Tech Viewpoint: Three e-commerce principles from an interview with a ‘Shark’

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Tech Viewpoint: Three e-commerce principles from an interview with a ‘Shark’

By Dan Berthiaume - 05/10/2019
“Shark Tank” investor Daymond John follows some basic strategic guidelines to ensure e-commerce success.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Daymond John, founder of fashion brand Fubu and featured investor on the hit TV series “Shark Tank,” about his philosophies regarding e-commerce. Besides being an engaging and surprisingly low-key interview subject, John had a lot of great first-hand insights into how retailers can build a profitable e-commerce business.

Now that I’ve had a little time to reflect on the conversation, I have collected three broad principles espoused by John that retailers can follow to e-commerce prosperity.

Service
The term “over-support” came up more than once in my approximately 15-minute phone chat with John. He repeatedly stressed the importance of e-commerce retailers carefully tending to their customers’ needs. This includes developing a stable supply chain that can get goods in the hands of customers quickly, as well as ensuring customers have a satisfactory online shopping and checkout experience while purchasing the products they want.

Service also applies to making sure an e-commerce business gives something back to the community with its profits. John gave the example of online sock retailer Bombas, one of his “Shark Tank” investments, which donates a free pair of socks to the homeless for every pair sold.

In addition to constituting good ethics, millennial and Gen Z customers expect the businesses they patronize to have a charitable component. John recommends e-commerce retailers actually build their charitable endeavors into their brand image, and even give customers a choice about where donations from their purchases go.

Communication
Just as important as serving your customers is communicating with them. Several times, John returned to the theme of e-commerce retailers leveraging the instant one-to-one communication capabilities of the Internet. Especially for smaller brick-and-mortar retailers, developing personalized bonds with customers at a mass scale is critical to staying competitive with larger online competitors.

John goes so far as to say small brick-and-mortar retailers have an advantage in communication over bigger digital players, as they already know their customers at an intimate level and can expand that connection online. This type of personalized online communication also helps create brand ambassadors -- customers who socially promote your brand simply because they have positive feelings about it.

Analysis
My first question to John was about what he looks for in an e-commerce business as an investor. The first sentence of his answer revolved around how well the retailer retains and analyzes customer data.

The type of highly targeted customer service and communication John urges e-commerce retailers to perform is impossible without robust analytics capability. He repeatedly mentioned the importance of analysis to everything from pricing, to cross-selling and up-selling, to knowing when and if it is time to expand your assortment. Having the right analytics in place makes doing everything else it takes to succeed in e-commerce possible.