A Conversation with eCommerce Expert, Sabir Semerkant from VaynerMedia

A Conversation With Sabir Semerkant


E-commerce has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Just ask Sabir Semerkant, SVP of eCommerce for VaynerMedia. Sabir has been working in eCommerce for 20 years, helping companies scale their business by launching eCommerce platforms for brands like Perry Ellis and Tommy Hilfiger. Now with VaynerMedia for four years, Sabir does strategic consulting to help brands grow and understand that eCommerce is not just a sales channel but a platform for optimization.

Sabir sat down with me to discuss Amazon, strategy, and where he sees eCommerce moving in 2019.

What is your perception of eCommerce today?

A lot of leaders look at eCommerce as a channel only. But it is so much more than that. It’s a strategic platform for brand awareness, marketing, and search. E-commerce doesn’t mean set up a Shopify site, and you’re done. E-commerce in 2019 is an ecosystem that you need to leverage across the board to build up your brand.

Take Amazon - Amazon is a product search engine that happens to do eCommerce. Every consumer is holding a computer in their pocket (their smartphones) that helps them answer the questions that consumers have on the journey from uncertainty to certainty. Questions like: how many reviews? What is the star rating? Is it gluten-free? Is it cruelty-free? Does it have aluminum? All of those things are located in one place - the product page on Amazon. In the past, you would utilize review platforms and price comparison websites. Amazon is the one platform that gives you all of that information. A lot of uncertainty questions are immediately answered. If Amazon has what I want while I'm in the brick-and-mortar store, I can make that purchase. Consumers are comparison shopping while they are in the store. I could be in a brick-and-mortar retail store pulling up a product on Amazon to see details because the workers don't have the product knowledge.

Can you tell me a little bit about how your team uses our products?

Reviewbox is used for intelligence for our clients to dictate some of our strategies. When a client comes on board, we take their entire catalog and set it up inside of Reviewbox to monitor and annotate the changes we are doing. It helps us get into and get behind the scenes and merge the data. It shows us how the reviews are improving and how the sales are improving. A lot of data is collected about our AMS spend and how that impacts reviews. We also are using it for competitive analysis.
Searchbox helps us with data to determine where we want to put our ad spend on our AMS campaigns. It answers the questions of “where do we appear on search terms” and “where does our competition appear?” It helps us determine our portfolio of keywords and combination of strategy.

I love the fact that Copybox tracks content that you are changing. This is so important. Every one of those elements matter. Your product title matters with Amazon SE; product highlights matters with Amazon Onsite SEO. Enhanced content helps with Google SEO. Copybox helps me keep track of these content changes, so I know how these changes affect my campaigns and SEO. I'll test changes on ten products and see how they perform, and if the variation works then, I can apply it to the rest of my catalog.   

Have you heard the Gary Vee saying, "Ideas are shit, execution is everything”? It doesn't matter what data you have on hand. What you are doing with it is everything. In the case of Amazon, it's great that we have all of this data. Study it, review it, analyze it - but don't fall into analysis paralysis. Jump in and put funding behind it - did you get more conversions based on that thing you did, the change you made? You can do these things quickly with these tools. All of this data is available to you through these tools. You have to be intelligent about how you use it - driving strategies and quickly executing. If your competition is wiser than you, then they will do that in two seconds, and you will fall behind if you fall into analysis paralysis. An ounce of practice beats out a hundred pounds of theory. If you put it into practice, you see where it worked and how it worked.

So, this historical data is providing a roadmap for future strategies?

It's an informed strategy. You can do time-based testing - run a caption for one week and run another caption for another week. Keep all other content equal. See what works and build out from there.

The tools seem simplistic - it keeps track of your reviews; it keeps track of your content. If you're using that for reporting, then you're not using the tools to their maximum benefit. When you use the tools to drive your strategy, then you can use it very effectively. When I'm using tools like Reviewbox, I’m like a kid in a candy store. It lets me change my strategy in numerous ways. What are people searching for, what do I need to put more money into, who's winning over me, where do I put my effort to get the most benefit? Maybe you need to put time into organic content, and that will give you the leverage to increase performance on the paid media side.

How has your campaign strategy changed with ad dollars being moved to AMZ?

As somebody who has launched categories and brands on Amazon, the fact of life is that Amazon improves every day. The reality is that Amazon is growing and changing, and you have to be accepting of that. Don’t neglect it because that hinders your growth as a brand.

The consumer is using the platform as a product search engine, so the spectrum of product search volume looks like this:

1. Amazon, 2. Google, 3. retailers (like Target.com, 4. branded sites) = PSV (product search volume)
If you're investing in a journey, you still need to invest in all levels of the journey where there is an opportunity for growth and conversion. Amazon is going to have a higher rate of conversion because it is a closed system that provides additional exposure through social media retargeting campaigns. The consumer's credit card is already on the Amazon platform. Amazon creates a holistic approach to the shopper journey.

I wrapped the interview asking Sabir if he has any predictions for the eCommerce world in 2019 and beyond. Sabir wants you to know that he doesn't have a crystal ball. His prediction is based on data, and what he has seen transpire over the years.

There will be more competition from Alibaba and Ali Express into the US market. We saw them advertise in the US for Singles Day as a global shopping holiday. It will be a force to be reckoned with. The signals that I see, the noise that I know, I think that brands should consider investing in US English content for Alibaba. This should be part of the brand’s consideration set and kept on their radar, even if it's a pure play experimental thing. Aside from US retailers, they should keep an eye on external disrupters like Alibaba. It's a win for the brand to be prepared.


You can reach out to Sabir Semerkant on Twitter @SabirS and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sabirsemerkant/.

Reviewbox, Searchbox and Copybox can be found at https://getreviewbox.com.