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Episode 38: Elevating brands from JV to varsity

C+R Co.

Episode 38: Elevating brands from JV to varsity

On this episode, we hear from Chelsea Jones of Chelsea & Rachel Co, a professional problem solver in the world of e-commerce. Get the inside scoop from the master strategist and tech stack expert herself, on ways DTC brands can level up their business, keep growing and keep that revenue flowing. Chelsea breaks down key optimization tools and strategies that brands should be focusing on to scale.  Learn why keeping things simple is a key factor in the overall success and growth of an online business, and what common mistakes she’s seen in the startup community.


1:44     About Chelsea

2:44     The JV to varsity concept, in e-commerce

3:47     Some common mistakes that startups make

5:48     The idea of “seven touchpoints” to reach the consumer

9:18     Why consistency in the consumer experience is key!

12:13   Using technology to meet customers where they are

14:38   Content is king!

18:53   Why the “less is more” approach in e-commerce, is everything

22:14   Why adaptability in business is critical!


Brian Weinstein: Welcome everybody to Sipping and Shipping. I’m your host, Brian Weinstein. We’ll be kicking it here every other Friday, quenching your thirst for an insider’s take to enhance your customer experience. So grab your drink of choice, kick back, it’s Sipping and Shipping time.

All right, welcome everybody to another episode of Sipping and Shipping. I am your host, Brian Weinstein. And with me every other week, almost every day except for the weekends, she gets time off for good behavior, Caitlin Postel.

Caitlin Postel: Brian, why do you fib to the listeners?

Brian Weinstein: We should hang out more on the weekend. We never actually do that.

Caitlin Postel: Oh geez. Please, please. No more.

Brian Weinstein: Oh, fantastic. And with us this week, we have a very special guest from Chelsea and Rachel, Chelsea Jones. Welcome, Chelsea.

Chelsea Jones: Thank you. It’s so good to be here.

Brian Weinstein: Glad to have you. It is an interesting beginning to spring here in New Jersey. Where are you located?

Chelsea Jones: I’m in Southern California, so we finally have sunshine out right now. I’m very happy. It’s been a winter.

Brian Weinstein: That’s right, that’s right. And you guys have cleared up your drought, right? Is that gone now? You can water your lawns, you can do all that other stuff, be frivolous with your H2O?

Chelsea Jones: Record-breaking snowfall in the mountains.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah, yeah, that is fantastic. Well, listen, it’s been long overdue. It was getting really serious and they were discovering bodies that were sunk down to bottoms of lakes and things like that and now everything’s back.

Caitlin Postel: Leave it to the Jersey guy to bring up the bodies in the lake. What is up with that?

Brian Weinstein: I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

So Chelsea, can you tell us a little bit, just for the audience, a little bit about your background?

Chelsea Jones: Yeah, absolutely. So I’m co-founder of a company called Chelsea and Rachel Company. We named it our names. We’ve been an agency in the e-commerce space for over nine years and we specialize in strategy, UX/UI design, and development on all things Shopify, Shopify Plus, and the tech stack ecosystem around that.

Brian Weinstein: Awesome. Who are you targeting? Who are you supporting right now? Who are some of your clients?

Chelsea Jones: Yeah, I love it. So we take brands, we say, from a JV to varsity level. Online, we do a lot in the subscription space. So some of our clients are big ones like Allure Beauty Box, GQ Stuff Box. We do a lot in the food and beverage niche, so we’ve done things like Navitas Organics, Wild Planet Foods, a lot in the alternative naturopath space, Steve Harvey’s L’Evate You line that we just launched. So there’s a lot of paths forward in food, beverage, beauty and wellness around subscription and CPG.

Caitlin Postel: Nice. Yeah, some notable names there. So what makes them considered JV or what are they doing differently from those varsity players?

Chelsea Jones: Oh, I love this question because so much of it comes down to we don’t know what we don’t know. Sometimes I think a lot of-

Caitlin Postel: Story of my life.

Chelsea Jones: Right? A lot of these companies think they can just throw up a website and have people come to it or have not a lot of thought into it. And our philosophy is the opposite. Your website should be positioning you as a company to not only grow your sales and your overall message, but also be a brand positioning for how investors or potential acquisitions are going to look at your company in general.

So really, a lot of brands just don’t know how to focus on direct to consumer, or D2C, because there’s no specialists in this space in their own company, or if there are, they’re usually overworked and a little bit stressed and need extra hands on how to actually execute a round strategy that’s going to move the needle forward.

