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In this episode of eCommerce in the Trenches, JD interviews Erik Christiansen, CEO and Co-Founder of Justuno, a powerful tool that allows online retailers to appeal to customers through on-site promotions and acts as a lead magnet. JD and Erik discuss the value of coupon codes and how they impact conversion rates. Erik reveals what kind of offers are engaged with the most and why, based on extensive data he and his team have collected. They also dive into how on-site and off-site marketing can be used in a single campaign to maximize conversions and improve customer experience. Read the entire interview here!

JD: Hello, and welcome to eCommerce in the Trenches. This is JD Crouse. I’m excited today to have Erik Christiansen from JustUno on. How’s it going, Erik?

Erik: Hey, JD.

JD: You are calling in from where?

Erik: San Francisco.

JD: Nice. I want to jump right in. JustUno, it’s kind of a unique name. We began being a client of JustUno’s in early 2014, but for those out there who don’t know what JustUno is, could you tell us a little bit about JustUno and how it came to be?

Erik: Sure. JustUno’s a conversion rate optimization platform, and we work with websites who really focus on three areas, which would be email lead capture, sales conversion, and website messaging. JustUno the name, present day we could say it’s just one platform to do everything on site.

Originally, it actually spurred from when we were running our own online retail business [inaudible 00:01:28] Snowboard. That [inaudible 00:01:30] launched Steep & Cheap, one of the first deal sites. JustUno itself is actually meant originally for just one deal a day. That’s actually where the name truly comes from. We’re a team of 15 based out of San Francisco and Austin.

We’re former retailers ourselves, so it’s really ingrained, the culture of retails, whether it’s customer service, the realities that, just like the trench warfare retail, we understand that. We really build our business and our product around the needs of retailers.

JD: When you say that you have retail experience, you guys did a lot of business, a lot of revenue.

Erik: Yeah. From 2005 to ’10, Travis Logan, my co-founder and I, we engineered the … We didn’t have … Toby was still selling snowboards himself online. It wasn’t Shopify. You couldn’t turn a retail business on overnight. What we ended up doing, we ended up building our own infrastructure, and over five years we’ve built it up to process over 20 million in sales in 2009. We’re a global business dealing with everything that you could possibly imagine in retail, but much harder because the tools just weren’t there for us.

JD: We also really built it around the snowboard community, which was a social commerce aspect. We didn’t have a marketing budget. We really had to focus in on how to grow the business organically, and we did that through our online forums, through SEO, just product videos, just being the best at what we could do and being the most real about it.

JD: Nice. Content marketing focus?

Erik: Heavy, very heavy.

JD: That’s awesome. When you launched JustUno, there were … I don’t know for sure because I wasn’t in e-commerce in 2010, but I know in 2013 there were some big players in the market, big players that did essentially then what you all do now. They would charge seven to, if I remember right, $15,000 a month, and they were more of an agency model trying to convert that site visitor, trying to grab them, get them engaged on the site. They were using overlays and all kinds of fancy stuff back then in a more of a done-for-you capacity.

Then there’s the do-it-yourself at the, possibly, other end of the spectrum, where there were some competitors, and in the middle you had the blended offering, that they would help you a little bit if you needed some design help. Talk to me about positioning in the marketplace and how you guys decided and where you see yourselves with your current suite of products and what you all do.

Erik: It goes into building a product that we as former retailers would want to use, because the realities of retail is that it’s all about cash flow and moving inventory. We would wake up at … On the road at 7:00, driving the commute from San Francisco to Sacramento, worked a warehouse, worked the store, get back in the car, worked in the car, get home at 10:00 pm, and I’d get a text like, “We have to flush this inventory. We need cash flow. We need to flush this inventory.” We were at such a high rate of growth, we would have to make changes on the fly.

We built a tool that any digital marketer can get in and make that change, and simply if they need to change a promotion from 10% off to 15% off to flush some inventory, no different than you’d be able to log in and change the pricing rules for your product. In today’s world, digital marketers need full control of that. The agency model of emailing, waiting a day to get back, scheduling it out to happen, it can be very hard for businesses. With Bolder Bands, can you speak to that sense?

