What Big Ecommerce Can Learn From The Little Guys

Jun 25, 2014 12:07 PM  By

A goldfish has a longer attention span than you.

It’s true. Goldfish can focus on something a full second longer than the average person — a troublesome development for online retailers.

To make a real go of ecommerce, you need to grab consumers’ attention immediately, or they’ll click away.

Design can help, with nearly93 percent of consumers listing “visuals” as the main influencer on purchase decisions. Much like a brick-and-mortar storefront, shoppers use a website’s appearance to determine whether to trust the vendor and venture in.

But getting them through the doors is only part of the equation. You also must provide a great user experience, and the big winners will be those who understand the importance of buyer simplicity.

Amazon gets it right, even with its extensive product selection. Besides the ease of placing an order with one click (almost eliminating second-guessing), the retailer has built a robust recommendation engine to customize the shopping experience. Each time you visit, Amazon provides contextual suggestions based on previous purchases and searches, making it that much easier to find what you want.

The Little Guys Keep Getting It Right

But it isn’t the big brands that are really moving the needle in the ecommerce space — it’s the smaller ones.

Threadless, for example, used crowdsourcing to build a T-shirt empire, allowing its social network to vote on which designs to print and sell. Each product page shows the exact number of T-shirts in stock, creating a sense of urgency to boost conversions.

Scarcity — and deep discounts — also helped establishHauteLook. The online retailer took excess inventory from high-end designers and sold the products for 50-70 percent less than the original price, but for a limited time for each product. The company drew the attention of Nordstrom Inc., which purchased the site in an attempt to stay ahead of the competition.

TOMS Shoes takes a different, but equally successful, approach with its one-for-one program. This program donates a pair of shoes to children in need for every pair of shoes the company sells.

So what is it about the little guys that’s disrupting the space? The Lean approach.

Incorporate Lean Principles for Success

Are you ready to innovate and disrupt? Here are 5 lean principles to incorporate:

Structure for rapid innovation. Nothing kills innovation more than the politics of decision by committee. Empower your teams to develop creative solutions on their own based on the strategic objectives of your company. If your company’s having problems with innovation, read “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”

Build an autonomous business unit. Teams at larger organizations are often in structures that don’t allow for rapid innovation. By creating a separate business unit with its own decision-making capabilities, location, and culture, you can break down the walls imposed by larger corporate structures. Move ecommerce into its own physical space, with its own profit and loss, to establish this independent setting.

Leverage build-measure-learn loops. To keep a business lean, build products quickly and measure your audience’s response to your products. Then, take the information to learn how people are using your products in the real world and decide whether to pivot or proceed down the original path. If you’ve decided you need to change directions, check outLean Canvas to create a one-page business model — or project proposal — in 20 minutes. You can easily share it with your team or investors.

Adopt innovation accounting. Rather than just look at incoming revenue, identify a set of macro metrics to measure the value of a product in your audience’s eyes. Innovation accounting allows you to measure your success based on your ability to innovate — not your ability to hit numbers during the early stages.

During the early and high-growth stages of a business, traditional accounting mechanisms and financial projections are worthless. Instead of setting goals and making decisions around this proverbial “hockey stick” growth curve, measure innovation. You can build innovation accounting into your storefront by defining your innovation criteria and measuring against them. “The Lean Startup” is a great read to help you implement innovation accounting.

Implement agile methodology. Create an agile team that works together and is self-directed so your company can ideate, design, adapt, and produce products at a faster rate than your competitors. Teams are often much more responsive to change and open to innovation when team members work together.

It’s possible for large and small brands to integrate Lean to improve their position in the ecommerce marketplace. By embracing these principles, companies can stay innovative. As a result, they can create better products that inspire better buying experiences for everyone. Get creative on what you sell, how you sell it, and even why you’re in business. As we’ve seen, thinking Lean is the key to being a successful disruptor.

Zach Ferres is the CEO of Ciplex, a full-service interactive agency.