Brooks Robinson of Springbot: Selling on Amazon Not as Important for Some Retailers as Having Their Own Branded Site

I attended Magento Imagine last week. And it gave me the chance to speak to Brooks Robinson. He acts as CEO of Springbot. The company built this marketing automation application specifically for SMB e-commerce retailers.  The company has served this audience for seven years. And they also act as a long time Magento partner.  So I stopped by their booth at the conference. And I got Brooks’ take on what Adobe acquisition of Magento means to SMB retailers. I also asked what have been the biggest changes to e-commerce over the past couple of years. And we discussed what relationship SMB sellers should have with Amazon. Finally, I asked what smaller e-commerce players should be on the lookout for in the not too distant future.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.  To hear the full interview watch the video. Or click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.

Life as a Serial Entrepreneur

Small Business Trends:  Why don’t you give us a little bit of your personal background.

Brooks Robinson:  I am a serial entrepreneur. Been involved with a number of tech startups over the past almost 20 years. And we co-founded Springbot back in 2012. And it has been a great ride helping small to mid-size e-commerce retailers take advantage of technology typically only available to large retailers. Think about marketing automation in the past six or seven years. It was really dominated by these larger retailers.

So we have been looking at things like market attribution. What market is working? And what is not? How do you make this available to a smaller retailer? The marketing automation around personalization, right? How do you have that retailer have a neat consumer experience. Help them drive more traffic, conversion and revenue altering.

A Look at the Magento Imagine Conference

Small Business Trends:  That is really good. So how is this conference? I think we are only a day and a half into it. But how does this conference compare to the pre-Adobe acquisition Imagine?

Brooks Robinson:  Go way back to 2012. It was a developer conference, right? So and we were talking nuts and bolts and integrations. And it was really in the weeds. We were talking a lot about technology. And then we went through the eBay, PayPal phase, was not so bad. And that was much more around partnerships, and co-marketing. Some go to market strategy and then, it has been exciting.

I think that we are really excited about the partnership that we will have now with Adobe and Magento. Obviously with Adobe being a much larger organization, the resources that come to bear. What is also interesting is even though from an e-commerce perspective, Adobe had been working mostly with larger enterprise.

Thinking about the Cloud

…we will think about the e-commerce cloud. Or the Adobe commerce cloud. What is actually interesting is in the small to mid-market where we serve, almost every one of our customers has an Adobe relationship. With some Adobe piece of software. Whether that is SodaShop or Illustrator. And so we are excited about the brand recognition in our space. And just in continuing to develop the partnership we have had with Magento for as long as we have.

Small Business Trends:  So it is 2019. And so much is going on around e-commerce in general. But when you think about e-commerce from an SMB perspective, and some of the things that are kind of being discussed now, how different is e-commerce, in 2019 for SMB perspective, than it was maybe even a couple of years ago?  

Brooks Robinson:  Well yes, if you go back three or four years. I think we have seen a major shift in how retailers are using consumer data to target messages is a pretty unique experience for their consumer. If you really go back three or four years ago it was, I had to do my monthly e-mail campaigns. And I blasted out to everyone on my list. There was probably a little bit of dabbling in triggered e-mails. Or leveraging data within your store, to drive personalized messages. That has come along way in the past three or four years.

How E-Commerce Has Changed

If you go back three or four years ago the main trigger e-mail people were doing was abandon shopping cart. If a consumer abandoned a cart, they got the e-mail, free shipping or ten percent off. Now with much more sophistication around behavior, what products you are looking at, what your demographics are, what your past purchase behavior is, the RFM analysis, the recency, frequency and monetary value of that consumer is now being used to trigger different messages, that are moving beyond just e-mail.

Small Business Trends:  Right.

Brooks Robinson:  At Springbot we have been in e-mail marketing automation six or seven years, but we just recently launched in Facebook Messenger the ability to use that as another channel to reach your consumer and that is something that we are seeing, that has just evolved in the past three or four years.

The Magento Amazon Connection

Small Business Trends:  One of the key announcements coming out of this conference is around the Magento, Amazon connection, allowing you to be able to manage your Amazon store from Magento.

Brooks Robinson:  Yes.

Small Business Trends:  How important is it for, take the SMB folks, to have a presence on Amazon in addition to trying to build their own brand and their own store?

Brooks Robinson:  Yes, I think it really depends on the brand. One of the things we do at Springbot, is we try to have that consultative approach to working with small to mid-size retailers, rather than just go ahead, buy a piece of software.

Small Business Trends:  Right.

Understanding your Product

Brooks Robinson:  We really like to understand what product you are selling, tell us more about your consumer, because the Amazon integration does not work for every retailer.  But Amazon can be a great channel for someone that still has their own brand presence. We have an Amazon integration as part of our platform for four or five years and view it as a positive channel for some retailers.