JD: It’s funny. When you’re saying that, I’m like, “I can so feel the pain.” When we have worked with … Especially on the Google ads side, one of my biggest frustrations is, we’ve had some fantastic partners that really know, really have Google advertising chops, but inevitably, they’re like, “Okay, give me your 30-day promotion schedule. Give me your … ” I’m like, “Do you realize that when I walk in the back door and I get an inventory report and my wife and I, who are co-founders of Bolder Band, when we look around and we go, ‘Okay, what time of year is it? What would be a really fun thing to do a promotion around, like tonight?’ And then we send several hundred thousand emails that night, and we need to have everything on site, on Facebook, on Google, everything on point saying the same thing.” The Google world, unfortunately in my experience, you just can’t do it. When you’re talking, telling me that the flexibility, how important that is, I couldn’t agree more with you, Erik.

Erik: If you go back to November of 2010, is when Travis and I launched JustUno, and it really spurred because in the early days, Google would actually tell you what keywords visitors were coming in. Now they block it, which is really difficult for digital marketers. We recognize that people that googled Seirus Snowboard coupon code or a variation of that would come back and had a sales conversion rate between eight and 11%.

We learned early on that the value of a coupon and accepting the reality that people are [inaudible 00:08:03], googling, looking for a coupon code. That experience with RetailMeNot and all that is just one of the worst experiences ever to anyone who’s done it. First thing we did is we ranked up to the top Google searches for that so that we would at least be able to control what codes are out there and how to manage them.

That’s when I saw the light. I’m like, an eight to 11% sales conversion rate. Something’s happening on the cart. For me to get a code onto our cart page in 2009 required me to go to a developer, required it to be janky. You couldn’t browser test it. It didn’t match the website design. It was cumbersome. When we launched JustUno, you could not mention the word coupon to a retailer. You could not mention popup to a retailer.

Fast-forward to present day, thankfully discounting’s acceptable and pop-ups are acceptable. The thing is, our pop-ups are way more advanced. It was not just a simple pop-up on the home page. When we talk about positioning in the marketplace, you have the agency model and then at the lower end, you have very simple pop-ups that allow you to do first page and then maybe a little branding but not much.

Where we sit in the middle is a design canvas that allows a digital marketer to come in and replicate a branded design that their design team has done. For a small shot, they can come on using our setup wizard that has things ready to go that they can just swap their logo if they like or choose the color. Sitting in the middle, we’re able to provide the flexibility for the enterprise grade, and then also the digital marketer [inaudible 00:09:56] get in, take control of everything in real time, and then the smaller shop that wants to grow and progress. We love when people say, “We’re doing this, but we want to be able to do this, this, or this.” That’s where we positioned ourself.

JD: You have the technology backbone to be able to fire your overlays and things on site quickly and seamlessly, which is critical. The really basic, really inexpensive … Not that y’all are super expensive, but the really cheap, I guess I would say, pop-up providers out there, there’s a lag when you’re exiting the page. The ability to do different things on mobile versus desktop isn’t there. The functionality that JustUno has is really robust, plus the speed of it, which in today’s day and age is critical. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Erik: Yeah. I think the mobile comment is one of the most … Speaks to us as former retailers because we recognize that the mobile experience is different than the desktop experience. You can’t just do a simple … You can’t expect a desktop promotion to shrink down to a mobile and for it to work correctly.

What we did … I don’t know. Maybe it was like two years ago. Time flies. Whatever, two years ago we said, “Look, when someone creates a promotion, we will not allow them … We’re going to have them create a desktop and tablet and then a mobile one,” because responsiveness does not work down to mobile. You don’t click to submit. You don’t do that on mobile. You tap to submit. That’s one area that, just as an example, we’re constantly innovating. We love building things, and in this space you have to always be thinking about how people are interacting on the websites and in different devices and how do we engage with them.

