Via Forbes : For companies adapting to a digital generation that uses mobile devices to stay connected, make purchases, and manage their daily lives – building an online business is key to both surviving and winning big in the new economy.
In 2015, online sales of physical goods generated over $294 million. By the fourth quarter of 2016, retail e-commerce sales made solely on desktops surpassed $67.4 billion. In 2017, total retail e-commerce sales are projected to reach a staggering $353.6 billion, and is estimated to hit $485.2 billion by 2021. Forbes reports that B2B e-commerce will grow to become a $6.7 trillion market by 2020, more than doubling the predicted market worth of B2C e-commerce at $3.2 trillion.
Yet, despite the proven profitability of building an online business, developing and operating an e-commerce platform is often too complex, expensive, and time-consuming. Now, one startup has quickly emerged to equip companies on various scales with a trusted eCommerce solution that doesn’t require coding skills or steep pockets.
Founded in 2015, Zoey is a premium e-commerce platform created to help ambitious merchants expand their online businesses. The company assists clients with the development of custom websites, while also making top-tier technology available to agencies, startups, and entrepreneurs across industries without large enterprise budgets.
Zoey believes that entrepreneurs and small businesses are the heartbeat of the global economy, but have spent years being underserved by existing e-commerce platforms. By giving merchants the tools needed to manage and scale high-quality e-commerce platforms at an affordable price, Zoey not only levels the playing field within markets, but further fuels the growing gig economy of freelancers and short-term contractors.
Zoey’s platform features drag and drop design tools that allow users to create fully customized designs without writing any code, while also offering enterprise analytics designed specifically for e-commerce companies. Additionally, the platform provides highly versatile product, promotions, shipping, and management tools that gives merchants more freedom and control than other services. Zoey syncs with a list of leading e-commerce apps, such as Nosto, YotPo, ShipperHQ, Springbot, and ShipStation.
I spoke with Zoey CEO Uri Foox about the vision behind his company, disrupting the e-commerce industry, and the rapidly evolving trends shaping the way brands build digital storefronts.
What specific void or opportunity did you discover that inspired the idea behind Zoey?
Uri Foox: I founded Zoey to make advanced e-commerce functionality accessible to a larger audience of merchants. I saw that the custom sites serious merchants relied on were very expensive and time-consuming to build. I envisioned a solution that gave merchants and agencies the ability to create advanced sites without needing to have specialized technical skills. Things like optimized hosting, site upkeep, and security would be handled by our agency, so that the merchant and agency would never need to worry about them. This would reduce the time, money, and staff needed to create and maintain a store, so that those resources could be allocated to higher ROI opportunities like marketing and R&D.
What were some of the significant challenges you faced while first building your business?
Uri Foox: In the beginning, the challenge was identifying what we wanted to do, and deciphering what required outside support. For example, we went so far as to build our own billing system. The day-to-day management of this system tied up one of our development resources, which wasn’t the smartest way to use that person. Moving to a third-party solution eliminated that problem, and I wish we would have done that sooner. Entrepreneurs should never be afraid to revisit internal processes to determine if there’s an area that could be improved. Don’t be afraid to fail quickly and move on when a decision doesn’t work the way you expected. Another big challenge was honing in on the best target market. We started out focused on being all things to all people, which makes it difficult to differentiate yourself and speak the specific language your target audience is using. I think a lot of platforms run into this problem. Figure out the audience where you’re delivering the most value and keep your efforts focused on giving them an amazing experience.
Your focus is equipping businesses to not only be competitive in the space, but to also build future-proof businesses — What is the main message or takeaway you’re sending to today’s DIY generation?
Uri Foox: The main message we’re sending is that the DIY trend is a result of the natural evolution of technology. What was once reserved for people with specialized technical knowledge is now accessible to a much larger audience. If you look at other areas of technology, you can see this is a common trend: People used to build their own computers, now they’re massed produced; People used to run their own servers, now services like AWS are the default; People used to code their own websites, now there are platforms like Zoey. SaaS e-commerce platforms were in their infancy years ago, but the tools, software, and hardware needed to manage and scale a significant business effectively did not exist — meaning SaaS e-commerce was relegated to amateurs and hobbyists. Over the last five years, technology has evolved to the point where a lot more is possible by taking the DIY route. It’s become the new standard, while coding by hand has become the old way of doing it.
How has the natural transition into a DIY economy made the process of building e-commerce businesses more efficient?
