Welcome to Growth Interviews!

Welcome to Growth Interviews, the fun, stimulating and engaging series of conversations driven by digital business growth.

Our mission is to provide insights and ideas from world-class professionals on the topic of growth and to cut through the noise of so-called marketing tips and tricks, revealing the money-making strategies behind e-commerce.

Each episode is an intriguing challenge involving an insightful expert who reveals some of their best-kept secrets, which you can use right away to boost your business. 

In this week’s episode of Growth Interviews, we invite you to join our conversation with Shahina Meru, a Senior Conversion Rate Optimization Manager at Merkle Periscopix, with a decade of experience in CRO, analytics, and web development.

Shahina is very passionate about consumer psychology, data, and user experience, and has been working with a multitude of clients across verticals to drive successful digital optimization strategies. She’s also a regular industry speaker at events such as SMXL Milan, e-commerce Conversion World, and Conversion Rate Analytics & Product Talks 11.

During the interview, we talked to Shahina about the future of conversion rate optimization, proper data analysis, and the best KPIs that e-commerce businesses should track.

Be prepared to risk, test and optimize all the time in CRO!

How did you get into the conversion rate optimization space in the very beginning?

Shahina: I was not always in the CRO space. I actually started off working in Employee Assistance and Counselling Delivery Programs in Toronto. With a degree in Psychology, this field felt like the best fit. However, after having started a dance company in my spare time and having worked on the digital marketing for this, I came to the realization that I was in fact in the wrong field! I decided to do a complete shift and move to London to pursue an MSc in Multimedia.

I began my career in this field with a job at Merkle | Periscopix where I started off as a Technical Web Analyst. It was apparent that both my technical and psychology backgrounds fit perfectly within CRO. Four years on, I am now currently working as a Senior Manager to develop the Merkle | Persicopx’s CRO department.  

What frustrates you the most in the CRO landscape?

Shahina: It has to be the fact that the value of running CRO programs is subpar compared to other industries such as analytics or online marketing. I often ask clients: “If you’ve never climbed a mountain and you have a feeling that you would be good at it, would your first attempt to reach a summit be on Everest?” Usually, the answer is an astounded “No”. Then why do we risk making changes to our site based on our gut feeling, in such a high stakes environment? Reaching the summit comes from trying and testing our strategies to understand which work best. The unfortunate truth is that testing is undervalued, which also means that the repercussions of not testing can be very dangerous.

Optimization should no longer be optional. The key to staying ahead of competitors is through understanding our multi-moment customers to ensure we remain relevant.

The power of good data analysis

What is your most memorable breakthrough experiment?

Shahina: This would have to be one which landed us with a 32% uplift in revenue and a 28% increase in transactions. As a data-driven agency, most of our work starts with data – surprise, surprise! 

For one of my clients – Sigma Sport, a bike and triathlon retailer – we were able to uncover from both Google Analytics and CRM data that their customers had an affinity to particular brands. For example, if a user had previously purchased a Castelli bike, they would return to browse or purchase within the Castelli brand and not the other 30+ brands they offered onsite. The data also told us that most returning users landed on the homepage. However the data only told us a portion of the story. With our knowledge of usability and consumer behavior, it was important that we analyzed the site using these qualitative methods to complete the story.

When analyzing the homepage we were able to see that there was one major issue: there were too many options (nine to be exact) thrown out to the user, and that all users were being served the same generic experience. According to Hick’s Law, the higher the number of options, the slower we are at making decisions. 

Based on the quantitative and qualitative data, we tested a personalized variation of the homepage. For this we split the audience into their particular brand affinities and changed the homepage to show the users their favorite brand while also removing the amount of options they had. This would not only personalize the user experience, but would also make it easier for the user to make a decision.

What did we learn? Two things:

1. Digging into multiple sources of data gives us a more holistic view of the user.
2. Meaningful personalization to improve the user experience can make a world of difference.

Knowing your audience means that you can anticipate its needs. An audience-centered approach is important for e-commerce businesses because this way the effectiveness of their communication efforts is improved.

Although, sometimes, marketers need to rely on gut feeling and healthy use of their imagination, most of the time you need to test your theories against hard facts. For that, you have three types of audience analysis at your disposal:

👉 demographic analysis
👉 psychographic analysis
👉 behavioral analysis

How to understand your KPIs better

How do you move the needle into big organizations?

Shahina: This always seems daunting, but not impossible. Let’s take the example of a clock: the hour hand will never move until the minute hand has moved 60 minutes. In the same vein, the compound effect of moving the needle on multiple smaller KPIs is the key to succeeding in moving the needle on the top-level metrics.

This does not only include website KPIs, but also program success metrics, including quality and velocity, the mindset of the organization, optimization processes and the availability of expertise and resources. If you start to improve each of these in increments, you will surely move that hour needle.

Where do you start your CRO process for eCommerce websites?

Shahina: With any business, it’s important to understand the goals of the website, as well as the organization’s goals. Once we know the top-level goals, we create a KPI framework, which translates these into smaller success metrics.

This framework becomes a visual benchmark of what we will be optimizing towards. We then use analytics data to measure these metrics and understand drop-offs or friction points. But remember, when you are analyzing your data, looking at averages can be misleading. This is where segmentation becomes key. Ask yourself who exactly is experiencing this friction? This method ensures a solid foundation to a data-driven approach.