JD: I think that that leads me into the next question that I had for you. There’s a lot of tools out there right now that do some or a lot of the things that JustUno does. How do you stand out? Not necessarily you as a company, but customers are smart, or they’re dumb. I don’t know how you … But we get numb to things as buyers, as visitors to websites.

Any retailer worth their salt has got some type of overlay, some pop-up, something that slides over. How do you capture that visitor’s attention and engage them long enough to get them to share a good email address? How do you do that? Is it design? It is a cool functionality like … The spin-to-win concept is really hot right now, I think. Is it the strength of the offer, or it is something else, Erik? What are your thoughts on that?
Erik: We’re talking about computer conversion rate optimization it sounds like, right?

JD: That’s really-

Erik: Yeah, yeah.

JD: Yeah, that’s all that matters.

Erik: Versus why would a retailer want to do business with us, it’s more of why would a shopper want to engage with a pop-up. In that regard, we have this … It’s so exciting. I’m really excited because after seven years, we actually are pulling data from our entire platform, all of our users. From the 20 million impressions a day, we’re doing whatever it is. What I can tell you is I just pulled this report this morning and we’re going to be presenting it. The number one performing promotion across our entire platform is, “Would you like free shipping today?”

JD: Wow.

Erik: If you think about it, I just shared this with my entire team this morning, if you think about it, what is the number one reason people don’t check out on the shopping cart page?

JD: Yeah, because of shipping.

Erik: It’s shipping. That’s why Amazon is crushing it. You know it’s going to get to you the next day. What I can tell you is, if you do anything today, it’s look at your shipping. With Bolder Bands, what’s your shipping policy? Is it free?

JD: Free over 75. It depends. It depends on what promo we’re running. Every day, it’s $3.89.

Erik: What if you experimented? If you look at marketing dollars, if you look at the cost of shipping, is that going to be what percentage of your sales? You don’t have to offer 10% off or 15% off if shipping is 5% of your order. To the shopper, there’s more value attributed to free shipping versus 5% off maybe, or even expedited shipping. If you analyze the visitor and recognize this number one reason of not checking out, let’s plug that hole first. It makes sense that is the number one sales converting promotion running on our platform today.

JD: Do you have that firing on the cart? Where are you firing that?

Erik: I’d have to pull out their segmentation to check. I literally just saw this report this morning.

JD: That’s so cool that you can pull all that data and aggregate it and compare it.

Erik: Yeah. You talk about … That’s our job of content and educating the marketplace of how to be successful. Anyone can turn a pop-up on, but you ask, “What should we be doing beyond just a simple pop-up?” Where the other highly engaging ones, the ISLE Surfboards, they do a standup paddle giveaway. If we look at marketing in your budget spend, you’re spending all this money to drive traffic [inaudible 00:16:43] Google AdWords or Facebook.

That visitor that’s coming in, they’ve shown interest in your brand, and you’ve paid for them to come to your website, but they have the highest bounce rate and the lowest sales conversion rate. What we want to do is capture an email from that visitor to be able to re-target them for free, mind you, through your ESP and to bring them back. What’s highly engaging, it is the giveaway. It’s a product which has high perceived value but lowest cost to you as a retailer. Bolder Bands, you manufacture your product, so your margins … And you sell direct, so you have higher margins than your typical retailer. That product costs you that much less, so you could afford to give away your product. Not afford, but the marketing dollars to get your best value out of it. Since I already displayed interest in headbands, yeah, I’ll sign up for a free giveaway. Is that … I could keep rambling.

JD: No, that’s cool. I think that you answered it. I asked is it design, is it a cool functionality like a spin-to-win, a percentage off, free shipping on that, or is it the offer. Of course for our business, I’m very biased. It’s always the offer. It just seems like it’s always the offer. Free shipping trumps a giveaway, probably, in the prospect’s mind because it’s more immediate. They get the benefit of that. They get the value of it immediately versus having to wait to see if they won.

