Coffee Chats

Real (eComm) talk with Alex Greifeld

Real (eComm) talk with Alex Greifeld

Tell us about yourself and your journey in the world of eComm, working at brands, and now doing your own thing.

My name is Alex Greifeld and I help eCommerce brands break past their growth plateaus by leveraging the relationship between customers, marketing and merchandise.

I started my career designing mom jeans–real mom jeans, not the fashion-forward version. I studied fashion design and merchandising in undergrad and didn’t transition over to eCommerce and marketing until around 2011.

From 2011-2022 I worked in-house at a number of brands, mostly in fashion, footwear and accessories. I’ve done almost every role in eCom marketing and operations, from “hands on keyboard” tactical work to developing and implementing growth strategies. I’ve also worked across most funding models, from bootstrapped to PE-funded to publicly traded.

I decided to go into consulting because I wanted more control over the structure of my days. As an employee I got to a place where I realized that I did not want my boss’ (or their boss’) job. I wanted to carve a path that would let me really lean into my strengths. So far, it’s working out great!

You talk a lot about acquisition and retention for brands, and I'm curious if there's a playbook to follow (less on the tactical side, and more on the human side) -- based on what you know. 

If you’re looking at an eCommerce business in isolation, and you’re a single brand selling in a single category, customer behavior follows a semi-predictable pattern. Some moments in the customer journey are more important than others. 

While I don’t have a checklist of tactics that I apply to every situation, I do have a standard set of things I analyze. The larger the business, and the broader the product catalog, the more that product & price becomes a powerful marketing lever.

A brand’s internal resources and the mindset of its leadership make the difference between success and failure. It’s not enough to want the benefit of a given strategy. You have to be willing to do what’s necessary to execute successfully. And that might require restructuring your team, investing in external resources or taking a new creative approach.

I try to be upfront with clients before I work with them: you want to implement tactic X and achieve outcome Y. We can do that, but it will require us to do A, B and C. Are you comfortable with that?

Now that we've lived through a decade of social media and eComm together, what has changed in consumer shopping habits in your opinion? Are they smarter? How have brands had to change their approach? 

The internet lowered switching costs. Before eCommerce you would drive to the mall. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for there, you had just burned time and gas. That made the average consumer less selective, because there were tangible costs to being picky.

Consumers are more selective, but they’re still driven by emotion, even (maybe especially) for large purchases. Look at home prices and car prices over the past three years for evidence of that. 

There are more rabbit holes to fall down in terms of product education, reviews and price comparisons. But no one wants the best of everything, because no one has the time to become an expert in every single thing they buy. People are not comparison shopping for every single purchase–no one has the time to do that!

To thrive in this environment, you have to differentiate. Brands with incredible emotional resonance can get away with a less optimized web experience. Brands that offer market-leading convenience don’t have to dazzle with brand. You can survive in the middle, but it’s hard to thrive.

From a soft skill perspective, what are attributes for what it takes to put the customer first. How do you see returns/and exchanges as part of that process?

I’ll share a bit of a hot take: the more differentiated your product and the stronger your brand, the less you need to worry about putting the customer first. There’s a Seinfeld episode about this.

That said, your customer experience as an eCommerce business can help differentiate you from the competition. Heavy eCom users are often short on time, and willing to trade cash for time. So providing a “concierge” fulfillment experience can help you retain high-spending customers.

Two brands that do this really well (in my opinion, as a consumer) are Amazon and Net-A-Porter. 

Amazon asks you for a relatively small price up front (Prime subscription), and then you can get almost anything you want the same day. As a new parent, this is a lifesaver. They also allow you to do returns without printing anything–everyone hates at-home printers–if you bring the packages to a UPS store or a Whole Foods.

Net-A-Porter offers same day delivery in key markets, which can be a lifesaver if you’re in New York and need something for a last minute event. Their returns process is pretty standard, but they do allow you to return most items during sale periods, which is rare.

Any hot takes for the future of marketing? 

My hot take–which shouldn’t be a hot take–is that marketing fundamentals are important. 

In the 90s retail was about real estate because a booming middle class drove a surge in foot traffic. In the early 2000s retail was about eCommerce, because shopping was gradually shifting online. And in the 2010s it was about paid social advertising, because social networks gave away cheap traffic to drive adoption.

You now have a generation of agencies and digital marketing professionals who were trained and educated in what was essentially a bull market for commerce. When a given channel or tactic becomes more competitive, a lot of folks don’t know what to do next. That is why marketing fundamentals–the four P’s, consumer psychology, etc.–are so important.

You can see this pattern play out in the world of Meta advertising. Before iOS14 offer, positioning and copy didn’t matter that much. Now it’s make or break for most brands who using the platform as their main source of customer acquisition.

The same trend will play out in other hype cycles related to marketing. Tools can help you grow a business, but not without strong fundamentals. 

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