The past 8 months have been a grueling test of the digital retail platforms that have long been touted as must-haves. And from what the team at Site on Time has experienced, Independent retailers get it — and they’re realizing the importance (and value) of investing in a strong, feature-rich digital presence.
Rob Stott: All right. We’re back on the Independent Thinking Podcast, and absolutely thrilled as always to have the chance… just forget about the podcast for a second. The last time we were able to just talk, Miss Jen Danko and myself… It’s been a while.
Jen Danko: Yeah.
Rob Stott: No. This whole pandemic thing has really thrown a wrench in being able to just see and chat with people. So-
Jen Danko: I know. I’m so happy you invited me.
Rob Stott: Yeah. I appreciate you coming on, our VP of technology with the Site On Time team. How are things, first of all?
Jen Danko: They’re actually amazing. I mean, obviously crazy during this time, but just, it’s been thrilling to see all the changes in the industry and with our members. And so, yeah. I said to someone recently who said it was a Friday and I said, “No, I think we’ve had one long Monday for six months.” We’ve been on for so long, but it’s a great place to be for sure.
Rob Stott: Yeah. And I mean, you talk about any of the segments of the retail space that you could be involved in, digital, I think has been from what I can tell on the communication side of things, a little bit crazy for you guys over these past six, seven… we might even be coming up on eight months here pretty soon.
Jen Danko: I think we are. Yeah.
Rob Stott: It’s crazy.
Jen Danko: For sure. So crazy and just so much fun too. I think it’s been really exciting to see, having been in this for so long that we always knew digital worked and the importance of the website, but it’s been so nice to see the members engage in their website more than they ever have before and see the importance of it and how it really helped through this time.
Rob Stott: Yeah. And you mentioned the importance. It’s kind of one of those things I feel like is always stressed whether it’s at prime times or just in between shows, the importance of having a strong digital strategy, a strong website, that sort of thing. And it’s always talked about, but there’s never been that example of like, “Hey, this is why you need it.” And then all of a sudden, March hit and here we are.
Jen Danko: Yeah. And everyone’s like, “Oh, that’s what you were saying all this time. I get it now. Yeah.”
Rob Stott: It’s one of those things but-
Jen Danko: That’s right.
Rob Stott: … no, it’s been incredible. I know from the outside… when I say outside, obviously we’re all Nationwide here, but outside of your team and kind of watching what you guys have done. It’s been incredible. What do you think just has been some of the biggest things that you’ve seen in terms of changes in how members are operating and what they’re doing from a digital perspective?
Jen Danko: Yeah, absolutely. I think the biggest changes are just how involved and how engaged people have been with their website, which is amazing to see because the statistics tell us that the majority of consumers need real-time information now, right? It’s not an option, before where a lot of times I think the retailers and our members got so busy that they would forget to update their website or tell us changes in the stores and things like that, but with the pandemic, it’s become critical that customers know what’s going on. And so it’s been a lot of fun to be able to engage on a different level and say, “Okay, what can we do next? And how do we do that? And what changes do we need to make?” So that’s probably been one of the biggest changes for us internally, it’s just that engagement with the website and realizing how important it is that the information be up to date, and so customers know what they can expect.
Rob Stott: Well, to your point about information, I feel like a lot of the stress has always been on making sure that pricing and that sort of information is up to date, but I think this time what we’ve gone through, it shows that it’s not all about pricing and shopping on the website. It’s about your policies and store hours. Are you open? That sort of thing. So, I mean, it’s stuff that you don’t… I guess maybe it’s on there and you kind of set it and forget it but at this point, during this time, it’s been a little bit different in that regard.
Jen Danko: It really has and it’s funny that you bring that up about pricing because I think pricing has probably been the least important aspect in terms of conversions during this pandemic. It’s been more around inventory, right? Because we know there’s so many-
Rob Stott: Yeah.
Jen Danko: … shortages right now, so people just want to know what can they get quickly. What do you have in stock? And it’s a lot less about, what’s the price? and more around, what do you have? Especially if it’s a duress purchase, I’m not going to wait 12 weeks for a refrigerator obviously, or in my case, a dishwasher. I refuse to do dishes, so they’ll just pile up until I get that dishwasher.
Rob Stott: If I could just have 11… 10 or 11 lined up dishwashers and just load them and just put all my dishes in there, or I just throw them out and buy new dishes.
Jen Danko: Exactly, yeah.
