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The transition to eCommerce: Who’s winning, and how? | Conquer Local Roundtable | Episode 02

In this new series, we sit down with Vendasta’s executive team and interview them on current issues facing agencies and enterprises.

Our panel includes: CEO and co-founder Brendan King, CMO and co-founder Jeff Tomlin, CTO Dale Hopkins, CSO Jacqueline Cook, EVP of Marketplace Ed O’Keefe, EVP of Product Gib Olander, EVP Jeff Folckemer, VP of Product Design Bryan Larson, VP of People Operations Jean Parchewsky, and VP of Demand Generation Devon Hennig, who moderated the discussion.

Why do some small businesses shift online quickly and have instant success while others lag and struggle when they finally do make the move?

We chatted with Vendasta’s C-Suite to hear about their first eCommerce experiences, learn who they think are the best eCommerce adopters and why, and talk about how small businesses can maintain the quality and personal touch online that their customers have come to rely on in-store.

Scroll down for a transcript of the discussion below, which begins at 00:17 of the video.

Devon: Welcome to episode two of Conquer Local Roundtable. It's been a month since our last roundtable. We did have quite a good response from the first one, so we're going to keep going with this, where we sit down with our executive every - well, however often we want to, and talk about some pretty good thought leadership topics about local marketing, and pick each other's brains.

So, today, yes, all about eCommerce, huge focus for Vendasta recently, because we've changed our whole platform, our whole story, to be about helping local experts enable eCommerce for their business clients. 

I want to start with a story, actually, that Jeff Tomlin and I were talking about earlier this week. He was telling me how, a million years ago, he used to sell resume templates online, and he was so excited every time a new order showed up, because you get this email and it’s this immediate dopamine rush, right? And I wanted to start with a question for everybody on, when was the first time eCommerce made you super, super excited? What was that first thing you sold? What did it feel like? Take us back to the first time you sold something online.

 

Ed: 1998, when Google was-

 

Devon: 1998? What was it?

 

Ed: When Google was first relevant, and I was post, uh, working for Head Sports, and I had all these samples from working for Head Sports - tennis racquets, skis, scuba equipment, tennis shoes. I had everything. And I rigged up some kind of site, and sold all my samples and put it in my pocket, and I think I spent it on beer, I don't remember, but that's what it was. Selling all my old samples, way back then.

 

Gib: I'd say mine was a little different. I was on the sales side of things and running advertising campaigns for a company called Citysearch, and Citysearch was the first local city guide. And I can remember vividly, there's a great steakhouse here in Chicago that was a customer of mine that was, like, one of the biggest places ever, and we had debated that no one would ever look online to find a steakhouse restaurant. That's how old I am, right? They didn't believe that people did. And so, we didn't really sell things but we did - it was eCommerce because they actually were found online, and somebody booked a reservation via phone, and they - I was in the place when it happened, and the owner’s face just completely fell. He had no idea that anybody would ever look on the Internet to find a restaurant, and then we ended up just blowing the doors off the place. They couldn't believe how many reservations they made. It was in the hundreds of reservations in the first week, from people looking at a city guide in Citysearch. And this is probably really early 2000s. It was just off-the-charts exciting.

 

Devon: Selling steak online. Jeff Tomlin, you decided to join. We're not going to mute you this week, we were saying, so you're in a safe space.

 

(Flashback to last episode)

 

Jeff Tomlin: That still hurts my feelings.

 

Devon: We're actually talking about one of your stories right now. I stole your story about how you used to sell resume templates online, and how excited that made you when a new order showed up. Can you just tell that for a second? We were talking about that earlier.

 

Jeff Tomlin: Yeah, it was back in '97. Me and some of my buddies figured out that we could make some money with this Internet thing, and the first idea that came to mind, my one buddy was working in HR at Saskatoon District Health, and so he was sifting through resumes every day, and he couldn't believe how bad they were.

And so, we decided to build a resume and cover letter templates in Microsoft Word, and we built them using dropdown boxes and form fields so it would be really easy to write them. We built a whole bunch of them, zipped them up, we built our very first website on Microsoft Publisher. It looked like an absolute pile of dog crap, but it was really exciting.

And the two of us took it as far as we could, and then we needed our third buddy, which is Jason Collins, who actually had some programming background - well, he was a software developer - and he was the one figured out how we could actually build a pay form and get the downloads automatically going. And so, people would come, they would buy basic - the product was a zip file, full of Microsoft Word documents. And the thing I remember about it is, once we got going and cranking, search engine optimization was so awesome back then, because you could just spam the index, you make a few tweaks and show up for all items 1 through 25, every single one was my site, landthatjob.com, and it was-

 

Gib: What did you say it was called?

 

Jeff Tomlin: Landthatjob.com.

 

Gib: Oh, I thought I heard something else.

 

Jeff Tomlin: Yeah, I know you did.

 

Gib: I was surprised you said that on a recorded video.

 

Jeff Tomlin: Resumes Gib, resumes.

 

Gib: Oh.

