Mixing Automation With AI Takes eCommerce Operations To The Next Level.
Jason Greenwood is a digital native with deep omni-channel commerce expertise (B2C | B2B | DTC) helping brands through their eCommerce, omni-channel & digital transformation journeys using his exclusive ‘Fit for Commerce’ Framework.
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Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 0:07
Once upon a time, there were millions of businesses struggling. Every day they wasted time, effort and money on repetitive tasks that added no value. One day, the better automation podcast by process CEO came to help them see the way. Because of this, these businesses save time, reduce costs, innovate and make better decisions. Because of that, these businesses grow, scale, prosper and use human creativity to change this world. Hello, my name is Aziz and I'm your host that better automation podcast by processor where I interview the world's top experts and share their best ideas on how to improve your automation in your business, processes and life. My guest today is Jason Greenwood. Jason is a digital native with deep omni channel, commerce expertise, b2c b2b DTC, he helps brands through their e commerce, Omni channel and digital transformation journeys, fusing the core tenets of online success, traffic, conversion, and customer lifetime value with broader solutions that encompass teams, business goals, systems, processes and integration. Automation. Jason, how are you today?
Jason Greenwood 1:46
Thank you very much. It's awesome to be here with you and to share my story and hopefully help your audience get some benefit out of
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 1:53
it. I'm sure it will be a wonderful conversation and let's begin with the past. What is your story? How did you find really how you can add the most value in this world or in business as well as how much did the your skills or abilities to understand processes and automation contribute to that?
Jason Greenwood 2:19
Look, I came to be in E commerce and digital, almost by accident, I actually had a mutual friend that had a friend of hers who was working in the industry, he owned an E commerce agency, you know, I've been doing this for over 20 years. So this is going back to the very, very early days of the industry before before there was any automation. But this was at a time when everything to do with E commerce and digital was super painful, super expensive, super time consuming, just that it was a very difficult time to be in this space. And he owned an agency that was doing implementations both from a ecommerce development perspective and an E commerce marketing perspective. And our mutual friend introduced us I was between jobs at the time and he said why don't you come and he happened to be American I'm American myself even though I live in New Zealand and he he was also American living in New Zealand and and he said Look, why don't you come work with me this is a fast growing space and and I was already into technology it was already using the internet and I was already sort of saw where this internet thing was headed. But I almost bought fell into the industry and and so I went to work for him and worked for him for just over a year started a side hustle which was an online e commerce business with a with a good friend of mine in the meantime at the same time. And eventually that business grew to the point where we both quit our full time jobs. And we worked in that for the first seven, eight years. And that's how I got my start in the industry.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 3:44
I really love that. And it's really inspiring story I love when people find their path and a very niche that where they can make a real difference. So to ask you and I know you do a lot of things by now why but when it comes to integration systems, creation and automation, what do you offer people that seems to be the most common need or pain point that they come to you want them to solve or something you discover by analyzing or understanding their needs that they find valuable, even if they didn't see it themselves in the beginning.
