Member Brief No. 3: The Attention Stack

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Successful commerce companies and vertical brands want to know how to generate authentic happiness with their customers. A customer kept > a customer gained. The attention stack is a buzz phrase that you’ll hear quite a bit about as brands try to solidify their standing in a quickly evolving market.

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Issue No. 257: Snap Inc. and eCommerce


Snapchat, Nike, Darkstore and Shopify teamed up to pre-release the Air Jordan III “Tinker” on Snapchat with same-day delivery. There are a few implications to consider here.

In the United States, eCommerce is dominated by consumer search. Product discovery still lags behind. While Amazon continues their efforts to insource a tried and true discovery mechanism that is currently outsourced to digital publishers (in exchange for affiliate revenue), the hole in the system remains. So, leave it to the embattled media company known for discovery to attempt the leap.

Perhaps Snapchat is attempting to lean into this role? There might just be a product market fit.

Snapchat’s push into eCommerce is a long time coming and it couldn’t happen at a more appropriate time for the Los Angeles media company ($SNAP). Here’s what Jason Del Rey noted about the the partnership between Shopify and Snapchat for Nike’s Jordan brand:

Over the All-Star weekend, Nike hosted a special concert in Los Angeles, the host city of the game. Attendees were guided to use the Snapchat camera to scan a code displayed on a basketball-hoop backboard to view the new Air Jordan III “Tinker” sneaker in the app.

Guests were then able to purchase the sneaker right within Snapchat with the help of technology from the e-commerce software company Shopify. And most of the kicks were delivered to customers on the same day, thanks to a logistics startup called Darkstore.

@DelRey, Recode (read here)

May 2016’s 2PM Issue No. 46 was entitled “Snapchat, the eCommerce Giant.” It was titled as such because it featured a now-noteworthy article by Maya Kossoff that preceded much of the conversation that you will read about Snapchat’s recent experiment with Shopify and the Jordan brand.

The ability to buy tickets without leaving Snapchat is the biggest coup for Snapchat and Twentieth Century Fox, which placed the ad buy, and it suggests the company is making serious moves toward expanding into the e-commerce space.

@MeKosoff, Vanity Fair (read here)

Snapchat’s potential to combine advertising campaigns with ease of purchase sets itself apart from Instagram who has yet to develop a partnership with Stripe or Shopify. I was excited about that direction before Snapchat focused on their Spectacles campaign. But even with Spectacles, Snapchat began honing the ideas that we’re now seeing.

Here’s what I wrote in 2PM Issue 191 (2017): 

The most successful marketing campaign that Snapchat has led in the last two years wasn’t through traditional advertising, it was through traditional retail and eCommerce. […]  There is a virtuous cycle in modern digital media and eCommerce that shouldn’t be ignored. Consumers want to go where they are influenced to act. And advertisers would be smart to create content in those same spaces.


With Jordan, Snap is dipping its toe into the possibility of monetizing just about anything via app-integrated sales channels. Snap openly classifies itself a camera company, rather than a social media app. That’s why it’s explored products like Spectacles, which turned sunglasses into a video camera. And while right now, Snap is only selling one limited edition sneaker drop for Jordan through a live event, it’s easy to imagine Snap leveraging the close relationship that its 187 million daily active users have with its camera to any number of third-party brand partners.

Mark Wilson, Fast Company (read here)

Facebook has done a marvelous job of iterating around Snapchat’s original ideas, all but trouncing the high flying Snap, Inc. Only time will tell if this flavor of content x commerce is another one of those ideas that we’ll find reimagined for Instagram.

Read more of the issue here.

Issue No. 238: Inclusivity has many forms.

The Launch of Cotton Bureau’s Blank

I first mentioned Cotton Bureau in Issue No. 203, where I expounded on what I found fascinating about the Commerce startup (and fourth fastest growing company in Pittsburgh). Most recently, their focus has been on sizing inclusivity. In Issue No. 217, I wrote:
Cotton Bureau is one-step closer to filling a void left behind by American Apparel’s bankruptcy. They’ve begun manufacturing a new type of tee for all shapes and sizes. It’s called “Blank” and it has the potential to solve a gaping sourcing issue in a major fashion segment.Women and men needed better, more accurate t-shirt sizing. 

