Interview with Catalin Zorzini

Continuing our Interview Series with the most interesting and knowledgeable people in the sphere of eCommerce, today we are happy to present our conversation with Catalin Zorzini. The founder of Ecommerce Platforms, co-founder of ethical.net and design enthusiast - Catalin is sharing his life experience and eCommerce-related thoughts with us. Enjoy the interview and feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments section below the post.

It looks like ecommerce is shifting towards SaaS solutions. What's your opinion about the future of this trend? Do you view Wix and Squarespace as viable candidates to run online stores in 2020?

Yup, you’re right about that. Ecommerce is increasingly shifting towards SaaS platforms. The principal reason being, we all love the convenience that comes with SaaS. We don’t have to worry about system maintenance and all those complex tech stuff anymore. Plus, SaaS has proven to be incredibly cost-effective, dynamically flexible, and extensively scalable.

Now guess what? From the look of things, these three primary advantages form the core foundation of tomorrow’s ecommerce trends. SaaS flexibility, for instance, is progressively facilitating the integration of ecommerce with brick-and-mortar stores.

While many believe that ecommerce will ultimately fade out brick-and-mortar stores, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, and rather ironically, ecommerce is set to boost the growth of in-store selling.

But, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that brick-and-mortar stores have been doing as well as ecommerce. Far from it actually, and it’s undeniable that the growth of ecommerce is exceedingly outpacing in-store expansion in the Western World.

However, online sales won’t wipe it out completely. SaaS is gradually helping merchants link their online stores with multiple brick-and-mortar stores for quick and convenient selling. That’s why quite a number of SaaS ecommerce platforms now come with supplementary POS systems, which are capable of syncing with their online dashboards in real-time.

That said, another predominant trend is the use of artificial intelligence in online selling. SaaS ecommerce providers will continue embedding AI systems within their platforms to help online store owners automate repetitive tasks.

The AI systems, on the other hand, are bound to become more intelligent as they learn more from their interactions with customers. And this, over the long haul, translates to improved customer experience, plus less work for online store owners.

Finally, it’s expected that SaaS ecommerce will improve functionalities across devices for store owners. While user experience is now fairly decent for the bulk of customers on their mobile devices, the same cannot be said for merchants leveraging SaaS systems. Okay, I know that by now, most of the ecommerce platforms come with supplementary mobile applications. But, let’s face it, managing online stores on the go is still a struggle because the apps only come with limited functionalities.

Not for long though. Because thankfully, this is bound to change as more and more providers seek ways to mirror their web-based capabilities on the corresponding mobile apps.

Now, on the question about Wix and Squarespace, I’ve got to admit I’m not a big fan of Wix when it comes to running online stores. It’s a pretty neat website builder with all those fancy themes and templates alright, but that’s all there is to it. You can’t depend on it to facilitate the growth of your online store.

Why?

Well, for starters, Wix is not as flexible as its dominant competitors. Shopify and WordPress, for example, offer quite a wide range of pre-built apps and extensions for quick site customization. With Wix however, I find the app store selections to be very limited. Other than that, there’s the issue of SEO challenges. Wix has had a bad reputation when it comes to SEO tweaks. But, for some strange reason, they are yet to resolve all the issues we’ve been raising over the years.

Although you’ll get the basic SEO settings by default, the finer details are underwhelming. Wix doesn’t support AMP, hreflang, as well as HTTP/2, plus you can expect a couple of crawlability issues.

In short, therefore, Wix is only reliable when you’re starting out. A typical small ecommerce site should survive for some time, after which you should seek an alternative. But then again, migrating might not be that easy since Wix sites are not transferable. Yikes! Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, I’d say Squarespace is a much better option. It might not be the best in running online stores, but at least you’ll get advanced marketing tools, an extensive array of customizable well-designed templates, plus basic in-built ecommerce functionalities.

What are your favorites among the shopping cart platforms (apart from those you specialize in)? Which ones possess the potential for impressive growth?

That’s a tough question because as you probably already know, I’ve tried out many impressive shopping cart platforms over the years. But, all in all, I’d vouch for Shopify as the ultimate solution thanks to all the amazing features it packs. You can build a fully-functional online store from scratch without any coding experience, and you get an extensive app store loaded with all sorts of third-party apps that you might need to scale and customize your site.

Shopify is essentially an all-in-one platform in every sense of the word. It not only provides tools for creating and hosting an online store but also registers domains, as well as hosts the accompanying ecommerce sites.

Plus, get this. Shopify happens to be an omnichannel selling solution. If your website doesn’t bring in the sales you need, you’re free to expand to social media, other third-party blogs or sites, and possibly even try out in-store selling. I’ve tried the Shopify POS app and I found it to be adequate for mobile in-store plus brick-and-mortar commerce.

However, for the merchants who turn down Shopify, I usually advise them to consider an alternative like Square. And speaking of which, Square Online Store is another excellent ecommerce platform, especially if you’re on a budget.

I like the fact that it allows beginners to build and run their online stores for free. Fees only start building up when you begin processing transactions.

