Any business can add e-commerce to their website, but what goes into a successful online store? Too many shopping sites focus entirely on the products, completely ignoring the people who are interested in buying. Matt Edmondson, an e-commerce expert, suggests that to build a successful e-commerce site you need to start with the customer experience, and make the site customer-centric. He shares how to accomplish this in this week’s Agents of Change Podcast.
Rich: Okay. My guest today is the CEO of Aurion Digital. He is very well versed in e-commerce as an e-commerce entrepreneur, his sites have generated over $7 million in worldwide sales. And as a coach, his clients have a combined turnover of over $100 million. He’s also the host of the eCommerce Podcast, where he chats with experts in the field of e-commerce on how to grow and develop online businesses. Definitely want to check out if you have an e-commerce shop.
Today, we’re going to be discussing how to make your e-commerce website more customer centric with Matt Edmundson. Matt, welcome to the podcast.
Matt: It’s fantastic to be here. Thanks so much for having me on, I’m looking forward to this one.
Rich: Yeah. And we were just catching up, talking a little bit about our days, and you actually right towards the end gave some really deep, late-night jazz radio, DJ voice. I mean, like I had chills. And if people could see right now, you have such like romantic lighting going on. You’re just like this floating head. It’s just, it’s wonderful. Just great stuff, man.
All right. Speaking of great stuff, we’ve got a great topic today, I’m very excited about this. But before we dive in, Matt, how would you define ‘customer centric’ when it comes to e-commerce sites? Or maybe what’s not customer centric about a lot of the e-comm sites that are out there now?
Matt: It’s a really interesting question. And it’s a really interesting problem. Because if you go to any e-commerce store, they will tell you that they are customer centric, that they are customer focused, customer led, and all that sort of stuff. But there was a poll done recently by HubSpot, which actually said, basically nobody believes that. You’ve been to the websites. I’ve been to them. And it’s like, if you have to write that statement on that, I genuinely don’t believe that you are a customer centric business. And let me say right at the start here, that I don’t believe for one instance that you have to be a solely customer led e-commerce business. But I do think it has to be part of your arsenal. And I think we have to think about customers probably a lot more than we have done. So to answer your question, a typical e-commerce business for me is very either product focused or very profit focused, and we forget the customer. And I would say that 99% of e-commerce businesses that fail because of this point.
So you go to Shopify, you sign up to the cheap seats program, the $20 bucks a month or whatever it is. You go to Ali Express or Alibaba or something like that, you find sunglasses or something equally benign, and you buy these things for like $2 bucks. You put them on your website, and you sell them for $30 bucks. So all of a sudden, you’ve become profit and product driven, but you’ve not thought for one second about whether or not people actually give a flying flip about the sunglasses that you’re selling. Do they care? Do they want them? Is there any demand for them? And so that I think is where we missed it.
Rich: So I’d say that, like in that instance, which I know a lot of e-commerce sites are like that. I’ve had people come on my show who basically said, here’s how you make money on Amazon. And they’ve said things not too much different than what you’ve just said.
But then on the other side of the coin, there are a lot of businesses who have been retail shops for long before the internet came along, and they find themselves needing to compete online, so they create these e-commerce sites. And then there are people who maybe it’s an e-commerce only play but they actually care. So. Taking aside all the people who are basically looking for the $2 sunglasses that they can turn around and sell for $30. What are the kinds of things that you think we should be looking for if we want to develop like a serious business, a serious e-commerce website, that is going to be customer centric? Like, do we need to go back to the drawing board and be doing market research on do people really need cheap sunglass?
Matt: Well, let’s take the cheap sunglasses example. Obviously, people want to buy them. There is obviously demand somewhere. But if you just whack them onto a website, you’re like 20,000 of the websites all go into Facebook to compete for the same traffic to get them to come to your website to buy the $20 sunglasses.
And what we’ve missed in that whole process is, what is the demand for that product? And if there is, how am I going to tell that story about that product in a way which is sexy for the person coming to my website, right? This is going to entice them. That is the audio jazz. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, how do we… maybe that should be the title of the podcast, “audio jazz”. But how do we create that? And do you only really do that if you think about life from the perspective of your customer? Because if you don’t, you miss the point.