Brian Weinstein: So, what are some of the mistakes for these startups? What are some of the mistakes that they’re making when they’re coming out of the gate and they’re trying to launch? What are you seeing?

Chelsea Jones: Yeah, there’s two big mistakes we see in the ecosystem. One is they just try to do it all themselves and think they can just launch stuff and test it and not have any expert input. And the other is maybe they over-engineer it and they hire a bunch of experts and then build this headless solution that doesn’t necessarily always convert, and then you have a lot of money sunk costs spent that don’t actually make a difference.

So the biggest thing I always say is you want to walk then run, and brands that are starting out in the ecosystem need a really clear path forward on how they’re going to do that in a way that is easy to deploy and easy to get results from so they can innovate and grow as they’re building it.

And content is king, so a lot of brands just think like, “Oh, I’m going to put this up and drive traffic there.” In reality, you have to have it where it’s still problem solving to the customer and you’re making that an easy use case in how you’re going to have people check out. And ultimately, that just comes down to experience and understanding the tech stack that is simple to deploy and easy to grow.

Caitlin Postel: I wish Rich Reba, who’s our director of marketing or whatever his new title is, but he would be salivating. He is all about the content first. And I think you make an interesting point about brands who are making the pivot or sometimes don’t recognize the difference of the B2B approach versus D2C.

Chelsea Jones: Absolutely, yeah. B2B and D2C is very different and a lot of food and beverage that we’ve worked with, B2B is their main driver. Distribution is their main channel and D2C is an afterthought. But our philosophy is when you invest in D2C and you do it right, it also lifts you on B2B because you have this component of now you’re that much more established. This becomes almost your pitch deck and how you’re talking to other brands, and then you get the data on the customer directly.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah. Well, obviously data is what’s driving everybody and if you understand the consumers, I think to your point, where do you think the benefit comes from? So understanding the customers themselves, where do you think that benefits the B2B portion of it?

Chelsea Jones: I think so much of it comes down to understanding your customer is a multichannel shopper. We’re going to buy online, we’re going to go in store, we’re going to engage with the brand in different ways, and most people, it takes seven times till they make a decision to purchase of engaging with the brand. So gone are the days of instant gratification, instant sales based on one ad. They have to have engagement multiple times, and the data right now is seven, before pulling the trigger on a checkout.

And so I think what’s really important is understanding your touchpoints anywhere that you are going as a brand. It’s your website also goes to the store. I’ve gone many times even grocery shopping and then looked at a new product and then pulled it up on my phone and their website to read ingredients or other information. So even though I may not be buying it right there on my phone, I’m engaging with them as a brand. It’s very important that the B2B customer sees this so that they can also understand that this data that person is looking at is so important for you to make larger decisions.

And ultimately, I think the future is where wholesale is also going to be dictated by the data of the direct-to-consumer market channel because now all of a sudden, they can launch new SKUs, have testing involved, they can be much smarter in their deployment of products

Brian Weinstein: Interesting about the seven touchpoints. So how much time and energy and focus should the brand put on trying to lessen that number? Is that a worthwhile cause or should they be resigned to it being seven touchpoints and maybe focus energies on how to make sure they convert at that seventh time or should they try to get it to be four or five and how could they?

Chelsea Jones: Yeah. It all comes back to quality content and messaging and understanding psychology of your audience. What is your customer really looking like? User stories are really important, knowing who is buying your product.

So to answer your question on shortening the seven times, it’s possible in some cycles, but I think it’s more important to make sure every point of touch is quality and is with a methodical message in mind that ultimately gets to that checkout. And the simpler you make it and the easier you make it, because we’re in a microwave generation now where it’s like two seconds, you need to make it simple and easy to understand, and then remind them. We’re creatures of habits. Those reminders and those subtle touchpoints will get to that conversion.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah, Brian, that number seven, being in BD, I’m like, “Seven touches? They’re lucky. Seven touches, I’m just getting started with my stalking.” I’m lucky if someone responds to me after seven touches. So, that’s interesting to hear.

And then you talk about going from… You brought up the anecdote of you’re looking at your phone first or you see the product then you go to your phone, and I think now it’s just mobile-first is just that standard across the board. And we were having a conversation the other day and I’m like, “I find that odd and maybe it’s just my Xennial showing, but I would prefer to go to the desktop.” And then when I brought it up to my partner, she was like, “Yeah, but think about it. You only went to the desktop because it wasn’t working for you on your phone.”

So what is the consistency there of seeing the product on the shelf, going to the website, going to the store? How are these brands leveraging that consistency across the multi-prong approach to impact buyers?

