This week's Ecommerce Spotlight shines on Dan Barker, E-Business Consultant and Digital Marketing expert. Along with Dan's long career in web analytics and ecommerce, he is also a major player in the ecommerce analytics industry here in the UK. Dan has collected qualifications in software engineering, digital marketing, web management and a Google Adwords certification to name a few. We sat down with him recently to discuss how his career path took shape, what he is currently working on and how he sees the future unfolding for online retailing.
Victoria: So Dan, how did you get started in ecommerce?
Dan: My background is slightly strange. I started out as a software developer. While I was doing my degree I freelanced designing and developing websites for people. After that I went and worked out in Germany for about a year and a half working for a business-to-business internet service provider, designing and developing websites and web-based apps. Then I came back to the UK, and ended up working for a fairly large B2B IT reseller. I started doing web-based app development for them, then moved over from that to doing their email marketing, on-site merchandising, and also implemented for their UK business a tool which was at the time called Omniture Site Catalyst, now run by Adobe. Ended up working for them for five and a half years, quite a long time, managing their UK ecommerce site both from an online marketing point-of-view, so paid search, affiliate, SEO, email marketing etc. I also managed the site from a functionality point-of-view, deciding what functionality changes there needed to be, doing usability testing, and making sure that the site made a profit, had as many customers as possible buying from the site, and equally importantly, that they were satisfied and enjoyed the site.
I had begun freelancing again beside that, and then moved to a couple of other companies that wanted to make the transition from catalogue retailers to ecommerce retailers. They were selling online, they each had a website but most of the sales that they made were to their existing customer base. So people got the catalogue each month, they went to the website, typed in the code from the catalogue and purchased the product. I worked for them for about a year and a half and helped them to make that transition to acquiring customers on the web versus just having it as a fulfillment channel. When I was with them I set up all their analytics, helped them to set up affiliate marketing, paid search etc.
V: So tell me a little about your current work in ecommerce.
D: For about the last three or four years now, I’ve just been fully freelance. About 80% of my work is now ecommerce. Outside of that I also do some odd bits and bops for job sites, magazine and book publishers, finance companies etc. Within ecommerce, I do specific work in marketing channels, conversion optimisation revenue optimisation, usability testing, email marketing, PPC, SEO, analytics and then some strategy, planning, research pieces and sometimes helping people with some recruiting.
V: Your background as a developer has given you a specific perspective on ecommerce that many Marketing Managers and Merchandisers may not be equipped with. Do you believe that having an analytics background is something that should be more emphasized now in these roles?
D: I think that as long as you can ask the right questions, it doesn’t matter whether you are doing the hands-on gathering of data or not. I suppose it’s actually two things: being able to ask the right questions and being able to get the answers fairly quickly. If you can do those two things, you don’t necessarily have to be able to interrogate the data yourself. It probably does help because there are always odd bits and pieces where you just want an answer to a question. If your team is going to answer the question rather than you, there will be lots of things that you skip asking and if you could just find the answer yourself, maybe that helps you a bit more, but I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker to be able to use an analytics tool.
V: So let’s talk about the current state of ecommerce, and specifically what’s going on in the UK. I see the ecommerce market here as unique for a number of reasons - geography, concentration of wealth, healthy online appetites etc. but what I’m really interested in is how retailers are using interactive media like QR and AR codes, NFC and iBeacon technology to leverage the high street with their digital counterparts.
D: It’s kind of interesting in the UK because lots of shops haven’t really caught up with that. Lot’s of interesting things have happened over the last couple years, for example the government has commissioned people to look at the 'death' of the high street, and we’ve got Mary Portas’ Portas Report on how to fix it, which didn’t really mention the web in the slightest. So there are odd things happening around the high street itself, and I think technology is really underused in shops. I work with some smaller retailers who have decided to take advantage of that and have been able to really grow their businesses via the web, and to some extent, help fund the shops. Footfall in some shops has gone down in the last few years, if you go into small towns you’ll see boarded up shops and former retail spaces now holding charity shops, cafes or these horrible places selling e-cigarettes and things. Lots and lots of gambling companies, and I suppose gambling companies are a good example of a business that have used their growth and profits on the web to be able to fund putting extra shops in places.
People still talk about it being a high street versus a web thing, but for a small retailer in a small town, what’s to stop you from building up an email list of all of the people who buy from you in store and just being able to tell them of the new products that you’ve got in the store itself. Just through simple things like collecting emails, or simple surveys on the website where you ask ‘have you been to our store in the last 6 weeks’, you can find out about the impact of your website or vice versa. So you should look at it as one business, instead of a lot of channels.
V: How do you think mobile will be changing the high street?
D: I think it’ll be interesting to see because like I said, in the UK, and lot’s of other countries really, the shops have been very slow to jump on that kind of thing. So for example in the UK, the people who I hear talking about interactive mobile apps more are people who own shopping malls or museums, things like that. I don’t hear a lot of smaller retailers talking about it at all. It’s a shame. The other thing about mobile is that you can do really simple things with it, like what Apple are doing now where you can walk into a store and someone can check you out there and then or you can use an Apple app to check out yourself. If that catches on and some people are very smart, I think we’ll see a lot more shop assistants coming up to you in a store and checking you out there and then.
V: The holidays are around the corner, and we’ve been hearing tons of trends reports, for the holidays and through 2014. What would you say are the biggest ecommerce trends for the coming year?
D: I’m in the sad position of having written lots of those articles in the past but I only really have one tip. My top tip would be that since there are hundreds of these articles all over the place talking about top tips, find four or five of those articles, pull out all the tips, sit down for 20 minutes and think about your business. Ask yourself, 'out of these articles, which are the four or five things that I can get done in the next week?' and get them done. Lot’s of people will read those lists and do nothing with them because they’re bombarded with so much information. I think just sitting down with a few and following them would make more of a difference than spending more time reading hundreds of articles.
You can find out more about Dan Barker on LinkedIn, and make sure to follow him on Twitter @danbarker and #Ecomchat on Mondays from 13:00-14:00.