On the website Creative Portland, a non-profit agency supporting the arts in Portland, Maine, Ian Marquis described himself like this: “I make things. Sometimes practical. Sometimes beautiful. Always interesting.”
Among the interesting things Ian makes are music (he’s got five independent albums to his credit), copious amounts of digital art (his extensive portfolio “sits at the crossroads of procedure, aesthetic and intent”) and, as eCommerce Manager of Stonewall Kitchen, a beautifully-functioning website.
Ian has been blazing trails in music and the digital arts for almost two decades, and he’s been blazing new trails in commerce since he joined Stonewall Kitchen, a 25-year old specialty food producer, in late 2015.
“The drive to create art in one form or another has been a big part of my identity for as long as I can remember,” he says. “Although I initially considered pursuing computer science as a focus due to my love of logic, problem solving, architecture, and interactivity, I ultimately received my BA in New Media, which gave me a strong full-spectrum introduction to the space that I still inhabit as a professional to this day.”
Ian brings an artist’s sensibility to the form and function of Stonewall Kitchen’s digital storefront, looking at customer interactions not in isolation as a sales conversion or interaction point but as “moments that can come together to create something bigger, more emergent and ultimately more satisfying, both to the customer and to us as ecommerce professionals.”
“Salesforce has contributed enormously to my growth both as an analytical person, a creative person and an ecommerce professional,” he says. “The relationships I’ve formed with division, project, and team leaders, the Salesforce Commerce Cloud Retail Practice team, and fellow Commerce Cloud Digital customers have pushed me to broaden my strategic thinking, given me new insight and perspectives into both my industry and the digital space as a whole, and are a continual source of inspiration and challenge to grow.”
One example: offering its online customers the same level of personalized service they may get in one of its stores.
Both channels carry the full gamut of Stonewall Kitchen products: salsas and syrups, preserves and pastas, beverages and baking mixes, and much more. With such a diverse (and delicious) array of products, it’s important that customers not get overwhelmed, and find exactly what they are looking for quickly and easily.
“Artificial intelligence is a feature we knew would be increasingly important in ecommerce,” he says. With a five-person ecommerce team, Stonewall Kitchen is able to leverage Commerce Cloud Einstein to power 1-to-1 personalization without hours of manual merchandising or segmentation — and without a data scientist.
Stonewall Kitchen uses Einstein to serve as a virtual sales assistant for online shoppers, offering them unique product recommendations based on their browsing history and preferences. They use Einstein to fill gaps in the customer journey that they can’t bridge with their own expertise or manpower.
For example, if a shopper hits any curated story on its website, Stonewall Kitchen leverages AI to show shoppers complementary add-ons; a breakfast story would include pancake mix, jam or a syrup.
“It might not be the one that my team would’ve picked, but it’s going to be one that will resonate, because the data says that it will,” says Ian. “We’re comfortable with Einstein serving an experience that we can’t always fully control. No one knows our brand better than we do, but Einstein enables digital depth, variety, and novelty of experience that we couldn’t deliver consistently otherwise.”
Einstein Product Recommendations influenced 14% of customer purchases during the summer of 2017, driving an average conversion rate of 44.3% and an average add-to-cart rate of 39.6%.
“Salesforce technology has enabled my team to be highly agile in creating incremental strategic improvements to our ecommerce experience, even as we hold down the fort with business-as-usual projects,” Ian says.
There’s nothing business-as-usual about Ian’s approach to creating customer experiences online. In fact he sees it as his responsibility to create extremely nuanced, subtle experiences that render conversion virtually effortless.
“We serve the right experience to the right person at the right time, and we let conversion just happen. We can’t possibly design all of that level-by-level; the experience will be shallow, forced, and transparent to the customer. Instead, I think our real challenge is to build models for customer interaction, and for serving up commerce experiences that are robust enough to fill in the blanks. That’s an enormous challenge, but it’s one that genuinely excites me.”
A crucial cog in that wheel is the partnership with the Salesforce Commerce Cloud and its Retail Practice team, which he says has played a “huge role” in helping the company prioritize feature improvements and experience iterations, benchmark its performance against best practices and Salesforce customers as a whole, and much more.
All along, Stonewall Kitchen has been a fast mover, and unafraid of failing. “I’d rather we do something interesting and flawed today than wait until next year to do something better,” says Ian. “We can always learn from the flaws in our first iteration, but we can’t always make up for lost time if we delay ideation in search of the perfect.”
At the heart of it all, Ian says, is practical but beautiful design, a completely holistic approach to customer engagement – and inspiration.
“Because of Salesforce, I am continually inspired to create better, smarter, more out-of-the-box experiences, and am enabled to actually do that.”
Ian and Stonewall Kitchen were featured in our recent report, Personalization in Shopping. Download it today.