The importance of design and optimization with Dylan Whitman of BVaccel (#ama recap)

On May 6th, Dylan Whitman of BVAccel joined us for a fast, and informative AMA (ask my anything).

We are now doing #AMA sessions every week or two that feature top Shopify Experts, store owners and more. If you'd like to participate in the chat, join now or if you would be a great guest email me at tj[at]

Here is the transcript from the latest Talk Shopify #AMA Session.

tjmapes Alright! We are thrilled to have @dylanwhitman here with us today. Dylan is the CEO of BVAccel, a digital marketing and strategy company with an impressive E-commerce (and shopify) portfolio:

tjmapes Let’s do this

dylanwhitman Hi TJ thanks for having me!

dylanwhitman Just to give a quick background - we're an eCommerce design, dev and strategy agency with offices in San Diego, Charleston and NYC

dylanwhitman we focus primarily on SHopify Plus development and acquisition, conversion and retention strategies for cleints

dylanwhitman we're also a 2 star Optimizely partner in addition to being a certified Shopify Plus agency!

dylanwhitman I've been working in eCommerce for about 10+ years in all facets

dylanwhitman both agency and business owner

dylanwhitman happy to answer questions!

chrisgregory Are there any Optimizely optimizations that have stood out to you regarding shopify?

tjmapes I noticed you’ve gotten some recent nods from the design community for your work, tell us about those and how you went about that.

dylanwhitman I wouldn't say specifically on Shopify, but in general i'm very strong on personalization as the future

dylanwhitman tying in DMP's (Data Management Platforms)

dylanwhitman combined with Optimizely

dylanwhitman you can create many unique experiences around gender, income, interest etc

dylanwhitman even if someone has never been on your site beofre

dylanwhitman I like to think of the web at the moment as being somewhat static

dylanwhitman but the future is more fluid and dynamic

dylanwhitman peopel will essentially have their own version of the internet so to speak

dylanwhitman based on who they are as a person

dylanwhitman @tjmapes thanks for noticing!

dylanwhitman we put a heavy emphasis on design

dylanwhitman we believe it's as trong suite for us

tjmapes ya I LOVE (edited)

dylanwhitman and we try to constantly improve what we're doing with it!

dylanwhitman thanks - much appreciated!

chrisgregory Gotcha, so shops will have results similar to your experience with google, where everyone has a different tailored experience

dylanwhitman @chrisgregory that's exactly it!

tej_zapstitch Heya @dylanwhitman. How can a niche clothing fashion store differentiate itself in the crazy competition.

dylanwhitman you can do some really interesting stuff with that

dylanwhitman @tej_zapstitch: That's a great question and really challenging

dylanwhitman one of the great things of platforms like Shopify

dylanwhitman is that it has a low barrier to entry to a quality ecommerce solution

dylanwhitman but that also make sthe marketplace incredibly competitive

dylanwhitman the #1 thing I can say is

dylanwhitman quality assets

dylanwhitman invest in amazing product photography

dylanwhitman you can have the same site with great photography and/or shitty photography

dylanwhitman and have a drastically different result

dylanwhitman in fashion you really have 1 of two things you can go for

dylanwhitman fast fashion which people buy based on price point and accessibility

dylanwhitman or higher margin brand building

dylanwhitman but it's very difficult to build a brand

tjmapes What are a few common things clients ask for their stores? (ie, fan photos, mega menus etc). And on the flip side, what are things you have to push back on that are not good design decisions?

dylanwhitman and to get people to pay more money for something just because of its name

dylanwhitman @tjmapes: Interestingly we're getting more and more clients asking for better integration of editorial and commerce

tej_zapstitch Photography in your portfolio is like watching a movie poster banner :) what would be the thumb rule for A product highlight on front page.

