Join us for VISIONS Summit NYC  - June 11
VISIONS Season 1 Episode 6
November 21, 2022

Visions Episode 6: Sacraments of Commerce: Have Brands Become Proto-Religions?

There's been a lot of talk about this place that brands take in our lives that tries to fulfill meaning and purpose and community in all of our lives. And we've given a term to this today. We're talking about The Sacraments of Commerce. A lot of brands today ask us to put some faith in them or to believe in them. And what about the algorithm gods?

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this episode sponsored by

Bigger Than Me

  • “You can't have integrity, you can't be building for the long term unless you are sustainable underneath. It's easy as a customer to believe in that because you see it proven true.” - Grace Clarke
  • “That feeling of belonging and community that's been disrupted over the past couple of years because of our digital lifestyles, was something that could be infiltrated and addressed directly. Brands scaled to address that.” - Michael Miraflor
  • “You need to have the values underpinned and then follow through with the customer experience for it to seem authentic and sincere and lead to that level of fervor and loyalty that verges on religious intent.” - Miya Knights
  • A lot of traditions that we all grew up with are deeply rooted in a practice that came from our ancestors, that came from our parents. It's a tradition you hand down. Can we say the same about brands?
  • “There's a lot of value in being a very deep part of very frequently repetitive, tactile, human, utilitarian things.” - Mike Lackman
  • “Everyone does at this point have a responsibility to be proactive about their own algorithm. And it is something that has been such a net benefit for serendipity and discovery. It's incumbent on humans to have a front foot there and not simply be passengers in the experience that they're having.” - Grace Clarke
  • People are becoming brands. Brands are becoming religions. Religions are becoming brands unto themselves. And brands are becoming people. Is this true?
  • “There's a greater degree of individual humanity being injected into some of these other entities. I do think there's an opportunity that if we do it right, there's a chance for that to be a way to propagate a greater degree of decency.” - Mike Lackman


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Kiri Masters: [00:01:42] Hello. Welcome to Visions by Future Commerce. Today we're talking about the homogenization of experiences, and I'm joined by Roger and Ben. So do you want to introduce yourselves quickly, Roger?

Roger Figueiredo: [00:01:57] Absolutely. My name is Roger and I do marketing at a company called #paid. We're an influencer marketing platform.

Ben Marks: [00:02:04] Ben Marks, Shopware US. We're an eCommerce platform. Big in Germany on our way here, hoping to make a splash.

Kiri Masters: [00:02:12] Awesome. So the first question in this discussion track is, do you believe your car, phone, or shoes are an outward sign of your personality? Kick us off, Roger.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:02:30] I think to some extent, yes. And it's conscious. I think when we purchase products, some of it happens subconsciously and we purchase products that we have an affinity towards or that we want to become. They're aspirational. And I think that's not new to anyone. So I think the answer is yes. And I think at some level it happens subconsciously. We desire and we aspire to be someone. And we believe the message that marketers tell us that that will help us become that person. And so we purchase those products. Sometimes we do it. I think it's done a little bit more overtly. And I think there's more processing that goes into it, mental processing, where we consciously and we're intentional about that product because it's going to send a particular message. And so I would say, yes.

Ben Marks: [00:03:13] Well, for me, it's I think personally, it's not such a thing. I mean, it's really more about the utility. Now I'll see something like my best friend has admittedly better taste than I do in clothes and things. So I might see what he's wearing and kind of take a cue from it. But mostly I just want things to be functional. Now, that said, because I've spent a lot of time on stage and talking about the brands. And so my previous employer, everything was orange, so it was awful. I had like four pairs of orange shoes, and I'm not a shoe junky. My wife was very happy when I left and went to a company that is blue.

Kiri Masters: [00:03:50] Not much matches with orange.

Ben Marks: [00:03:51] No, blue is blue. Like nothing rhymes with orange nothing matches with orange. So I do have I kind of I have blued up my wardrobe. And so I guess in that regard, it kind of reflects my pride and my commitment and my employer. But other than that, yeah, it's just functional for me.

Kiri Masters: [00:04:08] Mm hmm. Okay.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:04:10] Interesting. What do you think? Let's hear your thoughts.

Kiri Masters: [00:04:13] My car, phone, and shoes... I'm probably more on the utility side there. There are other ways that I would display my personality. I think besides those things, more clothing.

