This episode of the Ecommerce Coffee Break Podcast features a conversation with David Conforti, co-founder and CEO of Varfaj. We discuss the Top ecommerce trends to boost your Shopify store.
On the Show Today You’ll Learn:
- The best strategies to optimize a Shopify store
- Tips and tricks to optimize UX & conversion rates
- How to integrate different sales channels for your brand
- What strategies to adapt from bigger brands
Links & Resources
About Our Podcast Guest: David Conforti
David is the co-founder and CEO of Varfaj, an award-winning Shopify Plus agency. With a focus on E-Commerce, Mobile app, and Blockchain experiences, Varfaj has grown to a team of 22 members. Proudly the newest Shopify Plus Agency, they've made their mark in just 4 years.
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Claus Lauter: Hello and welcome to another episode of the E-Commerce Coffee Break podcast. Today we wanna talk a bit of a broader topic. We want to talk about what's happening in e-commerce in 2023. So we wanna touch on a couple of things there, and therefore with me on the show I have David Conforti. He is the co-founder and CEO of varfaj.com and WA and award-winning Shopify Plus agency that is focusing on e-commerce, mobile apps and blockchain experiences.
We started the company about four years ago while at NYU and since then it has been grown to 22 full-time team members. And they're also a Shopify Plus agency, so they're working with bigger e-commerce stores and there's a lot of learnings there that might apply to small or medium enterprises as well.
So we wanna touch on these things as well. Hi David, how are you today? Hi,
David Conforti: close. Yeah, appreciate you having us on. Sure.
Claus Lauter: Tell me a little bit about what got you into e-commerce, what got you into Shopify?
David Conforti: We were a bit of a broader focus, just digital agency when we first started out.
Taking on a lot of just normal website projects, web design, et cetera. And then when Nick and I, Nick is now our Coo o met, that's when we really leaned heavily into this e-commerce focus, specifically in Shopify. I'll let Nick speak about himself, but Nick's been working as a developer in the Shopify ecosystem for 10 years.
Was the creative director at Faze Clan and had a deep well of knowledge in the space. And so there was really a great opportunity there where we had the agency set up the framework. And then Nick brought that e-commerce Shopify expertise that has really allowed us to grow over the past two years.
Claus Lauter: Okay. Nick as a Shopify developer, you have been through the whole journey of where it came from and what it is now today. Now with Shopify Plus, obviously you have the whole range of what Shopify offers. Just gimme a bit of an idea. Where's the biggest difference between a, in brackets normal Shopify, user and a Shopify Plus user?
nteters: it really lies in creative problem solving. For your typical merchant, they're going to rely on Shopify out of the box. More often than not, when you go into the Shopify Plus realm, you're dealing with larger volume, more complex fulfillment networks. The clientele is. Completely different as well.
So you have to think outside of the normal Shopify box and create custom solutions for subscriptions and bundles and personalized shopping and
David Conforti: also marketing
nteters: for s m s and email with plus merchants.
Claus Lauter: Okay. I think Nick, you just mentioned a couple of things that we wanna dive a little bit deeper into.
David, when your clients approach you 2023 is a special year, so we see recession, we see EKU still growing, but in different areas than it was growing the LA couple of last years. What's the biggest pain point that you see right now when clients or potential clients approach you?
David Conforti: Given our positioning with working with a really a spectrum of clients from.
Newer, fast growing startups all the way up to well established merchants that are doing up to a hundred million of G M V A year. We've really seen that the merchants that have been getting squeezed are those that are in that middle range there. So maybe they had a decent business that was doing Call it 5 million a year.
But they were bootstrapped, they, were funding themselves. Those merchants have had a really tough time battling inflation. Making sure that their messaging and their marketing is reaching their audience through their different channels. And we've seen that they've been hit really hard and have had to get the most creative out of all of our merchants.
Claus Lauter: have the same feeling that's exactly this bracket is struggling a lot now from what you learn from bigger clients. Obviously there's a bigger budget. They can try a lot of things, which a smaller merchant probably cannot do because of budget restrictions. So what do you see works best right now?