Rob Stott: … I’m so sick of dishes. So sick of dishes.
Jen Danko: Exactly. I’m sure you are. For sure. And bottles right now.
Rob Stott: It’s unreal.
Jen Danko: Yeah. Absolutely. So yeah, just getting that information and also it’s been really important to understand consumer behavior and find ways to communicate with them. Like I was just reading recently a statistic that 73% of consumers are looking for retailers with contactless purchasing, right? And so-
Rob Stott: Wow. Yep.
Jen Danko: … it’s finding ways to update your website to say, how are you addressing these needs or these concerns. And in our particular space, while customers can purchase online or even in the store, maybe they’re always going to almost have it delivered, right? About 90% of it is probably getting delivered versus coming to pick it up. And so what does that delivery process look like? How do your delivery people stay safe, keep themselves safe, keep our customers safe? Things like that. And so it’s just really trying to constantly find out how consumers are changing their behavior and then how do we address that on the website. I think there’s this misconception that it’s such a small percentage of people, that maybe it’s not worth it, but it’s a lot higher than we realize.
Rob Stott: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, anecdotally, how prepared do you think… As members are coming to you looking for these types of services and upgrades and changing the way they do things, have they been prepared or is it a lot of work on your guys’ end to sort of get them up to speed on what needs to happen digitally?
Jen Danko: That’s a great question. I think for Site On Time specifically, because we’re more custom solution, a lot of our members were prepared going into the pandemic, but they had to… really had to turn on a dime too and change the overall strategy. I know that with RWS we’ve had a lot of new signups, which is great. And so these retailers, maybe weren’t entirely prepared but moved on quickly, which is great. So there was a solution for them to get there and be able to provide that information. But in terms of Site On Time, it’s really been about, “How do we shift what we’re doing?” For example, pre-pandemic, we were all about store visits. How do we get more customers into our number of stores?
Rob Stott: That changed.
Jen Danko: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. We were like, “How do we keep them out?”
Rob Stott: “Wait a minute, stay away.” Yeah, right?
Jen Danko: Exactly. So it totally changed. And so now we’re really doing… In the middle of the pandemic, when it was at its peak and some of the businesses were closed or at least limited in who they could let in the store, we really had to turn that to an e-commerce strategy, and how do we find more people that will purchase online. And now it’s a little bit of a shift. So now a lot of our digital strategy has gone maybe fifty-fifty, targeting people who will still come into the store versus those people who’re more comfortable purchasing online.
Rob Stott: Gotcha. I mean, not to say that it’s final and efforts are finished at this point, but do you think… I mean, has all of this work paid off for the members? I don’t know if there’s any specific data or anything like that, but I mean, from what you’re hearing and seeing, is it paying off for them?
Jen Danko: Oh my gosh, it is paying off far… it’s exceeded our expectations for sure. We’ve had retailers report five, 600% increases in sales, year over year. We just recently had one of our largest retailers tell us that their online store is now their highest producing store in terms of total sales. As a matter of fact, I think they said that was that their top two stores now. The website produces more sales than those. So it’s amazing to see just the engagement with both, not just the members but the customers. And a year ago who knew that people would consider high-consideration purchase like this online? It’s crazy.
Rob Stott: Yeah. And I know, I mean, we want to get the chat. It’s kind of where I want to transition to, because I know that’s been one of the most talked about and I think maybe most desired features to add to these digital strategies. Is that… I mean, maybe that is sort of the answer to this next question. Has there been sort of one digital upgrade or type of strategy that a retailer can implement that has been most successful for them to drive that type of online conversion and success?
Jen Danko: Absolutely. I think there’s probably two that have been… One was obvious and that was chat just because we can connect with customers and then the other one would be appointment settings and the ability for customers… And now it’s kind of shifted away a little bit because stores have reopened, but when some of them were closed or very limited in who they could have in their stores, the appointment setting was crucial for people to be able to be comfortable to know that they would be the only one in the store, or there’d be a limited number of people in the store. So that was really important. But chat, across the board, is something that any retailer can implement. And I think most people just don’t realize that there’s times where people can’t pick up a phone call or it’s just the way they prefer to communicate. I think the last statistic I read is 80% of consumers prefer chat over phone calls-
Rob Stott: Wow.