Ben Marks: [00:04:29] Although I will say the new Cadillac Escalade. I mean, I don't have a need. I don't have a car myself. But man, that does look pretty good. I might actually...

Kiri Masters: [00:04:37] So you don't have a car?

Ben Marks: [00:04:39] I don't have a car personally. My wife and I split use of the car, but mostly it's hers to drive around.

Kiri Masters: [00:04:45] Okay.

Ben Marks: [00:04:46] Yeah, we live on a small island. But yeah, I really appreciate the new styling, but I also recognize like you roll up in a Caddy, I mean, this was like a whole Jerry Seinfeld episode of he bought his dad a Caddy and it ruined his dad's reputation in the neighborhood because everyone thought he a big shot and rich and everything now. So I actually kind of actively would want to avoid putting that off. Kind of weird. I don't really think about this.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:05:11] Here's a question riffing off of this one, because both of you, I think, lean towards utility. Do you think that... I think your answers were very personal and from your personal experience, would you say that consumers, in general, more broadly would look at utility as the primary reason for a purchase? Or do you think they would maybe have other motivations?

Ben Marks: [00:05:37] That's a good question. I think it's also I mean, there again, you get back, you kind of reduce it back to the experience. So like in the marketplace world, I mean, I've said earlier today, my marketplace, I use Amazon because I know like, hey, I just want something. I don't care about the relationship. I don't want to get to know it. But the swim trunks I have because I love the beach, they're very specific. And they got me on Facebook and they got me in part because, well, I knew that there was some functionality there, some functional aspects that were nice. But also their whole brand is like, "Hey, we take plastic bottles out of the sea and we make these great shorts out of them." So I guess it really depends on the customer's journey and if it's the kind of product that a customer might have a relationship with. What do you think?

Kiri Masters: [00:06:27] Yeah, that sounds like a really personal purchase for you as opposed to some of these utility items that you'd be buying on Amazon that are replenishing household supplies and things like that. So there are some items and maybe it's different person to person what that category of items are, but something that really reflects you, and that you find is a personal choice for you. For some people, it might be the food that they eat: they're vegan, they're keto. And that's a reflection of a lifestyle choice, but also a big part of their personhood. So I'll get you, Ben, to read out the next question.

Ben Marks: [00:07:12] All right. What do you think is driving the recent growth of off-kilter, oddball, zany website designs? Wow. I'll throw that to you, Roger. I have my thoughts. I can go now too.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:07:30] {laughter} Yeah. Why don't you kick it off?

Ben Marks: [00:07:31] Well, so I mean, I think it's about standing out. It's about this another thing theme that we've been discussing here at the summit is just really on attention footprint, distraction... And in this industry, we've watched, we've gone from, like literally grown up from no broad way for one person to connect to so many people so arbitrarily. And of course, now we have that and brands have figured it out. The communication, the social media platforms have figured it out. So brands are trying to be big and bold, I think, just to capture your attention to really you almost as the general level of background noise is going up, you kind of have to shout over it now. I don't think that's sustainable. I mean, at some point, attention is a finite resource, but then in general, in society, it's probably not that good if the only way to be heard is to scream and yell. We've seen this approach in the US political scene, I think, here recently. So we have to figure that out. But I would say that's the reason. My best guess. What do you think?

Roger Figueiredo: [00:08:40] Yeah, I think you said something right at the beginning of your answer, and I totally agree with that. People are trying to stand out. They're trying to be different. And I think that's the reason on my end, I would say there's still very few of them. I find a lot of the websites I go to, they tend to be more homogeneous. I find they don't stand out. I think they're trying to solve that problem, the homogenization problem. They're trying to avoid sort of falling in line with all the other brands.

Ben Marks: [00:09:07] Yeah, yeah. I think that's probably like the rise of headless and everything, but I'm kind of curious from especially, well, because you've owned an agency and you specialize in marketplaces. What have you seen in this space?

