Q&A with Leading Outdoor Retailer, evo
This week, we spoke up with Nathan Decker, Director of Ecommerce at evo, leading online retailer of outdoor gear and fashion apparel to talk about the success of his company, the evolution of Google Shopping and how retailers can stay competitive in the 2016 retail landscape.
Q. Tell us about the early stages of your company
A. Evo was a small ski and snowboard retailer fulfilling orders from the founders garage in 2001.
Back then our founder, Bryce Phillips, was a professional skier and he was always buying and selling gear and ski equipment out of his dorm room, in small quantities.
Around that time he did something totally out of the box and parlayed a large sum of student loan into buying a huge quantity of inventory.
After building a website, we were in the digital retail business. I’ve been with evo since the start and it’s been a wild ride. I currently fill the Director of eCommerce role, responsible for much of what you see at evo.com, digital marketing and customer care.
We first listed with Froogle, then Google Base, then PLAs and now Google Shopping so really we’ve been there since the start. Feed and data quality was something we were talking about back in 2005.
Q. How do you feel the Google Shopping channel has evolved?
A. There has been a massive shift in the SERP placement of Google Shopping listings. Text ads are being displaced as Google Shopping listings continue to have more and more visibility for a wider set of terms.
It’s interesting because in some ways it levels the playing field for retailers. I think our text ads program was (and still is) one of the best out there because we invested so heavily in translating structure data into really targeted product level ads.
We were years ahead but unfortunately that “edge” is mostly wiped out with the more egalitarian Google Shopping playing field.
It makes more sense to list in this way but it is hard, you have to constantly evolve, adapt, change.
Q. What advice would you offer brands who are trying to remain competitive in the eCommerce landscape?
A. Ecommerce is really really hard. You have to be hyper-focused on the nitty-gritty details, the stuff that gets you ahead (or keeps you afloat) today.
These are really basic things like process definition and documentation, ensuring product ratings are being approved and the content is showing up where it should.
It’s checking data quality and ensuring the products you want to sell are showing up in your feeds and where they need to within the site archicture.
There are literally hundreds of things to monitor and improve and none of them are really going to get you ahead in the long term. They drive short term performance and keep you afloat. I think if you know what all these things are and do them even mediocrely well you can compete.
However, I don’t think you can thrive, really find “success” unless you are simultaneously working to create amazing, exceptional customer experiences that make your brand and experience remarkable. Balancing these two worlds is tough.
Q. How has email marketing directly impacted the development of your brand?
A. Email is a major part of our digital marketing mix. It’s how we proactively communicate with our customers, local and national.
It’s a rich medium communication medium that we use to more closely match what you might expect in the relationship we offer at our brick and mortar locations, but with automation.
Bluecore is a big part of this. The automation and intelligent cataloging system they created is a wonderful leap forward, empowering us to connect real time behaviors with rich communication.
We have some really exciting new recipes we are brewing up using Bluecore’s technology that attempt to recreate a really personal, service-oriented experience you might encounter in store and in many ways it’s even better than what we can offer in person.
Q. What other marketing tactics have you seen success from?
A. Our secret weapon and one of the biggest wins over the last year is in automation.
Our paid search program was revolutionized and particularly Google Shopping. It’s easy to manage 50 or 100 products well as a paid search manager but scaling to 300+ brands, 15,000+ items, 60,0000+ SKUs across hundreds of categories is really really really difficult.
It’s actually impossible to do well and even with automation it can be really difficult.
Q. Predictions for online retail in 2016?
A. I do see some big trends that seem to be accelerating. Amazon isn’t going to slow down. Brands are going to continue to sell direct and experiment.
Customer expectations will continue to rise. To survive you have to improve. To thrive you have do more than improve.
I mention this above but these pressures should compel retailers to look deep and figure out what it is that sets them apart.
For evo, it’s the product mix, our authenticity and inclusive brand ethos and the passion we ignite for the sports/lifestyle. We are doubling down in these areas but trying not to lose focus on the fundamentals because you simply can’t drop the ball.