 

Jeff Tomlin: But it was so exciting watching the traffic go up and up, and then once we got the eCommerce figured out, and people could buy on their own, it was so exciting to watch the sales come in. We would be glued - my email would pop and we'd get another one and another one, another one, and it was so exciting, and-

 

Ed: You should do that for our company, Jeff. Would be awesome.

 

Jeff Tomlin: Yeah, if I could only make the magic happen again.

 

[crosstalk]

 

Ed: Our traffic kills, our traffic kills.

 

Brendan: Mine wasn't that exciting at all. I remember when we - I had a computer store from '89 to '99, as you guys remember, and back when - We tried to do some E-commerce back when it was modems, so it was a 9600 baud USRobotics [imitates noise] and orders couldn't come through, and all kinds of bad, so, that is why I left the retail industry, was to follow Jeff Bezos into that at Point2. Remember that, Jeff? When we first got our first orders coming in at Point2? That was pretty exciting.

 

Jeff Tomlin: It was the same sort of feeling.

 

Brendan: It was.

 

Jeff Tomlin: We went to two places, we got - We had the feeling first when we rigged up the self-registration and people could sign up for free, and start collecting, or start building their own website. And then, when we built the ability for them to actually pay us, you had the same feeling, we were just glued to the dashboard every day. Look how many have paid now.

 

Devon: Jackie, what's yours? What was your first sell?

 

Jacqueline: Okay, this is first, not best, right? So I think, not to age me, but I'm going to say my first E-commerce sale, taking a different route, it was in what's called Kijiji up in Canada, but that is where I would take my brother's toys and things that I found lying around the house, and you'd post pictures of them with a price and people would message you, and then you'd negotiate. So I was a little bit of a hustler growing up, and I would sell things. But I think true end-to-end product growth eCommerce, no, because I had to be there to do the transaction. I guess, now they take payments on Kijiji, but just the thrill of seeing the messages light up, and the negotiation, and coming in high and then going back, it was, I consider that eCommerce, and there's something about the circular economy that's really cool there.

 

Jeff Folckemer: It's funny, I listen to these-

 

Devon: The thrill of the theft.

 

Jeff Folckemer: Yeah, I listen to these stories, Devon, and they're pretty funny. So back when I was at a place called The Talking Phone Book, and I was...at the time, I was their vice-president on Internet services, and so we invented this product, and it was just called an IYP card. So this goes back, way back, but what happened is we would set these cards up and we allowed the small business, or the SMB, to put one product on the card, that's all we could handle. So they'd put one product on the card, and we'd charge them $3 a month, to have that one product on the card. Well, that led to 26,000 of those cards being sold with one product, and obviously, eventually - and you couldn't even sell it. When you clicked the product, all it would do is email the business saying that you were interested. So that was probably very junior eCommerce, for sure. That was probably 1996, '95.

 

Devon: Right on. Keep going around the horn.

 

Willem: For me, it was about a decade later. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, working for a movie studio, and as physical goods started to move in the eCommerce channel, they really protected digital content because of piracy, and everyone saw what was happening with the music business, so they didn't want that to replicate into the movie business, which at the time was worth, just in the U.S. alone, about $25 billion dollars a year in industry income. And-

 

Devon: I'm sorry Willem, I think I missed the start of that. What kind of - was it a light? Or what was the -

 

Brendan: Disney, he was at Disney.

 

Devon: Oh, Disney.

 

Willem: Yeah, I was at Disney, yeah.

 

Devon: My camera cut out, okay. Sorry.

 

Willem: I didn't know if I could get - call the brand names here. But in any case, free advertising, free media value. But, what happened was, there was a big concern about putting digital content online because of piracy and diminishing returns on industry value, and all of that. And we eventually decided to go with it, and iTunes became really big. Now, the iPhone came out, maybe the iPhone 4 at that time-

 

Brendan: I remember when those came out.

 

Willem: Yeah, the iPhone was just there, it started to become really cool to have-

 

Brendan: That's still a thing?

 

Willem: - the phone, it became more affordable, and so we decided to go with some movies on the iTunes channel. And we had our first download, and people started to buy movies on iTunes, and not watch it with a DVD player in their living rooms, but on their phones, and it became a big deal. And that to me was, really the digital side.

 

Devon: And you'd think that could figure out Disney+ by now, but it's still a disaster. Anyway, next-

 

Ed: And now everybody on the planet has binged watched every single show already.

 

Devon: Yeah, we've run out. We've run out.

 

[crosstalk]

 

Ed:  It's done.

 

Devon: Bryan, next in my loop here.