Kiri Masters: [00:09:19] Yeah, well, I mean, with marketplaces it's template driven. And so there are pretty specific rails that you have to build on with marketplaces... Certain types of content, certain types of... Some you can't use keywords, like you can't sell CBD products on Amazon. So if you've got that in your product description, it's going to get suspended. So that's if anything, when you go to Amazon, you're expecting a homogenous experience. You're expecting certain types of content to be delivered in a specific way. And that's part of the attraction is for it to be this really intuitive, familiar experience. So I sort of put that to the side and think about DTC sites and retailer sites as having a lot more scope for variation and a different experience. I'm going to cheat a little bit and refer to The Visions Report, which shares an anecdote from their consumer study. They swapped out, they got rid of the brand from two websites, two DTC sites and asked the consumers to tell which brand is this and they couldn't tell. Which one's more premium brand, which one is not? And the point was no one could tell the difference. They just looked kind of the same, felt kind of the same. And that's really what we're talking about here is this, like you said, Ben, brands wanting to elevate themselves from this same-same kind of experience that we're seeing.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:11:01] Yeah, it seems like we're all on the same page. Maybe let me open on some of the crazy websites because I have seen a couple of them. They just look really weird and broken.

Kiri Masters: [00:11:09] Cool. Yeah, share some examples.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:11:13] I think when you go to a store, a real store?

Kiri Masters: [00:11:19] What's that? {laughter}

Roger Figueiredo: [00:11:19] {laughter} And you walk in and you expect it to function, you expect it to work and function in a certain way. And so you expect to go in, choose your stuff and eventually pay. There's a flow that you're expecting. And so some of the issues that I'm seeing with some of the websites are that they are difficult to navigate. And so if I have to burn calories, if I have to get my brain thinking about how do I get something into the cart? How do I find the product I'm looking for? How do I check out? That makes it very, very difficult. So my encouragement, to any brands who are listening is there needs to be a balance between solving the homogenization issue and solving the problem of differentiation or distinction, and still being able to be intuitive, still being able to get your consumer to do the flow burning the least amount of calories possible, I would say. So just a side comment may be on the topic of crazy websites.

Kiri Masters: [00:12:08] So different but familiar.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:12:10] Yeah, I would say so.

Ben Marks: [00:12:12] It's tough because if you're having to shout, like shouting is inherently sort of not inviting, right? So it's really tough to stand out but not stand out so far that you're doing something unintuitive. I mean, I think it's really interesting in this business and from the platform's perspective because I've been working for platforms companies for 12 years. This whole idea that we've just taken the model of a physical store and this is what basically every platform does. You have categories that resemble aisles. You have you put the product on display, but then you add things to a cart and then you check out. I mean, this is a very physical model. Like the mind model of the online experience is very similar to walking around a store. Now, what we're seeing right now is a little bit of an insidious change because I don't make all of my purchases through a website. I make my purchases, a lot of the purchases that I have now, where I at least have some kind of brand experience, actually, like those boardshorts I mentioned, they caught me right in my Facebook feed. And if I remember correctly the whole checkout experience, was right in there. So you are starting to see brands reaching out, finding the consumer where they are, and then we're getting entirely away from the website experience. And then I think we're going to see the rise of a more hybrid model where you decide, okay, this is a product that we're going to use to attract this person, this potential customer, but we're going to actually sometimes we're going to want them to check out right there in the flow. Sometimes we're going to want to actually want to upsell or cross-sell. And so we'll get them over to our site. And I think you're going to start to see a blend of some of that capability coming into social media streams. And you're going to see platforms start to accommodate the understanding that sometimes they're going to enter a customer into a checkout flow, but that checkout flow won't have begun in the actual store. They didn't enter via the store. They came in via social channel and then clicked over through it. So we'll see that blend continue to happen. And in fact, I think it's a decent segue for the next question, which is as brands expand their voices in different channels, do you believe that eCommerce experiences should follow suit? Wow, I almost answered it, I think.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:14:41] Well, again, you just talked about your boardshorts and how you checked out on Facebook, which is a platform that is, to a certain extent, out of the control of that brand. And so that just feeds into the homogenization of brands, because now my checkout process, it's nearly impossible for me to differentiate in that flow. And so should your experience, should you try to provide any unique experiences on every channel that you're present? Absolutely. But we need to be conscious that you can only do that to a certain extent. Some things are out of our control. And so that'd be my thought there.

Kiri Masters: [00:15:20] Well, let's zoom out from just the checkout experience. What was that experience? It was you checked out on Facebook. But beyond that, there's also the fulfillment experience, the unboxing experience, the try on, the returns, and things like that. So that sounds less homogenized.

Ben Marks: [00:15:43] Well, that was I mean, I'd say probably honestly, I don't think I've ever really excitedly unboxed anything. But I mean, that's just me. I know there's basically a whole space in this industry. And people have made very, very successful careers doing this.

