eCommerce Expert Perspective: Aaron Quinn
Recently, YOTTAA had a chance to talk to Aaron Quinn, Founder and CEO of eHouse Studio, an eCommerce design and development agency that works with brands like Dr. Axe, Bobo’s, and Free Fly Apparel. During this interview, Aaron expands on his experience from 18 years in eCommerce, including Shopify Plus insights, balancing shopper experience and 3rd party tech, and predictions for the rest of the holiday season.
- The world we are in right now is a stark reminder of how fast we need to move in order to pivot to address customers’ needs
- Shopify Plus enables brands to drive their own car (site) without the mechanic driving it for them
- If the ROI isn’t there, then 3rd parties just become baggage for site speed and performance
- Everything is contradictory to site speed
- Google Lighthouse Score is a blackbox metric
- Real time performance monitoring is critical for eCommerce brands
- COVID-19 has sped up something that was already in motion: brands’ shift to digital
- Nice-to-have features like sizing tools and augmented reality are now considered “must-haves”
- Focus on product availability this holiday: If it’s not there you can’t sell it
Community, Collaboration, and Forwarding and Adding Value
Tell us about your professional background.
I started eHouse Studio very early in my career. I was part of what I would call the Web 1.0 Turndown, where companies were really huge, and then they went through layoffs. I was transitioning out of a company at that time, which allowed me to think about what I wanted to do next. Like many people, the easiest way to get a job was to make one.
If you are going to create a job for yourself, why not make a place where you want to work? So, I ended up starting eHouse Studio with some friends from Mexico City. That was about 18 years ago now, and it has been my job ever since. It is kind of a “short resume” so to speak.
It’s been great to do this kind of work, to collaborate with some really exciting people, and to work with my friends. It also helped to have a job when I asked for my father-in-law’s blessing to marry his daughter.
What do you love about your job that has kept you in the industry for so long?
We have done a lot over the last 18 years and have always been digital, working on web and mobile experiences. Ultimately, I think the part that is most exciting about the eCommerce world is the ability to do something and then see the impact almost immediately. That’s the fun thing about it.
It’s really like being a chef; where you put ingredients into the pot and see the outcome pretty quickly. You’re not guessing if the work has helped the brand over the past 12 months. You’re able to say really quickly what went well, what didn’t, and ask how we can do it better. That’s the aspect of eCommerce that’s really engaging.
I would say the other aspect is balancing the difference between our clients’ goals and also serving the needs of the shoppers, as they are not always the same. Finding that balance where you’re able to provide value to the shoppers. Being able to find what they’re looking for, but also being able to drive value for the brand is always really exciting.
What have been some of your favorite accomplishments so far in your career?
We have worked for a lot of great brands. We have had a lot of great clients that are just fun to work for. I take every new client that we get as an accomplishment, as it’s someone that’s really seeing the value of what we’re doing. We have won national awards and that’s fun too, but they sit on the shelf and grow dusty after a while.
A major milestone for us has been our conference called Modern Commerce. We’ve run it for the last two years, but this year we had to cancel due to the COVID-19 situation. This event is a big accomplishment for an agency. It’s really the first of its kind for Shopify Plus, being a merchant-only event that’s not run by Shopify Plus. The event has merchant speakers with merchants presenting to other merchants while sharing ideas. We were really excited about what we were going to do in 2020, but now looking at 2021 it’s going to be even better. It’s about the community, collaboration, and forwarding and adding value.
Shopify Plus and 3rd Party Tech
Can you briefly explain eHouse Studio’s offerings? And what sized brands do you typically work with?
We are essentially a design and development eCommerce agency, and we focus specifically on Shopify Plus and the ecosystem around Shopify Plus. Our work really sits in design, development, and user experience. Once we have launched sites and helped brands take that next step into what that site will be, we work with them on an ongoing basis with things like new innovative features, or performance and speed, or CRO initiatives — really helping them squeeze the marrow and continue to evolve the eCommerce site beyond what we initially launched with.
We also help with retention, which focuses on areas like email marketing, SMS, and automation, as it’s so much a part of the customer experience. Another example would be customer support or alerts and notifications, which are key to a successful site.