dylanwhitman people are getting tired of simply having a standard ecommerce epxerience

dylanwhitman i cant say from a conversion or growth standpoint i agree with that

dylanwhitman but it's a request we're getting more and more

dylanwhitman the biggest pushback i give to clients is

dylanwhitman let's test everything and let's not make arbitrary drastic design change decisions

dylanwhitman @tej_zapstitch: i actually think - for myself and depending on the brand - that people over use hero images and photography on the home page

dylanwhitman if it was my own storefront id have it go straight to catalog of merchandise

tej_zapstitch How many do you normally showcase on front page and what mistakes you seen shopify merchants make when putting products on home page @dylanwhitman

dylanwhitman every test ive ever run where you remove hero images / sliders

dylanwhitman has always showed better revenue per visitor without the sliders

dylanwhitman but people are accustomed to them and feel like they need them

dylanwhitman granted much of our work still has that

dylanwhitman but thats really out of client desire

tej_zapstitch Yea it's like mind block pro sliders

b How do you find working with Shopify, while trying to create unique e-commerce experiences? For example, say a client was looking to be the next Harry's for Dog Leashes (random idea) — how do you explain the pricing differences between the out-of-the-box Shopify theme, and one that needs private apps / custom work … as I'm sure these vary highly in cost.

tjmapes Your are starting to touch on this now but, In the optimization world, you hear “always be testing” a lot. What are things that you should always be testing?

dylanwhitman @b: really good question

dylanwhitman im just matter of fact wtih people

dylanwhitman i actually believe that in general one of the thigns that is holding back the shopify community on the neterprise level

dylanwhitman is that people arent charging enough

dylanwhitman but at the end of the day

it's simple math

i explain to them what my margins are

what my labor costs for great talent

and that at the end of the day if someone is coming in lower

theres only one of two things that can be happening

they're cutting corners on the hours on the work

or they're cutting corners on talent

if they want to work with the cheapest agency that wont' be us

but what we can promise them is we will put in the right amount of work, the amount of time it takes to do something great, and we will put top tier talent on that project

most of the clients we work with understand the value and are willing to invest in that

hope that makes sense :simple_smile:

@tjmapes: I think the low hanging fruit is to simply dig in to your analytics

dylanwhitman or mixpanel or jiraffe or whatever you're using

and see where people are falling off

i also think focusing on basic personalization as an example we ran a test for one client that gained an incremental 55k+ in revenue a month simply by changing the "free shipping worldwide" to "Free shipping {dynamic country name inserted based on IP}

tjmapes no kidding, wow

dylanwhitman those types of things are solid

tjmapes I’m going to steal that idea

dylanwhitman i also think it's super helpful to make sure that your overall customer journey is consistent

dylanwhitman haha go for it!

dylanwhitman IE

dylanwhitman your display ad creative matches what they see on the site which matches their retargeting and marketing automation on follow up

chrisgregory Is optimizely something a solo developer can afford to use? And if so should I be using optimizely or another tool?

dylanwhitman so optimizely recently updated their pricing model

they used to have some reasonable packages for lower end clients

they now have only free and enterprise

free is pretty limiting in its featureset and enterprise is around 2k a month starting

our average Optimizely client pays about 4k a month just for the platform

and a 10k a month retainer with us to implement it

skohler thanks fo the numbers....

dylanwhitman thats around the amount of hours you're going to need to really successfully execute a CRO and Personalization strategy

dylanwhitman NP!

dylanwhitman and id say we are probably middle of the road in what we charge

dylanwhitman there are other agencies with 15-20k a month minimums to implement testing

tej_zapstitch number crunching we shud learn from u man @dylanwhitman .

tjmapes You’d have to find a 55k hole for those prices :simple_smile:

tjmapes haha

tjmapes kidding

dylanwhitman haha

dylanwhitman its all in value though right

tjmapes yup

dylanwhitman we recently completed ar edesign for a client

b Speaking about marketing automation and retargeting, what basic marketing practices do you suggest to start-ups and smaller e-commerce clients?

dylanwhitman the results month on month after launching


  • Ecomm Conversion Rate Increase 113.20% (0.95% vs 2.03%)
  • Revenue Increase 143% ($1,581,970.33 vs $3,844,317.00)
  • Bounce Rate Decreased 32.97% (39.18% vs 58.46%)
  • Pages / Session Increased 52.40% (4.27 vs 2.80)
  • Avg. Session Duration Increased 19.03% (2:45 vs 3:17)
  • MOBILE Revenue Increase 186.42% ($596,479 vs $ 1,708,427)
  • MOBILE Bouncerate Decrease 37.74% (69.15% vs 43.05%)
  • MOBILE Transactions Amount Rise 206%
  • MOBILE Ecommerce Conversion Rate 105.34% (0.70% vs 1.45%)

dylanwhitman so even if they pay us 150k to redo their website

dylanwhitman that's a drop in the bucket compared to the improvement they generated

tjmapes indeed

dylanwhitman the other thing ive personally found

dylanwhitman the clients that are truly willing to invest in their storefront

dylanwhitman often are way easier to work with!