Jen Danko: … because I think they feel like it’s still personal, like they’re still talking to someone on the other line but maybe not quite as… they don’t have to be quite as engaged as if they’re on a phone call or they could have a new baby at home and it’s quiet. I can type away and don’t have to pick up a phone call. But the exciting thing about chat is it really… again, it goes back to what I’m always talking about. Meet your customer where they’re at, right? Wherever they want to talk to you, be willing to take that engagement and run with it. And then for a lot of customers it is chat. And the idea that they’re talking live to a local retailer just makes it that much more important for them.
But I think the most important part of chat that people don’t realize is it’s not just turning this on, right? There’s a real strategy behind it and understanding the type of consumer that would engage with that chat and things like… that most people don’t realize, you won’t be able to read body language, right? You won’t be able to-
Rob Stott: Yeah.
Jen Danko: And we talk about this internally all the time when we meet over Teams or Skype or whatever it is you’re using. Sometimes you can sense a tone, right? And people-
Rob Stott: Yeah.
Jen Danko: We have a policy here, if you sense a tone, pick up the phone and call them, right? But in chat… So it’s the same thing with chat with our consumers. You might sense a tone with people, but maybe that’s just the way they communicate or we still have a few people that talk in all caps and don’t realize that’s yelling and…
Rob Stott: The same type of struggle, you would see in email communications and the way you read things and it’s easy to misconstrue those sorts of things.
Jen Danko: Absolutely. So really training your team to understand how do you best communicate over this type of medium and make sure that they’re prepared to answer questions, but also other signals that they can pick up on that they would normally pick up on through body signals, but what do those look like in chat. So just things for people to think about in order to make it more successful and a better experience.
Rob Stott: And the one thing you mentioned there that really stood out and strikes me is that the type of consumer that… understanding who would be more willing to utilize the chat function on a website. And you kind of think about millennials and gen Z and it’s a texting society. I can’t even tell you, even years ago, how many studies there were about how millennials are scared to pick up the phone or young people are scared to cold call or talk to someone on the phone and they… everyone’s texting today. So you think about it, this could… not even just during a pandemic payout or pay off for a retailer, but sort of moving forward with the way customers engage… well, prefer to engage with… take retail out of it, prefer to engage with one another.
Jen Danko: Absolutely. Yeah.
Rob Stott: This is the sort of thing that it’s going to have legs, not just this year in 2020, maybe 2021, but for years to come.
Jen Danko: Absolutely. Our retailers that had chat pre-pandemic were already successful. It was probably some of their most successful salespeople were on chat, but in the midst of this pandemic it’s just grown that much more. And I think people think that… they maybe a little bit concerned there’s going to be a high pressure sales pitch or something if they call, so this way they can kind of gauge how that’s going to go. And surprisingly, we get chat conversion reports back from our members. They’re anywhere between 70 and 90%, depending on who’s managing it and the strategy.
Rob Stott: And the thing there too, worried about a sales pitch, typically I’d imagine it’s the customer’s reaching out to you. So it’s not like you’re going out on a sales call trying to just pitch this to anyone. They’re actively engaging with you. There is interest there.
Jen Danko: Yeah. That’s such a great point too. And I mention that a lot that, think about the person and the mindset of someone who would engage with chat. I don’t know about you, but I’m not visiting appliance or furniture websites over the weekend just to talk to people on the other end of the line. There’s usually a reason why I’m starting that engagement, right? So think about that and in the quality of that lead that’s coming in. And the other part of it too is we have some statistics around just having chat on your website versus showing a pop-up of chat after maybe three or five pages and how that increases the overall chat engagements. And when you think about it, I think a lot of people think it’s a little bit intrusive, but if a customer were to walk into your store, wouldn’t you greet them?
And so it’s the thing with chat. So they visited a few pages, isn’t it time to say, “Hey, can I help you? What are you looking for specifically?” They can always say no or close the window, but at least give them the opportunity. Maybe they missed the chat. Maybe they don’t realize what it is. I think a lot of people assume that they know what that little button is on the side, but some of them might just think it’s a contact form and not realize it’s live chat. So it’s nice to remind them that you’re there if they need you, but if they don’t, just hop out.
Rob Stott: Yeah. Funny you talk about that because I find myself… I think about how I shop online nowadays. And if I’m on a website and browsing for a little while, I end up at a certain point looking for the chat function if I have questions and I want to get more info that isn’t necessarily on the product page or anything like that, I end up… No, I will actively seek out that chat function. So if it’s not front and center, if that button isn’t down there, then you’re potentially losing leads, if it’s not available or readily visible to the customer.
