Zmags CEO Talks Future of E-Commerce and Marketing (Think iPad, Not Amazon)
The Boston area has a distinguished history of companies with innovative approaches to e-commerce and digital marketing. From Art Technology Group (now part of Oracle) to Demandware (which went public in March) in helping brands boost sales online; from Wayfair to Gemvara in new approaches to e-retail sites; from HubSpot to Constant Contact in Web and social marketing; we seem to have it all covered in New England. But what’s next in the sector?
One trend that’s hard to ignore is the proliferation of tablet computers—in particular, Apple’s iPad. The device seems poised to transform how a lot of people browse and shop online. There’s already a subsector called “couch commerce,” a term popularized by PayPal, which describes people buying stuff on tablets and smartphones while lounging at home, often while watching TV (hello, brand tie-ins). And my colleague Wade Roush recently wrote about iPad shopping from the perspective of CoffeeTable, a San Francisco startup that competes with the Google Catalogs app, among others.
Boston-based Zmags is a seasoned tech company that is riding that iPad wave now. The firm, which started in Denmark in 2006, brought in a new CEO, Michael Schreck, a year ago. At the same time, it made its first move into digital commerce, with a new focus on tablets, to go along with smartphones and Web browsers. (Zmags previously specialized in digital publishing and marketing.)
Schreck (see photo, left) has quite the Boston-area resume, having been involved in the early days of startups m-Qube and Upromise, as well as venture firm General Catalyst. He was doing private equity in Southern California for eight years before moving back to Boston for the Zmags job. “My vision was driven by my own experience where m-Qube couldn’t execute what we wanted to do because the devices and carriers weren’t there,” Schreck says. “Contrast that with an iPad moment where you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what we imagined, we just didn’t know it was going to be on this thing.’ That was my personal moment of figuring out I really want to be in the middle of that experience—how does the tablet change the way we market?”
To that end, Zmags now makes software to help brands optimize digital catalogs and marketing materials and track shopping analytics across tablets, Web, and mobile. In addition to the iPad focus, a key point is that consumers can make purchases from within the catalog, without having to go to the store or brand’s website. It’s still early in the experiment—less than a year old—but Schreck says Zmags’ customers (which include Kenneth Cole, Express, and Tesco) are seeing “40 to 70 percent uplift on the average order size, reduction by half of the abandonment rate, and [consumers] will stay in the experience for 11-12 minutes, versus 2-3 minutes on the website.”
According to Schreck, it’s all about “what can you do on a tablet that you can’t do anywhere else?” He showed me a new catalog interface, … Next Page »