What kind of strategies when it comes to either optimizing the store or going into the marketing side of things? What works best?
David Conforti: that's a great question. So there is a couple of things one we found that creator led brands are. Really powerful right now. I think that there's a lot of people are saying that like the creator led brands are dead, but we've actually found the opposite is that creator led brands that are pushing a ton of traffic through the top of funnel awareness are very powerful and are very strong, but they also have to back it up with a quality product.
, and you know that just because they're a creator led brand does not absolve them of having to do all the other things that an e-commerce brand does. So if you can match that, Excellent Tabba funnel awareness from the influencer standpoint with an excellent differentiated product, phenomenal customer experience, a high converting website great marketing and diverse marketing channels and flows, then that's the merchants that we've seen have really taken off and are growing tremendously well despite the year over year slowdown.
Claus Lauter: I hundred percent agree there. Now, Nick, question to you. AI that's in everyone's mind right now. Since November, since chat, g p T and Open AI took off there's a problem. I feel there's a ton of apps popping up every day, and some of them are actually within the Shopify universe and some are targeting e-commerce.
What's your feeling and what's your use usage of AI at this point?
nteters: Yeah. Definitely AI is the hot topic of the year so far. A lot of people using it to leverage things from strategy to product descriptions, which Shopify has integrated themselves. So I think it's definitely a hot trend and whether or not it's gonna be a lasting trend the jury is still out on that.
The issue that I'm
David Conforti: seeing
nteters: pop up a little bit now that it's being so widely adopted is in a lot of cases it's easy to tell when something is generated by AI or an actual person. So it's Playing a little game there where there's some cases where it's appropriate to leverage AI in some cases where there isn't in our case, we use it a lot to simplify writing custom formulas and things like that.
Just because it's much faster. so for instance, We used it recently to write some Excel spreadsheet formulas to do some calculations on the fly. That kind of stuff is like using a graphing calculator back in the day it is a great application it'll be interesting to see.
How widely it is adopted as we move forward with it and its
David Conforti: capabilities. On the marketing side, I think that there is one of the ways we've seen it be most broadly used in e-commerce now is generating content such as blogs or longer firm, longer form content like newsletters, as well as Helping performance marketers iterate on their content quicker.
AI can even put together the actual creative and then also the copy, which is great. And it seems like it's a phenomenal tool right now. Where we see this going is if you are Lululemon and your marketer at Lululemon using these tools. Your counterpoints at aloe at Athleta are also using these tools.
And so what we're really moving towards is just, a massive dispersion of content, all of which is becoming more and more homogenized. In order to stand out, you actually have to break through that kind of, Backtrack against the AI wave and focused on getting back to basics, which are, when you have customers like focus on their customer experience such as returns, make sure that you surprise them with small delights.
make sure that you have a loyalty program that actually is a loyalty program and not just, points that nobody redeems. But things like that I think are really an extrapolation from the AI trends that are currently so hot right now.
Claus Lauter: You said before that without a great product you will have a difficult time now you also need to have a great store, a store that is made for your customer.
Let's talk a little bit about conversion rate optimization or optimizing your ux for the brand and specifically for the customer. Are there specific trends that you see this year that people are following?
David Conforti: so one of the things is that. A lot of the brands are successful now, are, have a component of being mission driven and we wanna highlight that as much as we can on the store.
This is similar to outdoor Voices donating back to their charities of Choice Mosh as well. Is it one of our clients that donates to Alzheimer awareness? Karen Ware is another one that supports, health workers and their initiatives. That's really important because as customers are going through and making their purchases, they feel like they're also supporting causes that are near and dear to their hearts.
So that's one trend that we've really seen. In addition Using social proof as well. We've seen that little tweaks to the site, such as emphasizing the reviews, emphasizing the feature reviews like your hero customers that are really excited about the product. Bringing us to the top of the page.