Uri Foox: It used to be that e-commerce functionality — the ability to buy and sell — was the only thing that was needed. But, over time, businesses have adopted more and more third party tools to integrate with their platforms. As more and more integrations are needed, the platform becomes part of a larger puzzle. It becomes critical that your chosen e-commerce platform can seamlessly integrate with all the other tools you need to run your business, and that you can make and swap out these integrations quickly and easily. With a custom site, you’re boxed in, and this type of agility is basically impossible to achieve. You can group companies into two buckets: companies where the value is derived from the technology they create, and companies where the value is derived from the goods they produce. Most merchants fall into the latter category, getting trapped in focusing on money and energy; building out their own platforms instead of just investing in the areas that will help them create the most value. SaaS e-commerce is the best choice for them.
How do you believe supplying affordable e-commerce technology to merchants of all scales will transform the way brands develop and sell products?
Uri Foox: I think that giving merchants access to advanced e-commerce technology at a more affordable price will transform the way products are sold in several ways. First, it allows a more strategic allocation of budget. By lowering the cost of technology, you are enabling a business to funnel money into line items like R&D, marketing, sales and other channels that would have suffered because of the need to allocate a sizeable budget for technology. It also breeds online-first business models. When online tools that power sustainable growth are made available to merchants from the start, I think we’ll see more businesses operating with an online-first business model. Retail, or brick and mortar sales channels, will become less important for B2C brands, and we’ll see B2B businesses shift focus from hiring sales reps to using an online store as their primary sales channel.
What are some of the primary trends you see emerging in this rapidly evolving e-commerce space?
Uri Foox: One trend we see emerging is less reliance on custom coding. Now that more powerful SaaS platforms are available, an increasing number of large businesses are turning to SaaS, where in the past they would have used open source. Custom code is becoming less important, and in some cases, irrelevant. Zoey, for instance, uses drag & drop design tools, among other things, to remove the need for code completely. Another big trend is the move into mobile. It feels like people have been saying this for years, but I still see businesses delivering a poor mobile experience. As mobile shopping continues to drive an increasing amount of online sales, creating a top-tier mobile shopping experience is paramount. We’re also seeing the democratization of B2B. In the past, building a B2B store required using a complex open source platform, or a custom buildout. With platforms like Zoey, these capabilities are being made available in a much more affordable and easy-to-use package. Thus, I think an increasing number of wholesale and B2B merchants will evolve their sales processes to include online selling. Lastly, we will see more AI and data-driven personalization. I think we’ll see more merchants, even smaller ones, adopting technologies powered by artificial intelligence and big data analytics. This could take the form of chat bots, personalized product recommendations or automated marketing tools.
Offering affordable solutions always attracts a strong demand — But how does Zoey enhance the actually quality of work for agencies and merchants?
Uri Foox: With Zoey, we’re empowering agencies to provide a far more attractive solution to this problem for their clients. The agency can provide merchants the site that they need in less time, for less money, and deliver more value to the client. This also opens the client’s budget so that more money can be invested in high-value areas like marketing and product R&D. We also give the merchant tools like our Visual Design Editor and CMS, which empower them to take over more of the day-to-day management of their site, which is something they could not have done by using an open source platform. Beyond empowering the merchant, this also allows the agency to get out of the weeds and focus on big picture projects and recommendations that will have a larger impact on the success of the merchant’s business.
Many major companies are shutting down storefronts and going e-commerce only — What trends do you see emerging that merchants and marketers should be paying attention to?
Uri Foox: We see the opposite. We tend to work with merchants that are a lot of mom and pop stores, as well as up-and-coming brands, where we are seeing the omni-channel push taking hold; the need to have an online presence and a way to tie into their existing physical stores. They’re also selling on major outlets like Amazon and eBay, but want to tie that, their store and their online site altogether with a single inventory management. So, we see a lot of POS system tie-ins, inventory management systems, and so forth. Mobile, again, is a big one here. Even if a shopper waits until they get back to a computer to buy from you, they’re still doing research on mobile. They’re reading your marketing messages, whether that social media, email or another channel, on their phone, so you need to be putting your best foot forward there. The global nature of e-commerce is also important. Almost half of our customers are based overseas, and even more sell across international borders. If you want to be successful online, and scale your business significantly, you’re going to need to sell internationally. Fortunately, the technology tools to do this are becoming far more affordable and accessible to smaller merchants. It’s not just the arena of enterprise businesses anymore.