In this interview series, we are talking to leaders of ecommerce businesses who can share their strategies for creating a successful ecommerce website. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Ranta.
Please tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started.
Absolutely! I started in ecommerce in 1998, working for a consumer electronics and appliance retailer called Vann’s on Vanns.com. I initially started helping by writing product content for the database that powered the dynamic product pages, then moved into a sales and marketing role and continued to progress in roles until I oversaw all digital and traditional marketing for the whole organization.
In late 2011, I moved to Cricket Wireless. At Cricket, I introduced a new website for franchisees that facilitated $3M in payment collection from franchisees in seven days.
In late 2014, I moved to Arrow Electronics, Inc. I initially oversaw all digital marketing activities for all major websites under the Arrow Electronics portfolio, built a team of in-house specialists to fuel growth, ran paid search programs with more than five million keywords, worked with global search engines and their paid advertising opportunities, and more.
I eventually took over the general management of Verical.com. Verical is a marketplace that lists surplus inventory from manufacturers and makes it available to sell directly to customers. In late 2019 I moved into Mobile Marketing and Mobile AdTech with Ad Action, getting to understand a different side of the digital ecosystem. Then, in October of 2021, I took the leap into consulting, working as a solo shop for a couple of months before joining forces with Nimble Gravity in January 2022.
Now, I'm putting my 24 years of hands-on operational expertise into play in advising others on how to drive meaningful growth through digital and ecommerce for their organization, whether B2C, B2B, or DTC—you name it.
Can you share a story about your funniest mistake when you first started? What lessons or takeaways did you learn?
Oh well, there are a bunch of those—mistakes are great teachers. There was starting to sell telescopes without a deeply trained staff. The customers knew more than us, and it was embarrassing and hard to be convincing as to why someone should upgrade. Fortunately, we learned quickly.
Obviously, that’s a sales training lesson. It taught me that it’s okay to wait to launch a product line until your staff is truly versed in it. Using a dot matrix printer to print off sales orders for picking in the warehouse was not speedy or environmentally friendly. We progressed quickly, but this was a lesson about letting go of “that’s the way we do it.”
Just because we did that in our retail stores didn’t mean we had to have the same practice in our ecommerce operations.
Is there a person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are a lot of people I’m grateful to for their mentorship, trust, faith, and empowerment toward me over the many years of my career. I’d first say Tim Christensen, who was the very first individual to give me an ecommerce related job. He helped me understand ecommerce, web programming, databases, marketing, and more.
Tim and I worked together at Vann’s, Inc. in the 1990s and early 2000s. Tim trusted me to understand and learn things on my own, he taught me some basic HTML which progressed into me hand-coding marketing emails for Vanns.com in later years—which, of course, found me drafting marketing emails on Thanksgiving on occasion to help drive Black Friday revenues. Tim is now the co-founder of his own amazing full-service software development and digital agency based in Missoula, Montana.
Beyond that, though, I’ve been very lucky to work with some great people I’ve learned a ton from over the years.
What does your ecommerce company do? What was the “aha moment” that led to the idea for your current ecommerce business?
Nimble Gravity is more than just an ecommerce consulting company. We are a consultancy that is passionate about the power of data. We work in data science, ecommerce, digital transformation, analytics, engineering, and strategy.
We were really founded around the challenge of helping people solve hard problems in any or all the disciplines we work within. We’ve grown organically since inception and continue to get the opportunity to do things ranging from launching brand new websites for nascent clothing brands to auditing the UI/UX of major websites and providing detailed and actionable recommendations to helping B2B businesses create brand new digital experiences for their clients.
We even recently helped one ecommerce client increase margins site-wide by 6% in two weeks—with the attribution math to prove it.
What was your original vision for your company? What pain point(s) were you trying to solve for your customers?
The original vision for Nimble Gravity was simple: Solve hard problems. Nimble Gravity is full of people who have “scar tissue”—we’ve been there and done it.
We’ve worked across B2B and B2C organizations in multiple industries. We have operated ecommerce businesses, run massive development teams spread geographically across multiple time zones and countries, solved major supply chain issues, and more.