Giveaways are great, and we’ve done a good … We’ve had good success with giveaways. However, in our experience, and it’s a gut kind of a thing, I’d like to hear your thoughts on it, but I think that it can actually postpone a purchase decision, which is interesting. Psychologically people can be like, “Well … ” You know how that … There’s some stuff that I’ve read, the psychology of if you get somebody to complete an open loop, which filling out a form and doing a giveaway, entering a giveaway, they can almost mentally check that off and say, “Well, I’m done.” Even though giveaways are great and they’re valuable and you get that lead, I’ve often wondered does it really delay that purchase event. What are your thoughts around that?

Erik: Visitor segmentation is an important of that in terms of gift cards. They sound great, but guess what? If you sign up to win a gift card, well, I’m going to wait to see if I win before I make this purchase. You have that aspect going on. The second with segmentation is, and this goes towards the SYNNEX of pop-ups, saying, “Oh, I don’t want to screw up the user experience. I hate them.” Retailers are notorious for thinking single-minded. They go to their website every day, multiple times a day. They have a hard time stepping back from their business.

My response is, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s not do anything. Anyone who’s added an item to their shopping cart and is about to leave your website is a critical and most strategic time to try to close that sale or capture an email.” You understand what they’re doing. You haven’t sold them.

When you walk into a brick-and-mortar, when you walk into a retail store, there’s a sales associate that will approach you. They try to help you, “How are you doing today? Anything you’re looking for?” They help walk you through the shopping experience and they work to close the deal. As an online retailer, you really have to think about how are you working your forum. That’s where JustUno comes in.

JD: Very cool. Talk a little bit more about segmentation. What do you see really successful retailers doing right now in handling a returning customer versus a first-time visitor, or a second or third-time visitor possibly but they haven’t converted yet? How do you get smart about handling those different types of visitors?

Erik: That’s a really important question. Look at your traffic, and this is KPIs. First thing I like to ask customers is, “What’s your new visitor versus repeat visitor?” Right there you can then break apart your strategy. With a repeat visitor, where are they coming from? Email marketing is back. It’s so powerful. It’s such a … It’s a phenomenal marketing channel.

Now that we’re looking at email marketing, what we’re doing now is working to create a unified marketing campaign from off-site to on-site. Upcoming holidays, we have Labor Day coming up, Back to School. You’re sending right now … When this podcast airs, whatever that current holiday is, you’re going to be crafting this beautifully designed email probably. You’re going to be sitting down figuring out what the marketing message is going to be. You’re probably going to have a promotion in there, maybe even a coupon code. You’re going to blast out that email.

Think about what happens when that visitor clicks that email. No one has time to build a landing page for emails. You’re probably sending to a category or to your home page. What we’re saying is, “Okay, great. Let’s take that same email marketing message and replicate it using a banner at the top of your website or bottom of the website and reinforce that marketing message on site.”

JD: It’s one the basic tenets of marketing, right? It’s staying relevant and consistent. It’s keeping everything tight so that what they see in the email is what they see on site, is what they see at the checkout. All of the internal check-boxes in the customer is going, “Yep, yep, yep.” There’s nothing that’s out of alignment, is that right?

Erik: Correct. You could take it even one step further where, let’s just say you’re offering 10% off Labor Day sale. They click through. They see the reinforced Labor Day sale. They see the coupon code. They can click to apply it or copy it. Then let’s say they actually add an item to the cart, they go to check out. I’m sitting there, and I’m just like, “You know what? This isn’t good enough for me. I’m going to leave the website because I’m not sold yet.” You could then hit them with an exit offer that says, “Labor Day sale ends,” with a countdown timer to create a sense of urgency. “Our very, very best special is get an extra 5% of 15% off today only.” It’s [inaudible 00:24:33] discount to really close the deal. That’s only people viewing it that are leaving your website. You have that kind of aspect going.

JD: Cool. Let’s get a little geeky. What happens after JustUno captures a lead?

Erik: We’ve integrated with pretty much every ESP on the market, along with data platforms such as segment. What we do is we allow you to add in the web forms from, let’s just say, MailChimp. We’ve actually built it so you can log directly into your MailChimp, search through your account, select any pre-built list, and then it just adds it in, so for whatever forms you built, multiple fields, it just throws it onto the pop-ups, on the design canvas. Whatever information you’re capturing and hidden fields, we pass right back through to the ESP so you can really start. Your emails lists are super smart.