Kiri Masters: [00:16:00] Why were you excited?

Ben Marks: [00:16:01] Why was excited?

Kiri Masters: [00:16:02] Yeah.

Ben Marks: [00:16:02] I was excited because it was the first pair of not $6 Walmart swimsuit trunks that I've ever had in my life. They dry fast. They're super, super comfy. And they actually look pretty good. So I was pretty happy to have this kind of like slightly more premium experience while I'm out rolling around in the sand and the surf at home. And I think, I did get the kind of shipping notifications. So I think there was a standard commerce experience that I think is important and that people come to expect. So all of that was normal. And then I think I've maybe bought one thing like just a tool off of Instagram. And that was a little bit more rough around the edges. It was actually clear that this product itself was being handmade by someone who is just trying to ramp up. So this is a pretty aspirational merchant, I think. And then the fulfillment, everything showed up with USPS, and I don't think I ever got a tracking notification or anything.

Kiri Masters: [00:17:11] I'll share one example that I think is actually more on the retailer side, and it's about Instacart. So now Instacart has become the intermediary between retailers and shoppers. And there was a study by Barclays that there are only two grocers that a shopper would leave the Instacart app for, and that was Sprouts and Wegmans. No, I think Sprouts and Costco, I think it was.

Ben Marks: [00:17:42] Interesting.

Kiri Masters: [00:17:42] So now Instacart is sort of like the platform. And certainly during the pandemic was a go-to platform and shoppers have an affiliation and loyalty to Instacart rather than a retailer. And I think that that's what retailers, the traditional, especially grocery retailers, are struggling with is mega homogeneity, homogenization, because people for a period of time weren't really even going into the stores anymore. And so how do you actually... How do you separate out your grocery retail brand from anyone else?

Roger Figueiredo: [00:18:23] Yeah, totally.

Ben Marks: [00:18:24] Well, look at the value. There's a lot more value in them having sort of first-party access to the customers and customers' data. I mean, that's why these loyalty programs exist. I don't know how much that makes up their bottom line, but also just informing them of like how they merchandise in-store and what products they should be getting. Yeah, that's a really good point.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:18:47] Here's a question for you guys on this topic. So we've talked a lot about the checkout flow and you brought up that there are other channels and that you can differentiate across the flow. If I'm a brand and I'm starting off, and I have limited resources, what channels have you seen to be the most effective or what channels should I be prioritizing in terms of my differentiation? Where should I be putting the most effort, and concentrating my focus if I have limited resources?

Ben Marks: [00:19:17] Boy, that is... You saved that question for the end of the day? Oh, my gosh.

Kiri Masters: [00:19:24] {laughter} How much are you going to pay us for this free consulting?

Ben Marks: [00:19:27] I feel like this is literally in your wheelhouse over here. Well. I mean, it has to be different brand to brand. I mean, some brands have been built entirely on social. And so, honestly, their own brand web property is probably much less important or maybe only important for like the follow up experience, to your point you were making earlier. And then some brands are out there and they are going to be more if they're engaging in content commerce. I mean, there's going to be a social component, but very probably that's going to lead... The customer is going to have an experience possibly in-store. It could be an omnichannel experience. They know the brand, and what it's like to walk into the store. They know what it's like to work with the brand in an online context. And you have to, you absolutely have to get to know your customer there and know exactly who they are, what they need, what they don't and really kind of understand yourself as a business and make sure that you're not pretending to be anything other than what you are. So I would say there the balance kind of tips more into making sure that that web property is really, really well built out and distinct, easy to use, which I think there's also not necessarily a universal definition around that.

Kiri Masters: [00:20:46] Yeah, I would agree. I would imagine the best opportunity to have a unique, nonhomogeneous experience would be at the top of the funnel. Awareness and discovery. That stage. Because once you get to a checkout experience, a fulfillment experience, or a returns experience, you want that to be seamless and familiar and follow a path that I'm used to. So I think that that discovery and awareness stage of the funnel is where there's a real opportunity to be different. And after that, you kind of want to bring it back to what's normal. What do people use to doing?

Roger Figueiredo: [00:21:28] Great responses, guys. Thanks. Kind of leads us into the next question because you had mentioned website and you should put your focus there. React to this statement here... "The Web has become boring and dull and the mobile responsive web is partially to blame."

