MarTech Interview with Zohar Gilad, Co-Founder and CEO at Fast Simon

Zohar Gilad, Co-Founder and CEO at Fast Simon talks about the changing digital commerce experience in this short conversation:

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Welcome to this MarTech Series chat, Zohar. Tell us more about yourself…we’d love to hear about Fast Simon’s journey since its inception with a few highlights on some of the platform’s most recent innovations.

I started my career as a software engineer for computer-aided design and medical imaging. In other words, I wrote much code; after earning my MBA, I turned to products, marketing, and business management in enterprise software and became an intrapreneur, building tech and bringing it to market. During that period, I drove the design of two categories: load testing and application performance management (APM). After two decades in enterprise software, I transitioned to eCommerce. In 2013, my co-founder, Adar Greenshpon, and I founded Fast Simon and launched InstantSearch+ for eCommerce. Our initial edge back then was a patented, lightning-fast search autocomplete for eCommerce. From that humble beginning of eCommerce search, we organically developed a full suite of shopping optimization solutions, including smart collections, merchandising, cross-sell, personalization, and remarketing personalization.

Our integrated platform not only replaces point solutions but also delivers a superior experience due to the number of data streams fed to its AI engine. It gives us a competitive advantage, as we can quickly interleave different signals to produce results that increase sales, margins, average order value, and conversion for merchants. Much as we broadened our customer touchpoint from the eCommerce team through to merchandisers and buyers, to marketing — I see us reaching additional teams within the brands that are serving today and in the future.

Some of Fast Simon’s latest new technologies and partnerships that address today’s eCommerce demands:

  • No-Code Search and Collections Editor: Offers a drag-and-drop visual page builder for search pages and smart collections to merchants without coding experience to speed the delivery of optimized shopping experiences and reduce development costs.
  • Partnership with Tapcart: Top-tier eCommerce mobile platform seamlessly integrates with Fast Simon’s excellent site search and collections to boost engagement with shoppers.
  • Partnership with Attentive: Empowers innovative brands to create meaningful interactions through personalized text and email messaging.
  • Search & Discovery Solution for Shopify Hydrogen: It is the first and only Search & Discovery solution to implement streaming server-side rendering, which manifests in lightning speed for superior shopper experience and SEO.

When it comes to optimizing the end-to-end eCommerce experience today, how can brand marketers work toward creating a more inclusive and enriching experience?

Delighting shoppers is critical in the fast-paced, highly competitive eCommerce world. The past two years have reshaped online shopping, and new challenges will constantly be testing retailers’ resilience. Here are many ways merchants can stand out and give their customers an excellent experience.

One is through personalization. The importance of winning loyal customers depends on customer personalization and engagement based on customers’ behavior and intent. Personalizing recommendations, email and SMS marketing, search results, and even collection assortment can significantly increase conversion and AOV.

Shoppers aren’t always clear on what they are looking for, and there isn’t time for human guesswork. Modern merchandising must use technology to instantly read the signals that get product displays closer to the buyer’s intent. These signals include geography, time-based events, and previous experience (sales and search). When harnessed quickly by AI technology, this information can bring products much closer to buyers and keep them engaged before they skip to another vendor.

Collections remain a powerful merchandising technique in all types of commerce. They help merchants sell experiences (vs. products), align with emotions, and help buyers sort through large amounts of items to speed and simplify shopping. Merchants can optimize assortment to what they want to sell and inspire customers through the display to manage inventory and shoppers’ tastes.

And above all, honesty, transparency, and effort can go a long way toward reversing challenges, like a slow supply chain, into opportunity. Apologize, but then act. Give customers options so they feel like they have some control. And show your efforts to get the product out as soon as possible. This customer-focused problem-solving creates a memorable moment that often increases loyalty.

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Can you talk about some of the most interesting ways in which you’ve seen global brands around the world optimize use of their eCommerce journey with the right use of tools and tech?

We have many great examples of how brands optimize their eCommerce technology. Here are a few:

Personalization — BrightMinds, a UK-based children’s book and toy store, needed a search solution to deliver relevant and fast results and supply advanced filtering options that would give an extra layer of search and navigation. Personalization gives shoppers a tailor-made shopping experience based on their shopping history, demographics, and personal preference. After bringing on Fast Simon, BrightMinds’ conversion rate for personalized shoppers grew more than 25%.

Personalized Predictive Search — Targus, which offers mobile computing accessories for large enterprises and consumers, wanted a fast predictive site search and chose Fast Simon to engage shoppers from the very first character typed. This allowed consumers to narrow down the results in the drop-down, even before arriving at the actual search results collection page. The ability to search by meta fields was also important. Since the shift to Fast Simon, their conversion rate from search increased by 84%.

Digital transformation —When COVID-19 hit, Mastermind, a Canadian chain of toy stores, had to quickly transition to digital commerce and contactless, curbside pickup while continuing to feed customer exploration and discovery as Mastermind introduced new lineups to its assortment. Bolstered by powerful AI, it quickly created a customized and personalized online channel experience that differentiated the Canadian among digital toy retailers.

Cohesive Brand Experience. Petal and Pup, a major Australian fashion brand, needed to create a better online shopping experience that allowed shoppers to find what they wanted quickly and check out faster. Fast Simon’s AI advanced technology offered the quick and straightforward integration and intuitive dashboard interface that allowed Petal and Pup to easily make the needed changes and quickly see the adjustments and results on its site. After installing the tech, Petal and Pup saw a 10% uplift in conversion rate over its prior search technology and a fourfold increase in user value from search.