JD: Erik, what does the future look like for JustUno and maybe just e-commerce in general? You’re on the front lines. You’re converting visitors. You’re helping e-commerce stores get to the dollar, try to maximize their return on how it costs to get a visitor to their site and turn those visitors into dollars. What does the future look like? I know that that’s a tricky question, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Erik: Real world examples, right? I bought Hydro Flasks pint glasses for our office here in San Francisco. I wanted to support them directly, so I went to I shopped their website. I bought the pint glasses. I bought them on a Monday, and by Friday, I was like, “Where are the mugs?” I thought I remembered seeing an email. Forgot about it. Monday, I came to my office, they weren’t there, and I was like, “Didn’t I get a confirmation email?” I pulled it up. There was a shipping confirmation email, and the shipping confirmation email had my tracking number but didn’t have a link to track it. It was unavailable, so I just copied it and guessed it was FedEx. I went to FedEx, and it said it was going to be delivered Thursday.

JD: Oh, wow.

Erik: I ordered this on a Monday, and here I’m on the next Monday, [inaudible 00:27:10] get to me until Thursday. So, what am I learning from that, or what is a brand learning from that? What we’re learning is that brands are great at making product and marketing that product. They are not retailers. In order to compete with Amazon, we have to look at our business.

This is just one example, and this example carries on across the board. Next time, am I going to order from Hydro Flask? No, I’m going to order from Amazon because I want it the next day or whatever, or I’m going to go to the local store. I am actually … Honest truth, after this podcast, I’m driving down to [inaudible 00:27:58] and buying more cups from there because I don’t want to deal with their online experience.

JD: That’s horrible.

Erik: They’re not online retailers. They have to learn that. It’s our job to help them understand retail, because retail’s brutal. It’s not easy. It’s great that e-commerce is so … It’s only, what? 9% of the global retail market, growing at 22%. We have a lot of room for growth, and Amazon isn’t going to own it. That’s why I love the peer play brands like Bolder Bands, like Hydro Flask, like Chubbies . All these brands, MVMT Watches, they can beat Amazon because they manufacture and own their own product, but they really have to make sure they understand the online consumer, and they don’t.

Let me rephrase that. They’re doing great jobs, but there’s so much more to learn. My goal for JustUno is to provide them a tool. When they log in, we’re educating them. Just like when you log into your Google AdWords, you look at your campaigns, you look at how many impressions you got, how many clicks, and how many sales. That’s where we’re going with JustUno. We want you logging in to have your KPIs. We want you thinking about, “How many emails did I capture from my new visitors? What percentage of that do we engage with? Of our visitors, which segment has the highest sales conversion rate?” Really understanding that on-site visitor and converting them either into an email or a sale.

We’ll sit in meetings with a team of eight digital marketers, and the exact quote was … They were talking about email lead capture and their different campaigns. I go, “Okay, can we talk about [inaudible 00:29:58] your shopping cart page?” Every digital marketer looked at me and straight-faced said, “Oh, that’s the product team.” We were talking about the unified experience. The digital marketer needs [inaudible 00:30:12] from lead generation creation all the way through the funnel to sales conversion, so you need these teams working together.

JD: As a business owner, understanding also that the customer experience … In your example, how much time did you have to wait to get your Hydro Flask? That’s going to impact … It’s the human side of the business that impacts you returning to their website and having a direct connection to them.

It impacts when you see an email from them in your inbox whether or not you’re going to engage with them, because it’s the whole customer experience. Other than speed, which Amazon kicks all of our butts because they can do it typically faster and much less expensive because they negotiate these ridiculous rates with the USPS and get them to deliver on Sundays, which is good on them, good job, Jeff, but we can beat them with the user experience, timely delivered emails, purchase confirmation emails that has a really nice video from the founders that’s heartfelt. You get me on my soapbox because-

Erik: Oh my god, no. After this podcast, I’m going to send you a video we created back in ’07 or ’08. We created a video. In the order confirmation, we included the video, and it was Jared saying, showing them, showing the user exactly what would happen. Their order would print, it’d go on the cart, it’d go in the warehouse, get pulled, and we would ship same day. If you were within 300 miles of Sacramento, you got it the next day.