Kiri Masters: [00:21:44] Oh, Ben, must be you.

Ben Marks: [00:21:46] Oh, boy.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:21:47] Have at it. {laughter}

Ben Marks: [00:21:48] This is a two-hour podcast?

Kiri Masters: [00:21:49] {laughter} Yeah, yeah.

Ben Marks: [00:21:50] So no, for me... Yeah. Okay, so I've been around and in my early days I would literally get a Photoshop comp, start slicing it up, hand code the HTML as much as I needed to and get those assets in there. And so I was really familiar then all of a sudden responsive came around and you have... Because you do you have this realization they're like, "Oh wow. More and more people are engaging from devices that are not like literally a desktop machine." But now we've kind of it can be done well and it can be done poorly. But what annoys me is when people haven't gone to the effort and looked at, "Okay, let's pull up our site on a few devices here. Let's make sure we got the breakpoints set correctly." And then I go and I take my laptop, plug it into my docking station and I've got like two feet wide of monitor space, and boy, that'll really blow up some of these layouts. And you can see where they didn't test things. Now it's tough to solve for, it has been tough to solve for, because there are so many different form factors out there. And then if you are trying to work with a platform, so like a platform like the company I work for, we build out basically everything for this interface. But then you have to go and take the design and bring that in and make sure that your design concepts sort of are melded with basically our page structure. We give a lot of tools and pretty much every platform has to give a lot of capacity, a lot of room to build what people need there. But this is one of the dark corners of the industry that is just amazing to me how frequently even experiences with large brands who I know have like invested beaucoup bucks in their experience that you can find some instances where that experience really breaks down. And it's like, you know, I'm on basically my desktop and I want a desktop experience. I don't want the mobile interface, that kind of thing.

Kiri Masters: [00:24:02] What about you, Roger?

Roger Figueiredo: [00:24:10] I remember in my early twenties I was trying to make money to buy a house, and one of the things I learned was how to build a website and what did I use? Squarespace. And a lot of the tools, a lot of the homogenization, I would put some of the blame on these tools like Squarespace and Wix and WordPress and Webflow, so and so forth, because they reduced the barrier to entry.

Ben Marks: [00:24:31] Yup.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:24:31] Anybody can now create a website, which is phenomenal. It's great. It's democratized the ability to create a website and launch an eCom store. But it's also the side effect is that now a lot of the websites are built off of templates, so they just naturally have the same look and feel. And I would add to that because I do believe this is contributing to the homogenization problem. And I would add to that other tools like Fiverr and Upwork, for example, because if I'm launching a brand, I may not be able to afford research and development like Coke can on maybe one of their innovations. And so I'm going to go to Fiverr, I'm going to go to Upwork, and those folks contribute to the problem as well because they're trying to optimize their workflow so that they can make as much money as possible so they can make a living. And so the gig economy has now contributed to this as well.

Kiri Masters: [00:25:15] If you go to a site that's like clearly a Squarespace template, does that change your behavior as a consumer?

Roger Figueiredo: [00:25:27] Consciously? No. Like I don't have an issue. I don't think it minimizes my perception of the brand. I want to say I want to answer that way. Maybe it has subconsciously. But I will say that the effect is that it doesn't stand out or it doesn't help you stand out. And so back to a previous conversation that we had. You're going to have to look at maybe somewhere else to differentiate. If you don't have the chops to put into R&D and develop something that's unique on your website. And so you're going to have to maybe differentiate somewhere else in the funnel and on a different channel. So yeah, interesting question. I think it definitely contributes to the boredom that we experience online with a lot of these templates and mobile responsive tools. I think other tools and other websites like Fiverr or Upwork also contribute to that and I would say Dribbble as well contributes to this. Dribbble and Behance because all the designers are looking at the same place for inspiration.

Kiri Masters: [00:26:15] I was going to say something similar on visual design as well. Remember, Millennial Pink was the shade of peachy pink? I think we're kind of getting over it now, but it was just everywhere. And then there's also that style of photography that was like really high flash, like lots of drop shadow on products as well. And it was just everywhere.

Ben Marks: [00:26:42] There's a woman, Andrea Hernandez, who is just absolute just such a fantastic person to have in this industry. And I think I've seen her like call out, she calls out a lot of these overused trends. She's like, "Come on, let's be creative." She's actually, I think, a change agent in this whole business for like saying, "Hey, figure out how to be original and just build the packaging, build the experience that you're consumers want."