 

Bryan: Hey, beauty. I don't know if this is the first, but the first that I was excited about was, I did a little stint at a local camera shop around 2004, 2005, I think it would have been. And we actually had a full website up and running where people could come in, bring in their camera gear, used camera gear, and then we would actually take photos of it, put it up on our site, and sell it online for them, and then we'd take a percentage of that cut, and then push the money back to the person. And so, it was just part of [the] daily routine, you'd get to work in the morning, you'd check what online sales were coming in. It was MPS, I just saw the question come in. Motion picture and sound, yup. And so, we'd get into the routine of checking for sales. If there was a sale, we'd box it up with all the padding and everything like that, remit payment and push it through. It was actually pretty cool. It was, um, I don't know if it was ahead of its time, I'd like to think that it was kind of cutting edge eCommerce before everything kind of took off, but there was quite a bit of players in the game probably by 2005, but it felt like pretty cutting edge to me.

 

Devon: Camera gear, camera gear listings. Jean, how about you? What's been your biggest sale online?

 

Jean: Biggest sale online? I was like Jackie, I think my first online sales were when I was selling my artwork on eBay, and I posted on eBay and I could sell it to the States and all over the world through that. But another thing, I don't think I've ever told you guys before using an online portal for sales is, back in 1996, I stayed up late listening to these infomercials about putting mini 0 they said use mini classified ads places. So I had a dating line, you could call into. So you'd log in to your email, and they sent you how many people called into your dating line. You didn't have to man the line or anything, you just had to market the-

 

Jeff Folckemer: Was it a 1-800 number?

 

Jeff Tomlin: I did that too, what's the phone number?

 

Devon: No you didn't. No you didn't.

 

Jeff Tomlin: Honest to God.

 

Jean: Yeah, it was. There was psychics-

 

Dale: You could use that same web address, Jeff.

Man, I've been a long time buyer but actually a few weeks ago, I was a first time seller. I fell on the Kijiji train like Jackie did. I sold a pair of lawn chairs in the backyard, and then that sold right away, so then I sold another chair, and then that sold right away, so I sold a table. And then I sold my boat, and then I sold my truck, and I can't stop now. I've sold like $10,000 worth of stuff on Kijiji in three weeks. It's been insane, but - 

 

Jeff Folckemer: When do you... [crosstalk]...When do you have to move out?

 

Dale: Well, I just have a bunch of stuff I don't need, and so I just decided, why not? I'll try it out, and then it was easy, so why not I guess.

 

Jacqueline: I do think there's a message here for small businesses, and especially in what's happened with COVID. Kijiji is a more fluid way to buy and sell goods right now, than what a lot of small businesses have set up. And I witnessed, because I have been looking, and shopping for bikes, there are bikes that are being sold at higher than retail rates - used bikes! - they're more than what you could purchase them in stores right now, because the transaction is made easy. Because buyers can buy things, they can see things, they can get the - and I think it’s fascinating right now. So if I were a local business, the very first thing I'd do is set up sCommerce so that customers could buy things, and if you can't figure it out, get on Kijiji, because people are selling things, for used, for more than what they would pay brand new and what you - in your store.

 

Devon: Well, hey, we just mentioned a lot of places, we mentioned steaks, resume templates, computers, camera gear, iTunes, brother's toys, everything. I'm curious to go around the horn again. What are the characteristics of small businesses, and the types of small businesses that you guys think transition really well to eCommerce, and which ones seem to struggle most right now? What are the most common obstacles that are going on? Restaurants are always the one that pops into people's heads first, but going beyond restaurants, actually none of you mentioned restaurants except for Gib and the steaks. But all types of businesses, what works really well online right now? What's struggling? What could need some help? Let's go in reverse order. Start with Dale here.

 

Dale: Well, I guess, in terms of the COVID, I guess it comes down to - it's things people want to buy that they need, right? I think people are looking for, probably if you sell stuff like, I don't know, things that people need in their day to day lives. I know the other day I had a hard time because Amazon wasn't able to stock a ton of the stuff you often buy from there, and I don't know, something as simple as coffee filters, I happen to be a Chemex guy, you can't buy those at a grocery store. And so we looked at a ton of places trying to find Chemex filters, of all things, right? It tends to be, I think, any business that sells stuff that people want day to day, or heck the weather just changed, people selling bikes, you should see the Bike Doctor, that place is lined up like crazy.

 

Devon: Jean, I think you were right before that.

 

Jean: I know Dale would disagree with this, but I love what eCommerce has done with grocery stores. I've been using...I've been shopping online for groceries for over a year already. I can be at the lake ordering my groceries, or I've even ordered them in an airplane before, and I just have to land and go pick them up. So, I think that-

 

Dale: You buy groceries from SkyMall, Jean?

 

Jacqueline: A lot of alcohol and perfume in her groceries.

 

Brendan: Jean is going up with her mobile data on, in the air.

 

Jean: Yeah, exactly. Turn on my mobile data and order. I think it's great.

 

Devon: What's just been a pain in the ass to get online? What have you not been able to get at all?

 

Jeff Folckemer: Oh, if you're saying pain in the you-know-what, it's probably toilet paper. No, it's not toilet paper. I'm kidding. I would say, from my perspective, the thing that's helped me through the last few months is being able to do Telemedicine. Obviously, you guys all know, I had some surgery, but it's been great to not have to travel to go see these doctors and wait. They've created secure two-way video, and they actually - they do things like put your eye against the camera and they look into your eye, they do stupid stuff like that, so it's bizarre how far Telemedicine really has come over this COVID period.