chrisgregory very cool numbers, it's amazing that something as simple as changing the color of a button can greatly effect user behavior

dylanwhitman the less somoene wants to spend

dylanwhitman the more challenging they are to work with i generally find

dylanwhitman because they don't have large budgets and are literally counting on you

dylanwhitman to make their business for them

dylanwhitman rather than be a piece of an overall plan

so we try to focus on true enterprise

dylanwhitman or at least brands doing 1mm a month + for the most part

dylanwhitman of course we will work wtih smaller when we feel it's the right fit

dylanwhitman oops i meant 1mm a year

tjmapes :simple_smile:

skohler I have noticed in my vertical (apparel, footwear, accessories) that larger companies are starting to use Shopify....does that seem to be a trend or is what I am noticing just anectdotal?

dylanwhitman but we do have many doing 1mm a month as wel

dylanwhitman @skohler: I think you're totally correct

dylanwhitman people are starting to realize that shopify is a truly viable option

dylanwhitman at a fraction of the cost

dylanwhitman our builds might seem high to some in the shopify community BUT

dylanwhitman compared to an equal magento imlementation

dylanwhitman it's going to end up a lot less expensive

tjmapes what are some things you’d like to see from @shopify in the future

dylanwhitman to both build and maintain

dylanwhitman i'd love to see shopify continue to develop out its POS in a more robust way

dylanwhitman i'd love to see it get better with its discounts engine

chrisgregory Do you find that the Shopify builds are more limited than magento? If so, what is the biggest pain point?

skohler thats what I see as a newbie to Shopify, but an oldie in terms of larger ecommerce development

dylanwhitman @chrisgregory: so far there really hasn't been much we can't do on shopify that we wanted to

dylanwhitman so i havent found it to be limiting

dylanwhitman the only place i can see it being somewhat limiting is compared to say

dylanwhitman a demandware or hybris

dylanwhitman some of the omnichannel capabilities

dylanwhitman but i think overall Shopify is a much better option for probably 80+ percent of brands on Msagento

b To build on the @chrisgregory answer — is that because of using the API and creating custom private apps?

dylanwhitman of course thats' personal preference

dylanwhitman im sure arguemnts can be made for all

skohler So, is there a market for Shopify Omnichannel apps/botons?

tjmapes what do you code your apps in’?

dylanwhitman we actually don't do much in the way of apps but

dylanwhitman I know the team has been working with Python as of recent

tjmapes private apps

tjmapes nice

dylanwhitman im actually not a developer although i do have a decent technical knowledge :simple_smile:

dylanwhitman my background is more in the business aspect of eCommerce

dylanwhitman @skohler: I definitely think there is a marekt

dylanwhitman the more large level clients that get on shopify

dylanwhitman the more there is going to be a demand for higher level omnichannel itnegrations

dylanwhitman things like endless aisle etc

dylanwhitman @b i dont think we've had to create many custom apps

dylanwhitman only a handfull of times

dylanwhitman so far

dylanwhitman the app community is growing and growing and many times i tend to encourage clients to avoid shiny object sydnrome

dylanwhitman yes thers a million things you can do to create a unique experience

dylanwhitman or expand with new strategies

b What percentage of your clients need custom functionality, vs. out of the box Shopify theme functionality?

dylanwhitman but for the most part many brands need to take a step back

dylanwhitman and dial in their basics on acquisition conversion and retention

dylanwhitman then use that additional custome featureset or functionality

dylanwhitman in order to lower their cpa and increase lifetime value onc ehtey get their baseline after implementing best in class strategies

dylanwhitman IE programmatic media, personalization and retention through platforms like klaviyo

dylanwhitman most of the only custom work we've had to do is related to tying in an ERP system etc

skohler exactly my thoughts on omnichannel...nice to hear from people within the community....also I think that smaller merchants (even 10K per month) could benefit....if it was cheap and easy enough....(is this off topic)?