Kiri Masters: [00:27:10] It tells me that whatever I'm buying from that website is overpriced. {laughter}

Roger Figueiredo: [00:27:20] {laughter}

Ben Marks: [00:27:20] {laughter} I don't know if I'm encountering too many millennial pinks in the things that I'm shopping for. But yeah, I can believe that's true.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:27:32] I don't know who to attribute this quote to, but when something becomes popular, it loses its uniqueness.

Kiri Masters: [00:27:39] Yes.

Ben Marks: [00:27:40] That's the challenge.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:27:41] All the time. You set out, you build your mood board, and you're going to go to other brands and you build your mood board off of other brands, and naturally is just going to lead to more of the same.

Kiri Masters: [00:27:52] Yep. Well, that was one of the conversations in our main session was about building in public. And so this especially happens with DTC brands building in public. And so then they're doing really well. They just raise a lot of money. That's the style that I want to go after. And so it just becomes a, yeah, a pretty unoriginal frame of reference.

Ben Marks: [00:28:17] Totally.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:28:17] And maybe for people who are listening, who are maybe looking for some solutions, not doom and gloom, but if you are building a mood board and you have to rely on a tool like Squarespace and you have to look at templates when you're building a Shopify template or whatever, when you're building your mood board for the look and feel, maybe don't go look at other brands. Look for analogies in design. So rent a VRBO or an Airbnb like the one we're in today, walk around, look at the artwork and maybe take some pictures and then build your mood board off of things that are maybe real life stuff instead of other websites. And then you're probably going to end up at somewhere where it's very extreme and very, very different, and then work your way back until you're comfortable with it's distinctive enough, but it's also familiar enough. That might be something that I would think through.

Ben Marks: [00:29:02] I think actually I think what you're getting at, really the implicit advice you're giving here is like, don't do what your competitors, people in your category are doing, do things differently from the start. And you will be more likely to have a less boring, homogenized experience.

Kiri Masters: [00:29:16] Do you think also part of the reason why we're seeing homogeneity is because there's so much data from A/B testing and like those CRO best practices... Are we just kind of like just going with CRO at the expense of anything interesting and new?

Ben Marks: [00:29:35] That R is pretty important, isn't it? So anything, anything that people can tie to like, "Oh, we move this needle, we changed this color, we pushed this button here, we changed this text. And look, average order value went up, conversions went up," or the other direction. But yeah, I mean, this is I've been talking about this trend in our industry for years because like when well, it was Urchin Analytics and then it eventually became Google Analytics. I remember the early days of first A/B testing and then multivariate testing, and it's really, really cool. But what the trend I noticed was that some brands, especially coming kind of coming from the open source space, that's actually where a lot of people just can throw spaghetti at the wall because you can iterate really quickly. You can just try the strangest ideas and like 19 out of 20 completely don't make a difference or actually contribute negatively to your bottom line. But then there's like one thing that's like, wow, that really made it. And so that's really cool, you are now an innovative brand for about three months and then because as that experience gets out more and more brands and platforms will build that experience up and throw that. And so you have this ever-tightening spiral of test, optimize, test, optimize, test, optimize. And that's got to set as an industry, as an industry to where we are. But it has sort of made things, well, a bit consistent because we know what these best practices are.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:31:11] I'd love to ask you a question because you're an Amazon expert. Yeah. That is probably one of the uglier sites on the Internet.

Kiri Masters: [00:31:17] Yeah.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:31:17] But it's worked so well for them. How do you... What do you think keeps them so restrained from adopting maybe other conversion rate optimization techniques that maybe have more to do with visual identity and changing the layout of the page that would maybe appease some of the designers who crap on them all the time? But how do you think they have so much restraint to keep it ugly and functioning?

Kiri Masters: [00:31:42] Well, it's a really interesting question. I think it's what we're talking about is form versus function. And Amazon is all function, all function. And so they don't... It's not really in their DNA to think about innovative design or creating a nonhomogeneous experience. It's really moving people through the stages of the funnel and providing a great shopping experience that's seamless and delivers what people want and to be the world's most customer-friendly company. So it's just that if we talk about a scale here of innovative, nonhomogeneous, groundbreaking, we've got Amazon on the other end of the scale and that's who they are and that's what they're there for. We don't go to Amazon to be inspired. And what's quite interesting is they're trying to do more of that. They're trying to do a bit more discovery. And that's why they're bringing in capabilities like Live Stream video, and they're doing more with influencers, actually. They're bringing influencers in that will have a shop in-shop and like they're part of the affiliate program. And so they're actually creating content for Amazon, but it's still very early days with that and they're experimenting with that top of funnel. But what Amazon is there for is mid/bottom of funnel. They patented the one click checkout. Those are all things that are just so many ones and zeros and not really focused on a nonhomogeneous experience at all.