From this simple assessment,Blank was born. From the now-successful Kickstarter for the project:

You see, finding a wholesale t-shirt manufacturer that fits all our criteria has been…challenging (to say the least). We need a brand with modern fits, a wide range of colors and fabrics, ethical manufacturing, reliable quality and consistency, always-available stock, and it’d be reeeeal nice if it was made in America. Finding a brand that checks all those boxes and oh yeah also fits women is damn near impossible. If you can find a women’s brand that comes in our preferred colors and fabrics, it’s only available in mega-tiny junior sizing. If it’s sized to fit most women, the cut is awkward, the fabric isn’t anywhere near our standards, and it comes in whatever color you want…as long as that color is pink. It’s frustrating for us as a company, and every bit as frustrating for you as our customer.

In a recent conversation with a Senior Editor of a lauded men’s publication, the gentleman posed the question to us: “but what’s the angle to cover for men?” He asked this un-ironically but in doing so, it established why I believe there will be a successful product market fit for Blank’s offering.
Sizing woes can illicit a sense of embarrassment or even shame from consumers – especially men. Men seem to be more ashamed to seek a solution to sizing inaccuracies. But this is nothing new, it took a decade of female consumers lauding performance fabric sportswear for men to do the same. Now, athleisure is leading the industry in product innovations and companies like Lululemonand Outdoor Voices are widely accepted by all.

Long before American Apparel exacerbated the sizing issue by marketing their products as exclusionary, this practice was found in tween retailers. Many can remember being a normal-sized kid while needing to purchase an XXL tee from A&F or American Eagle. In a normal world, XXL would be worn by an NFL tight end. Today, you’ll see the same practices at Hollister and other retailers who target teenage and young adult consumers.

For adults, sizing in t-shirts hasn’t improved either and the product shaming has only increased. American Apparel set this market trend, years ago. Though it’s now owned by Gildan, producing a wider offering with accurate sizing would still be viewed as detrimental to the brand.
By the conclusion of our chat, that Senior Editor recognized that there was, in fact, an industry problem and he welcomed the solution. I have a feeling that many consumers will welcome Blank, just the same.

This is the opinion of Web Smith.
See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 231: Commoditization is the enemy.

A last word: what does a DNVB mean anyway?

After issue number 230’s feature on Pixlee’s DNVB round up, I received no less than twenty-seven emails from readers seeking clarification on the list.

For one, I would have made a few additions and deletions to the list. But it’s also important that we narrow down the meaning of what the industry means by DNVB. In issue number 228, I highlight differing distribution strategies.

Under the startup umbrella, there are retailers and vertical brands. The difference between the two depends upon the company’s level of exposure. By all accounts, Andy Dunn is the godfather of the vertical commerce business and in May 2016, he wrote the penultimate piece on the online retail business.

Two paras stood out:

The digitally-native vertical brand is way more customer intimate than it’s competition. The data is better because every transaction and interaction is captured. You don’t have to combine data across businesses, because it’s all one business. You are not blind to your wholesale business, because you don’t have a big wholesale business. It’s one CRM. It’s one store, where everybody knows your name.

While born digitally, the DNVB need not end up digital-only. This means the brand can extend offline. Usually its offline incarnation is through its own experiential physical retail, or highly selective partnerships. In nearly all cases of partnerships, the brand controls its external distribution versus being controlled by it. Any offline retail is not about warehousing product, it’s about marketing the brand and delivering great one to one customer service. It may be pop-ups. It may be permanent locations. It may be installs at existing retailers.
There are numerous arguments for being a retailer, the first being a retailer’s hundreds or thousands of touch points. Many of the finest brands on earth fall under this category. But as I mentioned in 228, DNVB’s are data-driven with eCommerce as the core competency. These strategies cannot be more different; one strategist employs a data scientist and the other strategist employs of VP of Sales.

This is the opinion of Web Smith.


See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 226: The future of fashion e-tailing

A last word: when will you see your favorite brands in Chinese marketplaces?