dylanwhitman @b very little demand for custom functionality but

dylanwhitman we dont really use out of the box themes for the most part we focus on creating custom from the ground up

dylanwhitman @skohler totally agree!

b Yeah sorry didn't mean existing themes, but rather standard liquid functionality / not tapping into the API

dylanwhitman ah

dylanwhitman so one thing we're starting to do

dylanwhitman and we will post a blog on Shopify soon about this

dylanwhitman is building sites completely through the api

dylanwhitman and bypassing liquid altogether

we did this in a very basic way on

dylanwhitman as that was a very small budget, quick site build

dylanwhitman but we used it as an opportunity to try that out

dylanwhitman we used our own framework there and in future builds will be trying out Facebook's react framework

bvaccel_kenny wait

bvaccel_kenny yes

dylanwhitman this is exciting to us because it creates a user experience that is tremendously fast

bvaccel_kenny def talk about react

bvaccel_kenny i dont think you should say 'bypass liquid altogether

dylanwhitman wel kenny knows better than me

chrisgregory Does SEO become a concern with Single Page Apps/

dylanwhitman no

dylanwhitman thats why kenny was correcting me

b OK — this is exactly what I meant. Thanks, and Kenny, would be great to get your input here.

dylanwhitman because we duplicate the site in liquid

dylanwhitman so that it will also render for search engines

chrisgregory I know google can now interpret javascript but I don't think the other engines are up to par yet

dylanwhitman so if you look at sunstaches for instance

chrisgregory ok gotcha

dylanwhitman it's totally indexed

dylanwhitman but if you load it in your browser

dylanwhitman it's incredibly fast

dylanwhitman particularly on Mobile

dlazar by doing that you’ve disconnected your client from Shopify. You are now responsible for hosting them. Is that a fun responsibility?

chrisgregory wow, it's insanely fast actually

dylanwhitman im not sure what you mean

dylanwhitman we arent hosting that code

dylanwhitman it's still hosted on Shopify

tjmapes ya, im kinda blown away at how fast this is on mobile…. you have stats on the before and after as far as CRO goes, the speed has to have helped sales increase

dylanwhitman we haven't done a case study yet because we haven't had time but as soon as we have that ready ill post some stats!

dylanwhitman but as far as ive seen this is the fastest ecommerce site ive ever been on

chrisgregory As SPA apps become more ubiquitous, I suspect running apps with front-end javascript code connected through an API will be the go to method.

chrisgregory It's undeniably faster.

dylanwhitman I agree Chris

dylanwhitman and I think we certainly still have a lot to encounter and learn from it

dylanwhitman but i do believe it willb e the future of ecommerce

dylanwhitman because it's just such a better experience

dylanwhitman especially with mobile traffic increasing so rapidly

tjmapes have you heard or used before? (edited)

chrisgregory @tjmapes: yes, and it looks pretty promising

dylanwhitman I havent seen that - looks interesting though!

chrisgregory I think Shopify will eventually offer this sort of thing

tjmapes are you essentially doing the same thing but with Shopify?

chrisgregory they could add it on with out changing the current experience I would think

skohler Seems like you could just create the site frn end using JQuery Mobile, then tie into Shopify via API also (???)

dylanwhitman id have to check it out more to better understnad it

tjmapes ^ cool

dylanwhitman correct - you could

chrisgregory @tjmapes: yes, you can essentially return liquid objects in JSON. And you can feed that into your javascript views pretty easily

chrisgregory btw, I don't work for bvaccel, just adding from experience

b @dylanwhitman: I'm very curious about how you're using the Shopify API to interact with a React based front-end, and how that is being implemented in general.

dlazar a catalog of 1000 products?

dlazar might blow up a cell phone memory wise would it not?

chrisgregory @b, you don't need to do it directly through developer API, you can return only JSON in your liquid templates

dylanwhitman @b: I have to be honest I'm not the smartest guy in the room here at BVA on that - i'd chat wtih TShamz in general chat and he can explain further

dylanwhitman BUT

dylanwhitman we will soon be publishing a very thorough technical post on this on the Shopify blog!

