By Michael Brooke
With so many different ways to market your company’s products and services, it can get overwhelming and confusing. Most businesses want to be everywhere, but in most cases, you can’t be everywhere. It’s critical that you prioritize what channels make sense for your company. For Maggie Adhami-Boynton, co-founder and CEO of ShopThing, a live shopping app, it was all about figuring out where the bulk of their potential users and customers are. “We took three or four ideas and spread them across multiple channels and tried them out. Whatever worked, we leaned heavily on that. Whatever didn’t work, we put it on the back burner to revisit and test at a late date.
Founded in Toronto four years ago, ShopThing combines a number of unique approaches to the omnichannel customer experience. Their app has over 500,000 users who regularly watch fashion influencers explain and examine the latest products – it’s a live shopping experience that is parts e-commerce and part interactive entertainment. Users can ask influencers questions and should a customer see something they like, they can purchase it automatically. ShopThing takes a 20% commission on every sale but there are numerous discounts offered.
There are actually two different approaches to the live shopping experience. One is based on a scarcity model which offers customers hard-to-find or exclusive items. For example, someone who collects crystal and lives in Denver might not be able to make it to Manhattan, so a live shopper can be truly helpful in answering questions to ensure the correct purchase. The other angle is a curated influencer or expert-driven approach. From the comfort of your home (or any location) you can get an expert who will answer your questions and guide you through your purchase.
Maggie explains that there can be a reluctance to try new channels. “We had focussed most of our efforts on Instagram and Facebook. We were aware of TikTok quite early and so we put up a few videos to test the waters. It literally exploded our business and we went from 10,000 followers on Instagram to 100,000 in one month.”
The one thing about social media platforms is that you have to be constantly vigilant. “Just because Instagram or TikTok is working today for your brand, it doesn’t mean that it will always work,” says Maggie. “It’s crucial that you continually test because consumer behaviour changes rapidly, especially in the digital realm.” It’s important to keep revisiting platforms that may have underperformed initially but could be a great opportunity for growth six months or a year from now.
ShopThing has a staff of about 70 people and they have recently added a whole data discipline unit. Up until then, the company had been collecting a tremendous amount of data, but Maggie admits they weren’t using it in the right way. Maggie meets with the data team on a monthly basis and other departments meet with them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. “Everyone is filtering in their requests and the data team’s job is to prioritize what makes sense for our business.” One of the major things ShopThing has implemented is OKR – Objectives and Key Results. The critical question that all team members must think about when they are asked to produce data is “does this information drive our objectives forward?”
Many companies recognize that with all these different customer touchpoints, providing all this feedback can be overwhelming. ShopThing classifies the severity of a problem from 5 which is the least severe to 1 being the most problematic. “We’ve never felt paralyzed to deal with problems because we’ve been able to categorize and prioritize problems” explains Maggie.
The half-a-million users of the ShopThing app have translated into over 22,000 customers. “Nothing makes me happier than to sell things all day and every day” says Maggie. “But we are in this incredible space of commerce and entertainment.” One of their main key performance indicators (KPI) is active users because they know that eventually many of these people will convert to active customers. “If someone only views and never buys on our platform, that’s ok, because I know that ShopThing is also entertainment,” Maggie predicts that within two years, ShopThing will be a full social platform.
Although live shopping is in its infancy in North America, it is over a $400 billion business in Asia (primarily China). “The reason for this is that the Asian consumer is different from what you find here” explains Maggie. “Consumers in Asia use technology in a completely different way – they are about five to ten years ahead of us and utilize things called super apps.” Sixty percent of the shopping done in China is now done with live shopping. While the Chinese version of Google is the most visited site, the second most visited is a live shopping site.
Maggie believes that live shopping will become increasingly popular but doubts that it will ever reach the levels found in Asia. “ShopThing made a conscientious decision to take the best of what was happening with live shopping apps found in Asia and tailored them to the North American consumer.”
The conversion numbers of regular e-commerce compared to live shopping are quite extraordinary. According to the most recent data, conversion rates are 5 to 10 times higher with live shopping. “Our influencers genuinely endorse products they believe in and this has a tremendous impact on people’s decision to buy,” says Maggie.