CMO profile: Navigating the ecommerce boom

Shopify marketing chief talks through the strategy he's been using to differentiate the ecommerce solutions provider in the midst of rapid digital uptake in retail

Rapid uptake of ecommerce was an inevitable outcome of the events of 2020, and naturally, those companies that supplied the picks and shovels of the digital goldrush were among the biggest winners.

But for ecommerce platform providers, the challenge then was not about convincing would-be clients of the joy of ecommerce, but about the benefits of their platforms. And that meant cutting through the noise of a lot of competing solutions.

For Shopify, rather than shouting as loudly as possible about features and benefits, its strategy for driving conversion was put back on to people who had already made that decision themselves.

“We saw 2030 come in to 2020,” is how Shopify’s head of marketing for APAC, Robin Marchant, describes the last 12 months. “2020 is when we saw significant growth, and Shopify ticked over 100,000 merchants active on the platform. We have really see that ecommerce boom.”

While many marketers went into 2020 with very different plans to the ones they wound up executing, Marchant found himself in the position of already having devised a strategy for the company’s Shopify Plus high-volume platform that was well suited to the new reality – namely, using merchant storytelling to convey its value to would-be customers.

Robin MarchantCredit: Shopify
Robin Marchant


“It fundamentally didn’t change our strategy,” Marchant tells CMO. “Merchant storytelling - seeing it through the eyes of the merchant, enabling them to tell their stories so others could see what’s possible, what’s feasible and recognise themselves in other merchants experiencing similar things.”

That storytelling has focused on existing users of Shopify Plus, including JB-Hi-Fi, Aje, and Incu - retail brands Marchant says are driving strong consumer connections, and which he believes others will want to emulate.

“It’s trying to tell the story through the eyes of the merchants, so the other merchants can see,” he continues. “The ecommerce boom has seen record online competition, so how do they stand out from the crowd? How do they bring that to an omnichannel scenario to make sure they are providing a really solid and strong shopping experience, whether that be on or offline?”

Read more: Soaring ecommerce take-up in Australia in 2020 signals more to come

Ecommerce, digital drive first-half growth at Woolworths and Coles

Rapid digital pivot

Where Marchant’s plan did evolve was in having to support both new and existing customers as they dealt with rapidly changing circumstances and built resilience. Despite the challenges, Marchant says he was surprised by not just the speed at which new customer came on-board, but by the innovation and maturity shown by some of the new ecommerce converts.

One example was the high-end women’s shoe store, Peter Sheppard. As a brand that appealed to older buyers, Marchant says Peter Sheppard had previously focused on its in-store experience by building close connections between sales staff and customers.

“They had to pivot online very quickly,” Marchant says. “The company put its staff online too, including videos of the staff talking about products, to make a very personal experience, and to have that differentiation.”

Shopify was also forced to rapidly change the channels it was using to take its message to market. Marchant says Shopify had traditionally invested in in-person events and had planned to increase that investment through 2020.

“So, like many brands, we had to rip that up and start again,” Marchant says. “We took that story online. You have to be where they are. Everyone is playing now in the same sandpit though, so you have really got to cut through in the message.”

Ultimately, Marchant says achieving cut-through came down to establishing relevance, which is why the merchant storytelling concept proved effective.

“We are successful if our merchants are successful, and the ultimate goal of anything we do is advocacy,” he says. “We want their customers singing from the rooftops, because that helps the sales process and builds community. We are really building a community here of loyal users who love the product because it is helping them to grow and scale.

“We are in the age of the entrepreneurial economy, so it is about providing those businesses with what they need to thrive - cutting out the noise and enabling business to scale and grow.”

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