Jason Greenwood 4:24
I mean, a lot of a lot of clients that I work with, they don't realize that today's systems can be largely integrated and automated, particularly if they're running SAS platforms. I mean set the the SAS suffocation of the world, the API ification of the world has started to take over, you know, almost all software actually, regardless of vertical that that software operates in and particularly for E commerce, you know, SAS over the last five to 10 years, almost every major platform has moved to a SaaS model or the the platforms that have taken the lead in the space have tended to all be SAS platform. So whether we're looking at E commerce and Shopify, big commerce, Salesforce commerce, cloud V, Tex, those are all native SAS platforms with open API's, whether we're looking at CDP's PIMS, point of sale systems, marketing automation, whether we're looking at warehouse management systems or management systems, pretty much every leading piece of software in the space now, not 100%. But but getting pretty close our SAS native SAS platforms now and those SAS platforms, because the infrastructure is built out by the vendor. The way in which you connect to those platforms is via API's API connectivity. And so those platforms really lend themselves to integrating with each other and sharing data with each other. And so whether you're using standard middleware, or whether you're doing point to point integration between those systems, they really are designed out of the box to talk to other systems and use common language and common data formats, such as JSON and XML, etc. And so they're using, they're using very common linguistics to speak to each other and share data with each other. And so a lot of brands, they don't they still to this day, they don't really understand that that's the case. And they don't fully understand the technology behind that. They don't understand, you know, that these systems were designed from the ground up to be automated. And so when I go in, and I first start talking to these businesses, and I look across their organization, and we see a whole lot of manual steps, a lot of manual processes, a lot of double handling of data, a lot of cutting, cutting and pasting of data across systems, you know, their eyes light up, when you start to share with them some of the things that we can do through modern automation, automation tools, through modern integration platforms, even even using tools as simple as Zapier to connect certain systems together. You know, I don't I don't work with Zapier personally, but But you know, there's a lot of systems that have Zapier connections, and they're pretty much plug and play for even small businesses. And so when you start talking to businesses about what is possible as of 2022, in terms of automation, and specifically process automation, it really does blow their mind and it starts to open up their mind to, to really how they can start to redeploy internal resources, to value add actions within the business and in value add actions for their clients, as opposed to doing these manual processes that add no value to anyone and just have a huge cost associated with them.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 7:36
I love that, especially that I read, I'm really aware of the value that what you said, it's changing, and redeploying resources to value added things to say it in simpler terms, well, people were doing repetitive tasks, their time now will be freed to do things that are much higher value, the things that bring in the money or the things that only a human being can do as well, as well, as a processor who is like creating this podcast, one of the uniqueness about them and they're competing in this space, is that anything that you can create an API for, even if it doesn't come with that it can be it can be integrated into a workflow, there are some things that are not SAS, like you said, or don't have a native API well, you can have someone or even your own legacy or unique proprietary software. If you create an API for it, you can add it into a workflow for automation. And since you have a lot of experience in this domain, is there a project or something that you have been involved with where the ROI on automation has been so significant that you're proud of it? Or it's something the unique case study and use case for automation that you still remember until today and think, Wow, that was that stood out from all the other projects?
Jason Greenwood 9:07
Yeah, look, there's many almost every single project has significant integration automation associated with it. Nowadays, there's very, very few ecommerce projects or even broader commerce stack projects, whether it be ERP, CRM, doesn't really matter the system. Basically once you start integrating those systems together, you bring efficiencies to the table, but this is going back to the days when I was still working as an E commerce manager with a merchant and so I was ecommerce manager for health posts and and by implementing a brand new warehouse management system, and integrating that with the broader ecosystem. So we integrated the warehouse management system with both the ERP and dispatch and logistics systems. And what that did, we implemented as part of that system. It has Add the concept of chaotic put away. And chaotic put away is a methodology of organizing your warehouse physical warehouse space, using basically AI and machine learning to put products away in a non human understandable way. So if you're manually organizing your warehouse, for example, then you have to organize your warehouse usually by maybe a category is on a specific aisle. Or maybe maybe products are organized by brand and alphabetized. Or you have to organize your warehouse in such a way that humans can understand when they go, when they receipt products into the warehouse, they have to go and put them away in a place that when they go to retrieve them for pick, pack and dispatch, that they understand where to go looking for a product that's on the picklist. Whereas