And there’s a story that I often tell related to this, it really highlights this point. And it’s a story from a good friend of mine also called Rich, Rich Rising. And I give him full credit for this, because I’ve blatantly stolen it. But he tells the story of how when he was much younger than he is now, he had a job in a hotel cleaning toilet stalls. Which doesn’t sound very sexy, I appreciate that. And he cleaned them, there was a few of the people that cleaned these toilets stalls. And one of the questions that came out of it was, well, how do you win the award for the best toilet stalls, for the cleanest toilet stalls? And how do you do this week in, week out, week in, week out? Because that’s what happened to Rich. That’s what he did. He continually won the award. And when he was asked about it, he said, “Well listen, picture in your mind cleaning a toilet stall. You open the door, you wipe the walls, you wipe the toilet, and off you go, right? You don’t want to be in there that long, he said. But the one thing that he did, which was entirely different to everybody else, was he’d opened the door and he’d cleaned the walls. Because that was his perspective. But the other thing he did was he turned around and he’d sit down on the toilet, and he’d clean from where he was sitting. Because to quote Rich, from there, he had the most important perspective, which was the perspective of the user.
And I think we get so focused and so inundated with our own business, and so tunnel visioned germane with our thinking about it, that we don’t take the time to see it from a slightly different perspective. Does that make sense?
Rich: Oh, absolutely. And so, just kind of extrapolating from that. I think if we are just price driven or profit driven, not that there’s anything wrong with either of those two things, but we’re going to be missing out on something and we’re just going to be basically slapping up products, putting them into Shopify or whatever it may be, without really giving any thought to the person who’s sitting behind the mouse.
Matt: Yeah, exactly.
Rich: That’s basically what you’re getting at. So if we are thinking about that, what’s your advice for sitting behind the mouse, or what is your list of things that should be included in something that you might consider to be a customer centric e-commerce site?
Matt: The best advice that I’ve discovered when it came to our own businesses, our own eCommerce sites, and when we’re coaching with clients. The advice and the wisdom is 2,000 years old, and I can’t improve on it. And it is simply this. To treat your customer, to treat this person coming to your website, the way that you would want to be treated if you were them. And it seems remarkably simple but is incredibly effective.
And so there’s a great story that I’ll never forget. I’ve recently sold it, but we had a website which sold professional skincare products here in the UK. Over the years it sold probably about $70 million worth of products worldwide. It was a pretty big busines, And we made a real big business shift in 2012, 20 3. And we had all the customer service guys, we said to them basically, listen, treat any customer that comes on the phone the way that you would want to be treated in that situation. And as long as the solution doesn’t cost more than X, you don’t need to ask anybody’s permission to do it, just go ahead and do it.
And so there was a guy working with us at the time called, Greg, who’s a wonderful guy. We’re still very good friends. And Greg took a phone call from a distraught customer one time saying, “You know what? I ordered these products yesterday. They’ve not arrived. It’s for my wife’s birthday. What is going on?” And Greg listened to him, and he was like, well, what would I want in this situation? And Greg is a married man, and he was like, I would definitely want some help, because if you’ve not got your wife’s present, things are not going to go well for you. So Greg’s like, okay, the guy that had ordered it didn’t pay for next day delivery. So we could have just turned around and said, “Sorry, just wait until it arrives”, wipe your hands and move on.
What Greg did was he went to the warehouse. He packed the order himself to be shipped out that day, he paid for it to arrive the next day before nine o’clock, which is the most expensive form of shipping here in the UK. I don’t know about the states, but it’s not cheap. What he did was he also wrapped the products in wrapping paper. So when the guy got it first thing in the morning, it was already wrapped. And he went the extra mile, and he got a birthday card and had everybody in the company sign including me. So we signed this birthday card. I didn’t know what was going on. And he sent this parcel out and the chap gets it sort of Monday morning. The only time I hear about this was when he called me.
