How do you both work with and compete with Amazon?

JeffMcRitchieIt’s not an easy task. We talked about this challenge with Jeff McRitchie, the VP of Marketing at MyBinding.com, one of the largest binding and laminating dealers in the United States.

The company started 20 years ago as a small business with a traditional door-to-door sales force. McRitchie co-founded the web portion of the company, launching MyBinding.com in 2002. Within a few years, the online business surpassed the sales of the rest of the company, and today more than 80% of sales come through ecommerce.  

But for McRitchie, their business is facing a difficult challenge from Amazon. MyBinding both sells via the platform and competes with them directly. How is MyBinding approaching this conflict of interest?

In this exclusive interview, McRitchie shares:

  • How his team approaches marketing
  • Their most effective strategies when it comes to Amazon
  • How they measure success with KPIs
  • …and much more.

1. How many people are on the marketing team currently? How do you structure the team?

I have 13 people on my marketing team with a mix of people here in the United States and overseas. Here at our headquarters, we have a graphic designer, a front-end developer, our attention specialist, a marketplace specialist and a video expert. And then overseas I have another six people in the Philippines that primarily do content, web updates, new product additions, competitive research, those kinds of roles.

We structure the team based on specific functions: one person’s whole world is acquisition, another is retention, and another is site experience. We work around the clock — there’s not really an hour where somebody’s not doing MyBinding things in the world. It can be a little bit crazy to manage sometimes, but it’s efficient for getting things done.

2. What is your team’s focus for marketing right now? What campaign are you running right now that you’re most proud of?

One of the major initiatives we have right now is to drive up retention. Our biggest campaign is browse abandonment — engaging people not solely based upon what they purchased in the past, but rather based upon what they’ve interacted with on the site. If a customer views a product and then leaves the site, we send them a message that says, “Hey are you still looking for this item?” That campaign went live last week and we’ve had some really good initial results from it.

The next phase is to be even more specific. We’ll be able to send a message that says, “Hey, we saw you were looking for a binding machine. Here are some other binding machines that you might be interested in.” It’s going to be category-based and indicates intent to buy. It’s quite tricky because it really needs a very robust view of the customer in order to make that happen. That’s something that you see the really advanced online retailers doing.

3. Personalization is huge in ecommerce today. How are you personalizing your marketing today, and what results have you seen?

One of the things we’re really excited about is smart and personalized recommendations in emails. Based upon algorithms, we can show people who bought this also bought this other product. That’s really important to us because we have such a broad variety of products on our site. It really hurts us to send out somebody something in a category that’s completely unrelated to anything that they have shown any interest in.

4. Do you feel like ecommerce consumers today expect that level of personalization from brands? Why or why not?

I actually think that most retailers do personalization really poorly. I don’t think most customers have been trained to expect it, as much as they tune out what they don’t like. If your message is not interesting, then they unsubscribe or filter you into their trash. I think that the bar has been raised with consumers because of the amount of noise in the market. If your message is not personalized and truly applicable to them, then they’ll just move on.

5. How do you measure success for your campaigns? What metrics are the most important for your team on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis?

Every part of my team has different KPIs that they are measured by. We measure things like email click-through rates, and say, of those people who came to the site, how many of them went on to purchase? What’s the conversion rate? I also look at average order value for those visitors. Then I’m calculating customer lifetime value, time to second purchase, and time to become a loyal customer.

Yet everything really comes down to revenue for us. Ultimately, although the team may be measured by a whole bunch of different KPIs, all that matters is revenue growth. Almost all of the KPIs that we measure here tie to the revenue goal in some way or form.

6. It’s impossible to talk about ecommerce without bringing up Amazon. How are you thinking about a strategy to fight back against Amazon’s growth, or are you working with them to grow your business?

We walk this weird fine line with Amazon. We sell on Amazon, but we also compete with Amazon. They’re probably the most threatening competitor that we have today. Even though they don’t specialize in our world, just their size and the number of customers as well as the price and customer service pressures make them a fairly major threat.
We’re always trying to figure out how can we can gain enough benefit out of them to grow without raising them up to become even more of a threat to us. We recognize that they’re not going away, but at the same time realize it could come back to bite us a little bit.

Amazon approached us and said, “Do you want to sell to us as opposed to through us?” So today we’re a merchant-seller instead of a vendor for them. There’s a pretty big distinction and we made the choice internally that we don’t really want to be a vendor for Amazon at this point. We want to control our own brand in a way that they don’t really allow us to do on the vendor side.

We look at Amazon and say, Okay, our competitors are already on there and they’re selling, so we want to take business away from our competitors and gain some of that revenue. We tag onto a lot of listings that are already created and don’t make very many of our own listings. The reason for that is we don’t want to give our content or our best stuff to Amazon or continue to grow them in areas where they haven’t already grown. But we want to join the party where they are already getting sales.

We’ve also come to the realization that we have to count Amazon sales for a zero lifetime value — they’re always a one-off sale. There’s no loyalty from an Amazon customer to our brand. The customers consider the person that they bought them from is Amazon, not us. So therefore, there’s no progression from a transaction to a customer to a loyal customer. Instead, it’s just a transaction, as opposed to the investments that we make to acquire customers for our website. Website customers will come back again and again and have longer-term value.

7. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing ecommerce marketers today?

I would say that it’s increasing customer expectations. And Amazon’s a big part of that. They’re changing the games in terms of what customers are expecting of ecommerce marketers. They’re expecting a level of technology and sophistication that’s not really easy to obtain for most small to mid-size retailers.

On the supply-chain-side, there’s also a lot of challenges. For instance, you look at this idea of two-day shipping. We’re in Oregon. It’s really hard to get anything in two days to the East Coast. It’s really expensive and people are now expecting to get things in one or two days. It’s really difficult to compete with that. Customers are also expecting this selection and stock that Amazon has. I think it’s becoming harder to be an online retailer because the bar is being raised constantly and you’re chasing after that.

8. As you look to the future, what changes do you see coming to ecommerce?

I am really excited about new technology being available to the mid-sized players in the market. You see a player like Amazon will innovate and then there’s lag time as people start to figure out how to copy it. But we’re really getting to the point where some of that technology is becoming really accessible. Things like tracking customers and sending them personalized messages based upon what they viewed upon the site rather than what they purchased. Or being able to provide a highly personalized site experience to a customer based upon who they are, what they purchased, what they viewed. It opens up a whole new world for us to be better at what we do to raise conversions and to engage customers in new and exciting ways.

To learn more about Jeff McRitchie and his company, visit www.MyBinding.com.

Cara Hogan is the Content Strategist at Zaius, where she focuses on how technology can drive business growth. She is a grammar perfectionist, a data enthusiast, and a rock climber.

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