with a warehouse map, modern warehouse management system like we implemented, that does Khattak put away, it knows all the tiny little holes and gaps throughout the entire physical warehouse of where inwards goods can be located. And it doesn't need to organize it in a way that it understands because it knows down to the physical point of location in that warehouse where every single unit of every single item is located. And by use by shifting from a manually organized warehouse to a machine organized warehouse, there was over an over 20% improvement in warehouse space utilization. So instead of having to keep spaces free, even though even though there may have been a gap in the warehouse, if you manually organize the warehouse, you need to keep spaces free for products that that live in that space. So if you have an alphabetized warehouse, for example, you have a product with a specific brand name, and it lives in this in this cubbyhole, well, even if you're out of stock of that product, you have to keep that gap free. Because when that comes back into stock, it has to go back into that that slot or with Khattak put away, that doesn't have to happen products can go anywhere in the machines always no. And it directs you where to put those away where it knows there's a gap suitable to fit that product. And we achieved an over 20% improvement in space utilization by going to Kadek put away in on automation. And then we also gained a significant amount of throughput improvement at the pick pack and dispatch tables by having automation basically, in through carousels, automated carousels bringing products from the back of the warehouse, instead of being walked to the front of the warehouse being brought by carousel to the front of the warehouse and being dropped off directly next to the pick pack dispatch stations so that people could grab them directly off of the carousel. And so this is the type of automation that and data workflows, and you know, using AI and machine learning, these are the types of automations that can dramatically improve space utilization, throughput, employee performance, and also employee, I get satisfaction out of their jobs, you know, instead of having people walking, you know, 50 100 200 meters from back warehouse to the front of a warehouse 100 times a day, we now have automation that brings stuff from the back to the front, and sends it to the exact person that needs to do the actual packing of that particular order. And so you're putting people in a place where even what would traditionally be considered a relatively menial task in a warehouse, you're you're freeing them up to do the stuff that really only humans can do at this particular point in time now, in the future, pick pack and dispatch, maybe you know, and obviously with Amazon, there's a lot of automation in their warehouses. But in smaller, privately owned warehouses, you know, they're not 100% automated yet. And so you still have human beings doing certain things. But if we can, if we can make them more efficient at what they do, and we can take away the most nastiest, hardest, most human unfriendly tasks away from them, and we can give those to the machines, and we can do the stuff that is at least somewhat more fulfilling and more efficient at the same time, then it kind of benefits everyone.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 14:07
Thank you. I love what you're saying. And I the same time. Some of the listeners might be wondering at which stage do e commerce companies? Will they be most able to take advantage of what you offer? What when do you recommend they begin to use such like, integrations automations AI, and things that will make a big difference to such larger warehouses? Well, at which stage should they begin looking into that?
Jason Greenwood 14:41
Look, I think yes, it does. It does. It probably does. It probably matters less. What say for example, revenue level that they're doing, and it probably matters more, what level of profitability they are at because you know, you can have businesses that are doing multiple millions dollars a year in revenues. But they might be operating on razor thin margins, and they just don't have the profit, to reinvest into technology to reinvest into automation to reinvest into integration. And so it really comes down to, I guess how much free cash flow they're throwing off. But usually, so let's just take, you know, let's just take a margin level of, say, 50%. And let's just a lot of businesses aren't doing making 50% margins, but let's just say you're making 50% margins. And so your, your, let's say you're doing, you know, I don't know, let's say you're doing $2 million, a year worth of revenue, and so you're doing, you know, half a million dollars a year in profit. And that's after that's after not only, you know, paying for staff and all the other things, so we're talking net profit here of a million dollars, then at that point, you're probably going to be able to reinvest a significant portion of that back into the business in terms of upgraded software to where, you know, if you're, if you're a largely manual operation today, and you're making a 50% net margin, well, if we can automate another 20% of the cost out of the business, well, that is a direct 20% contribution to the bottom line. So now, you might have a 70% net margin. So when we go in, and we do you know, business analysis on any specific project, one of the things we look at is okay, what is the what is the ROI on this project? What is the return on investment? And what is the time to value? So how quickly can we implement it? Meaning how quickly can it start adding value to the business? And what is the ROI and you can think of ROI through multiple lenses. And this usually requires a bit of spreadsheets to get right. But you can think about, Okay, how many human beings getting paid X dollars an hour getting paid X dollars a year? How many humans are we eliminating from this menial tasks that we can, we can improve our efficiency, and therefore, we know how much money