Detroit, Michigan — One of the more impressive brand statements I’ve seen was held for 3,000 participants at Detroit’s COBO. From vendors to Alibaba employees to credentialed media, I was impressed by what I observed.

Walk around and you’ll see examples of retailers like Stadium Goods, who are strong advocates for Alibaba’s marketplace model. Then there were (very) small business owners who were less sophisticated than what you’d imagine, selling trinkets and cookies and their own version of coffee. This was all meant to represent Jack Ma’s commitment to the little guy.

There were well-designed booths dedicated to discussing government policy and informational breakouts. There were even three dimensional data-visualizations peppered throughout the conference room floor, on display to help you understand a bit of what’s at stake here. Alibaba, a company whose entire mission is to make it easy to do business anywhere struck me as a contrast to Amazon’s reputation for being hard on brands with seasonal product lines.

When you hear about Amazon, “customer” is the Amazon Prime member who receives the package. For Alibaba, consumers are clearly important but the “customer” in Ma’s eyes is the small business owner.
There will come a time when brands must invest in a quickly approaching economy. Unfortunately for many of us, the eCommerce economy often devalues brand equity while holding ease of discovery and < 72 hour fulfillment as the new benchmark for brands – big and small. By 2020, the easier your brand is to find across digital channels, the more likely the business is to thrive.
I’m convinced that the majority of savvy brands will pursue a diversity of channels, with Alibaba and Amazon at the core of their seven point strategies. This may mean reallocating inventory from brick and mortar retailer distribution for some teams and it may also means hiring eCommerce executives that will be prepared to operate with platform flexibility while maintaining brand standards.
I left Detroit convinced that American retailers will be of Jack Ma’s finest customers and that there will be a lot of brand overlap between the two platforms. As Facebook and Google’s product search economy is cannibalized (stateside) by Amazon’s fast-growing search product, delaying an Amazon and Alibaba strategy may be akin to grasping to the nostalgia of your Blu-ray DVD collection.
I discussed this and more with Yukon Huang, PhD and China’s CGTN network here.

See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 223: Content / Commerce 2.0

American Retail Failure

By: Hendrik Laubscher on Issue No. 212

The retail job losses have not become a political hot potato due to the lack of a retail version of UAW (United Auto Workers).  The large labour unions have ensured that mining and other manufacturing jobs have been getting more political attention.

In saying that – in all honesty there a few things at play with this situation:

  • There are way too many retail locations in the US – locations were seen as capital generation instead of capital expenditures. Best example of this for me is when Howard Schultz came back to lead Starbucks they closed under performing locations – I don’t know of any retailers who have done that.
  • Retailers have signed leases that were not properly forecasted. A 20 year lease is a significant investment that has little validation from sales etc.
  • As ecommerce has grown retailers have not invested properly. Target, Nordstrom are but a few that have been future proofing their businesses. I believe their headquarters being in less populated areas Seattle and Minneapolis has lead to them being more nimble than normal retailers.
  • Retailers have forgotten that they are a community asset and employ local breadwinners – they have not evolved with the de-urbanization of retail.
  • Your point on logistics staff being the new low income job champion is spot on and is driven by the location of warehouses of online retailers.
  • Retailers have also lost focus – an experience for customers does not mean having a branded coffee shop or pizza shop inside your location. This hit me while I traveled in the US in October 2016.
  • On demand services have added value that should have been driven by retailers. Instacart, Curbside, etc. are retail functions that were neglected.
  • The retail board of all major retailers have struggled to attract younger members. I hate playing the age card but the progressive retailers (Target, Nordstrom and lately Walmart) they have young blood.
  • Retailers have not adapted the roles that their staff plays. Nike and others have made sure that their staff are helpful, knowledgeable and approachable. This for me boils down to founder DNA and some retailers have struggled with stock price declines and thus have been forced via financial performance to make changes.
  • Off-price retailers are not online but provide customers with pricing that makes purchases and repeat purchases a possibility. Why are TJMaxx able to show good yearly performance? A smaller footprint, I believe.
It is a complicated story that needs data and graphs to communicate this sad tale. Amazon is not the only factor.

See more of the issue here.