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An interview with George Linton, Head of Strategy at By Association Only

The importance of strategically-led retainers for ecommerce merchants

Founded in 2010 By Association Only (BAO) is the Shopify Plus agency for the world’s most design-conscious luxury brands. It offers best-in-class design with a focus on innovation, performance and functionality. 

As well as its award-winning design and development services the agency has a large dedicated department that offers strategically-led retained ecommerce services. 

These services support merchants in growing their businesses by offering expert insights and strategic advice alongside the standard production resource of UI/UX and development.

We sat down with Head of Strategy George Linton to find out more about how it works, and why retainers are beneficial to merchants and agencies alike.

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The interview:

1. Agencies tend to work with merchants on a project-only basis. Why are strategically-led retainers so crucial to your business?

At By Association Only we work with clients on both retainers and project-specific work. 

A project might be a new website or migration to Shopify. We also carry out work where different types of technical expertise are required, such as creating a custom app or particular piece of technical functionality. 

Our strategically-led retainers were created to offer merchants ongoing, proactive strategic support and insights beyond the scope of a traditional retainer method – our team is truly integrated with yours so has a deeper understanding of your wider business objectives.
Strategically-led retainers are beneficial for merchants as they provide access to experts with specialized knowledge that may not be easily hired internally. For the agency, retainers allow us to continuously work with leading ecommerce brands across multiple industries, staying at the cutting edge of the ecosystem.

2. Who is the ICP (ideal customer profile) for your Strategic retainers?

Since 2010, we’ve primarily worked with design-conscious luxury brands in fashion, lifestyle, and cosmetics. Our clients range from ambitious merchants like Joseph Joseph, Victoria Beckham, to Oh Polly, all known for their incredible products and brand storytelling. Their teams vary from small ecom teams to those with over 50 employees in ecom and marketing.

The way we’ve architected our Strategically-led services team really helps bridge the traditional gap between client and agency and offers a more fluid, integrated approach to these relationships.

You can read all of our existing case studies here.

3. What sort of research do you conduct for merchants as part of a Strategic retainer?

Every merchant is different and has their unique requirements, though, of course, we always look at topline metrics including conversion rate, average order value (AOV), retention rate and so on. 

We then delve into each of these areas to understand what’s really going on, as looking at certain metrics in isolation can be very misleading.

Take conversion rate, for example. By breaking down customers into segments such as new visitors versus old, one geographical region compared to another or one channel versus another, you get a much more detailed understanding of what’s going on.

We also take into consideration the various verticals that our merchants operate within and the tech stacks associated with each merchant. Fashion brands, for example, often have high return rates when compared with say, food and beverage brands. 

Equally, clients with higher-priced products might have significantly fewer repeat purchases than a brand boasting a subscription model. We research each merchant individually and consider the data relatively.

4. What support does a client with a strategically-led retainer receive?

Merchants who opt for our Strategy programmes receive an extremely high level of support, including:

Dedicated ecommerce account strategist
Resource – design, development, marketing, CRO, ecommerce strategy
Proactive engagement and solutions from our team of ecommerce experts
Led by our Head of Merchant Strategy and Head of Strategy
Bespoke digital roadmaps
Opportunity reports
Monthly / Quarterly KPI reports and more

Our team of experts reviews each new merchant and suggests which level of engagement would most benefit them. 

The number of production days – design, development, or marketing time – purchased will help dictate the amount of strategic support given. How those production days are allocated depends entirely on the requirements and digital ambition of the merchant.
Our Strategy team creates regular performance reports for our merchants, focusing on pre-agreed KPIs. We then present ideas for improvement in accordance with our findings, inform merchants of any new and exciting developments in the ecosystem and plan for the following months.

5. What are the success criteria for merchant Strategy programmes?

Success is defined by achieving the goals and objectives outlined at the start and throughout the program. We believe in setting multiple targets across various metrics to promote genuine and healthy growth, avoiding narrow financial goals that may compromise overall performance.

As Goodhart’s Law states, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”. In other words, if you target too specifically to achieve certain – often financial – goals you often compromise true performance. 
As an example, a merchant might have a target to grow their revenue by X amount over X period of time. Whilst this could be achieved by discounting heavily, the merchant might undermine other metrics, such as profitability. 

6. What part do your technology partners play in the Merchant Strategy Programmes?

We work closely with our partners to ensure we have the most up-to-date knowledge and understanding of each platform. This ensures we deliver a seamless experience for our merchants’ customers and introduce the right partners at the right tiering at the right time. 

Alongside best-in-class implementation we also monitor performance, test new strategies and report against the ROI. 

That’s why it’s vital for the agency to have strong relationships with partners such as LoyaltyLion.

7. What technology do you include? 

There is a range of factors to consider when recommending which technology stack a merchant should use.

We carefully architect a stack in response to each client’s specific needs and ambitions, considering which will be the most effective technology not only in isolation but also in tandem. 

Discussions around cost efficiency and a balanced trade-off between exciting features and potential impact on site performance are also vital too.

Most merchants use third-party technology for some or all of the following functionalities:

-Loyalty
-Advanced search
-Merchandising
-ESP/CDP/SMS
-Personalisation
-Subscription
-Returns/aftercare
-Back-end logistics which may include a PIM, ERP, WMS & OMS
-UGC
-Reviews

8. At what point do you pitch this to the client? 

We are constantly reviewing new technologies against existing client tech stacks, and present them to merchants if appropriate.

9. Why is LoyaltyLion a good fit for your retainer model?

We’ve worked with LoyaltyLion for several years and it’s a fantastic tool for retaining customers.

One of the best things about LoyaltyLion is it’s customisable, meaning we can change the design accordingly for each of our merchants, creating a unique and relevant experience for their users.

The fact that LoyaltyLion can be integrated with numerous other technologies makes it great for forming a winning tech stack, too.

10. What problems does LoyaltyLion solve and what are the main metrics you influence with LoyaltyLion?

The problems and metrics vary from business to business, however, the core issues that LoyaltyLion helps solve are related to customer retention and conversion rate. 

A solid loyalty programme is a simple way of nurturing and growing your existing relationships with customers – be this by offering discounts, giving a gift with purchase, or better still by creating custom rewards. 

We recommend custom rewards – such as early access to new product lines, VIP-specific sales or point-based charity donations – because they are more considered, feel more personal to individuals, and can be curated to better match the brand.

Not only do rewards make customers feel like they’re part of an exclusive community, which benefits retention and incentivises a purchase, they also give the merchant an opportunity to communicate with the customer in a way that’s genuinely engaging and well-received. 

Loyalty programmes also help provide a deeper understanding of your customer base. Customers are very willing to share their skin type, hair color or birthday, for example, when offered a gift or discount in exchange for the data.

11. What do you provide in terms of strategy to your clients who implement LoyaltyLion?

We provide support to merchants who choose LoyaltyLion in many ways – be it reviewing the success of an individual campaign, or carrying out a larger audit on a particular function of the programme.

About By Association Only

By Association Only is the Shopify Plus agency for the world’s most design-conscious luxury brands. Get in touch to discover how our team of experts can support your brand’s Shopify ambitions.