Jen Danko: Yeah. That’s absolutely true. And I think it’s really important to remind members of this. Not everybody shops the same way. And I think there’s always this assumption of, “If I get it, everybody gets it,” but it’s really not true. So it’s important to understand consumer behavior, look to see what people are clicking on, why they click on them and how long it takes to get there, so that we can better understand how do we engage them sooner in the process.
Rob Stott: I know we’ve hit on a couple of them, I think, already, but is there any sort of best practices as far as how a chat strategy works, how you set one up for your store or anything like that that you could detail?
Jen Danko: Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s… The great thing with chat is there’s a lot of different ways that you can do it, but best practice strategies are, one, train your team. Make sure they understand how to communicate with customers, incentivize your chat team. So this isn’t going to be the receptionist or somebody who would typically answer the phones. This is going to be a qualified salesperson. Someone who understands product, can look in your point of sale or inventory control system and figure out which products you have. The top three questions we see in chat are, “Do you have it? How much is it? When can I get it?” Those are the top three questions.
What’s really interesting is that aligns directly with all the data we see across the board in terms of conversions. I was actually just looking at this this morning, because they review often the time lag between when a customer visits and when they purchase online. And I think it’s interesting how all of this ties together because online our conversions about… between 70 and 75% of our online conversions happen in a day.
Rob Stott: Wow.
Jen Danko: And you’d think that they would be longer than that, right? because it’s a high consideration purchase but if we think about our industry stats, the duress purchases and appliances are 70%. So this directly correlates to when people will buy product online and that directly turns into or correlates to our chat that people need an answer quick. So it’s got to be that person who can say, “Yes, this is the right product for you. Here’s what we have.” And if they’re asking first, “Do you have it?” they’re looking for a product quickly. That means you’ve got to be able to say, “We don’t,” maybe, “but we have this. It’s got the same features,” prices… or whatever it is, but they need a quick response. If they get someone who says, “I don’t know, let me check. Can I call you back?” or, “Can I get back to you?” they’re going to move on because this is going to be a quick purchase.
Rob Stott: Right, right. Crazy. I mean, it’s almost like the reason that someone reaches out… There is a million reasons someone could reach out, but the duress shopper, is that point of contact where… So much shopping starts online these days. I think, what? The number’s 90%, something like that. It’d be probably higher at this point, but especially during a pandemic when stores are closed, but shopping starts online. So if someone, whether they’re under duress, so they try to replace a product or not, having this type of feature available to them just to get a quick answer, because that’s where they are anyway. So-
Jen Danko: That’s right.
Rob Stott: … it’s just making sure that you’re there for them. So not to skip ahead a little bit, but the chat’s been… A lot of people are adopting it. It’s been a service that’s really come to the fore during this pandemic. Is there a lot of development in this area? Is there like innovation in retail chat functionality that retailers can look to coming down the pike here as they have these services on their site and kind of where they can go next?
Jen Danko: Yeah, absolutely. The next level, which is available now too, and maybe retailers don’t want to start with it, but adding video to that aspect, to your chat strategy. And what happens there is you start a conversation with a customer, they need to know if you have something, maybe you don’t have exactly what they’re looking for, then you can say, “You know what? Can we start a video chat?” And it could just be a one-way video chat meaning they can only see you, but then you can show them actually what’s in the store or show them the specific features. So they still get the feel that they’re there. So maybe they can’t touch it, but just being able to see it and see the features or the look of the product real time is really important to kind of connect that online customer to that in-store purchase without actually having to come into the store.
So for sure, but again, it requires training to help the sales person understand how to use this, when it’s appropriate, how to make it as comfortable as possible for the consumer. And then just being able to read them. Would they be comfortable doing something like this? And that also works directly in correlation with appointment setting as well. So maybe the appointment is for a video visit, to let them come into the store. More and more consumers are searching for virtual store visits or things like that, where they can not have to come in but still be able to see the product. So this is a great option. And what I love about this is that it’s not going to go away post-pandemic, right?
I think people are going to for sure get back out there when they can and when they’re comfortable, but in the same sense, this is a huge convenience for people post-pandemic. So if I’m busy and I don’t want to spend my Saturday in the store, great. I’m going to buy it online or I’m just going to video chat with them and figure out if that’s what I want and then decide from there.