 

Devon: The webcams can't be that good though, these are pretty pixelated.

 

Jeff Folckemer: That's what I said.

 

Jacqueline: Should we all put our eyes against the camera right now?

 

Devon: Everybody, on the count of three, put your eye to the camera.

 

Jeff Folckemer: Well, I got a cheap Mac here, so...

 

Brendan: You're pretty good.

 

Jean: You guys are nuts.

 

Devon: I can't keep track of the order.

 

Bryan: There's things inside my computer that I can't unsee now. Who's idea was this? I didn't know there was stuff in there.

 

Jeff Folckemer: Yeah, that's probably not good. But, I'll tell you, Telemedicine has been one heck of a thing that has affected a lot of folks. Love eCommerce for - and that is eCommerce, you got to think of it that way, they take payment while they got you on the phone, they pop up a little screen and enter your credit card for your co-pay. It's insane what they'll do over the secure connection.

 

Jean: I don't know why you can't get gift cards online. That's something that's been really hard. I tried to order one from Aritzia, I couldn't get a gift card. So they mailed it, which is part of the point-

 

Devon: Yeah. How is medicine moving faster than the gift card, people? I don't know. I don't know.

 

Jeff Tomlin: But Devon, there's a lot of...Your question was a good one. From my perspective, there's a lot of business categories where interacting with them is fairly straight forward. You can book an appointment, you can do that online, or you can schedule an appointment in one way or another with them. Or you could...Restaurants, you can...They've got transactions down pretty well. It's pretty easy to order a pizza online. They've got the delivery systems are pretty well figured out. But the businesses that are sort of struggling, for the most part, are the ones that have large amounts of inventory, because it's challenging to get that inventory online. But I would say this, I would say that the technology is there now, where they can do it. Obviously, we're bringing one of those solutions to bear, to the market right now. But it's an important point. What a lot of them that have large inventories have sat back and said, this is going to be just too difficult to do, and throw their arms up in the air. But when you dig into it now, there's pretty intuitive systems available.

 

Devon: Inventory is a tough one. I just saw an SEO thing where everybody screws up the SEO of their pages of products that are out of order, that you can't get anymore. And it's just become a technical nightmare on top of the logistical nightmare that goes along with inventory. I think I cut someone off.

 

Jeff Tomlin: But even, if you search for an individual product, by the way, what you'll get right now, for the most part, is inventory from large chains. But people want to shop locally, and as more local businesses understand and get technology in their hands to publish their inventories online, they’re going to transact a lot of business.

 

Gib: Jeff, to talk about the inventory and classifieds, that we were talking about before, I agree. The only two real choices that you have right now are national brands have gone through a sophisticated inventory management system, or a classified system that a single person is using their phone to take a high quality picture, and then they are putting the detailed description in there, so that it's search optimized and it can be found.

It's why the bikes are showing up. I've been looking for new golf clubs, actually used golf clubs, for my son, and looking for PING G3 irons, right? And the only places that I can find it are either the secondhand shops, because they've used a mobile phone to do it, or the national brands that have actually done that. Even the manufacturers aren't doing a great job of getting that inventory online. But I think we're going to start to see all that shift because of the high quality phones, and the mobile operators that we have. Especially the newer generations of SMB business owners, are super comfortable running their whole life through a phone or through a tablet, and they’re getting really comfortable with the idea of, snap a picture, it is high quality because they're from the Instagram world, right? They're used to taking better quality images, they know how to get the light right, they've got the background for it, and they’re getting them up really quick. So I think we're going to see more and more of that from the SMB landscape.

 

Devon: Right on. Does anyone know any SMB that is just resisting the move to online, because they’re worried about losing the personal touch, or the fact that it’s just a different type of interaction with the customer?

 

Jeff Folckemer: Yeah, I would say the local gun shop. They've resisted going online, because the lines are so long outside the doors that I don't think they have to worry about it, but generally you can't sell that online.

 

Brendan: That is... You know what? You've touched on a really good point. And that is, the people that are, that have busy and established clientele. I was saying to my hair guy, he just wouldn't do it. And in fact, now I'm going to his son.

 

Devon: That's why Brendan's hair is so long these days. He can't pay anyone for a haircut.

 

Brendan: I want to book my stuff online. I don't want to phone somebody, and look at my schedule, and see if something matches. I don't want any of that. I just want to click and do it, but he's so busy that he's like, well whatever. So now I'm going to his... His son put it online because he charges more, so.