So this guy called me Monday morning is like, I need to speak to the MD. I need to speak to the CEO. The guy gets through to me. And he is literally in tears, this fellow. He said, “I cannot believe how far your guys went, how far Greg went to help me with this problem that I knew I’d created.” And he said, “I was rude to him. I was angry with him, but I knew I shouldn’t have been.” And he explained what went on. And I calculated after I put the phone down, I worked out the sums. We’d lost about £27 pounds on that order, which is what about $45 somewhere in there, $45 US dollars. That’s how much it cost me or cost the business. But you know what? That guy became a customer for life, him and his wife. And they became some of our greatest evangelists. And they went and told 20,000 other people to come and shop with us. And it was a phenomenal story. And let me tell you, Greg, just taking that simple principle of treating others how you want to be treated, he had clients send him cashmere sweaters. And I mean, the gifts he would get from customers was unbelievable. I’d never seen anything like it, it was absolutely phenomenal. So that’s what I would do is instill that principle. Just treat somebody the same way you would want to be treated.
Rich: And obviously those £27 pounds, it provided insane return on your investment. So that has a happy ending. And even if it didn’t, I mean, it makes for a great story that you can share, that sort of thing. So that’s definitely an important philosophy. And I understand how that goes into the DNA of an e-commerce company. It definitely shows how you can really be remarkable in your business and get people talking.
I’m sure there are people who are running e-commerce stores and be like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll talk to my customer service people tomorrow, but what else do you have?” So as we think about this, when you think about literally the nuts and bolts of the e-commerce store or the content you create or whether you add a blog or do these other things, what are some of the things that you think that site owners could add to what they’re already doing or improve what they’re already doing to make the site more customer centric? Because at the end of the day, most e-commerce sites feel the same when I go to them. There’s the category that’s for him versus for her, depending on the product, then there’s the different groups and the different sets, and there’s people who bought this also about that. Like, it seems like it’s a kind of tried-and-true model. So what are we missing here? What kind of elements does the e-commerce site need to really kind of reinforce the fact that we’re about you and we’re here to serve you, not just to be profitable, not just to be about a specific person?
Matt: That’s a great question. And there are so many ways to answer this question, because it stems from everything. So classic mistake every e-commerce business makes, especially a startup e-commerce business, is their logo. Their logo is massive on the page, right? The only person that cares about that logo is the site owner, no one else. Maybe the guy that designed it, I don’t know, but no one else does. So don’t take up valuable real estate space with your logo. Shrink it down. That simple piece of advice is the hardest thing for people to do. It’s really incredibly hard to do.
Headlines you use on the website. We did this exercise a few years ago. We had a bunch of guys in a room talking about how to become customer centric. And I literally had on the screen, I said, let’s Google ‘’accountants, because accountants are notorious for this. We just Googled ‘accountants’, we pick the first website that came up in the search engine listing, and we opened up their page. And they had a huge logo on the homepage. And then their banner image was a picture of the logo on their business card. So it was just crazy. And the heading was, “We’ve been in business for over 40 years.” And I was like, I had asked everyone in the room, show of hands who cares, genuinely, who cares about this? Are you inspired by this in any way? And the answer was no. And I think if you think about your customer, what’s going to inspire them.
So just a simple tweak, like removing the stupid photo of your logo and changing their headline from, “We’ve been here for 40 years” from, what, “We can help you get your taxes right and on time, and with more money in your pocket”. Well, all of a sudden now the headline is very different. Same accountant, but they’re now thinking about the customer.
The way you display products, the way you do product pages, everything about your website. If it’s geared towards the customer, if it’s geared towards their story. We draw on, I don’t know if you can sort of picture in your head, if you picture a very large circle on one side of the screen, and that’s how much you as the business owner cares about your business, you care about your history. You care about your story, your brand, your logo. You care about it a lot because you fought hard for this. But if I draw a really teeny, tiny circle next to that, that’s how much your customer cares about your story, your brand. And next to that draw a really big circle. That’s how much your customer cares about their story.
And so I think successful e-commerce businesses are very good at drilling into the customer’s story. And so once you’ve done that, I’ll give you a great example. On the Jersey website, we were like, we had an average order value of at the time it was around like £54 pounds. Which when you think about it, which is what, $60-$70, that’s a lot of money to spend on professional skincare. And so we started to drill down, well, what’s the story here? You can’t see it actually, but on my wall there’s a big plaque which says, “What’s the story?” It’s massive sign on my wall. What’s the story here. And so we realized quite quickly that customers from us were buying themselves a treat, they were buying themselves a gift. And we’d just send their products out in a really boring Amazon-esque brown box. It was very dull and not very gift-y. And so we made three changes to our packaging. We added a little bit more cardboard, so it took longer to open the box, so it felt more like a gift. The inside of the box had tissue paper, which was fun and it sort of sat well with the brand. And we changed the packaging material from the sort of the air bubbles to something very unique and very different, we used popcorn. So we took everything out and we put popcorn in the box.