JD: Wow. ’07, that was revolutionary. You guys were cutting edge.

Erik: That’s how you’re going to win today. You can’t half-ass online retail. You absolutely have to just go to war. You have to be the best, and that’s what Jeff Bezos does, is they are the best. How do you be better than them? Also, you mentioned your first time orders, confirmation emails. Look at your percent of second-time orders. Is it 80% of customers only shop once with a brand, like a website?

Get these metrics and let’s push them up by 10%. Let’s increase these numbers. We had it easier because we were in snowboarding. People are passionate about it. Products are reinvented every year. But, it wasn’t just that. We knew that we could compete with Backcountry, Burton. Zappos was even in it. We actually went and toured Zappos when they were early, with them. We did the Nordstrom’s model. It’s customer service, customer service. Then you got to make sure you have the product.

We had our problems. We sold into the negatives. Whenever we did have a problem, the sorry10 was the best promo code ever. “We’re so sorry. Here’s an extra 10% off your already discounted product.” We would take care of them. You mentioned shipping. We would always pit UPS and FedEx up against each other. You can negotiate those contracts every six months, and then your packaging, getting your … It’s all about getting your costs down and inefficiencies.

Fortunate to us, we were able to build … We would go up, look at inefficiencies and then code it into the system. We became a paperless operation because it was fast enough, and people would even be able to log in and see where their order was in the process. You need transparency in your business. People just want to know, “Did they get my order? Is it shipping? Where is it?”

JD: It saves a phone call, right? That saves you from having to have somebody on the phone or another three people or another five people, or another five people on chat, because it’s there. It’s transparent. I love it.
Erik: You know, that brings up my … People ask me, “What tips do you have?” When I got that order I wondered, “Has anyone at Hydro Flask ordered from their website recently?” As an e-commerce manager, director, or business owner, once a month you need to take out your credit card and purchase from your website, if not once a week.

JD: Yes, love it.

Erik: Do it blindly. Don’t let anyone know it’s you because if the internal staff knows … It depends on your size of your operation. Just take note of that, that entire process. That’s how you figure it out, right?

JD: That’s right. Erik, this has been awesome. I hope we get to get together when … Get to get together, that’s a mouthful, when you come to Austin soon, now that I’m not too far away from there. Tell me where people can go to … You got some amazing resources, some videos that you were telling me that you all have put together and are putting together more. Where would you point people?

Erik: Our blog is our greatest, probably, source for finding that stuff, just Grant Thomas does a great job curating all of our content. The email example I mentioned, that video is definitely up there and it shows how to actually set it up and the reality of how to do it, which is actually pretty …

JD: Nice.

Erik: Yeah, I’d say our blog is the best spot.

JD: Very cool. Is there any parting thoughts or words of wisdom that you have for all of us online retailers?

Erik: We’re in retail, so we’re seasonal in the holidays. The holidays are such a fantastic option to run your own on-site promotions. It’s like creating a sense of urgency. Just like when you walk through a mall and every window has their new banners in their window for their holiday sale, do the same for your website. Create a reason for people to purchase, “Oh, it’s Labor Day sale. It’s probably the best deal.” There’s a reason to purchase it. That’s one thing we always love to remind people. The other would be, think about your new visitors and all the missed opportunities to capture emails from those visitors.

JD: Very cool. My friend, thank you for your time. It’s great to chat with you about how to convert visitors into dollars. That’s fresh on everybody’s mind right now, and with the rising costs of marketing on Facebook and other platforms out there, it’s timely. It’s as important or more important now than it has ever been to effectively convert those visitors into buyers. I appreciate your time, Erik. I look forward to connecting with you again really soon.

Erik: Cool, JD. Thanks so much.