It was fantastic to adventure out and see folks at an in-person conference recently, Retail Summits’ Boston E-Commerce Summit conference at the Westin. The show was attended by roughly 100-120 folks and some I spoke to made the trek for the day conference from as far away as Maryland and California.

There was an energetic mix of folks, heavy on vendor reps but mixed in with merchant teams from Boston area operations like Mariposa gifts. Speakers included a number of early stage / SMB e-commerce merchants that would fall in the category of “entrepreneurial startups”, but these days it only take a year or two for merchants with a new idea to figure out if they are going to “make it” or not. There were also larger, mature merchant organizations there, including Dorel, a Canadian-based manufacturer of furniture and home goods that has about 15 brands. Listening to the sessions from start to finish, there were definitely 3 or 4 major trends that the merchants (and vendors who presented) believe will be key to success in 2022 and beyond. Here’s a summary:

Social Media / Social Commerce: A Startup E-commerce Merchant’s Best friend

For the sake of this post, let’s call ‘Social Commerce’ the craft of beginning a merchandising experience that is pushing a prospective customer towards a sale via social media. Several merchants at the event called out TikTok and/or Instagram as currently being their best top-of-funnel tools for driving traffic. Representatives of Aisling Organics (Cosmetics), Spike Ball (Recreational beach game) depend on TikTok videos and user generated content (UGC) for driving visitors while 4Merch – a store that allows fans of restaurants to purchase related merchandise – targets followers of famous Chefs to find customers on Instagram.

In many ways, based 0n the chit chat Social Commerce has replaced SEO as the startup’s favorite marketing channel of the last 15 years. Krysta Lewis of Aislings Organics explained that literally 40% of her traffic is now organic (non-paid) TikTok-sourced traffic.

While not every brand is a fit, it’s clear that when properly structured, social commerce influence can help a new brand fill the top of its funnel with prospective customers.

Demise of the Cookie / FB Pixel / iOS 14 / Privacy and Advertising

Unsurprisingly, there was a ton of reference to changes in the world of privacy that are impacting all e-commerce merchants significantly. The shift to social media and social commerce is accelerating with the changes in monolithic digital marketing practices that were once owned by Facebook (or at least for the period of about 2016-2020). Thanks to the demise of the cookie, FB pixel, and iOS14 changes, brands need to attract their own customers and develop first party data building practices.

Merchants are carefully considering how to build data management practices using registration data and customer information from their own orders. Chris Schwabb from Life is Good described how they use data to create private sales and flash sales and explained how a rich headless architecture will allow them to use different points of contact to aggregate data and use it in more effective ways in the future. Chris explained that they’re turning to using order data as a way to get around their prior dependence on the FB browser pixel.

Content Merchandising & The Headless Revolution

Many merchants referred to the need for richer content merchandising experiences in their presentations and in follow up Q and A. This makes sense given how they are leveraging social media and UGC. Omnichannel retailers have their stores, so showcasing the setting of their products and leveraging video and rich product presentations is easier but pure play e-commerce merchants know that rich merchandising experiences that show many product views, product demonstration videos, spec sheets, are all very important.

Chris Schwabb used a good analogy for why headless is a great e-commerce architecture consideration beyond the rich content rationale: “touchpoints.” As he stated, utilizing a headless approach, “makes the integration of various touch points easier and a separate exercise from running the core application(s) behind an e-commerce store. Headless allows for a unique touch point like Alexa voice or this service or that service….like pulling in the best AI search provider.”

Kristen Lambert, founder of Newton MA based ThirdPiece, a knitting supply website with a teaching component stated that content is everything as a digital first brand. Being transparent and not just doing it once is really important. Checkout their site; it’s a great example of a rich experience that drives emotional connection- yes I can actually imagine sitting down and knitting a new ski hat for myself while watching football next Fall! And that’s the kind of feeling rich content needs to drive.

Social Cause-Related Drives Sales

Most of the startup e-commerce merchants who joined the panels yesterday have some angle in giving back and / or there is a feel good story plus a give back component that makes one want to be a customer or fan immensely.

  • Aisling Organics founder (Krysta) was allergic to a lot of makeup and decided to source her own products that are much less prone to allergic reaction.
  • ThirdPiece drives traffic to women-owned business while supporting their deep and thoughtful value proposition. Very simple but effective!
  • ZoeyKoko founder Sarah Ferrer sells unique bath and self-care products for preteen girls that make them feel good physically and emotionally. With a mission that includes empowering girls through life Sarah also gives back to Big Sister Boston, a cause that is directly aligned with her purpose.

Credit these successful entrepreneurs for not only taking the leap and staring e-commerce businesses but also aligning the purpose of them with causes they care about!

Tips and Tricks

Finally some very innovative yet simple “Tips and Tricks” were shared by merchants and they are applicable to almost all B2C e-commerce merchants whether large or small.

Krysta Lewis (Aislings Organics):

  • Don’t waste time using your brand’s TikTok account – use real people. Aisling realizes 10X performance for people vs brand.
  • Post purchase surveys (using Enquire) see 70% completion rate
  • Live selling will be a great future source of revenue – think QVC of the future and much easier to produce for e-commerce merchants

Dan Marques (Crocs):

  • Get with the SMS program; SMS has much higher engagement
  • Collaborations are big now and consumers love them… Crocs x KFC? Yes!

Eric Girouard, CEO of Brunt Workwear:

  • Build your brand first! “We spent many, many months building the brand and all of its attributes prior to launching. Our strong brand helped us survive a quick / short drop when IOS14 hit”
  • Eric also mentioned that he started a podcast almost a year before launching his e-commerce store.

Todd Iberg from Blueshift

  • People often don’t realize they can reuse content; you have to be smart about it.