Chelsea Jones: So consistency is really critical, but also an interesting fact is desktop design and more shoppers are doing more shopping on desktop than mobile, now that we’re back in the office again and doing a lot of different things on our computers again. COVID was a surge of mobile and everyone in sweatpants on their couches and now we’re kind of back to screens and getting more involved with that. So, the consistency is really critical.

Mobile design needs to be simple, but it needs to be also engaging with a user that swipes versus desktop engaging with the user that clicks. So it’s really the user path is important to understand how that is different, but you have to have a brand that’s consistent across the board.

Brian Weinstein: Well, and I think from an ease of use perspective and also just from a visual perspective, if I have to get into the weeds on the visual side of it, I’ll tend to go to my laptop as opposed to my phone. And I think if I had an experience that was so comparable across both, I’d be more inclined to be out somewhere… If I don’t do something now, I’ll forget about it later. So if I have the ability to just grab my phone and have that similar experience, and it’s really sharp and crisp like you’d get on a laptop, I think I’d be more inclined to just purchase from anywhere, especially at that moment.

Chelsea Jones: I agree.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah, I agree too. Yeah, and thank you Chelsea for making me not feel as old, but yeah, totally.

Chelsea Jones: No, actually, it is surprising. Even in a conversation I had this week with some others in this space, desktop traffic is up because more people are shopping in that way. But you have to have not only consistency, you have to have thoughtfulness on how your consumer is buying. On a desktop, I’ll do more research, I’ll look at those pages. On a mobile phone, you need to get quick to the product to be able to check out if that’s where your seventh touch is to buy.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah, interesting. This is completely going off on a tangent though, but I think part of what I like also about on the laptop is I can see all of my choices. I can see a lot more choices at once and especially because I’m on the older side, so I really can’t see anything unless I’m up nice and close. On a laptop, I get more of those options across the board, and I think that’s why the experience for me is enhanced on a laptop, but if I could have something comparable, again, I think it goes back to I’d spend more time buying from my phone than I would on the laptop.

Chelsea Jones: Absolutely.

Caitlin Postel: I feel like since we’re on this tangent, sometimes it’s the importance of the task. Why did I try and just process my taxes on my mobile phone on a Thursday night when I’m out? What is happening? I’m going to save this for later and go to the desktop.

But we talked a little bit about it on our intro call, which is kind of meeting the consumer where they are and being able to deliver on meeting them in that place. So if I want to do it right now on my mobile, then why can’t I? And maybe that’s the differentiator between a JV and a varsity brand, is that meeting, or maybe they just know their consumer a little bit better. What are your thoughts there, Chelsea?

Chelsea Jones: Yeah, I think there’s a lot in that, also just in terms of technology of how you integrate it. So for example, those that are at the varsity level of a brand, if you shop on your phone, that should be tagged into how you are on a desktop. So automatically, you go to your desktop, you have that same cart into checkout. We have so many smart tools now that you can do that where your customer, especially if you have devices that are synced or other things that we get involved, they should be able to have that seamless checkout option, as well as knowing your customer and personalizing it in ways that you can. Those little details go a long way.

It’s just like when somebody that’s stylizing a house and an interior decorator, it’s the little things that usually matter, the little pops of color, the little stuff like that. It’s the same in e-commerce. When they have those little touches that matter, their conversion rates can skyrocket based on, “Oh, now you know me. This is already in my cart. Oh, I want to add this because you asked me.” You’re taking in consideration what they need as a customer.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah, I love that. I don’t want to start over. Why should I have to start over? You know this. You know it’s me. Just remove the lift for me and just let me check out at this point. At least that’s how I react as a consumer.

Chelsea Jones: Exactly. And especially if you’re shopping a platform that has multiple SKUs, you want it to be like, “You already know me, this is a quick checkout.” Oh, by the way, some people will just load in stuff and abandon the cart to try to get a discount or to try to do something else like that. So you have to think what’s in the best needs of the customer and how do I position this as a brand to just say, “Hey, don’t worry. You forgot this, but you need to check out. Here’s some simplicity or maybe a discount code,” those kind of things really work.

Brian Weinstein: Wait, so do you mean to tell me that I am this many years old when I’ve learned that the more I abandoned a cart, the higher the likelihood of me getting discounts? Is that a thing?

Chelsea Jones: That’s definitely a thing.

Brian Weinstein: I didn’t know that.

Chelsea Jones: It’s definitely a thing.