The companies that we work for tend to be in health and wellness, fashion apparel, beauty and cosmetics, home goods, and we are doing a lot of sporting goods right now just by the sheer nature of where the world is. Generally our client brands tend to be more of the high volume, established eCommerce brands, or brands that are looking to get to that growth really quickly.
Bonus Tip: Speed up your Shopify site today with Yottaa!
Can you tell us about the value that the Shopify eCommerce platform brings to brands?
Shopify Plus is the leading platform, so anytime you’re dealing with that platform (we all know the success they’ve had financially and in the market) it opens up opportunities as brands are able to invest and grow and add the features and functionality that they need.
Being able to walk away from the stereotypical challenges that high volume growth brands have is a big benefit of Shopify Plus, like uptime or scalability. Concerns like “Are we going to go down?” and “Can we do this? Can we automate? Can we pull shipping rates without crashing the site?” It’s important to be able to push those fears aside and focus on what really matters. Because honestly, uptime is just something customers expect. It’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.
Another Shopify Plus benefit is enabling brands to quickly adapt to technology and being able to integrate. We have all heard the horror stories of the “Yes we’ve been doing that integration for the last 5 months, we’re almost there.” In today’s world we just can’t be there. The world we are in right now is a stark reminder of how fast things need to move and what happens when you can pivot quickly to address customers’ needs. We are just seeing that at an accelerated rate.
Lastly, the benefit that I always talk about is being able to drive your own car without the mechanic driving it for you. That’s a big part of it; being able to control your own eCommerce site, promotionally with content. I’m still surprised how many brands are handcuffed to have to put in tickets to make changes to the features and functionality of their sites, when they actually need to be able to nimbly pivot on the fly.
Tell us about eHouse Studio’s approach when it comes to recommending 3rd parties?
Ultimately, it’s really about what features and values they are going to add to the experience. Is the ROI there? If not, then let’s not put it on the site because it just becomes baggage for speed, performance, maintenance, and code etc.
Unnecessary 3rd parties are just wasted space. We are really looking for technology that is ultimately going to be successful, be really well supported (because as much as it’s the apps and features, it’s also the team behind it from a customer support standpoint that is really critical), and then the ability to help support us as an agency. We suggest to manually install technology so we know where the code is going. It’s a small effort but a huge impact on shoppers in the grand scheme of things.
There is nothing more challenging than auto install. It’s a catch-22; brands want to be able to add features and functionality as they need. In the same aspect, it’s challenging because we’ve spent our career learning the impact of adding this and taking off that. Or we deleted it, but it’s still referenced in the code and so we are still loading that script. 3rd parties don’t put that on the front of their website, or when you are deleting the app they don’t say “FYI, you need to go clean up your code base now because we put a bunch of stuff in it.” They don’t tell you that. They don’t tell you the downsides when the apps are not working or about remnant code. What’s the impact of that on speed and performance? It comes down to experience and being able to understand and communicate that to the brand.
How do you approach the conversation of balancing a fast site with all these 3rd party technologies?
ROI. At the end of the day it’s the reason why I like eCommerce — it all comes down to revenue. I think speed is great. But in order to obtain the right balance, brands need to factor in other important elements like shopper experience, engaging content, and site functionality.
The way we talk to people about the balance comes down to the power of being able to test these experiences and technologies. For example, it’s understanding the balance between using a search tool that’s going to slow the collection down a little bit, but people can actually find the products they want to find.
Everything the eCommerce world tells you to do is contradictory to speed. More content, long form content; it’s good for SEO but too much content is bad for speed. Everything needs that fine balance.
Are there any 3rd parties that you consider a must-have for Shopify brands?
We always see the typical things like User Generated Content (UGC) — but again, UGC can be a big speed and performance issue. That being said, UGC has a lot of benefits in terms of conversion rate and ad quality. You can’t just get rid of it because nobody wants to know peoples’ opinions about products. We know that’s not true, so we have to find that balance. I would say UGC is key, subscription and subscription management, SMS technology, and personalization.
Sometimes it’s not the sexy things, but technologies that help increase average order value, bundle, promote that “this product is good with that product.” Those types of technologies will ultimately drive revenue and value, which isn’t always fancy features and apps.