we're going to be saving how much efficiency we're adding, and therefore how much dollar value we're adding to the bottom line. So there is a process of business analysis and business case creation for just about everything that is done in our industry. But then there are also sometimes where they are table stakes. So there's certain things in our industry that are considered table stakes nowadays. And when you start out as a business in our space, if you aren't starting kind of at that minimum level, then you're not going to be competitive, even from the start. And so there are certain things that you have to do whether you want to or not just to be viable. And so if you bootstrap, then you need to have enough cash to get you through that initial runway of getting up and up and running. But the thing I'd like to say here is that there's a lot of out of the box tools, apps and integrations that don't necessarily require a lot of customization to make happen. And we can think of something as simple as the Shopify app store, we can think of some integrations with some third party platforms that they have apps from those third party systems that plug into Shopify, pretty much you install the app, it connects to the third party system, let's say it's a logistics system, or three PL provider system or the like. And or its marketing, automation, whatever. And these automations. And these integrations, they take virtually zero effort from the brand to implement. Now, there are custom integrations sometimes that are required, but there are a lot of out of the box things that happen in our industry now that the ecosystem has built out over the years between common systems. So let's just take ERP so NetSuite, for example is a very common SAS ERP used by many, many e commerce and omni channel businesses. Well, those other third party systems that need to connect to NetSuite and NetSuite needs to connect to, there's a lot of sweet apps in the App Store for NetSuite that connect to those third party systems out of the box. So, you know, it really does come down to does it require custom integration? Yes or No? Does it have an out of the box integration? Yes. Well, if it does, then pretty much, just plug it in, do a little bit of configuration, and we're off to the races. So we try to look at the difficulty of adopting automation and integration into any given system or any given process. And that helps to form the foundation of the business case for for introducing that integration.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 19:29
Thank you. That's absolutely fantastic. And I love what you're speaking about, which is what already is. Let's speak about the future and the next trends that maybe some are jumping ahead of them. And they're having some competitive advantages because of that. Where do you see that next big moves or differentiators or trends in the E commerce space? You mentioned a little bit AI and machine learning. Maybe there are other things that As someone who's either active in the E commerce space or is jumping into there should be aware of them so that they don't get into an old way of thinking and being that might not serve them any longer. So what are your thoughts?
Jason Greenwood 20:16
Yeah, there's there's one piece of technology in the modern commerce stack that is becoming much more common and getting a lot more airtime because of the structural changes that are happening to the E commerce space. And that is the CDP. So customer data platform technology space, that is accelerating incredibly rapidly. I've seen such growth in this space the last 12 months, it surprises even me sometimes. And I think there's two pieces that are fueling that fire. There's two, two things that are happening structurally in industry. One is privacy, you know, quote unquote, privacy happening with iOS and, and the the reduction in app tracking capability combined with the death of third party cookies, which Google is forcing on the industry. And it's going to happen very soon, where the death of third party cookies in browsers like Chrome is going to be the norm. And so the ability for brands to track customers from the point of sale campaign, whether it be paid organic, and a customer coming through a website, going through a customer journey, buying, maybe doing a product return at some point, interacting with customer service, etc, etc, etc, maybe interacting with a physical store, plus interacting with an online store plus interacting with a marketplace that the brand might sell on. There is so much data that is available about your customers, but you have to have a automated way of gathering, organizing that data, storing that data and then creating actionable insights from that data. And CDP's are uniquely positioned to do exactly that. They are designed specifically to do exactly that. They are designed to ingest data from multiple systems, whether it be an ERP, e commerce website, a point of sale platform. They are designed to ingest data, customer data, and transactional data from multiple systems to crunch that data to join the dots between the two. To understand those connections between the two using AI and machine learning. Create both automated and custom segments of those customers for use across things like Google ads, Facebook ads for retargeting, remarketing, as well as cohort creation and going out and acquiring new customers that look alike quality segments of existing customers, plus being able to remarket to customers via marketing automation, and email and text marketing, etc. Based on those highly granular, highly profitable segments that are being crunched and created by the CDP platform, that is become a almost a must have in the modern commerce stack. And that wasn't true, even even 1218 24 months ago, that was not true. But the amount of discussion that's happening in the marketplace now with with almost every major brand, it is becoming a very, very big thing because it is it is increasingly impossible for a human being even using spreadsheets, etc. To do