How Supply Chain Operations Taught Me the Power of Experimentation
Did you know Pepsi stocks their own drinks on the shelves of your local grocery store? I started my professional career stocking 12pk cans and 2 Liter Bottles right out of college.
I was a salesperson on the grocery side in a management training program that lasted about a year. From there I would transition into operations and warehousing for Pepsi getting my first managerial role. My love of business analytics really flourished and became useful for the first time in my career which was refreshing.
There’s a simplicity that is quite awesome to “warehouse math” (kind of like ecommerce) that I really enjoyed. “Cases per hour” was one of the key metrics that we measured and discussed as a team – how many cases we loaded on a truck in an hour broken down as a warehouse or by the individual employee.
Creating a culture of experimentation
Saying you’re open to new ideas and actually listening are very different things. I was incredibly fortunate in my first managerial job to have a director level boss that was always willing to listen to an idea.
He tasked me with reducing “cases/hour” to improve efficiency in the warehouse drink-loading operation – nothing was off the table. Optimizing and maximizing this rate was the key to a successful day in a beverage warehouse. It meant being on track, which was to have the trucks loaded in time for the next day’s deliveries and keep the 24-hour cycle flowing.
I had a strong desire to increase metric goals, and ultimately impress my boss, which drove me to think of hypotheses practically all of the time – especially on the drives to work in the morning. I think that’s what a culture of experimentation does to a company. It creates a fulfilling challenge to your employees to think and create for the business. When ideas could be implemented tomorrow, I know it makes it fun (for me at least). I was willing to spend my brain energy even in my free time on the company’s challenges, which proves how much I cared.
Starting my own CRO company
After several years managing different sites, I started working as a consultant for an analytics company assisting Shopify stores with A/B testing and conversion rate optimization (CRO). I slowly came to the realization that I could maybe do something like this for myself if I could obtain the clients. After all, the companies were paying to speak to me on a biweekly basis and the ideation and analysis I would provide was what they were paying for monthly.
I’ve always had a ton of entrepreneurial dreams; I actually started a snack bar out of my backpack with my best friend in High School. We bought soft pretzels fresh before every baseball game and would pedal snacks to the 30 people in attendance. Naturally with this background it’s easy to see my next move after realizing there was potential, was to create my own eCommerce consulting company, Above the Fold.
We work with eCommerce companies on experimentation and data analysis. Mostly we focus on those small to medium sized merchants that drive enough traffic for testing but have never tried it. There’s a huge gap in the industry here and money left on the table for sites of this size that are not testing.
Thoughts on COVID-19 eCommerce
The pandemic has affected commerce online in a variety of ways depending on industry. However, one way or another, millions more people are shopping online today than in February of 2020 and some businesses have really taken advantage of that and seen massive growth. A culture of experimentation is probably the number one key factor to success in times of uncertainty.
I’ve noticed that companies who have a desire to continuously change in the pursuit of being better have no problems right now making adjustments. I’m not talking about a/b testing but an actual willingness to make widespread changes when faced with extreme adversity.
Staying the course isn’t always right.
Holiday season predictions
Fast shipping wins, BIG
The biggest winners online will offer expedited shipping the most often for the cheapest cost. The number one detriment to placing a purchase online is the perceived delay in spending the money and receiving the product.
The biggest mistake right now I see is websites being overly conservative with their time to deliver messages. “COVID-19 may cause delays” This message is completely anti-conversion. The site’s that go the other way with messaging will win the most on the key days. Understanding some of these factors are actually out of the website’s control of course.
Black Friday/Cyber Monday
These individual days will be the largest on record for eCommerce. The season will also set massive overall shopping records online. It’s no secret that users will be shopping at home this holiday season so this isn’t so shocking, but the #1 thing you can do for your website right now is build your list and get better at building your list.
Why? During periods of super high consumer demand, ad space online will be super expensive. If you can effectively reach an audience of fans via email or SMS you will have a competitive advantage.
Brands that leverage SMS marketing the right way will stand out among cluttered email inboxes.
Brands will send 10+ emails over BFCM weekend leaving the promotions tab in your subscriber’s inbox full. Those who have harvested numbers and not annoyed with their SMS programs will have incredible open and conversion rates this holiday season.
Differentiate your brand through testing
We can all agree the world is just a bit different than it was 8 months ago. eCommerce sites and shopping behavior aren’t unique in that regard. My last piece of advice is to find out for yourself what’s changed for your business because you’ve tested it.
The best way to take action on that is to ensure you’re not only a/b testing copy and content, but also trying new methods for driving awareness and sessions to the site, while also and communicating with customers.
When testing, I always find the best ideas come from those that believe what they come up with could become reality – that’s what gets people thinking about conversion rate on their couch. Create a culture in your organization that promotes that and you’ll have a lot of new tests to run!
Alex Lynn is the Founder of Above The Fold, a CRO agency looking to empower ecommerce businesses with data and help them make more money from the traffic they already have.