At the core, people want to know what to buy, and most brands don’t sell just one thing — they sell multiple products based on helping people have a successful experience even after they’ve made the purchase.
Measuring Performance for eCommerce
How much weight do your clients put on Google Lighthouse score as a core metric for site performance, and what advice do you give them when using that scoring methodology?
That is a tricky measurement. Brands put a lot of value on it and I think generally people do. But again, it comes back to balance, as your Google Lighthouse score is a good metric to look at, but there are some challenges with it.
For example, it’s not consistent and varies quite a bit. So from person to person, device to device, and time to time, it can be different. Imagine trying to lose weight when your weight changes based on every scale you get on. You get on multiple scales, and you only get on it once, and then you throw it away and get a new scale. Trying to figure out if you are making any improvements is very difficult.
The other challenging aspect of Google Lighthouse score is that it’s a weighted average, so it’s really a blackbox. We don’t know why one page gets one score and another page gets another score, and it’s just not presented in a way that you can identify what needs to be fixed. The score is just averages and weighted calculations you don’t have any insight to.
Generally we say it’s a good measure along with other metrics like page weight, document complete, page speed, time to interact, first paint, and number of connections. I suggest brands step back and look at measurements like connection, number of requests, page size, load time, and how you are structuring things. You have to go a bit deeper to make an impact on that number.
We absolutely use Google Lighthouse Score in reporting but we just can’t use it as a performance metric to improve. We need to look at performance challenges further downstream to see what actually makes an impact.
How important do you think real time performance monitoring is for brands and why?
I think it’s critical. We need to understand where challenges are coming from and real time performance monitoring tools give us transparency into what’s happening. For example, we can see “Hey, this page is great, it’s loading in 1.2 seconds. That’s awesome, but in the last 24 hours there were 4 times that it loaded at 3.8 seconds. Why? How long did that happen? Why did that happen?”
If you’re going to track your steps to get in shape, doing it once a month isn’t good enough. If you are going to go through the rigor of collecting the data, actually use it and use it to your benefit.
The Future of Retail
Due to Covid-19, have your clients experienced an increase in traffic and transactions on their eCommerce sites?
We have brands that are seeing great growth and great successes, and then some that aren’t. There’s a balance across the board. Ultimately, eCommerce in general has obviously seen great growth. As consumers, we were going there anyways, eCommerce was going to be growing, we were going in this digital direction. This situation has just thrown lighter fluid on it because of the needs consumers have.
What would your advice be to brands as they continue into what will be the most unpredictable holiday season ever?
This is nothing new for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but it needs to be said: Inventory, inventory, inventory. Product availability: if it’s not there you can’t sell it. I think brands should focus on really setting the customers’ expectations, and what it means to get packages “on time” now. Shoppers are going to have a much different level of importance around the holidays this year.
We are also talking to brands about site features that were “nice to haves” and are transitioning to “must haves.” For example, you must have a really good customer experience with customer support. But features like augmented reality, which seemed like a “nice to have” feature, are now necessary when you are looking at examples like “I’m not going into the store to see if the stroller will fit underneath my stairs.” So being able to provide those types of features is going to be key.
We want to help our brands help shoppers understand the product as best they can or better than they could within the store. For example, when you are focused on inventory and everybody is buying three sizes to see what fits them, that’s taking inventory that ultimately you will just get back later and can’t sell to somebody else. So, helping shoppers understand what size, model, and what to get is really important this year. And that’s nothing new; It’s just that what were “nice to haves” like, augmented reality, sizing tools, or product compatibility checkers are going to be that much more important.
How do you see Shopify evolving over the near and long term to enable brand success?
I think it’s continuing to listen to what’s happening in the market and what’s happening for consumers. Ultimately they are an advocate for brands. They are not only making products, but enabling brands.
That’s where you look at technology like augmented reality, which Shopify was talking about a while ago. It’s tech that people need to seriously take into consideration now. Shopify is enabling all brands to be able to offer that kind of technology like the big brands are. These small to medium sized brands are the backbone of our economy and we need to be able to support them.