Otherwise, the UI here is pleasantly easy to use, and Square comes with pretty much everything you might need as you grow your business. The platform is seamlessly scalable, plus it offers sufficient product management, store management, and marketing tools for small to medium-sized businesses.

And yes, if you like, you can also run a parallel synced brick-and-mortar store with Square. What more could a typical merchant ask for?

In your opinion, what are the must-have features of a great ecommerce platform in 2020?

Well, to begin with, hiring developers to build basic online stores is so last decade. We currently live in an era where non-coders can, instead, leverage intelligent visual website building tools to cheaply create their own unique online stores.

So, the first thing I’d expect from a great ecommerce platform is a solid, responsive website builder, accompanied by a huge selection of customizable, attractive site themes.

And speaking of customization, I’ve also noticed that online merchants are increasingly falling in love with ecommerce platforms that come with numerous pre-built integrations. It seems like no one has the time for closed, restricted solutions anymore.

And that makes complete sense because c’mon- who wouldn’t want an ecommerce platform that can seamlessly integrate with all the popular third-party apps? 2020 is the year for platforms that understand ecommerce is more of a holistically-connected ecosystem, which is usually composed of several applications working in tandem.

This entails even payment applications. A platform is not worth your buck if it doesn’t offer several payment processors that you can easily embed.

Another feature I consider to be extremely important at the moment is POS integration.

As I’ve said before, we are in the age of increased omnichannel selling. And I’m not talking about supplementing ecommerce sites with social media channels plus third-party blogs alone. That’s so 2015.

In 2020, merchants should be able to grow their businesses beyond the online front. Amazon has already done it successfully with its physical stores, and ecommerce merchants are now following suit.

Therefore, a great platform ought to support in-store point of sale capabilities, and the whole thing should be synced in real-time for easy and convenient selling across all the channels.

On the other hand, what are the shopping cart features that undeservedly get too much attention yet provide little value for the merchants?

I bet many would agree that chat support is overrated. Take a moment and think about it. When was the last time you used chat support on a shopping cart platform?

Did you just say never? Well, guess what? Me too, at least not while actively running an online store.

That’s right, I’ve never found myself in a situation that would require me to turn to chat support. I’ve only used it while testing the responsiveness of various customer support teams.

And the reason is simple. Chat support is simply too slow for emergency situations, and too brief when you need a detailed response. That’s why many technical cases are usually escalated to email support teams, or you end up getting a link that directs you to the knowledgebase.

It’s also unfortunate that most of the platforms that provide chat support prefer to use chatbots half of the time. Ok, I’m not saying this is always a bad move, but c’mon. Let’s be honest here- would you rather chat with a human agent or a robot?

Well, that’s precisely why I prefer to proceed with email as opposed to chat support. The best channel, however, is phone support. But, when it’s unavailable, raising a web ticket should suffice for most of the online store owners.

So, all things considered, ecommerce platform providers ought to quit prioritizing chat support in their “special extras” packages.

Which ecommerce trends do you consider essential and recommend following in 2020? Which 2019 trends have disappointed you?

2019 was, admittedly, a great year for ecommerce. We witnessed the proliferation of new technologies and the growth of smart, data-driven ecommerce.

That said, one of the most outstanding 2019 trends that I’d want to see in 2020 is the adoption of augmented reality. As a matter of fact, AR experienced record growth in 2019, as various online brands took advantage of its intuitiveness to improve user experience on their platforms.

And the best part is, their customers fell in love with it instantly. So much so that by May 2019, the number of AR-installed mobile devices had reached 1.5 billion.

But, get this- we haven’t even started yet. In 2020, this augmented reality craze is expected to hit harder, with customers buying more from businesses that are applying it. So far, multiple studies have established that customers indeed overwhelmingly prefer shopping from AR-enabled platforms.

Another 2019 trend we can’t afford to miss out in 2020 is the use of artificial intelligence. We’ve all seen the power of AI, especially over the past couple of months, as online stores exceedingly leveraged machine learning systems.

Consequently, they get to track customer activities on their websites, as well as analyze big data more accurately. The AI systems then use the resultant findings to personalize experiences for customers, automate repetitive tasks, predict the possible outcomes of customer pipelines and revenue, plus influence decision-making processes.

Hence, you could say we are now learning how to convert machine-power into profit.

Moving on, it’s also worth noting that 2019 had its fair share of disappointing trends. And the particular one is the use of misleading product images.

Fine, I get it. We’re all desperate when it comes to convincing shoppers. Online consumers are especially challenging because we can’t engage them verbally. It all comes down to your site’s user experience and how great a product image looks.

So, of course, it’s understandable that many store owners often choose to upload images that overflatter the real product. But, as you’ve probably noticed from multiple social media memes, it ultimately ends in disappointment, as the delivered items always fail to match their corresponding product images.

Other than that, we also need to look into how we use pop-up banners on our sites. While they are a great way of passing the message across, they can also be annoyingly disruptive.

The sad bit is, most of the ones I saw in 2019 were disruptive. I could tell the site owners were relying on poor campaign targeting and automation mechanisms.

If you were to make one prediction for the ecommerce industry for 2020, what would it be?