What is your favorite framework? 

Shahina: One of my favorite frameworks is one we use for ideation. Instead of jumping straight from insight to test idea, we take a step back and use an exploration method rather than a refinement method.

Here we are able to exploit one piece of insight and create multiple testing strategies. These are the objectives you will try to fulfill based on the insights. Then from these strategies, we build out multiple tactics. These are the test ideas and variations that will aim to meet the objectives.

With this framework, we have a one-to-many relationship between insight and test ideas. This then gives us multiple opportunities to be able to find the best possible solutions through testing.

Deciding the correct e-commerce KPIs that your business should track should be a top priority. During the selection process, you need to consider the following:

👉 Relevance: your KPIs should be linked to your business goals and should be supported from the executive level through to departmental managers and down to individual employees. At the same time, make sure you keep your dashboards simple; the whole point of data visualization is to declutter your data
👉 Accountability: a person within your company should be accountable for each KPI
👉 Frequency of measurement: the frequency will vary depending on KPI and may range from hourly to quarterly

About the future of CRO 

Where do you see the CRO industry going?

Shahina: As the industry advances, I see that we are headed towards pairing Machine Learning (ML) and CRO. These of course are a perfect pair because ML uses algorithms to predict next best actions. Having this information can open up a whole new dimension to data-driven personalization.

For example, knowing the next best action can give us the capability to personalize merchandising content based on what the user is most likely to purchase. Or, give us insights into user journeys to understand what variables help move users along the conversion funnel.  

We know how important and impactful personalization is, and adding a layer of ML to enhance personalization is taking CRO to a whole new level.

Three growth ideas to become more customer-centric

Tell us three growth ideas for eCommerce websites.

Shahina: Becoming a more customer-centric organization is crucial for growth for eCommerce websites. Customer expectations of our sites are not benchmarked against our own site, but against the best experience they’ve had online. So if we are not meeting those expectations, it will be much harder to convert them.

Here are three ways of becoming more customer-centric:

  1. Start with the big picture. Ask yourself: as an organization, what is important to us and our customers?  What differentiates us from our competitors? How do we want to be perceived by our customers? Once you have answers to all of these questions you can create customer-centric values that are tied to your organizational goals.
  2. Get everyone on board. These values should be shared across the organization and strategies should be created to drive this transformation internally. A good one to try is to shift ways of working to reward employees for meeting customer needs rather than meeting targets.
  3. Listen to and understand your customers. You have access to an abundance of customer feedback, you just have to listen to it to really understand your users. This can be done via customer service call logs, Net Promoter Scores (NPS), reviews, complaint logs, and social media comments.  Customers are voluntarily giving us feedback and telling us what they want, or what frustrates them. Use this to inform your strategies and create a better experience for them.

Customer-centricity is a way of doing business that fosters a positive customer experience at every stage of the customer journey. It builds customer loyalty and satisfaction, which leads to referrals for more customers. A business that forgets about its customers is destined to fail.

In a customer-centric organization, every team member listens to customers and is aligned on that goal. In turn, the company anticipates customer wants and provides a level of service that keeps customers coming through the door and advocating for the brand.

How to become an Optimization Advocate

What is your advice for beginners in CRO, based on your own experience?

Shahina: I would sum this up into two words: Optimization Advocate.  If you are starting out on your career in CRO, you will already be passionate about optimization and understand the value. That doesn’t mean that the rest of the organization does. This is your time to shine! (Warning: this may be an uphill battle, but worth it in the end!)

Here are a few of the key points in becoming an Optimization Advocate:

  1. Share success: Showing off the success of your optimization efforts and communicating how you have moved the needle on the key success metrics will widen the impact of your testing program. Sharing the value and learnings to other teams will enable them to also reap the benefits and refine their own strategies and make informed decisions.  
  2. Get other departments involved: Remember, optimization is about going from data to insights, and to activation. There is a lot of knowledge and customer insight that is held in siloed departments. Getting cross-department collaboration can exponentially increase your level of testing. By sharing customer insights internally, we enhance our data, which then increases testing velocity, and which in turn leads to more opportunities for impactful tests.
  3. Get buy-in from stakeholders with the right metrics: When trying to get buy-in from senior stakeholders, or your C-suite, don’t just show them the improvements in your primary goals. Speak in their language and tie your success to key metrics they care about, like revenue or profit.

By doing these well, you can start to become that Optimization Advocate and drive the culture of optimization within the organization with your data-driven decision-making process.

Every organization abides by a set of values and beliefs, which prompts the culture within. This organizational culture can be seen as the way in which its members relate to each other, their work, and the outside world in comparison to other organizations.

Big companies like Apple and Google have been known to benefit greatly by investing in their culture. On the other hand, companies like Blockbuster and JCPenney lost their focus on culture and paid a heavy price. So, e-commerce businesses should invest in a culture of innovation and optimization in order to be successful.

Conclusion

CRO has become a mainstream effort. It not only enables e-commerce businesses to better understand their customers, but also exposes them to an incredible range of data to shape their future business strategies. CRO is not just another tool to enhance your brand’s online performance, it’s what will make you stand out.

How did you find this experience? Was it insightful?
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