gavin I feel like we're derailing @dylanwhitman here, I'm looking forward to the blog post :simple_smile:.

dylanwhitman which details it thoroughly

chrisgregory Make sure to post that blog post here, would love to read it

dylanwhitman absolutely will do!

skohler @dlazar....maybe I am missing something....doesn't the user just need to see a limited number of products, so that's all you have to load and unload in memory?

dlazar just a process question… when you can dump anything into JSON and make an interface… there are serious issues of managing what you dump, how much and why.. that’s all..

dlazar one thing to render a simple view… another to drive it with nice UX experience and logic…

tjmapes How big is your team Dylan?

dlazar 10 things are easy… 1000, not so much

skohler OK... def

dylanwhitman @tjmapes Ill say that we're between 20 and 30 people total

dylanwhitman I'd like to double that by end of year

b @dylanwhitman: maybe you could touch on your experience with BVA, and how you guys scaled up to taking on some of these top notch enterprise clients?

dylanwhitman @b sure!

dylanwhitman So my business partner and I met when he had invested in a previous business of mine

gavin @dylanwhitman: You mentioned a little way back that you're not seeing a lot of custom app development requests for bigger enterprise clients. From your perspective, are there any patterns in the stuff they do need / do you see any underserved markets in that space?

dylanwhitman I had raised 2.25 mm in venture capital on that biz and his team were the lead investors after I exited that we realized we got along really well

and he had a strong background in brand building

we raised 250k in seed money to start BVAccel

and used our connectiosn within the brand world to start bringing on clients

I had many former clients as well from a previous agency I owned

we're very much of the mindset of going big and growing fast

so we've been pushing pretty aggressively

gavin What sort of return / exit does a seed investor expect when investing in an agency?

dylanwhitman last year was our first year in business we did about 1.4 mm

dylanwhitman this year we're on track to do about 5-7mm

gavin (By the way, I think it is incredible awesome that you guys are so open about #s / $s).

dylanwhitman in the agency world people are seeing exits of 5-7 x ebitda

dylanwhitman hah thanks!

afshin.mousvian @dylanwhitman: really valuable insight here. We really appreciate the transparency

dylanwhitman but our intent is not to sell anytime soon

dylanwhitman NO problem! i want nothing more

dylanwhitman than to see this whole community kick ass

dylanwhitman as they say

dylanwhitman a rising tide lifts all ships!

afshin.mousvian :simple_smile:

dylanwhitman we operate at about a 50 percent margin on our revenues

dylanwhitman i think our ability to grow from 1.4 mm to 5-7mm in 12 months is really truly

dylanwhitman a function not of us but of the growth of Shopify as a whole

dylanwhitman and we all have a unique opportunity to be a part of this ecosystem at this specific time

skohler do you think "omnichannel" would resonate in "brand building"...seems like it is both a revenue opp and a branding opp...

b That's fantastic. How did you go about putting the team together? 30 people in 1 year is a tough team to assemble.

dylanwhitman it's certainly difficult to find quality talent but that's changing every day

dylanwhitman it's improving as more people use Shopify

dylanwhitman that's part of our reasoning in having multiple offices

dylanwhitman where we can base agile teams in different locations

dylanwhitman our next spot to open will be in Sydney Australia by end of year

dylanwhitman I see eCommerce in Australia growing rapidly

dylanwhitman @skohler I totally agree in that

dylanwhitman I also always like to be clear with what i mean by omni channel

dylanwhitman some people use it interchangeably with multichannel

dylanwhitman which it seems like you get what im actually talking about

dylanwhitman but for anyone else not sure

dylanwhitman omnichannel is about having a seamless experience both online and offline and across devices while multi channel is more of a marketing term related to the channel which drives sales

dylanwhitman IE social, paid search, direct etc

dylanwhitman to add to growing a team rapidly id say one of the most important things is keeping a disciplined culture of implementing and executing well on your own internal processes

dylanwhitman it's hard but it creates teh habit of how things are done

dylanwhitman and having good habits internally is crucial to that or you can run in to problems real fast