the type of number crunching and the type of of you know business intelligence that using something even like Power BI brands are having to spend huge amounts of time and huge amounts of money setting up the tooling. And the the rule sets inside of Power BI even if you're plugging all of your data into Power BI to do the same level of work that most CDP's do relatively easily out of the box. And so we're seeing bespoke, you know, built for purpose, purpose built systems like CDP's being plugged into the commerce stack, to meet very, very specific needs of the market at a very specific time. And the pressure on brands to understand their customers better understand their customer lifetime value, you know, understand their cost to service of those customers across specific channels. To be able to understand the behaviors the very granular behaviors, say for example, a customer shops across two of your physical stores right on a regular basis and shops online with you and a regular basis but the profitability in it when they shop in one given store versus the other store versus online. If you don't understand what their what their CLV customer lifetime value is, and their average order value, for example, their returns costs, you know, how do they return more when they buy online versus when they buy in a store? Do they spend more when they shop in a specific store versus another store? Unless you can understand these things. And unless you can understand what the levers are that you can pull with that customer to get them to continue to take the most profitable behaviors possible with your business. Without that data and without the understanding of that data. You can't do any of those things and you can't service that customer in a very personalized one to One way. And so this is an example CDP is just one example of technology that has come to the market that automates a whole lot of these processes of bringing insights actionable insights to the surface for business that they can immediately act on. That technology is automating that entire process. Whereas it used to take pretty much a data analyst, a data scientist working in something like Power BI to be able to bring these insights to the table. And of course, data analysts and data scientists are very expensive people, very expensive humans. Whereas with a modern CDP, someone that's pretty capable from a marketing team, for example, can do all of the same things. Plus other roles within a marketing team, they can do all of that, using a modern CDP, and they don't have to necessarily have to have any crazy specialist skills to be able to achieve massively beneficial outcomes for our business. So that's one example.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 25:57
Thank you. And at the same time, as someone who deals with entrepreneurs a lot, it seems like what you're saying is the death of small niche based brands where the big brands will get that data on those very granular needs and create such small products that satisfy those small segments who are staying profitable. And therefore, what are your thoughts about what has been happening for many years, which is that there are some lifestyle brands that come and they're like, We serve this really, really micro niche, and we're be the best at it. And we will take our share from it. And big brands don't have the time, the energy, the information or the thought about the possible profitability of these small, granular, granular segments, because they're too small for them? Are you saying that now because of those CDP's, and all that information brands will compete in within those smaller granular pieces, and therefore, the hobbyist or the small entrepreneur has no, there will be you know, like the moment, the mom and the pop and mom shops when Amazon came or when any of the bigger brands, is this correct? Understanding?
Jason Greenwood 27:21
Yeah, I think there's two pieces to this. One is that there's probably always going to be room in the market for small, nimble niche competitors that are servicing that are identifying and servicing a need that is probably too small, at least in the beginning for competitors, like Amazon and the other major retailers to even pay attention to you know, when Amazon decides to take over a new category and by takeover, I mean, own it and sell directly in competition with third party sellers on their own platform and, and maybe even come out with a white labeled brand product in that vertical or that category. You know, that category has to be a pretty much a billion dollar category for Amazon to look at, because it just doesn't. In order for them to move their share price, they have to increase their revenues by such a substantial amount, that it causes investors to pay attention, right. And so when they talk about new categories that they want to enter, they're talking about categories like health care, you know, multibillion dollar industry, right. And so the massive players just don't have the desire or the ability to attack micro niches, you know, at least at the start. Now small businesses turn into medium businesses which turn into big businesses which turn into acquisition targets. That's that's the typical pathway, right? So you have these tiny businesses you know, and I'll use you know, my wife her sister has started one of those very small online only businesses pure play online businesses called boba by me, which is a boba tea kit. Recent retailer, they sell online, pure play online business. And she's she has