 

Bryan: There's an important message in there. I would add to where I think the service industry. It's not even necessarily that you're looking for goods, it's just, make my bookings easy. Let me book a service easy. But I think you're right Brendan, a lot of these companies, they're fully booked and they don't see the purpose why, but they don't understand that there's an experience play, that people actually just want it because it's easier. [crosstalk]

 

Brendan: That's right, you want to make it easy on your customers. And back to get at Jeff's point, this is Gib's line, but I like it a lot. He says, "it's easy to find out that somebody is selling Nike, but it's hard to find out they got this Nike size 9.5 in my model, within a block or a mile". I would buy a lot more stuff local if I knew it was there, but the minute that I try to buy something and it's not in inventory, the thing you were talking about Devon, I'm never going to go there again. It's useless, and so we have to find a way to make it so that businesses connect their inventory system, because almost everybody today has a good inventory system. That's the key, is to get that thing connected, and to get it online, and that's what our partners can do. It's easy. Once that's done, if the business knew that they could make that happen in an easy way like that, I'm sure they would do it. It's like they have no one to help them.

 

Ed: True, true. And inventory is not just products and a bunch of, whatever they're selling, tennis racquets. Inventory is their time, if they're a service-based business, it's doing home inspections, or window installations, so that inventory is really their calendar. Their day of filling up that 8 to 10 hours a day that you can put online, and you can eCommerce-ify yourself as a service-based business.

 

Brendan: George bought me this the day before COVID.

 

Ed: A squash racquet.

 

Brendan: Yeah, he bought me a squash racquet the day before COVID.

 

Ed: You can go play with my new PM, that just came in.

 

Brendan: Once anything opens up.

 

Ed: There you go.

 

Devon: Our whole atrium is empty right now. I just picture you guys playing squash.

 

Brendan: Now, there's an idea.

 

Dale: Yeah, Crystal wants a challenger, if you're in, Brendan.

 

Ed: That's right.

 

Brendan: I haven't played squash in 25 years. I'll give it a shot though. I'll give anything a shot.

 

Devon: Part of my question, though, for the last piece was, the personal touch, the in-store experience, especially more premium type products and services that might get lost on the digital side, so I don't know if any of you have experience with that, or you're not-

 

Ed: You know what? It's actually just - it's almost counter. It's almost counter. One of the local ones here is a TaeKwonDo school that my daughter has gone to, to become a black belt, and she helps the younger ones move along up the thing. But as soon as this thing hit, and they started doing online classes, their attendance at the classes was more. There were more of them on the screen, there were more of them interacting, they were paying attention to the class even more, and there really was not a personal touch lost. These kids adapted like that. And even the older adults that are getting into the martial arts, they adopted fast, so this personal touch - What happened was, the frequency increased. Instead of driving to go to the Dojo, seeing it for two hours and then disappearing for four days, it turned out to be nightly for an hour, every single night. So frequency, there's more of an - they're closer than they ever have been. It's just one, and this yoga instructor too-

 

Jacqueline: Just to touch on that too, I was thinking a lot about that lately, what purchases happen online, and I think going into COVID, I just thought, it's always low involvement purchases. It's things that are below $500. Nobody is ever going to buy thousands of dollars online and have it shipped. But we've seen this, we've seen people purchase Tesla's, and we've seen people purchase even $6000 bikes at the Bike Doctor and have curbside pick-up, because they can, and I think, for small businesses right now, a lot of them have a trusted brand, and they've built trust in the services and the goods that they provide, and they don't have to prove that. So whether it's delivered through a digital experience is beside the point, and I think nothing is more heartbreaking on the other side, than going to a business that you love, and that you trust, and that you would spend a lot of money at, and there's just nothing.

There's no information, there's- You go to their- Devon, our team did a little exercise where the leadership had a little bit of money to spend and we had to go support local businesses, and the common theme was that there was just no information. We keep talking about E-commerce, and yeah, E-commerce is important, but even before that step, there was no sign on the door. There was nothing updated on their Facebook page. There was no Google Hours of Operation updated. There was no website updated. There's so many things before the purchase that they're just leaving their customers out to dry. And it's almost like, if you only knew how many customers were trying to shop at your store, maybe you'd do something.

 

Dale: I think, Jackie, we get into software, and a lot of our time is spent on user testing because we're building novel experiences, but I would actually say that local business very rarely thinks about, hey, I need to user test my business, because nothing’s changed. People walk in the store and they buy stuff. You don't need to user test something.

But, on the example of the Bike Doctor, we bought a bike for my daughter. One of those little ride-on things that attaches to the bike. And so you go ahead, you buy it online and then you show up at the store and they say, oh, you know what, we'd actually like to take it out of the box, set it all up, make sure it's got all the parts, and everything else like this. You're like, I ordered this two days ago. Why are you doing this now that I showed up to the store? And this is why I want the local touch. I want the guys to actually verify that this is installed correctly. But somebody didn't bother to think through the, yeah, we verify the whole install and make sure it's correct, but in an online world, you should start that the minute I buy it, not the minute I come into the store. And so that user testing the whole experience is kind of important because I'm buying local for a good reason, but then that kind of messes it up, and so now my Thursday bike ride is ruined.

