Holiday selling in a -not so- retail world: an interview with Juan Ravagli

It's that time of year again. The weather is cooling off, the leaves are starting to fall, and your holiday collection is getting put out on display. You're tying up loose ends, forecasting your sales, and trying to figure out what sort of discounts you can offer folks (if any) this upcoming holiday selling season. Things are different this year. You may be asking yourself whether your brick and mortar store will be open for Black Friday, and wondering how you can be prepared for any scenario. 

Juan Ravagli

I had the opportunity to interview Juan Ravagli, a Retail Ambassador on Shopify's Retail Sales team to discuss how merchants can use Shopify POS to their advantage this holiday selling season, whatever the future brings.

Here's what he had to say. 

- Lindsay Zubrickas

What does your role look like currently? What are your objectives and what kind of merchants are you speaking with?

We talk to anyone who has a brick and mortar business and is doing at least over 200k in GMV (Gross Merchandise Volume is the total dollar value of orders processed through our platform in the period, net of refunds, inclusive of shipping and handling, duty and value-added taxes.).

Most merchants are migrating over from other POS software. We reach out to them, and they quickly tell us that they are having pain points and challenges with their current platform. It’s really just our job to guide them on how to make the change (to Shopify POS) and make sure it’s a good fit for their business.

I'm happy to answer questions like that, but I do also have things I’ve been telling all of our merchants for Black Friday, Cyber Monday.

Of course! Let's hear about that! What types of questions are merchants asking and what features are merchants looking for right now (for their POS)?

Most businesses right now are thinking, “How can I grow online and what's going to allow me to acquire new customers?”. 

What I have been primarily focusing on with the brick and mortar merchants we work with is actually turning the table a little bit, and saying, “Instead of trying to find new customers, how can you better utilize your current audience and create a good strategy to welcome them to your online store?". 

Many businesses that are brick and mortar only, have realized the importance of selling online and think they need to hire a freelancer and spend money on Facebook and Instagram ads for customer acquisition. While they could do that at some point, what they have over their online only competitors is established trust with existing customers. Instead of trying to acquire new customers who don’t know your brand yet, reach out to customers who've bought from you in the past, and if you create a good email marketing journey, you’ll be able to get there much faster. 

What tools can merchants benefit from right now to help with holiday selling?

Omnisend is a great email marketing tool. With Omnisend you can create an audience with very specific parameters. For example, if you are a children's boutique clothing store, and you know that someone bought a popular product last year for a 1 year old, you could probably assume that the child is now 2 years old, and start to do email marketing based on that parameter. You could say, “Hey, time flies. Here is our 2 year old catalogue for this Black Friday/Cyber Monday.", and create some anticipation. It is very personalized email marketing. 

Retargeting ads are the only thing any merchant should be thinking about right now. The cost per impression goes up this time of year, so to acquire new customers is not that smart because it’s expensive. Instead, you should grab your pixel, take anyone who's interacted with your website in the last 365 days, and start to create some hype with advertising. You can create ads for the 2 weekends leading up to Black Friday/Cyber Monday keeping your audience engaged. You're spending money on an audience that already knows you. Another audience you could use is anyone that has interacted with your Facebook or Instagram page. 

How can merchants prepare for the uncertainty of the upcoming holiday selling season?

The main thing I’ve been saying to merchants is to get your customer base to start buying from you online now, so that if a second wave of COVID hits and you have to close your doors again, they’re already used to buying from you online. It’s going to be so much easier for you to have that sustainability and grow from there.

If you’re using both Shopify POS and our online platform, then your gift card system will work both online and in store. One thing you could do for the next couple weeks, is incentivize your customers to spend a minimum amount in store to receive a free gift card to spend on your website. 

Are there any other ways you could suggest getting your customers online besides gift cards and discount codes?

I would also add loyalty rewards programs so if you have an existing loyalty program, create a specific incentive for people to buy online. If you are going to offer discounts that end with the online store, then find a way to increase your average cart size so it's worthwhile. 

I have spoken to merchants who have brick and mortar stores who want to get their customers online but don’t want to keep offering discounts. So I love that tip to increase the average cart size so it’s not affecting their margins too much. 

I can see why some brands don’t like to give discounts because it can devalue their brand. We talk to merchants who don’t want to do discount incentives because it’s a never-ending cycle, and I totally understand that. Instead, you could do something like offer a small gift with purchase. Some brands right now are giving away masks with online orders. That way, you’re not discounting, you’re not devaluing your brand, you’re actually just adding more. 

Do you have any other tips that will help merchants this upcoming selling season?

Another thing to think about is how to ensure the experience online is the exact same as in store. For example, extending the return policy for online purchases and setting up virtual appointments for customers.

It sounds like you’re really in a unique position right now selling the POS system with a potential second wave coming. I feel like your sales model is shifting to a more online focus, or has it always been like that? 

It has kind of always been like that because we’re Shopify. We’re a really strong online platform, so we’re creating a POS that’s very connected to the online experience. That’s what makes our POS special.

With our system, what’s different is that connection. So even having the same customer history is a strength that a lot of merchants miss out on with two separate platforms. Another issue is inventory management. It’s always a big problem many merchants face.

What are some challenges retailers could face having 2 separate platforms this holiday selling season?

There are 2 sets of main challenges when it comes to POS and preparing for Black Friday/Cyber Monday which would be the backend and the front end for the customer. 

The backend is more of an internal area that you want to focus on with the main issue being inventory management. If the POS system and Shopify are not connected it's going to cause a ton of challenges for the merchant because it’s going to create more work. If you are making a sale in person and adjusting the inventory on Shopify, what ends up happening is because there’s so much to do, business owners will do that once a week or every 2-3 days. The problem with that is if someone buys online and it’s already been sold in store, it’s a really awful customer experience.

There are also customer facing challenges like not being able to utilize the same loyalty programs or gift cards online. If a bunch of your customers have store credits, they may not be able to make it out to your store due to COVID, so it’s important to be proactive. You can easily recreate all of those store credits on Shopify manually and customize gift cards on the backend of Shopify so that those store credits are now available online. Moving forward, you’d want to have the same Shopify POS system so that doesn’t happen, but it’s a good workaround for those issues. 

Now that we’ve discussed issues that may arise from using a different retail system with a Shopify online store, are there any potential roadblocks that may occur with the Shopify POS system?

Most merchants want the ability to create different barcodes. A workaround for this is using an app called Multi-Label Barcodes which is a good hack for wanting to create new barcodes.

Another roadblock I’ve heard of merchants running into is related to Interac in Canada. It's only available with tap and most tap cards have a limit of $100. If you run into this issue, you can split the charge into multiple payments under $100 each.

Are there any merchant success stories that really stand out to you in regards to using the Shopify POS platform?

One merchant that I worked with moved over from a different platform to Shopify (both POS and online) and their sales increased by 30% within the first 3 months of making the move. They told me, “I don’t understand how this happened. We haven’t done anything new, our website looks fairly similar, it’s amazing.” What I asked them was, “Are you sure you haven’t done any new customer acquisition or changed anything drastically?”, and their answer was no to both of those. It really came down to the conversion rate. They were still getting around the same amount of people on the website and it came down to Shop Pay and how good our checkout flow is. 

By Lindsay Zubrickas- Shopify Local Community Manager, Hamilton, ON

Lindsay Zubrickas

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