We’ve worked in and continue to work with companies ranging from startups to those with revenues in the billions.
There are more than 12 million ecommerce businesses out there. What do you think makes your company stand out? What are you most proud of?
Well, I think the biggest thing that makes us stand out as an ecommerce consulting business, along with our other areas of operation, is that we are true veteran operators of businesses with decades of individual experience in our disciplines coupled with teams ready and able to execute on the strategies we provide or build solutions we define.
We have operated extremely large websites, run geographically dispersed and exceptionally large development teams, and did some of the coolest data science projects you can imagine. Now we’re taking all that expertise we built over the course of many individual careers and going out and helping not just one ecommerce business but many at the same time.
We’re launching brand new websites for brand new companies, we’re helping clients run hundreds of A/B tests a year, we’re managing analytics for over 15,000 domains, and we’re working on software that’s designed to help save wildlife. The variety is fantastic!
We all are very proud and excited about the clients we’ve been working with, the growth we’ve created for them and ourselves, and the future of what we believe will come in ecommerce.
Based on your experience, what are the five most important things you need to know to build a highly successful ecommerce website?
1. Always be testing
You should 100% always be testing something—hopefully multiple things on your ecommerce website, about your pricing, in your marketing, and more.
What happens when you change the subject lines of your email, what if you have two checkout buttons instead of just one, what happens when you reduce prices by 3%? You don’t have to have a super powerful A/B testing platform if you’re not ready for one, although they’re nice and can help drive increases in revenue. You can just track things in Excel or Google Sheets.
Test everything, all the time. Come up with a list of experiments, track the results, refine the ideas, and put them into use if they’re better than what you’re already doing. Always be testing.
2. Listen to the data—data is greater than opinions
Ecommerce businesses have a wealth of data constantly at their fingertips: What’s your conversion rate, what’s the AOV, which pages are people entering the site on, what are people searching, which pages make people leave?
In other words, there’s a constantly updated set of information that tells you exactly where you can make positively impactful changes to your ecommerce website.
People always exit on this page? Change that page, don’t send people there. People search for these five products the most? Put them on the home page in a featured area. It goes on and on.
The data is there. Listen to it, and let it drive you.
3. There are no silver bullets
Anyone who promises you that they have the one answer to driving massive, unbelievable growth for your ecommerce website is just that: unbelievable.
You must improve little things on all fronts on an ongoing basis. You’re going to make small corrections, changes, and additions that, in aggregate, will drive your revenue up, improve your conversion rate, increase your average order value, and more.
Unless you’ve done something like forget to have an “add to cart” button, it’s all about regular, consistent improvements across all aspects of your operation.
4. Change is a constant
See above: Always be testing, and no silver bullets prove this.
We’re on the verge of, or perhaps amid, massive changes to how ecommerce sites drive growth but aren’t we always in ecommerce?
Things like Copy.ai, Jasper, ChatGPT, and more are changing how content can be created and the scale at which it can happen. Younger demographics are using TikTok more like a search engine and prefer it over Google. Research occurs on Reddit and bespoke blogs.
This is not how ecommerce used to be—by a mile. You can bet that, in five years, things will yet again be massively different.
5 . This is not Field of Dreams
If you build it, they may or may not come—most likely won’t—unless you invest in growing traffic.
A former boss of mine says, “Traffic is the lifeblood of the internet,” and he’s 100 percent correct. Without traffic, obviously, your ecommerce business will fail.
So, you must invest in traffic—sorry, no traffic is free—and you still must put hours into writing content, doing outreach, and more for all those “free” traffic sources. You must be prepared that you’re going to spend money on driving clicks, and if you don’t have that in your plan and budget, you will fail.
If there was one part of the ecommerce website development process you would have spent 50% more time on, what would it be and why?
Content. 100% content. Content of all kinds—maximized for people first with a focus on SEO principles.
Here’s why: When you typically launch an ecommerce website, you’re putting out the first draft of things, it’s bare bones, so to speak. But if you can jump-start things and add way more content than you typically would, you’re going to be better off for it down the road.
You’ll have a better customer experience, come across as super professional to customers, kickstart your opportunities to rank for keywords for SEO (or images), and likely be months ahead in the SEO game.
