environment, how do you generate insights fast enough for it to matter? Paul Palmieri asked.

“You have to know what you’re looking for in the data – have a hypothesis you’re trying to prove or disprove, and cultivate intuition. The best way to do that is to never let yourself get distanced,” Geraldine said. “Make sure you are going out and talking to the customer. When was the last time you did that?”

BONUS: When we return to offline retail, what will happen to ecommerce?

Answer: It’s better for business as a whole! “Look at it in the aggregate,” Jim said. “A lot of people go to the website to learn, but go to the retail store to buy. So ecommerce numbers might get less rosy, but retail numbers will look better. It’s a positive when consumers can interact with both channels.”

Additionally, both panelists agreed that people are going to be eager to connect, with each other, with brands, so the way companies handle in-person experiences once stores are allowed to re-open is going to shift.

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