Ben Marks: [00:33:35] Although, at my previous platform, literally the day that patent expired, one of our partner agencies literally hit our main repository with the pull request that basically added one click checkout to the platform. So you have to give Amazon credit for that. I mean, I also have to be a little pissed with the Trademark Office about that and the Trademark Office for making that a patentable invention. But I digress. So I think so they do have these things. And I wonder, though, would you say that they're doing, that they're learning from, let's say, platforms maybe over in China, like looking at like Alibaba and Tmall and looking at how live shopping, social shopping is...

Kiri Masters: [00:34:18] Yeah. Well, that certainly came from China and hugely successful there. So I think so. But what I can also say is to the point about A/B testing and CRO, there are constant tests and changes that we see, like moving the add to cart button slightly over here, changing the order of the content, giving brands more or less like image slots, adding video. And so we're seeing that has evolved over time and I think it's a pretty singular focus on the customer experience with the lens of purchases.

Ben Marks: [00:34:58] Yea.

Kiri Masters: [00:34:58] Yea.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:35:00] Yeah. Let me add this thought here before we move on to the next question. I think some marketers and some founders, when they set out to build their brand, they look at the visual identity of other brands and they think that's a conversion rate optimization technique. I think I said that right. But they all look this way. So that must work. Let me copy their visual identity. And I'm not sure... And again, if they're marketers listening, I'm not sure that that's the right technique to copy. I would copy their other techniques, maybe placement of stuff. But your visual identity is one way in a world where all brands look the same and they feel the same when you go on the website, try and stand out, like you said at the top of the funnel, that might not be the technique to copy to improve your conversion rate. You may want to use your visual identity as a differentiation to help your brand.

Ben Marks: [00:35:50] Yes, I can agree with that. I'd like to... Let's see, I think we have time for one more question. Boy, assume that the success of Shopify has both helped and harmed the growth of eCommerce. Can you give some supporting examples of both? I'll throw it to you first because I'm kind of curious, given your focus, about how you see Shopify sort of as in a way, it's a marketplace for brands to build their commerce experiences.

Kiri Masters: [00:36:32] Well, it certainly democratized access to creating a home for a brand. And yeah, that's brought up the same challenges that you mentioned, Roger, around the Squarespace sites look the same because they're template driven. I don't think it's a fair comparison to say, are we better off with a lot of options and more democratized access to building something like that? Or would we be better off with less accessibility? I don't really think it's a fair comparison because the cream will rise to the top.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:37:16] Mm hmm.

Kiri Masters: [00:37:17] If it's a great product or if it's a great brand or if it's great design, you can compete on all of those things. But opening up access to more, democratizing access, I think allows everyone to compete.

Ben Marks: [00:37:36] Yeah.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:37:37] And there are so much more competitors for those. Anytime you lower the barrier, you flood now with new competitors. And it's not even just direct competitors. Like if I'm a watch company, I'm not just competing against your watch company. Now I'm competing against that person's new shoe brand and that person's boardshorts and that person's necklace because you have so many dollars to spend and you're going to spend it on one of these products. You may not be purchasing a watch, you may be purchasing an outfit, and you're going to decide between the watch and the bracelet. And now I got to compete with the bracelet. And because it's so easy for you to set up your bracelet shop, now I've got a whole new set of competitors that I have to worry about. And again, anytime you lower the barrier to entry, it just floods the competition and you have more to think about now, more alternatives for those dollars that were going to be spent on your brand.