Well before we started packaging like that, no one had ever posted pictures of our packaging on social media, unless we’d really messed up, like we’d send this tiny item and a huge box. Afterwards, everybody was talking about it on social media. They’ve got this sort of gift, they were using phrases like ‘my gift has arrived’ and ‘look, it’s in popcorn’, which was a bit of fun. And we tried to have a little bit of fun at Jersey. So after that point, not only were we getting social media increase, our repeat customer rate went up. That with a whole bunch of other things. Our repeat customer rate went up to way above industry standards. And so I can sit here and test that. Actually, if you think about all of your touch points, every place where your customers interact with your website, and ask yourself, “What’s their story at this point, and how can I connect with that amazing things?”
Rich: That’s great. I like that whole approach. It’s funny because I was thinking when I came into this interview, we were going to be talking about very valuable tactical things. And you’ve touched upon them. But it really feels like this is more about a philosophy than it is about any one specific tactic or approach, any specific tactic. That really what it is about is taking a step back and really understanding what the customer needs, as far as this comes.
That being said, I’m going to push back on one thing. So we talk a lot, you mentioned the customer doesn’t care about your brand, but yet we have a lot of people out there who definitely associate with certain brands. You and I were talking about Apple and our love and potential frustration with the brand at times, before we started recording. Is there a time and a place, or is there a way that our brand is important to the customer, is part of the customer story, perhaps? And if so, any idea on how we might leverage that or make that part of it?
Matt: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m not saying the brand is not important. In fact, for me, if you’re building an e-commerce website, it’s the first thing you have to look at is the brand. But again, part of branding for me, part of the branding exercise, is understanding who your customers are. So we have this keynote document that we use, and you can do it in keynote, it’s brilliant. And if you’re like me, I think in images, I don’t really think in words, images are much more powerful for the way my brain works. And so we’re like, there’s a question on a piece of paper going, well who are your customers? And we’ll go and get photographs of who they are, who are your famous customers? We’ll throw those on there. Where do they eat? So then we’ll throw pictures of the cafes and the restaurants where they eat. Where do they relax? What do they do? What sports do they have? What hobbies do they have? And we throw literally hundreds and thousands of images into these sort of presentations.
And when you do, some really interesting things happen, because you start to see common themes. Like there’ll be common type colors, which appeal to that brand. And so we, for example, did a rebrand exercise a few years ago, again, with Jersey. We had this problem with Jersey, 95% of our customers were female. Yet every website was designed by me. I designed every website. I’m not female. And so all of a sudden…
Rich: The beard was a definite giveaway.
Matt: Well, you can’t assume. And so one of the things that I did, I deliberately went over to an agency and I said, I need you to get your designers to design my website. Because they are female, they’re the right age group, they buy these products. They’re going to understand this market. And you know what, when they did and the rebrands, they used fonts and colors that I would never have thought about. Guess what? It resonated deeply with our customers. And so understanding your customer, I think, is essential to getting your branding right. And you can really take advantage of that. So when customers do come to your side, yes, they resonate with your brand. Yes, it’s Apple, the way Apple have done their website. It’s not by accident, it’s so that when I go to it, I go and it’s just a lovely website. This, I love it. I mean, and they draw me in with that and I can be proud of being associated with that brand because it resonates with me.
And so if you’re doing something that’s appealing to people in their mid-thirties to early forties, you don’t want a busy website, you don’t want a busy logo, you don’t want crazy colors. You want strong, geometric patterns, simple lines. You want blues and pinks. You want sans seraph-type fonts. And I think, understanding your customer, understanding their story, makes for a beautiful brand.