Caitlin Postel: Abort abort, then you get 16 emails, a text, they call your mom, like, “Didn’t you need those supplements?” I’m like, “No, I was just trying to get a discount.”

Brian Weinstein: “No, I just wanted the discount.” That is so interesting. So what are some of the things that the brands are doing right now in terms of content and ways that they’re putting out content to their audience to try to get those touchpoints out there and build? I guess as a brand awareness or beyond?

Chelsea Jones: Yeah. A lot of content creation that is working comes back to either something funny or something educational, but it has to be done in a way that’s still human talking to human. The too polished or too much is not working. Nobody wants to feel dumber by looking at your ad. They want to feel like they can relate, and usually if they can laugh or they learn something, then you’re going to be much more engaging as a brand to your customer.

So ones that are working really well are those that are trying new video content or just asking questions. The brands that are really engaging with their reviews and know what their customer is saying about them and engaging them on a customer service level is super important. And then the content that just speaks directly to that, what problem are you trying to solve? What are you doing? And then instead of thinking that you know it as a company, ask your consumers, ask the people that are buying it and make content out of that. The UGC is a really important piece, but it’s also important to do it in a way that you position yourself as a brand into that factor of what problem you’re solving.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah. I know we heard that, Brian, when we were at our leadership meeting, from Anjay at APL, talk about human to human. She took a weekend where she just responded to those SMS texts and she was getting engaged and finding out what some of the struggles were, replying to that person who ordered on Friday but forgot Monday was a holiday and now she’s freaking out, but what can we do to get that pair of shoes there? I think it doesn’t get much more human than that.

Brian Weinstein: Right. I mean, listen, for a brand owner, there’s no way to be more in touch with your customers than to be involved in that and that customer, the customer success, the customer support areas and go out and address them. You’re hearing it firsthand from people who are interested in your brand and they’re going through and having their experience and then being able to respond to it, and if you’re falling short, obviously address that. If you’re coming up roses, well, you could also be thankful to the audience as well.

I like the humor aspect of it too. I always like when you’re starting to read reviews or read commentary and then you’ve got the brand answering with some sort of witty remark. I always like that. It makes the brand feel more human when they do that.

Chelsea Jones: Yes. And it also makes people remember it. I remember even in this Twitter message that someone said about some technology that was being out or how long it was, and then Cheesecake Factory said, “Well, this is longer than our menu” or something. And people are like, “Oh, that’s funny.” You just have this concept of being witty because then you know it’s humans that are writing it in different ways than just robots, even though AI is a lot of the future that we’re going to, a sense of humor is so important as a brand scales and grows. And I think that’s something that a lot of companies forget about. So if they can niche back into that, it’s really going to matter and make a big impact.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah, making fun of yourself. The little cheeky tweet, nothing is better than a cheeky tweet from… Or how about when they start dueling against each other? McDonald’s puts up one sign across the street. There’s Wendy’s. They’re putting up the other sign and it’s battle of the brands. I love it.

Brian Weinstein: Exactly. But even for a big company like Cheesecake Factory to come out and have something that’s self-deprecating, but in a way that’s not harmful to the brand. I mean, everybody knows the menu is about as long as it can get, so they’re taking a swipe it themselves, but yet, again, it humanizes what doesn’t necessarily, especially for a chain like that, what you wouldn’t think of as human.

Chelsea Jones: Totally. I think it also makes it more relatable. That’s the key piece in customer relations right now is how can a brand be relatable and be something that people need? And that really does come back to the messaging and the content that they’re creating, what that looks like.

Caitlin Postel: So kind of switching gears here a little bit, I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but just about the economic situation that we’re in and the dollars spent are so important, especially to younger brands. I was watching Shark Tank the other day and saw an apparel brand who spent a ton on marketing, almost to the point of putting them under. And you talked about over-engineering or overdoing things and the less-is-more approach. What are your thoughts there as far as simplifying? We talked a little bit about spring cleaning. Tell us a little bit about what you’re seeing in that space.

Chelsea Jones: Yeah. Technical debt is a real problem. There’s a lot of issues where people are overspending in the area of just throwing money at something is going to make it work better. That’s not the case. You need to have tools that will help you scale.

And so in the Shopify space, for example, the thought process five years ago is like there’s an app for everything. Well now, that’s actually a misnomer. You do need apps, but you need them for specific functions. And the companies that have over-added a whole bunch, their site is too slow, it’s interjected code into the theme, they’ve had all these issues that they don’t know how to unravel because they’ve not had somebody look at that and be able to clean it up from a like, “You don’t need all these things and touchpoints.”