Ben Marks: [00:38:24] I mean, for me, well, there's a bit of an ideological battle that happens between sort of on prem fully customizable platforms like Shopware and then this horde, this cadre of Shopify stores. And you've got plenty of SaaS platforms out there. It's not just Shopify, BigCommerce, but you know for sure it has grown eCommerce, and it has brought more people into business and maybe help them figure out that their good idea maybe isn't so good or they've got the wrong approach, or that they're now dealing in this reality where they're having to compete not just against other people in their category, but like, again, dollars finite resource. So what I there's a couple of things I like about Shopify is because of their outsized effect that they have when they do things like for their partner ecosystem where they basically said, "Hey, that rev share on your integration, the first million dollars is yours." I mean that actually resets the expectation across the whole platform industry so I think they have the power to do really, really interesting things. But what I think is also good is that Shopify allows people, it does, it's a quick start and even me working as I have for platforms that index on customization, I can hear merchant requirements and usually within about 30 seconds I'm already like, "Nope, you should use Shopify." Absolutely. All day. Every day. If you don't have the resources for the care and feeding and you don't have the imperative to have these really custom experiences because you're just starting out. You don't really know yourself yet and you surely don't know your customer yet.

Kiri Masters: [00:40:15] Right.

Ben Marks: [00:40:15] So yeah, start safe and then grow up, grow from there. Step up to the next ship as you become more sophisticated. But one of the challenges then it's back to that whole templated approach and I can usually tell when I hit a Shopify shop. So it is a product that's like, "Oh, cool, I'll go check it out." Usually, I can tell right away. And then certainly by the time you hit check out and when you see the Shop Pay button, which I also think is really cool because I don't like putting my information in and then all the tracking and everything else. That's a very, very consistent experience I've found from brand to brand. And I have done this enough now that I know exactly what to expect in that, especially in that follow up post-purchase moment. And I even know what the interface is going to look like when I go to check on the status of my order. There is benefit and consistency. But that's only after I've converted. If you had to, you have to stand out and you have to catch me in the first place. And that's where I think this templated approach becomes a little bit of a risk, which would be my point.

Kiri Masters: [00:41:32] Yeah, that's interesting. Just on the transaction end of Shopify that DTC brand, Native deodorant, this was how they were extremely successful was to do an upsell at the very end stage of checkout so you would just get an upsell and they were extremely successful with that. And that doesn't come out of the box with Shopify. That was a new sort of... They used a third-party app for that. But that was a huge driver of their growth. And so but, you know, just using Shopify, a checkout solution that wasn't offered natively. And so you kind of end up with this, like you said, on the upside, it's a familiar experience. You've got your credit card details saved in there. It's good. It feels safe. But there's not really any room for imagination in there.

Ben Marks: [00:42:27] But there's a reason that... So Shopify, you know, they're constantly iterating and I'm constantly watching them and basically, the whole industry is kind of converging on the balance between like convenience and customization. And in their case, they've recently, within the last several months, released a lot more capability for developers and agencies to customize the front-end, the customer experience. I mean, that actually puts them a bit far away from their, I think, original mission of like, "Hey, let's make it pretty easy and bulletproof," because once you start building these custom interfaces that are completely disconnected from the back end, well, all of a sudden you're now getting kind of bound in context to the agency doing the implementation and everything else. But I think it's very telling that they went to the effort to release this capability. And I think it's because they also think it's important for brands to be able to differentiate and not just differentiate from their customers, but differentiate even on their operations side. So it's not just even the front-end experience, it's also what's happening in the back office.

Roger Figueiredo: [00:43:41] Yeah. And you mentioned again, we're pointing out a lot of the problem, but there was a solution that you just gave to differentiation and that's if you are using Shopify or if you're using another tool that's templated, you can differentiate on the plugins that you use. That is an opportunity for you to differentiate. Look at the plugins. Look at the add ons that you can throw into your website. That may be an opportunity for you to provide something different.

Ben Marks: [00:44:01] Yeah. And certainly, again, it's certainly a benefit with them. Any platform that offers app integrations and we even have a SaaS version of our offering, and we have apps that you can just put up. It's great because a merchant can go in and if the app is built right, you're like, "Okay, cool, add this set of capabilities," and then I just need to go in and configure it, probably set some parameters, and then, okay, now I've unlocked, I've just kind of leveled up and I've unlocked something that I didn't have before. So yeah, it's never just about the platform, it's also about the adjacent integrations and that whole, that kind of ecosystem that the merchant is working in. And that's something that I think every eCommerce platform tries to facilitate for obvious reasons.

Kiri Masters: [00:44:44] Yep. Well, I think we'll leave it there. This is the homogenization of experiences with Visions, by Future Commerce.

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