I’ve seen far too many bare-bones product descriptions, single product images, very brief specifications, little to no supporting documents, far too few support-related FAQs, no knowledge base, a handful of blog posts, and little to no marketing content such as social posts, etc.
Far too often, these things come “after we launch.” Spend the time upfront to write 2x or 3x the articles and blog posts, prep your first month or two worth of marketing content, and write out full robust product descriptions.
Take yourself out of the eager operator that wants to get their site launched and instead imagine what a great ecommerce customer experience is like and what I want when I’m shopping online—then create that.
Can you share a few examples of tools or software that can empower emerging ecommerce brands to be more effective and successful?
I think the first thing that comes to mind is a category of tools: digital experience intelligence. That’s just a fancy way of saying “qualitative analytics.” Among those tools, I feel that Fullstory is a market leader with a very feature-rich tool that can truly help propel ecommerce brands forward.
There is a plethora of more traditional heat-mapping tools that have added valuable features, and some of the better ones would be Hotjar and Lucky Orange. Finally, in this category, I would be remiss not to mention Microsoft Clarity, a free tool that does a finite number of things. Still, they’re rather important things—like identifying rage clicks and similar activity.
So really, there’s a level for everyone, and you can upgrade as your business demands it. In general, though, I’d point to analytics tools like the above as well as Google Analytics and other traditional web analytics platforms, along with Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) as the places where ecommerce companies are going to find success—because in ecommerce, unlocking success and growth relies on data.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs and founders make when they start an ecommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest mistake I’ve seen—and it’s been more than once—is not budgeting appropriately for marketing efforts.
It is not cheap to drive traffic to your ecommerce website through paid methods at a high-enough volume to drive sales. You’re going to need around 100 visitors per, say, three to five sales. I said appropriately because it’s okay to have a minimal budget if you have very minimal sales expectations, want to grow slowly, have a small staff you don’t want to overwhelm, etc.
But if you have expectations of selling tens of thousands of products in your earliest months of operation, you typically are going to need a significant budget to drive enough traffic.
The other big mistake is in how you grow. It’s got to be very thoughtful all around, or it can quickly get away from you. You can pour money into marketing, and if it’s efficient, you’ll drive lots of sales—but you better have the customer service staff, the warehouse staff, the operational expertise, etc., to maintain levels of service that customers expect while not exhausting your staff to the breaking point.
You should understand operational metrics that give you indicators as to when to hire more staff, when to add a second package pickup from your freight carriers, when to staff your call center, and at what levels, etc. I’ve seen this get out of whack in more than one past role.
In your experience, which aspect of running an ecommerce brand tends to be most underestimated?
I’ll give you two examples here.
One, it’s all those operational things I was just mentioning. How many dollars of sales can a phone agent handle, when do I need to hire another agent, how should I be staging freight pickups, how late can I push it, do I need more than one, how will we handle foreign transactions, etc.?
And here’s the thing: It’s not just your Ops staff that needs to think about this and be aware of the impacts, it’s everyone. What if your product team makes a tweak to the site that improves conversion rates by 15%? Is your marketing team thinking about what that promotion they’re about to run is going to do to order volumes and contact center traffic?
The second is that your entire operation at a manager and above level needs to be financially savvy and well-versed in your business's revenue operations and finances. They all need to think like owners and be cognizant of gross margin return on investment, how a 10% off promotion impacts the bottom line, and more.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
Well, to be honest, I absolutely hate paper receipts. I think they’re archaic and not necessary in the age of digital payments and the highly trackable data we all have now.
Look at how Square does receipts: You automatically get emails. But even that’s not necessary. Why have a computer send me an email?
These massive receipts with coupons on them from places like Walgreens and CVS are terrible. Such a waste of paper.
So, if I could start a movement, it would be around changing all legislation that makes companies give receipts so that those receipts must be secure digitized data stored in a secure cloud environment that’s accessible by the seller and the buyer when needed. Let’s do this, people!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The two easiest ways to further follow my work and the work of Nimble Gravity online are by visiting www.nimblegravity.com or connecting with me on LinkedIn.
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