Rich: That’s really good advice, not just for eCommerce but for all brands. Another thing that, obviously one of the things we think about when we think about e-commerce is how do we get customers in the first place? And I’m wondering about what of these philosophies, how can we move them into the realm of social media, whether we’re trying to sell on social media or just brand awareness, what do you do? What do your clients do to really, again, reinforce this idea of a customer centric experience when it comes to e-comm?
Matt: Well, social media is ideal, isn’t it? In some respects because the first thing you’ve got to ask yourself is where do my customers hang out? Do I need a TikTok channel? Well, do your customers hang out there? Yes or no? That’s the first question you’ve got to ask. Right? So go where your customers are. You don’t have to do every single social media channel. You just have to do the channels where your customers are.
And then you’ve got to form a relationship with your customers on social media. Everybody wants the viral posts. Well, guess what? They’re not going to share something if it doesn’t resonate with them. And guess what? You’re not going to be able to create something that doesn’t resonate with them if you don’t understand them. And so I think social media is a great outworking and you can test certain theories on social media. It’s a beautiful platform that you can just go, well, I think we’ve understood this about our customers, so let’s post around this. Well, guess what? It got zero engagement. Oh, wow. I need to rethink that. So if I tweak it, oh, now it’s got engagement. Oh, okay. So now we’ve gone from this over here to that.
And so maybe sustainability is a word that everybody, users over here, maybe my clients like the idea of sustainability. But actually when I start putting content up around that, that doesn’t engage them. So maybe what does engage them, well it’s not sustainability as such, it’s maybe they. like fair trade is a bit more, they want to make sure suppliers get a fair… So you find all this stuff out on social media just by interacting with your clients. It’s such a great tool, real powerful tool for building a phenomenal community.
Rich: And as we’re talking about social, it’s kind of shift a little bit into more of the realm of SEO and content creation. So on your e-commerce sites and the ones that you consult on, is there a big blog presence? Are they creating content that, again, reaches to that customer centric story that’s being told? What kind of things are you doing, and is SEO even part of this? Is that an afterthought, or is that a completely different channel that deserves a different conversation?
Matt: No, it’s very much a part of it. When you think about, for me, there are seven key channels to marketing, but there are four specific ones that you focus in on. And word of mouth referral, these kinds of things are brilliant, and customers have a much stronger interaction with you. But search is definitely one of them. And I think search engine optimization, content marketing, stems around the simple principle. Your customer’s got a question, answer the question. And people will get into that.
So if you think about a simple grid of crosshairs, if you think about the horizontal axis and on that you put trust. So that’s the trust. That’s how much trust this visitor has with us. And we can measure, do they trust us, yes or no? If they’re a first-time visitor, they probably don’t trust us. If they’re a repeat customer, they’re going to have high levels of trust. If they’ve been referred to us, they’re going to have higher levels of trust. And if they just found us.
So on the horizontal axis, we have trust. On the vertical axis, we have knowledge. And so you in effect have these sort of four quadrants. So on the bottom left, you have customers with low trust and low knowledge. And on the upper right, your ideal customer who has high knowledge and high trust. And so when I’m talking about knowledge, I’m talking about knowledge about the products that you are. So they know and understand what it is that they’re buying.
So back to the beauty business, our best customers were repeat customers. They knew what it was. They want and they knew why they were buying it. And they bought it time and time again, because they trusted us. We found actually that we could do very well in the quadrant where trust was low, but knowledge was high. So customers knew what they wanted, and they would just search shopping around to the best website to get it. And that was great. We found an equally valid quadrant was in high trust, low knowledge clients. And these were the people that were often referred to us. So trust is high, but I don’t know what they want. They don’t know what their skin problems are. They don’t know how it’s going to get solved. Well how do we help them with that? We help them with blogs. We help them with live streams. Live streaming commerce, I think, is going to be a big deal where you’ll go to any commerce web and you’re going to have people live stream in three or four hours on their website every day answering customer questions.
But of course, the fourth quadrant, low knowledge, low trust. You don’t ignore these people because that’s actually a big segment. That’s 60% of the people come into your website. How do you onboard those guys, again, with education first? Let’s give them the knowledge. The more knowledge that we give them, the better the trust. And for me, that again comes down to understanding your customer. What are their key questions? How can I answer them? And this for me actually is how you beat Amazon at their own game.