Introducing little things like over 5,005 star reviews has increased conversion rate 10%, just by including that strategically throughout websites. We do this a lot and then we also just make sure that we're constantly testing using our ab testing tools like B W O, watching the recordings, using our tools like Hot Jar and just trying a lot of different pieces and seeing what sticks.
Nick, what are you else? Are you seeing.
nteters: Yeah, definitely. Another really hot trend in the conversion rate space is mobile. So it's not new it's been around for a long time now, but we're seeing the scales tip towards mobile more than they ever have 70 and 80% of website traffic on in some cases.
So really creating a mobile experience that is customized to the individual shopper and also frictionless. So they want to be able to come from an ad or wherever they're being driven from and get right to the point of, okay, I want to learn just a little bit more about this product that I didn't see in the ad, and then make a purchase decision without having to click through a bunch of different Pages to get to where I want to be.
So that's really what we have been working on, is optimizing that mobile funnel.
Claus Lauter: Nick, I wanna continue on that, what you just said. There's more and more sales channels coming into Shopify and also the way people check out, and I think that's what we're talking about is changing meta Instagram Facebook are now basically pushing their own checkout experience instead of having the checkout experience on the store's side.
How do you integrate all these different sales channels for a brand that this is still manageable, not only from the marketing side, but also from a technical side.
nteters: The good thing about the integrations that are currently supported through Shopify sales channels is they do funnel all of the sales into the Shopify order funnel and the customer funnel.
So it really keeps everything centralized and driving all the traffic to Shopify itself, because the one thing that you don't want to do is, Handcuff your brand to a platform that you don't have ownership of. Whereas you don't own Shopify, you do own the IP of your website and with Amazon or Walmart or Target or these other sales channels, you don't know what is gonna happen with them and where they're gonna trend towards next.
And they also don't have to answer to you if they want to make a change in how they sell products and advertise your products. That's where we really encourage all of our customers and Shopify merchants to drive all the traffic to their site, so that they have total ownership over their ip.
Claus Lauter: your clients from the bigger brands, Shopify Plus clients, is there any case study or golden nugget that you just saw what work was working for them, which would be transferable for a smaller brand?
David Conforti: The thing about those bigger clients is that they have the budgets to.
Take on projects that are not going to yield ROI for a long time. A great example of this is building your community and really lean into your community. That's a huge buzzword right now. But what people are really saying is that like, you should just have a blog. You should have a newsletter, you should have SMS marketing.
None of that is really a community. If you look at the people that are doing it best, it's brands like Patagonia Outdoor Voices, Glossier does it very well they have a vibrant, active community where customers are talking peer to peer, they're talking to one another. That's something that takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, being very intentional with resourcing.
it doesn't mean that you can't do it at a small scale. You can do it at a small scale and we encourage all of our customers to do it, but you just have to be. More thoughtful. It can come with little things such as taking note of customers' birthdays, including, random delights, we call 'em random gifts in the packages.
When customers get them making sure that return is an easy, seamless process and they leave that with a great taste in mouth, like, wow, I'm absolutely shopping here Again, those are the different ways that smaller brands can start to build community as they grow into bigger brands.
Then you take on larger initiatives like pop-ups, in-person experiences, retail experiences, brand activations. Internationalization, all these things that expand and grow your community and your brand along with it.
Claus Lauter: Now, when you work with new clients who's your perfect customer? Which kind of vertical industry are you working the most
David Conforti: We've had great success in the beauty space. Recently a lot of larger beauty brands are moving to Shopify. As the new industry standard from, their more esoteric systems and, we really find that the perfect client profile is one of two main ones is that one, it's either that larger merchant that's looking to migrate to Shopify, or the second one is you are a smaller merchant that has.
Is growing quickly and has tapped out their internal resources. So you've done a great job getting your business to maybe one or 2 million a year in sales, but now you want to tackle internationalization. You want to tackle b2b, you want to tackle some initiative that your team doesn't have the in-house expertise to do.