 

Gib: I love this whole topic, but I wonder if the people that are worried about losing the personal touch from eCommerce are really thinking about the right definition of eCommerce, right? It's still commerce, it's shopping, and the Internet is involved in our shopping experience today. One of the things Bryan had touched up on is, if you're a - it's about scheduling time for people now, right? If you have a high-end, or a high-touch, or the shopping experience is really critical to you, it's dangerous for people to come to your store and wait in line and be around other people today. Scheduling time and creating time blocks for them, and giving people the ability to book time with you is a critical component of Internet shopping and online service, and the local economy.

I think that people are taking the term eCommerce and thinking that it only means selling a product via the Internet. Where it's actually the shopping experience has to be different today because of health concerns, and time constraints, and that we can lean into making that Internet shopping experience really special for people.

 

Jacqueline: Just to add to what Gib said.

One of the businesses locally that I thought was really fascinating is, they've done - maybe this is just common around the world, but they've cut up their store into 15 minute increments, and they create a persona - you get the whole store for 15 minutes. And they've booked these blocks, and so the experience is actually the same, it's just in a safe way. But in order to book this, you need to actually book it and to create that experience, like you said, so they haven't actually - and they sell physical goods, they sell baby clothes and toddler wear and whatnot. So they haven't actually taken all their inventory online and brought it to their customers, they've brought their customers back to the store in a safe way. I thought that was really neat.

 

Brendan: Is that in the Ozarks?

 

[crosstalk]

 

Devon: She froze on the deadest of glares. I like that.

 

Jeff Folckemer: Jackie, the pool supply place did the same thing down here. If you wanted to go get salt for your pool, or filters or whatever the heck. But what they did is, they would just line you up outside, and then they would let five people in the store at the time to go get your stuff. You just waited in line.

 

Brendan: That's what's happening here everywhere. If you want to go to the - If I want to go to the hardware store, I got to go stand outside, and they let in some people, and then the other people come out and they just, only let like 200 people in the store, if it's like Home Depot.

 

Jacqueline: How - Brendan, you have an hour and a half to just wait in line though? I know I sure don't. I think the cool thing was that you could schedule it. You could pop in, and you could-

 

Brendan: Oh no, I'm not complaining. I'm just-

 

Jeff Folckemer: Oh, hey, I'm right there with you Jackie.

 

Brendan: I've never waited in line, you know I don't like lines, right?

 

Jeff Folckemer: I started sending my daughter to do that kind of stuff, but now that everything is open, I don't feel so bad.

 

Jeff Tomlin: All I could think of was being the only person in that store for 15 minutes. The pressure that must be on you to buy. Probably, I'd walk out with $800 worth of baby gear.

 

Jacqueline: Sales have probably gone through the roof.

 

Dale: Jeff doesn't even have a baby.

 

Brendan: Trust me, I was in the line at the Co-op hardware store, because I did stand, but it wasn't long. It was maybe 15 minutes, no, 10 minutes. And as people were walking out, I had a bunch of older folks in front of me and they are critical. When anyone walked out without stuff, they were like, whoa, what were they doing in there?

 

Devon: Co-op grocery stores, Kijiji, we are educating the world on Saskatchewan.

 

[crosstalk]

 

Jeff Folckemer: I don't even know what those things are, but that's okay.

 

Willem: Building on what Gib said, something that's winning right now in this COVID world is Omnichannel. Omnichannel was such a big theme before COVID, and it just became that blanket strategy for so many large brands. Today, if you look at who's doing well, Target, Walmart, Tesla, even Nike, they all have this blended play of in-store, online buying, they're good with their whole social media strategy. So when you make that relevant to a small business, it's just, how can we help those small businesses to have a comprehensive end-to-end strategy to compete against these large multinationals that are so well positioned for what we're going through right now. And the way that they're making their products available on mobile, and all these different platforms, and I think that point of us providing that end-to-end solution for small businesses could be really powerful, and help them to compete at a local level against these multinational brands.

 

Devon: That's exactly it, Willem. How? How do we do this? And I liked where Jackie was going with tactics there, of this one particular baby store that is carving out 15 minutes. I want to hear other tactics that you guys think are working right now. We talked kind of a brand user testing, booking specific times. What else... your hot takes, just in a couple sentences of, what are some -

 

[crosstalk]

 

Jean: There's another store in Saskatoon, a shoe store that is on Instagram all the time, and they're posting pictures of their inventory. So they'll post three shoes in size 7, 7.5, 8. And you see people responding right away, saying, "I'll take these sizes." So I think you just have to know which platforms your customers are on, and be there.

 

Bryan: Yeah, I was going to kind of mention the same type of thing, Jean. I think that sometimes eCommerce is too often seen as that I sell something on my website, rather than the idea that I just, I'm actively looking to generate revenue online, and they have to adopt that mindset of going where the customers are. It is as much embedded in your social marketing strategy as it is in your website strategy, and a false syndication strategy, and the list goes on. So 100% agree with that. That's the strongest businesses right now.