Small Business Trends:  Okay. The other thing that they talk about in the morning keynote was this whole idea of progressive web apps, where does that fit into things

The World of Progressive Web Apps

Brooks Robinson:  I think you will probably see that more in the larger enterprise based where an enterprise, retailer will make an investment in an app and have that be one of their channels to go to market. we do not see as much of that in the small to mid-market. We think we see more investment in the branded website, as well as in social media assets. We work with a lot of fashion retailers and their Instagram presence, their Facebook presence. Those are all areas that we see more investment there, making those shoppable, versus an actual mobile app set.

Small Business Trends:  One of the stats that came out was now more people seem to be shopping online via mobile than being at their laptop.  Or at their desktop. How does that change the game from an SNB perspective around commerce?

The Move from Laptop to Mobile

Brooks Robinson:  If you go back four or five years it was all about responsive design of websites right, and it was amazing how many small to mid-size and even frequently large retailers had not built responsive sites. We saw this mobile kind of wave as people were buying, not just shopping, but actually buying online. There is a big difference between doing discovery in mobile but now people are actually making their purchase on mobile.

I think we have gone through that phase of responsive design. That was kind of like three or four years ago, and now we are much more into having a different consumer experience on mobile. That is just not changing the layout of the page, but thinking more about how that consumer goes from discovery to purchase, is much different, and I think that is where we are seeing more investment.

Where the Sale is Made

The other is just understanding that attribution in terms of what marketing is actually getting someone to buy via mobile versus buying via the web. And start to think about your consumers as mobile discovery folks or mobile purchasers and start to do some segmentation around that as it relates then to your marketing tactics and marketing automation.

Small Business Trends: It seems like there has been that shift from people looking for products, maybe four or five years ago, they started on Google, now it is like 50 to 60 percent do their first product search on Amazon.

Brooks Robinson:  Yes, yes.

Small Business Trends:  Are small businesses taking advantage of that in any way or are they still trying to play catch-up with that shift?

Making Online Retail Giants Accessible to Small Sellers

Brooks Robinson:  One of the things we are always trying to do is learn what large retailers are doing and bring that down and make that simple and affordable to small and mid-market. So one of the great things about the Adobe relationship is that we get to talk to large retailers and we get to be at shows like Imagine, where there is a cross section of small, mid and large retailers. But it is great to go talk to large retailers and see how are they tackling that challenge.

I think on the Amazon front there is definitely product listings, but now we are starting to see the ability to do Amazon ads and be able to drive to a branded site, and that opens up a really interesting opportunity for mid=market, that maybe is not as focused on having Amazon as a channel. But now using Amazon as an advertising channel, which I think is really kind of unique and interesting.

Being Passionate about your Brand

So I think ultimately where our customers do best is when they have a brand and a product they are passionate about and it really comes through in their branded site, that you do not get when you have a product listed in Amazon.

Small Business Trends:  Right.

Brooks Robinson:  Another preppy shirt sitting in Amazon is not the same as coming to a really cool store that talks about the persona of that brand and how they engage with their consumers. How they interact with those consumers, I think it is much different than what you get in a more sterile Amazon.

Small Business Trends:  It is still the case where Amazon pretty much owns the customer when it is bought via Amazon, versus if you have your own store and you, somebody buys all in your store and then you get all that information.

Building a One-to-One Marketing Campaign

Brooks Robinson:  Yes, where one of the things about our prop when we first started Springbot was I really wanted to be able to help retailers with attribution. Right, if you spent a dollar on marketing, how much revenue do you get, and a big part of that is not just understanding that one-to-one marketing campaign to purchase. You are also understanding customer lifetime value and trying to understand can you get that repeat buyer, so that is what makes the Amazon channel more difficult; while you are seeing people use it as a combination, rather than being a sole channel.

Small Business Trends:  What are we going to be thinking about, what are we going to have to account for in five years, that we are not even really thinking about, or maybe it just is not that big of deal right now?

Brooks Robinson:  I think how consumer data is used, the privacy around that, helping consumers interact with brands in the way they want to interact verses it being the other way around. I think that is going to put a lot of pressure on retailers and their brand market retailers to leverage marketing automation in a way that engages with those consumers. Like I said in the way that the consumer wants to be engaged, and that can be everything from Facebook Messenger to e-mail, to SMS, and being able to give the consumer choice for having Interact. I think will be something that we will really challenge the platforms, but I think it is exciting.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

2 Reactions
  1. It is always better to sell from your own site. It is far better than just selling under another site. You don’t have control if it closes down.

  2. Brooks Robinson: “I think how consumer data is used, the privacy around that, helping consumers interact with brands in the way they want to interact versus it being the other way around. I think that is going to put a lot of pressure on retailers and their brand market retailers to leverage marketing automation in a way that engages with those consumers.”
    As for me, consumer data is a bar of gold for IT technology. We could see many accidents with leaks of consumer data. Some accidents took places in the courts. And there are problems for consumers. I don’t want to obtain a similar situation in my family.