And that's where we come on and we can help optimize the website. We help lead these initiatives. Really Nick would operate as a director of e-commerce for a lot of these brands, helping them set strategy at a point where they definitely couldn't afford or even necessarily need a full-time head of e-com.
nteters: value collaboration with all of our clients. So our biggest thing is our strength is
David Conforti: Shopify
nteters: and marketing and e-commerce, and their strength is their product and their brand and their category. So if we merge those expertise together, we can really help move the needle for our clients by.
Showing them how to leverage the platforms that they have at hand to best get their products in front of the customers that they want to get them in front of. Yeah, I wanna
Claus Lauter: touch on that. A lot of merchants also, the ic, they grow into, as you said, David, into a size where it just becomes too much and then they don't have the skill set, they don't have the manpower, and they're just overwhelmed generally how quickly things happen within marketing What kind of homework do they need to do on their side before they approach you or any other agency?
David Conforti: It's important that they do have semblance of where they want to go and say, this is our product.
This is who our client profile is. This is the problem we're solving. And then from there, that's once you know your business, then you can explain it to us and we can figure it out. It's very tough for us to come in and decide what your business should be. We have had that situation in the past where maybe people haven't found, uh, enough of a niche yet.
And if you haven't found your niche optimizing your website isn't really going to move the needle for you.
Claus Lauter: When it comes to this, making the decision do you wanna be on Shopify Plus or do you stay with the normal Shopify plans? What's the different data there? What makes you a Shopify Plus customer or client?
nteters: So there's several considerations when making that jump to Shopify. The regular Shopify up to Shopify Plus one is obviously having the revenue to support that jump in the sort of Shopify monthly cost. But more importantly it is. Do you need the features that go along with Shopify Plus, or can you continue on with just regular Shopify out of the box?
So some of those things would be, are you getting into wholesale? Do you need custom Checkout flows and the ability to do like post-purchase surveys and things like that come along with Shopify Plus also automations in terms of Shopify flows. Those types of things are a primary reason to upgrade to Shopify Plus where you're really leveling up your business Trying to move to that next rung
David Conforti: on the ladder. And at some point just makes financial sense as well and we can anticipate that customizing checkout or enabling checkout extensions is going to increase conversion by five or 10%. If you're pushing enough traffic, you're doing enough gmv, then it actually would be silly not to.
Claus Lauter: We're halfway through the year, so there's another six months in here. What excites you about the upcoming six months? What's the biggest thing that will happen?
David Conforti: This is the biggest time of the year. we are already it's crazy that it's may, but we're already planning you black Friday initiatives with our clients because that is the Super Bowl of e-commerce.
And so what really excites. Me personally is gearing up for those. Trying to come up with some creative strategies for our clients as to how we can stand out from the crowd. We've managed to sustain longer than, Maybe a lot of people would've thought at the beginning of the year, and so that's very heartening.
For me at least we're seeing a lot of big brands still making the move, so there's been a lot of really positive macroeconomic indicators that have me very excited about the remaining six
Claus Lauter: months. Okay. Nick, same question for you from maybe more from the technical side of things.
nteters: For me as someone who has been working within the Shopify ecosystem for almost nine years now, the innovations that Shopify has introduced in the last 18 to 24 months has been.
Well beyond what it did in the first six years that I worked with the platform especially that winter editions that they just released at the beginning of this year. Just seeing what is next for Shopify. I It feels like every single day they're launching new features and enabling new.
Things for merchants to really leverage the platform to grow their business, no matter what size they are so I'm really, really excited to see what Shopify does with this second half of the year as far as innovating on their platform.
Claus Lauter: Where can people find optimal about you guys?
David Conforti: Our website's probably the best place to go.
Submit a contact form vay.com, V A R F A J. We're a very collaborative bunch, so we like to get on the phone and start hashing out problems. Then,
Claus Lauter: well, I will put the links in the show notes that all listeners, and viewers can reach out to you and if they're on the brink of growing and going to an agency, they definitely should give you a call and then take it from there.
Thanks so much for your time today. I think 2023, the rest of the year will be very exciting. I'm looking forward to it. What's happening next, and talk soon.
David Conforti: Yeah. Thanks Mouse. Appreciate it.
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