 

Brendan: Here's the other thing. I just want to add one quick thing is that, I believe that a lot of small businesses feel like going E-commerce means they're competing against Amazon. Nothing can be further from the truth, they still have the opportunity to provide their expertise. The reason we see those shoe stores posting things on Instagram, there's still a human connection and interaction where the local person is helping and giving their expertise to help those people do those things. Same thing with the baby store, I know why people go to those places because there's people there that care, they know they've already pre-selected the inventory. If you go into Kmart or Walmart or something, you're going to get some kind of carriage, who knows what. But if you go to those places, they've kind of figured out what's good for you. They know what kind of shoes their going to help you, or what kind of stroller that'll work-

 

Jeff Tomlin: They've figured out how to sell you a $2,500 carriage.

 

Brendan: Well no, but I'm serious that small businesses have that advantage. It's an experiential advantage, and you can still have that online. It's not like you're swapping it out. They fear, many times, that people - I had this happen to me when I had my retail store - that people would come to our place to learn about it, and then go buy it at Future Shop, go to buy, get it where it's cheaper, for a few bucks cheaper. But then, if they can't make that thing work, then they come back and they've got the problem. What I've found is, people more and more are becoming loyal to local businesses, and the way to do that is to have a local business that cares and provides good information, experience.

 

[crosstalk]

 

Bryan: 100%. Back to the social play though, I do think there's a possibility that we could somehow leverage our social marketing tool, to one click import, pull in your inventory or an item from your inventory, and push it down your online channels, in a way. So I'd be really curious to see us try and differentiate on social E-commerce.

 

Brendan: Yeah, I just said Kmart and Future Shop, and everyone is making fun of me here, those are stores that haven't been around in 10 years. You took me back into a place in my life where I had a retail store and I was still having babies.

 

Jeff Folckemer: I couldn't stop laughing.

 

[crosstalk]

 

Bryan: What do you mean? I shop on Woolco's online store all the time.

 

Ed: Too funny.

 

Jeff Folckemer: Anyways the...

 

Devon: Keep them coming, I like the tactics. What else is working out there?

 

Jeff Folckemer: What's really working that I see a ton of, is that you actually can order online and go pick it up at all these places, and they have roped off areas, the cars line up, they come in, you give them your name, you hand them your credit card. It's not just for food. When COVID first hit, that was all over the place. You could go anywhere and order online, and go pick stuff up. So order on and pick up off has been a big thing. Restaurants are still, or were doing it, now everything is open here but that was always a big thing for restaurants.

 

Willem: I think data is going to become so important because what consumers would want to know is, do you have inventory? Do you have time? Is it available? And the only way they can find out is by calling you and looking online. Just that ongoing aggregation of data and pushing it out to where the consumers are will become important, but connecting the consumer to the data of the business will become a turnkey solution.

 

Devon: Says the VP of data op. No, for -

 

[crosstalk]

 

Willem: Keeping ourselves in business here.

 

Devon: Keep them coming. I got... A couple more, a couple more tactics, what's working?

 

Ed: Well, there's companies that do business every day that... were doing it an old school way, but they're incrementing towards some tactics to go eCommerce and take care of their customers. For instance, title companies when you sell a piece of property or a house, it used to be you'd get a - even more recently, you'd get a big giant pile of - you'd have to go there and sign stuff, and do this. They're just grabbing DocuSign, or one of those things, and they’re plugging it in to their system and their process. And it is eCommerce-ifying them a bit, right? They're doing commerce, and they're doing it e-style. They're just grabbing a piece of text someplace and folding it into their process. And it is incrementing them towards more of an eCommerce play. It's not like eCommerce is you're all on and you're all off, you can increment there with these little tasty tidbits and pieces of tech, and get going.

 

Devon: I just had a random question pop into my mind, because Willam was talking about data, which is his role. Jean, what about the people ops side of this thing. How is eCommerce affecting HR, hiring, in the local business space? What do you, what's your hot take on that?

 

Jean: A lot of people have been laid off, and a lot of people have lost their jobs right now, but I think that you can employ - There's other businesses who did get online and have been able to employ their staff, but they just changed what those people were doing. So instead of serving tables, they were packing up food for the people that were coming in, or they were being delivery drivers, and they were able to drive around the products that people have ordered, or pack them up. So I think-

 

Devon: 100%.

 

Jean: ...it's changed maybe, a lot of them have-

 

Dale: Well, in terms of that Devon, last week we were talking about the consumer being forced essentially to try something different, and whether they'll stick with it is one question. But it's the same thing with employees is that, businesses have been forced to try something different with how they work with their employees, and the question is, how are they going to deal with it? Will some of it stick, or not?

 

Devon: Right.