Rob Stott: Yeah. Two things come to mind. You talk about this not going away. I know we saw some stats from Adobe during the height of the lockdown where pandemic shopping was exceeding 2019 Black Friday levels. So I mean, it’s unbelievable how readily people were just willing and able to go ahead and start shopping online. Mainly because they were forced to, in a sense, but for all those who thought that there’s always going to be that willingness to go to the store, now people are showing that, hey, they don’t mind the convenience factor of doing this online. So there’s that.
But to your video, could that be as simple as thinking how you FaceTime with someone? Because I know that’s been something that has obviously gained some traction during the pandemic when you can’t see people face to face in person. FaceTime… Zoom video call, we’re doing right now, Microsoft Teams, things like that. Is it as simple as understanding how a setting like this works or is there more to it for a retail appointment, video appointment?
Jen Danko: No. It’s really simple and specifically related to chat, it’s just a link that you send the customer in your chat, whatever chat you’re working on and when they click on it, it opens it up and they can see you on the camera and then they have to give permission for you to see them. But it’s very, very simple. Really anybody can do it. It’s not too technical. There’s not a lot of settings because again, we want to be able to attract all customers. And I think there’s a misconception that while the younger shoppers are going to be the only ones to do this, but really our baby boomers are doing this too. I mean, they’re familiar with video and even FaceTime. And that’s how they’re keeping in touch with grandkids and family, right? So-
Rob Stott: Exactly what I was going to say.
Jen Danko: … so they’re comfortable doing this too.
Rob Stott: Yeah, yeah. It’s funny because you think, again, people can’t, they got to socially distance and things like that right now. So FaceTime has come in handy in many ways and on many occasions. So-
Jen Danko: Yes.
Rob Stott: … the fact that if a retailer knows how to FaceTime their family, maybe, it should be as simple as that to FaceTime some customers, but… Beyond chat, beyond that sort of thing, looking at websites in general and kind of digital strategies moving forward, maybe post-pandemic and things like that, what can retailers expect or how should they plan for their future around digital strategies?
Jen Danko: Yeah. I would say my number one recommendation is that this need for real time data is not going to go away with the pandemic at all. I mean, we may see a change in online sales and maybe some of those shifting back into the store, but this need for customers to have real-time information will not go away post-pandemic. So continuing to build on that strategy, whether it’s in implementing RDC inventory from our manufacturers and vendors, whether it’s your own inventory, putting an inventory feed onto the website, or maybe it’s not necessarily real time, but just things that you know you keep in stock on a regular basis. Again, this is post-pandemic when hopefully some of our…
Rob Stott: Supply chains
Jen Danko: … inventory… yeah. Gets back up a little bit. Store hours, how people can shop, what are your current recommended products that you have in stock all the time, what does the shopping experience look like. The current promotion. Anything that you can do to let the customer know that this is the most up-to-date information so that they can make an informed decision. Right now that informed decision is, “Do I purchase from you or not?” Post-pandemic it’s going to be, “Should I choose you to come into the store to visit because I’ve got a really clear understanding of what you offer, your pricing,” things like that? So I can’t encourage people enough to really start thinking about the most up-to-date and real-time information you can provide a customer so that they can make an informed decision on who they’re going to purchase from and what they’re going to purchase.
Rob Stott: And if they have any questions or concerns about where to possibly start, the Site On Time team and Miss Jen Danko here is a great first resource to get in touch with. So-
Jen Danko: Absolutely.
Rob Stott: One of the more intelligent individuals I’ve ever come into contact with and your knowledge around digital always… it leaves me impressed and the conversations are always a good time. So I greatly appreciate you taking the time and sharing some insights with us. And I know we’ll be in touch more now as we get moving here into this, hopefully sooner, rather than later, a post-pandemic world and watching how digital strategies continue to evolve and members continue to take advantage of it.
Jen Danko: Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s exciting that we have a solution for them, right? I think there’s this idea that, “Well, I’ll just go set up a Wix site,” or whatever it is, but there’s so much involved in maintaining all this product information. And so I love that our retailers have this solution readily available to them.
Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, I appreciate it. I know they appreciate it. And look forward to hopefully seeing you in person here sooner… like I said, sooner rather than later. So-
Jen Danko: Yes, I can’t wait.
Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, thank you for the time.
Jen Danko: Thank you. Talk soon.
Rob is the corporate communications manager for Nationwide Marketing Group.