So it’s really important that you start simple where in… Shopify’s built to have a cart and a checkout, you can build a few landing pages that are specific to your customer and make it a funnel that’s really easy to engage with and then build on that. Your apps need to be around engagement, so email marketing, SMS, customer service, probably returns if you have a product. And then also, just looking at what is it going to take to get there? Anything beyond that is usually just added fluff.

I am a proponent of upsell and cross-sell. There’s an app called Rebuy that’s really great for AI and those features in the Shopify ecosystem, but again, you probably need about seven total. You don’t need the 20 or 50 that a lot of these brands, when they start out, are just adding thinking it’s going to solve the problem. You need to keep your tech stacks simple and then run traffic in a way that is made to convert based on your content.

Caitlin Postel: Love that. I wish I had a bell. Ding, ding, ding, ding. But Tonya would probably say that’s too gimmicky. But yeah, I think that’s solid advice, for sure.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah. And for these growing brands, keeping it simple I think is the way that they are going to allow themselves to focus on other aspects of their business and not get caught up in all of the other stuff that’s maybe adding more complication than they need.

Chelsea Jones: Plus, it gives them the ability to pivot with the market. I mean, even my own company, we’ve done big brand things. Right now we’re doing smaller brand things because it’s what the market needs. They don’t want a full website design, they just want a landing page that converts. You have to adapt and change. It’s like that age-old thought as a company, you have to adapt and change in times. And if brands that are wanting to grow their sales are just spending a ton of money in marketing, but not looking at their data and pivoting based on that, you’ve got to have a pulse on your finger of knowing what are your KPIs, your key performance indicators, that you want to track? How do you get your team or your agency teams to have accountability?

A lot of times, people just set and think it’s set and forget. It’s like you still need to look at it. You still need that overall vision of where you’re going so that you can tweak those modules as you move forward.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah, I love that. It’s funny because the expression, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying” has been around forever and as long in business, but I think, especially over the last 15, 20 years, everybody realizes “If you’re not growing, you’re dying” is not necessarily a top line thing. It’s about your adaptability. It’s about your ability to grow and evolve as an organization. And if you can’t do that quickly to a rapidly changing marketplace, and God knows the marketplace right now is changing quicker than it ever has, then you are going to die and you’ll probably be dead before you even realize you’re dead.

Caitlin Postel: And I thought I was the downer.

Brian Weinstein: No! I’m encouraging people to make those changes to be adaptable and agile. That’s what you need to do to be successful.

Caitlin Postel: For sure.

Chelsea Jones: Yeah. And don’t be afraid to try something new. I think there was a lot of growth over the last few years that you’re right, now in the current market, you have to try things and adapt to what is possible. So maybe it is just doing something simple like launching a landing page with different content, see if it converts better, if it’s comedy or it’s education, how you’re going to position that, and then make those tools run for you as opposed to the other way around.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah, a simplistic approach.

Brian Weinstein: It’s funny you said that. Yeah, Caitlin, I don’t know if you remember, we had on, it was a guest. I think it was Habib Salo from Young Nails and they do a tremendous job in this marketing space and he was like, basically, “Just throw shit at the wall.” He’s like, “See what works. See what resonates with your audience and don’t be afraid to give it a try all the time because eventually, you’ll find what resonates.” And it might be something different three months from now, but if that’s what’s resonating now, then go for it on different platforms, different channels, whatever it might be.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah. And the community’s not going to be afraid to tell you if it doesn’t. If it doesn’t.

Brian Weinstein: To stop, yeah.

Chelsea Jones: I always say imperfect action is better than no action every day. Right?

Brian Weinstein: Exactly.

Chelsea Jones: So if you can run with stuff and you try it, imperfect action will keep you moving forward. Inaction keeps you stuck, and that’s what a lot of these brands are dealing with.

Caitlin Postel: There it is.

Brian Weinstein: Absolutely. That is a perfect way to end. Chelsea Jones, thank you so much. This has been a pleasure. Extremely informative. I really appreciate you coming on.

Chelsea Jones: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure and you guys are wonderful. I think this is so great what you’re doing in helping companies have more opportunities too.

Brian Weinstein: Thank you very much. Caitlin, walk us out.

Caitlin Postel: Sure. Thank you, Chelsea, and thank you everyone for tuning in. Check us out every other Friday on your favorite podcast platform. Have a great weekend.

Brian Weinstein: Peace.

Caitlin Postel: Thank you.

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