In this post we interview Eddie Lichstein about the evolution of eCommerce over the past decade and why it’s more important than ever for online stores to act like local butcher shops, i.e. to create curated offers for their customers. Eddie is a ten year eCommerce veteran and the co-founder of Autoplicity. He’s also a co-founder of Rejoiner, where he leads marketing and retailer evangelism.

Background…

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m one of the co-founders at Autoplicity, and I currently work as a creative director for the company. My job is to keep growing our customer reach which means constantly looking for new marketing channels. I also joined Rejoiner in the past year to lead marketing and retailer evangelism.

How long have you been involved in eCommerce?

This is my tenth year in eCommerce. I’ve worked on two projects with Autoplicity being the biggest.

How things have changed…

How has marketing for eCommerce changed over the past ten years?

Ten years ago eCommerce was in its infancy, and there were a lot of successful stores. E-mails had an 80% open rate and a 40% click-through rate (CTR) which made the roadmap for being successful more straightforward. Everything from SEO to e-mail marketing was much easier. If you put something out there, as long as it was somewhat decent, you got traction because everything was new and fresh.

Today, you’re happy to get a 20% open rate and a 3% CTR. There’s a lot more competition, and customers have to sift through a lot more offers on a daily basis.

As far as social media marketing goes, it’s not as new as everyone thinks. There’s always been social media, i..e. there have always been groups where you can find people talking about certain industries and products. For us it was easy. Automotive interest groups have been around for years in the form of forums. To reach those people, we joined forums and talked with customers. We also sponsored forums to get our brand in front of potential customers.

There’s also always been a high level of trust with retailers. When you walk into Best Buy, you don’t question whether they’re honest or not. You think, “I’m a customer, and they’re a retailer which means they’re the expert. Whatever they advise stands.”

What’s really changed over the past few years, is that retailers have to come out of their shell and become more of a public figure to be much more approachable. This makes it a lot harder to get through to people. If the president of a giant company reaches out to you, you’re no longer fearful to ask them a question or tell them something’s going wrong. And people even expect executives to answer their questions quickly.

One of the biggest differences is that there’s currently a disconnect between the company and the customer. It’s no longer ok to just have a store and to have products for sale. Now you have to have the neighborhood butcher approach where everyone knows everyone. This makes it much more difficult for businesses to compete in this market. People are scrutinizing your content more closely, and there’s more content to look at. People are no longer interested in reading non-curated things. They expect a more one-on-one and curated approach.

This is much harder compared to 10 years ago. Back then you could say, “I’m going to run a sale on car parts,” and your open rate would be great. Customers would think, “I’m interested; I’ll click.” Now, you have to send out a targeted e-mail about a certain car part based on the groups that have been created. Everything has to be more targeted.

How to respond…

How do you respond to this challenge as an eCommerce store?

You have to get more granular. You have to work with software companies and idea men who look at targeted approaches, and a lot of the traditional methods we rely on are not going to stick. A big challenge of all of this is to make sure the new marketing channels you use don’t overlap. Otherwise, you attribute multiple sources to each customer.

What are some examples this?

Let’s do a before and after comparison with e-mail marketing.

Back in the good old days, you’d gather a list of all subscribers, send out a newsletter and expect sales to come in. This was around 2004 or so.

Now, you create a segmented e-mail list based on information you collect off the site about the individual person. You log the type of product they purchase and ask them a question at checkout about what they like and don’t like, other products they look at, etc. Then, you set up segments based on that. Eventually, the groups you come up with can be as granular as one to two people. Thus, newsletters are much more curated now.

Let’s also look at social media.

Circa 2004 you would create an ad, put it on a social network, and that’s good enough. People respond and buy products.

Today, you first have to build relationships with customers. You have to participate in their interests and show interest in them first. You have to find out what their favorite baseball team is and what they like to do on the weekend. Based on knowing what they need, you curate a product set that would really be a value add to that person.

Before, people were eager to learn what the retailer had for sale; now, the retailer has to learn what people want and give them exactly what they’re looking for.

Sports teams are a fantastic example. Previously you could just send out an e-mail that says, “20% off sports memorabilia,” and sales would roll in. Now, you need to know who likes the Packers and who likes the Bears. You should send out an e-mail that says, “Packers gear on sale this week only.” If they live in a cold state, it’s winter, and they’re team is playing next weekend, you advertise a hoodie for the upcoming game

This is the challenge now for marketing. We have to learn about individuals instead of having individuals learn about us.

There are a lot of tools that say they’ll help you be curated, but I call bullshit on most of them. Many of the platforms out there aren’t bringing in new customers because they’re not well curated. They’re still basing themselves off an old thought process, i.e. mass sales, not curation.

One of the tools that stood out for me was Rejoiner.

How Rejoiner fits in…

Why did Rejoiner stand out, and how do you use it at Autoplicity?

Rejoiner’s solution was so interesting because it catered to a channel that we don’t touch and have never touched, which means there’s no overlap with our other advertising campaigns. At the same time, it has the ability to be very curated and specific. That’s what I love the most. It evolves on its own based on triggers from the user. It auto-collects information and regurgitates it back to people in a way they want to see it.

The customer has so much of the input which makes it so damn appealing. It helps you find out that the customer likes chocolate. Then, you send an e-mail that says, “Joe, you love chocolate, right? Would you like to buy some now?” The customer responds:“Yes, I do love chocolate.” It reminds people of what they originally wanted and what they were already there for.

They were about to get a new addition to their life, but something distracted them or they weren’t ready to pull the trigger. That’s the greatest piece of information for a retailer. Rejoiner tells you, “Hey, this person’s already interested in this specific product. They were about to buy it. Somewhere along the line, they weren’t so sure. Do something about it. Help them out. Help them finish the purchase.” It’s also a helpful reminder for the customer. “Don’t forget, you were looking at something you wanted. Would you like to come back and finish the purchase?” The job of the retailer is to understand the product being offered and to help customers more effortlessly make a purchase. Rejoiner makes this possible.

On the consumer side it helps them out because someone actually cared. Someone took the time to listen. “I know you weren’t ready to buy yet, so here’s a special offer.” Rejoiner is step one of that process. You can turn it into so much more because it collects data about people. It brings the totally curated butcher shop mentality to the table for eCommerce. It makes people feel that they’re being taken care of in a one-on-one way.

It also helps retailers understand what products people are leaving and what’s not working on their site. Without it, the only thing you can do is send out surveys. Rejoiner collects information on people’s actions and wants. We understand what they want and also understand what we’re doing wrong. You can say, “I know you wanted this anyway; let me help you out with making this purchase.” It ends up being a match made in heaven.

With that being said, not many retailers are doing this kind of thing nor have they looked at a product like Rejoiner. They mostly look at the standards they’ve used the last 10 years. A consultant at this point can tell them anything and they’ll believe it. True marketers who want to grow their business need to find out how they can do a better job of listening to their customers and providing a curated approach.

Final piece of advice…

What’s your top recommendation for eCommerce marketers going forward?

As we evolve, if you are constantly in the process of listening to your customers and improving, it doesn’t matter what technology you’re using, and it doesn’t matter what experts are saying about the value of Instagram versus Facebook or whether or not social media marketing or e-mail marketing is more valuable. What matters is what your customers tell you. Do your customers tell you that e-mail marketing works for you? Then e-mail marketing will work. Do they prefer Facebook? Then you better make sure you’re on Facebook.

The butcher in the 1920s listened to what customers liked and gave them what they wanted. Listen like that. Learn from your customers. They have more to say than they know, but if you never ask, you’ll never learn anything new.