 

Ed: It almost takes you back Devon, to the first question you said is, what characteristics are making people shift? And desperation is one of them. The fastest shifters were not category-based, they were desperate, desperation-based, and they scrapped it, because SMBs are scrappy. They are human beings that need to pay a mortgage, and pay rent, and take their kids to soccer camp, and all that kind of stuff. So the desperation one is what shifted the fastest, and they grabbed any tools. The other thing, I think, that helped them shift fast is, the biggest influencer between SMBs to go E-commerce is other SMBs. They watch their neighbor or their friend or their co-op or whatever, do something and they go and copy it. And copy it, and copy it. And they usually help each other out, even if they're in the same category locally in a market. So it's been really interesting to see the desperate ones go, but you've also seen those other ones that have sat at their kitchen table in shock still.

 

Devon: Desperation is right, that resonates-

 

[crosstalk]

 

Devon: The last thing my dad wants to do is lay off his employees. He is trying to figure out what else they can do, and work with the whole E-commerce thing right now. Great.

 

Gib: That last piece of a tip that I would say is, modernize the way you can take transactions, that there's a lot of small businesses that still rely on cash or invoicing, and you've got to find a way to get into merchant services. You've got to find a way to take mobile payments, whether that is a mobile wallet, like an Apple and a click-to-pay where people don't have to pull their credit cards out, or touch a device, or handle cash. I think you really need to put yourself in a position where you can transact without somebody having to touch and have actual things. That empowers your curbside service, that empowers your remote works and learning, so I think that's another area to go to.

 

Dale: Yeah, nothing more disappointing than when you go ahead, place your order online, show up at a place to do a pick up, and then they walk up to your window and want you to type in on this unprotected debit machine, where we went through all this effort so that I could touch the communal debit pad, awesome. I'm so excited you guys did this.

 

Gib: Right. And you could use the Apple Wallet... Apple Pay, right? Or you could use whichever one and just tap and be done with it, but it takes a little bit of modernizing your software stack as a SMB, and invest in that.

 

Dale: "Sorry, we don't take tap" is pretty negative now.

 

Ed: It's pretty trippy the trust that's been happening. You order from Chipotle right now, and you go online and do it, right? And then you show up, and you've already paid, and you just walk in and go to this rack, and you see your name there and you take it off. Nobody is watching. And you just walk away with your bag-

 

[crosstalk]

 

Ed: You're like whoa, they've... this trust factor between taking payments and delivering goods is really blown up, right?

 

Devon: Still. Payments, payments, payments. Unprotected debit is going to go viral now, that's going to be the next trending.

 

Ed: Yeah, well touchless payments are super hot, that's for sure.

 

Jeff Folckemer: Yeah, I think... Uber is the business I think that is going to have a hard time coming back with all this work remotely, and so they need to rethink their E-commerce strategy, and I think delivery of food, restaurants, product... They might start competing with the U.S. Post Service next.

 

Jacqueline: Absolutely.

 

Devon: Jackie, and then we're going to wrap it up.

 

Jacqueline: Okay, I was just going to say, all of these tools are really ephemeral, and people are going to be making and creating habits right now that are going to shape sort of the next 10 years of commerce. And I think one of the most simplest, easiest, free ways a business can just kind of wrap their head around this, is just walk through their customers shoes. But don't do it themselves, because they have all these biases about how to operate, and how to navigate their business. Grab someone that's unfamiliar with your business and have them try to make a purchase. Have them go through the experience and watch how they do it, because we, as consumers - To Bryan's point earlier, I think everything is a service-based business now. Whether you sell a physical good or not, everything is actually about service and experience now, and that's how you're going to compete, I guess, in the years to come.

 

Devon: Walk through the journey, walk through the journey. Okay. Well let's wrap this up. I actually want to try something different. Brendan, apparently you're doing a law of the day right now, and the law of the day was Amara's Law, which actually kind of relates to this. Tell us what it is, why it matters, and then we'll sign off here.

 

Brendan: Oh, Roy Amara. So he said that technology is often overestimated in the short term, and drastically underestimated long term. And if you go back to my life, the reason I got into software in 1999 was because I saw what Amazon was doing. And everybody at the time, I remember it said, holy cow, everything is changed, everything is going to go online. And then for the next 20 years, I watched the eCommerce penetration rate go to 10%, over 20 years. And then in COVID, in the last eight weeks, it's gone to 23% penetration. So drastically overestimated to start, drastically underestimated long term. Roy Amara, that's Roy's law, Amara's Law.

 

Devon: Wise words, okay. I don't know how many laws there are, or when you're going to run out, but we'll -

 

Brendan: Oh, I have lots.

 

Devon: All right, everyone. I hope that was pretty good, I know you're all busy folks, got to get to the weekend, but appreciate it. We'll cut this up and look forward to the next one.

 

Jeff Folckemer: Time for the beach. See you all.

 

Devon: Cheers to the beach.

 

Jacqueline: Thanks guys.

 

Devon: Adios. Cheers.

 

Gib: Bye.

About the Author

Courtney is a Content Marketing Specialist at Vendasta who loves spending her days researching and writing about...anything really, she's honestly a pretty big nerd. When she's not blogging up a storm, you can find her collecting too many instruments while only half-learning to play them, watching too much Netflix, or planning a trip to visit all the friends she's left behind everywhere she's lived in the past decade.

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