she's a basically like a manufacturer effectively she, she buys in the products from overseas, but she, but she assembles these kits. So you can think of her almost like an assembler, assembles these kits puts them together, she's got a very strong brand. So the design aesthetic, it's very beautiful. And she sips chips, these boba tea kits to her customers, to her end customers all around the world. And this is a niche and she's doing very very well for herself. Now it's still a small business. Don't get me wrong, it's still small business, but she's only been operating for like six months. So you know, it's very fast growing because it's a niche that someone like Amazon or even the major retailers, they just never touch this kind of niche. But my wife, my wife is Asian and obviously her sister is Asian and she understands This niche and the type of customers that she would be targeting. Or she is the type of customer that she would be targeting. So she is part of her community, she is part of that demographic that she is targeting and that that she's been very successful in because she speaks their language. She is one of them. And so when she's interacting with her audience, on platforms like Instagram, for example, almost everything she does resonate strongly with them, because she is creating content that she would like to consume as a consumer. And so I think there's always going to be space for the small brands. But once they turn into a medium brand, if they continue to see success, and then they, and then they get to a place. So I work with, with primarily b2b and b2c brands that are doing, say, a minimum of $3 million in revenue or more. So they've found a level of success, they're not a massive company, yet $3 million is not a massive business, that's still a medium size business, buying it by almost any standard. But they by by the time they've reached, they're starting to think about scaling once they get to about $3 million, where the revenue, and they have the resources to be able to execute on the type of recommendations that I'm able to bring to the table to take them from 3 million to 300 million, right. And so that's where I can start bringing a lot of value based on my experience to help them hyperscale right. Up until that point, that's why I produce a lot of free content, because those business those small businesses are like my wife, sister, they, they need the help that they can't necessarily afford, right. And so I put out content literally every single day, for those small businesses from $0 worth of revenue to say $3 million with revenue, they will get massive benefit out of the content that I put out, that covers off a lot of the more basic stuff that will allow them to get from zero to 3 million. And so to answer your question, I know it's a long answer. But I think there's always going to be an opportunity for these micro niches to grow, and to serve as customers in a very personalized way. And once they get to that, you know, they'll probably get bought and acquired by maybe a larger company and a larger company and a larger company. And then once that category gets large enough for the biggest retailers to actually have an interest in, then they'll just either get acquired, or they'll start a competing brand, etc, etc. So I think there's always going to be the category creators, and the category definers. And that's usually starts with with a small business of some variety.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 32:44
Thank you. And that makes me even more curious. So you have a lot of wisdom and experience and expertise in E commerce. So if anybody from the listeners would like to learn more about green one, green wood consulting, if they want to know more about the fit for commerce framework, can you share more about that, as well as the best places for them to go to consume your free content to get in touch with you? And I will write some of those links in the description? Of course,
Jason Greenwood 33:17
absolutely. Well, I'm I'm pretty much everywhere. If you just Google my name, Jason Greenwood, you'll pretty much find every channel that I'm on. But what I publish most of my content to, uh, where I'm most active is on LinkedIn. So if they go and follow me on LinkedIn, then they'll get you know, pretty much almost every single day I publish content. And even when I produce content on other channels, I'll usually post it back to LinkedIn. I've got also got my podcast, which is the at the coalface podcast, and it's on on every single podcast engine. So it could just search at the coalface podcast and you'll be able to find that and you'll be able to follow me I put out a new episode every single Thursday morning, New Zealand time for a new episode. And I get to interview people across the ecommerce, Omni channel and retail tech space and put out a lot of content of my own as well. And then of course, if they if they have an interest in potentially engaging with our business and our consultancy, then they can just go to Greenwood consulting.net. And they can see everything about how we engage in the services that we offer and how we and how we do it. And we try to be very unique. So we we do something we basically have a consulting as a service. So it's almost like a SaaS platform for for consulting. So we do it on a subscription basis. And that's a really unique engagement model that doesn't really exist. I'm not aware of any other consultancies down here, at least in ANZ that does it the way we do it. So go and check that out. And yeah, I'd be happy to have a discussion. You know, DM me or DM me, if you like, on LinkedIn, and we can have a chat.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 34:47
Thank you, Jason. It was an honor and a privilege and for all the listeners as well. I want to share that there is a possibility for them to request access to get a free account. own thought process yo.com Where process yo is, within this automation community and your competitor, a modern low code, no code platform for advanced automation and creating an enterprise grade back end for your software. So check the link in the description. It's a privilege and honor. And I wish you a wonderful day there in New Zealand and to continue to help people because the work you do really provides livelihood, gets the customers what they need, the those segments and granular personas that wouldn't be served while you're helping them get served. And that's really wonderful. Thank you very much. Absolutely. My pleasure and I look forward to maybe being on another time.