The current breed of consumers is turning out to be savvy more than ever. So, I predict that 2020 will see a significant drop in underhand tactics within the field of ecommerce.

Well, previously, stuff like clickbait and hidden fees were generating decent revenue for some businesses. Merchants were able to dupe quite a number of customers with anxiety triggers such as “If You Click Now, We’ll Give You X”, or “Buy Within The Next 30 Minutes To Win.”

Cringeworthy, I know. But sadly, they worked on a fair share of internet users. Not anymore though, as regular consumers will now focus on sustainable and ethical brands alone.

It doesn’t end there. Even search engines will continue blacklisting spam sites and clickbait content while promoting genuine brands. Hence, you’re bound to sell much more in 2020 with a message like “Your Wife Will Love These”, instead of “Click Here To Reveal Your Surprise Gift”.

Customers are also set to buy stuff from merchants who choose to reveal all their prices upfront. Hidden charges, however small, are now attracting pretty negative remarks and ratings across various popular online review platforms.

So, in a nutshell, the future belongs to sustainable and ethical brands.

What is the lifehack or tool that you absolutely can't do without in your work routine?

Ok, I’ll give you a hint. What’s the ultimate most valuable asset on the web today?

No, not money or a website. But rather traffic. We all do what we do for traffic, right?

Fair enough. And what’s the biggest source of traffic at the moment?

Yes, that’s right. Google leads the pack. In fact, I dare say it literally owns the web. And the reason being, Google alone owns 92% of all web traffic market share.

Now, with that said, how exactly can a website hack Google to win over traffic?

Pretty simple. SEO is basically the trick to getting noticed by Google’s crawlers, and subsequently having your site indexed accordingly.

That sounds just about right. But, here’s the thing about SEO in 2020. While some of its elements have remained constant, today’s SEO is very different compared to yesteryears’.

And no, SEO hasn’t become simpler. It’s now more complicated than ever, with Google repeatedly updating its algorithms, whereas the competition is getting tougher for indexed sites. It now takes a lot of work and resources to outshine your competitors on the search engine results pages.

But, thankfully, I found a way around the problem. And the trick is- yes you’ve guessed it right- I heavily capitalize on smart digital marketing intelligence, with my tool of choice being SEMrush.

So, in short, SEMrush is the one lifehack tool I can’t possibly do without.

In fact, I like to think of it as my personal all-in-one digital marketing toolkit. It’s built on a data-rich AI system that comes in handy for SEO keyword research, SERP keyword rank tracking, SEO site auditing, competitor analysis, ad campaign insights, backlink analysis, product listing ad analysis, plus traffic analytics.

And the best thing is, its development team keeps updating its tools every year to make the whole platform more intelligent and accurate.

Undeniably a hack of a lot bang for my buck.

Please, share a book or other resource on ecommerce you consider a must-read for anyone engaged in online sales?

I’ve come across many great books written by both upcoming and established authors. But, all in all, I’d recommend “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World”, from a world-renowned social media expert who goes by the name Gary Vaynerchuk.

Well, the book itself was published in 2013, but the social marketing lessons it carries are timeless. I bet they’ll still be relevant two-three decades down the line.

And if you’re wondering what the book’s all about, the title should give you a clue.

You see, business owners and digital marketers typically approach their social media campaigns with the “Jab, Jab, Right Hook” strategy. They throw “jabs” by coming up with content to engage their prospects and build relationships while hoping to land the final “right hook” that’ll serve as the killer blow for converting a lead into a customer.

But, the problem is, social media platforms are consistently morphing along with their accompanying audiences. So, the author helps you form a winning combination of jabs and a right hook, which are cumulatively bound to change the outcome of your campaigns.

Make no mistake though. These are not your regular run-of-the-mill marketing tips. Rather, Gary has compiled unique and actionable tips that many readers have found to be very insightful.

What was the most eye-opening ecommerce/business insight of the last year you'd like to share?

Facebook is big. And so is Instagram, Pinterest, as well as Twitter.

But, which of these would you say has the highest engagement rate between businesses and consumers?

Well, for most people, I think Facebook would take the pole position since it boasts of the highest number of active social media users. Either Twitter or Instagram would then come second, and Pinterest would probably be placed last.

Now that seems like a very fair way of comparing them. But, as you’ve possibly guessed already, the real situation is very different. As it turns out, Instagram sees the highest engagement rates between customers and brands. Facebook then comes second, followed by Pinterest, and then Twitter.

Yes, I know the surprise. I was equally shocked to learn that Instagram is the leading platform and that Pinterest outshines Twitter. It doesn’t end there though. If you find that unbelievable, this will knock you off your feet- it just so happens that Instagram outperforms the rest by insanely huge margins.

In essence, Instagram’s engagement rates are 10 times greater than Facebook’s, 54 times higher than Pinterest’s, and 84 times greater than Twitter’s.

That’s sufficient proof that your target audience is crazy about multimedia content. So, of course, business owners should now have an easy time figuring out the channels to prioritize.

Lots of thanks to Catalin for taking the time to share his experiences and thoughts with us. Keep reading our ongoing Experts Interview Series to catch the discussions with many other knowledgeable people in the eCommerce industry.

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