A big question I often get asked, is it worth doing e-commerce because how do I compete against Amazon? Why would I do an e-commerce website? And I’m like the one thing that Amazon don’t have is you. They don’t have your passion. They don’t have your knowledge. They don’t have your insight and your ability to communicate to the customer the right information that they need to solve their particular problem. And if you do that in the right way, through SEO, through blogs, through content marketing, through video, through live streams, whatever works for your customers, you’ll do it.
Rich: Yeah, I love that. I love the idea. And this is why it works so well with small businesses, being able to put yourself out there. Because it is the one thing that no other business can compete with.
I’m going through a whole leadership training thing right now, it’s all about core values and mission and vision. And so it really resonates what you’re saying in terms of how you can compete with the Goliath or the Amazons of the world. Obviously, you’ve made some sales in e- commerce. We’ve heard some stories about them. But what can we do after the product ships or after the product is delivered, to ensure that we’re still giving that customer centric emphasis, and obviously for the benefit of repeat business?
Matt: Yeah. So we call this the ‘yo-yo’. It’s really hard to get the first sale, but a really good business is when they come back time and time again. At least it is for me. We’ve never really dabbled in the, the sort of the one-off products. I always love the repeatable purchase, it’s great.
And so one of the things that you have to do, I think, is monitoring a number of key analytics stats. So you want to monitor traffic to your website. How many people are new versus how many people are returning? What’s that ratio? So on a well-established website, you would expect probably around 60% to 70% of the traffic to be new, around 40% to 30% of that traffic to be repeat traffic. If it’s lower than your industry average, you’ve got to try and understand that’s a problem somewhere with your customer service. That’s a problem with that whole journey for your customer. They’re not coming back. But if you compare that ratio with the ratio of sales from your repeat customers and your new customers. It’s this really odd phenomenon that you see on quite a lot of e-commerce sites, not on everybody’s, but you do see it on a lot of established sites, not new sites, but certainly established ones. Where you have let’s say 60% of my traffic is new customers. Well, that’s 60% of traffic will account for 40% of sales. Whereas if 40% of returning customers, where they might account for 60% of my purchases. Does that make sense?
There’s this really weird sort of tension there between those two dynamics. And so I think for me, the first thing you’ve got to understand is actually how well are we doing? And those numbers start to tell you things like lifetime value of a customer. They begin to tell how many times do these customers come back? So tracking things like average order value is good, but I’ll also want to track average order frequency. Like how many times are these guys coming back? How long does it take? If it’s three months, what can I do to get that down to two months? If it’s two months, what can I do to get it down to. One? What’s the frequency? And then obviously the lifetime value of that customer is super, super important. What can I do to get that up? And you tend to find if you can work hard to get a customer to come back two or three times, you’re starting to create this habit in them. And it’s very hard then for them to leave, because there’s something about you that they’re like. There’s a familiarity which is starting to come. And these people, you need to work hard at getting them to tell their friends about you. That’s the tactic there. So anybody who’s bought from you two, three times, you do things like on their fifth order.
We have in our warehouse sort of little notes on the packing slips that only we understand, like this is our fifth order. And so the guys in the warehouse will go, “Hey, Gene! This is your fifth order, just wanted to say thanks for continually shopping with us. We’re a family-based business. You’re awesome.” And they might put something extra in there for no apparent reason, just here’s a little gift. It might be a chocolate or something, nothing expensive, but thoughtful. And so we do these little surprises as you go along.
But the whole thing that I want to do though is not only nurture that relationship with you, I want you to go and tell your friends about me. Because a person that’s bought from me three or four times tells really good, quality people to come back and buy from me. And the trust factor is high there. And so I can onboard them and they usually become quite good repeat customers. So I would say look at those clients, segment them in some way, and come up with a strategy that’s going to help you get them to refer your business and feel happy to do so.
Rich: Awesome. Matt, this has been great. If people want to connect with you online, where can we send them?
Matt: Just head over to my website, mattedmundson.com. All my links are there. So yeah, come join me wherever you hang out. It’d be great to connect.
Rich: Excellent. Matt, I appreciate your time today and your expertise.
Matt: Oh, it’s been fab. Thanks for some great questions.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.