In conversation with: Shopify Plus’ APAC head of marketing Robin Marchant

Shopify Plus was launched in 2014 with the aim of giving hyper-growth businesses a customisable enterprise solution, without the high cost of time, money and development. Shopify Plus powers commerce for the world’s fastest growing and most innovative brands to Fortune 500s. More than 7,000 brands rely on Shopify Plus. Together with customers like; Lindt, Heinz, Rustans, FrancFranc, JB Hifi, Kitchen Aid, Allbirds and thousands more, Shopify Plus is helping merchants redefine commerce and connect with their customers globally.

In this series of “In Conversation”, its head of marketing for Asia Pacific, Robin Marchant, shares his COVID-19 learnings, the changing retail customer experience, and what is stopping brands from taking the next step to create their own new channels.

Based in Sydney, Marchant joined the company in January this year and has a track record of delivering growth across tech start-ups, publicly-traded, private equity-backed and mature organisations over the past 18 years, according to his LinkedIn. He focuses on building brand experiences as he has always believed that having a brand with a personality is an easy way to differentiate from one’s competition.

Listen to the full episode here. This conversation is powered by Shopify Plus.

Marketing: You mentioned earlier the impact of COVID and we know it’s been a challenging time for many brands. But let’s pull back a little bit. I'm sure there were challenges pre-dating COVID that the team saw which made you want to launch Shopify Plus [in Asia]. Can you share with us a little bit about what those challenges were?

Marchant: There are areas, that yes from an Asia point of view, are different to the global view.

But I think ultimately we’re all in a similar boat in the fact that retail of 2030 was pulled forward to 2020. COVID’s permanently accelerated the growth of online commerce and we can’t deny that it has fundamentally changed the retail landscape forever.

Businesses are adopting more of an omni-channel model which includes everything from traditional retail, storefronts, your own branded website and e-marketplaces, social selling and other channels. But it’s going to offer brands sometimes more control over their brand and their customers compared with selling solely on e-marketplaces, for example.

We’re going to see more and more businesses adopt this model because it’s forced our hands to an extent and accelerated this transformation and accelerated the path that many brands were already on, but it has enabled us to think quicker because now the demand is coming from our consumers. It’s coming from the market. So we don’t have that choice or that luxury of time anymore, we have got to move quicker.

We’re kind of seeing more businesses adopt the model which enables them to sell to anyone, anywhere in the world through platforms which the individual consumers prefer and use frequently as well. That’s the other key component to this is that you’ve got to be where your merchants and your customers are. That’s pivotal as we go through some of these changes that we’re all experiencing now on a global basis.

Marketing: I want to come back to the point of being where the consumers are, because I think that’s really an excellent point. There’s always this ongoing debate when resources are tight, of owning your own platform or being on a marketplace. What are your thoughts on this?

Marchant: The key here is how do you turn up and own your brand, and make sure that you can have the conversations with your consumer directly, and ultimately own that experience because it’s that experience that’s going to enable repeat visits and strengthen your brand and your brand’s relationship with your end consumer.

We’re seeing more and more businesses adopt this model, and in Asia, we are helping an increasing number of fashion apparel brands, health and beauty, and consumer electronics brands do this by providing more ways to sell their products and just lowering barriers that can enable a better experience. By doing so, we can provide more ways to sell your products.

 The consumer themselves are going to make their minds up in terms of what was the better experience for [them], did [they] enjoy that and what [are they] going to do next? And so you can have control as a brand, when you kind of start to switch more to a direct-to-consumer-model and see that journey from repeat visits, because then you have better control of your data for example.

So that’s the experience that we’ve got and we can see from a Shopify point of view where we are growing with over a million businesses on the platform across such a vast array of countries. The global retail experience is growing, it’s not going to slow down anytime soon and in that case it really comes down to how can you better control the experience with your consumer, versus sharing that experience with many other brands in a similar environment.

Marketing: Do you think this conversation echoes the early days of eCommerce where retailers were almost afraid that eCommerce would cannibalise retail sales? Do you see a similarity with the conversations around marketplaces [versus] owned eCommerce channels that parallels to what we saw in the early days of eCommerce?

Marchant: Sometimes, it’s the same things, but maybe given a new marketing name. It’s the customer service, it’s the customer experience.

If you kind of look at it from an omni-channel point of view, customers will expect merchants to have a consistent voice across all platforms. A lot of companies have been working towards this in recent years, and it hasn’t changed, but you just kind of start to call it different things.

But it’s becoming an expectation rather than a nice-to-have and so customers are going to expect a consistent experience. Customers will become frustrated when they are treated differently across the different platforms – from a social channel, over email, how you show up and how you talk and engage with your merchants or customers. That’s where we are seeing a more broad focus on omni-channel.

But it also leads into transparency and we’ve got to be really honest with customers, and we can see consumers will connect with brands, but there are a lot [of players] that are really kind of starting to double down on hyper personalisation and how you can create those relationships with customers across whatever channel they happen to show up on to connect with your brand, your products and your experiences.

Marketing: You have hit the nail on the head on personalised experiences. Do you think there's a fear of new tech and managing it and understanding it that is stopping brands from venturing into creating their own new channels?

Marchant: No, I think it’s providing an opportunity. I mean brands need to look and start to accelerate the execution of their digital strategy and part of that is really leveraging on the data that is going to provide [insight]. So how do we better understand consumers to better engage, provide more insights and improve overall business effectiveness and conversion rates? And what that’s going to do is reshape retail value and enhance the consumer experience.

Ultimately, whether it’s a retail experience or an overall business experience, a positive experience will inspire shoppers, [and lead to] better engagement with your brand. Some of that needs to come back to your internal infrastructure, your own processes and having efficient operational rules and classification response rates.

This is because your customers are going to buy on their feet, for example, and they are going to shop in numbers, and we are all hyper connected as well now. Therefore, good experiences and bad experiences can be communicated very quickly.

So by providing shoppers, in our instance, online and offline shopping experiences that are ultimately seamlessly integrated is going to provide you with a better opportunity to move quicker versus your competition. Your direct competitors aren’t necessarily in your geography, they are global. They are turning up in different ways and I always look at it from a digital experience [where consumers] are familiar with a multitude of different buying opportunities.

So, for example, we are all now comparing how easy it is to order food that’s going to turn up at [one’s] house in 25 minutes, and so you’re going to think: “Why can’t other buying experiences be this simple? Why can’t I engage or book a flight or do something like that, why can’t it all be that simple?”

So you’re not just competing for your own direct competitors, but every digital experience now. So it’s all about removing as much friction as possible to enable that greater customer experience to ultimately drive your own brand engagement with consumer relationships.

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