RetailPlus SF: Secrets to eCommerce Success from Kirsten Green, Founder of Forerunner Ventures

Our team at Retention Science has been hitting the road with our RetailPlus series, a thought leader event series designed to help eCommerce and retail executives connect over good food and even better conversation. Last month, we went bicoastal to NYC for a talk with Birchbox CMO Deena Bahri; just last week, we headed back west and up the California coast to San Francisco.

Given the location, it only seemed fitting to host a talk that incorporated eCommerce, technology, and the fast-paced world of startups. Enter Kirsten Green, founder of Forerunner Ventures, who graciously joined our CEO Jerry Jao in a frank conversation about eCommerce startups’ quest for relevance and market share. Laura Batchelor from Bloomberg joined to moderate the panel.

As the VC who discovered and nurtured brands like Birchbox and Warby Parker, Kirsten is uniquely qualified to answer the question of what it takes for young eCommerce companies to succeed. Throughout the night, she provided invaluable insight and actionable advice to companies at all stages.

Here are just a few of her top points:

The secret to successful retailing in today’s day and age:

It all comes down to understanding your customer and providing an experience. The core of every retailer-consumer relationship is just that: a relationship. To truly connect and resonate in a way that builds long-term loyalty, brands must invest in providing a valuable experience to the customer.

Thankfully, it’s easier now than ever to deliver that kind of experience. Kirsten pointed out that eCommerce companies have more intelligence and insight at their disposal than brick-and-mortars did before them. Leveraging customer data and technology to engage with the consumer is the key to building a lasting relationship. What’s more, it’s what will help companies make informed decisions as they grow, to ensure each new development is efficient and has lasting impact.

How Birchbox hit the sweet spot of experiential marketing and eCommerce:

Birchbox, one of the leading subscription box companies in the market, is succeeding because it’s not just a box company; rather, it’s an experience company that delivers, monthly, in a box.

The model is brilliant in its simplicity. Consumers have historically visited department store makeup counters for two things: education on products and the ability to sample and test products before purchase. Birchbox has taken this experience and translated it into an online subscription presence.

With samples, curated content on the products, and a section featuring tutorials and other valuable information on their website, that department store experience has been effectively translated into a monthly at-home experience. Add in their online store that carries full size (and full price) versions of the boxed samples, and it’s clear to see why Birchbox has become a hugely successful business.

Why Millennials are the eCommerce startup’s dream demographic:

Millennials offer eCommerce startups their best chance in gaining market share and establishing themselves as brands. The key lies in the millennial generation’s talent for disruption. Kirsten pointed out that Millennials are “unburdened by predisposition” in that they’ve managed to shrug off many of the expectations and habits formed by the generations before them.

Millennials marry later, change jobs more often, and immerse themselves into a stunning amount of information. They are freer thinkers than generations past in that they make purchasing decisions based on their peers, social networks, and market research; the days of buying a Frigidaire refrigerator just because your grandmother and mother did are long gone.

It’s no longer enough for brands to rely on longevity as credibility. This presents an opportunity for young eCommerce companies to take advantage of the altered retail landscape. Millennials know what they want, when they want it. The eCommerce companies that can deliver that kind of tailored experience will be the ones to shine.

The event was a rousing success ‘ the timely topic sparked conversations between top executives from an eclectic mix of brands like Gap, Electronic Arts, One Kings Lane, and Zoosk. We can’t wait to take the RetailPlus series to even more locations ‘ maybe we’ll even see you there!