Optimize mobile app experience for customers. Princess Polly, a global online fashion boutique, depends on a social media approach to engaging with its buyers. The Fast Simon and Tapcart integration solved its challenge of staying up to date with a rapidly growing and changing product list to maintain a high-quality, fast-functioning search for shoppers using a mobile app.

How do you feel the future of eCommerce is set to shape up, with innovations across metaverse and AR especially — how will this impact the industry and overall eCommerce standards?

Today, the metaverse is a hodgepodge of technologies of a large maturity gamut. It would be pragmatic to examine each technology’s current maturity and applicability to the brand. eCommerce relies on matching technology to basic human desires. People have an insatiable demand for experiences that are personalized and practical. Consumers want to visualize how a product fits into their lives (personalization). AI, with advanced algorithms, can watch for patterns in our lives and make suggestions from inventory about what products to start with based on data from past purchases, browsing, and geography. AR/VR can then provide visualization in the context of the user’s environment.

Some of the most popular applications of these technologies bridge physical and virtual experiences. But the technologies still fall short on many fronts. It’s still hard to navigate the diversity of sizing in geographies and individual brands. Sensory experiences cannot be replicated in the virtual world beyond basic tactile responses. Understanding the differences between the EU and the U.S. sizing still challenges most buyers. If such baseline data is not normalized and standardized, AI, AR, and 3D modeling will recreate what consumers already experience.

Merchants should pick the technologies that power immediate eCommerce gains today (i.e., customer experience and satisfaction) and be inevitable building blocks of the metaverse. The pioneering merchants who do this will gain a competitive advantage, regardless of if and when the metaverse emerges as a full-blown commerce environment.

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A few thoughts on the kind of marketing strategies that you feel eCommerce brands need to focus on more to drive impact?

Economic forces play a role in consumer spending, as evidenced by major retail brands reporting declines in their eCommerce business. These challenges leave merchants searching for new approaches to boost customer engagement and conversion while keeping a close eye on their budgets. Adding to the mix, paid media campaigns have become more expensive and less effective, especially with leading browsers planning to block third-party cookies and Google removing them in Chrome by the end of 2023. Merchants can adapt their marketing efforts on a tight budget using three owned channels: email marketing, SMS marketing, and native mobile apps.

Email marketing is one of the most pervasive opt-in eCommerce strategies. But merchants must focus less on volume and more on personalizing messages that relate to shopper behavior and intent. Personalization uses available customer data to make the content they see on an eCommerce site or in marketing communications address their specific desires.

Short message service (SMS) marketing is an accessible and valuable mode of direct marketing that merchants can use to connect with customers personally. Since SMS requires people to opt in, they can control their direct access to their favorite brands — whether for customer support, member-only offers, or to stay informed about their order status. SMS keeps communication simple, in one place, and measurable for merchants.

eCommerce sites should have an app and a mobile-friendly website layout. This strategy builds customer loyalty and stickiness as it optimizes the convenience of the shopping experience. For any channel retailers use, merchandising is evolving to meet digital conditions. The focus shifts to the shopper’s intent, given the various marketing approaches. This means noticing what the customers want, how and from where they are purchasing, and adjusting strategies to inspire them.

Some last thoughts on the future of martech and B2B marketing?

The future is bright. While eCommerce has decelerated from the COVID-19 hypergrowth to the time of high pre-COVID-19 growth, it is still expanding and evolving, as the fundamental reasons for eCommerce still exist. While the B2C market is growing, B2B is in its infancy, with great potential. B2B has its own nuances: customer groups that can see completely different product sets with varying prices according to their volume purchasing contract; larger catalogs; reliance on SKUs; and other items that are not prevalent in B2C. We see well-known brands that have had an online presence but were available only through distributors, developing their online stores. We see world-famous brands and manufacturers with hundreds of resellers looking for a solution that would allow them to provide a unique experience and represent their brand to all those resellers. Since everything is digital, it is measurable and can be managed and optimized. And even with the extensive advancements, there is still a lot to consider in the future about the backend of eCommerce, for example, and the service and returns that could differentiate a brand. With the available tools, merchants are attuned to adapting and capitalizing on industry shifts to stay resilient, meet the demands of a digital economy, and ensure a sustainable model for business.

– Fast Simon Inc.

Fast Simon delivers optimized eCommerce experiences that dramatically increase conversions and average order value. Its platform uniquely integrates shopper, behavioral, and store signals for strategic merchandising, eCommerce search and personalization. Fast Simon powers shopping optimization for thousands of fast-growing and sophisticated brands, including Steve Madden, Princess Polly and Motherhood. The company integrates seamlessly with all major eCommerce platforms, including Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, Microsoft Dynamics, and WooCommerce.

Zohar Gilad is an experienced technology entrepreneur and executive in eCommerce, Media, and Enterprise Software.. In 2013, he co-founded Fast Simon, Inc. (formerly InstantSearch+) to optimize eCommerce shopping. Prior to Fast Simon, Zohar co-founded Cloud Power LLC for Syndicated Global Search,, and drove products and strategy for 15 years at Mercury Interactive, a public enterprise software company which was acquired by HP for $4.5B.

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